Nearly $400 million in military aid wasn’t the only assistance to Ukraine that got held up over the summer amid Donald Trump’s efforts to compel the fledging Volodymyr Zelensky government to commit publicly to investigations of Joe Biden, his son Hunter and the Democrats.
According to multiple officials who spoke to the Washington Post, John Bolton in August warned Bob Lighthizer that Trump was unlikely to go along with a recommendation that the White House restore some of Ukraine’s GSP trade privileges which were suspended late last year in connection with a long-running dispute over intellectual property theft.
Lighthizer withdrew his recommendation after hearing from Bolton, who we now know spent a good part of his summer attempting to navigate the choppy waters around what he clearly believed was an ill-conceived pressure campaign orchestrated by EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, former special envoy Kurt Volker, Energy secretary Rick Perry and iconic mayor-turned walking, talking national security risk Rudy Giuliani.
“The August exchange between Bolton and Lighthizer over the trade matter represents the first indication that the administration’s suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorized military aid and security assistance to other government programs”, WaPo writes, adding that “it is not clear whether Trump directed Bolton to intervene over Ukraine’s trade privileges or was even aware of the discussion”.
One official claims Trump delayed any decision on Ukraine’s trade status as part of a “routine country review process”, but as it turns out, Lighthizer yanked the paperwork associated with restoring some of the trade privileges at issue a second time last Thursday amid a barrage of damaging testimony from former and current officials who have been deposed by impeachment investigators.
The original delay – in August – would have come just as Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor was trying to sort out exactly how explicit Sondland and Volker intended to make the quid pro quo at the heart of the impeachment probe.
A cache of text messages turned over to Congress by Volker shows he and Sondland drafted a statement for Zelensky in August, that would have committed the country to the investigations Trump wanted. Taylor testified this week that during a phone call, Sondland “told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations – in fact, Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance”.
“Everything” would presumably encompass the trade privileges.
Ukraine – a country long associated with IP violations – was on the verge of having a portion of those privileges reinstated after passing laws to enhance copyright protections. The International Intellectual Property Alliance was consulted by Lighthizer in the matter. The USTR was told by the industry coalition that the IIPA would support whatever decision the US government decided to make.
As WaPo writes, citing the Federal Register, the partial suspension of Ukraine’s duty-free privileges affected items including “chocolate bars, helium, mushrooms, deodorant and telescopic gun sights”.
While imports of some of those products plunged, the broader effect on Ukraine’s trade was minimal. Only around $50 million of the $1.4 billion in sales to the US were covered under the GSP.