On 100th day of presidency, Trump orders review of WTO rules in move that could lead to US withdrawal
The announcement came amid of a week of tough talk from the Trump administration on trade matters
US President Donald Trump has ordered a review of the World Trade Organisation’s rules, a move that could lead the country’s commerce department to recommend a withdrawal from the trade body.
Trump was expected to sign an executive order Saturday that would direct his Commerce Department and the US Trade Representative to perform a comprehensive study of the nation’s trade agreements to determine whether America is being treated fairly by its trading partners and the 164-nation WTO.
The WTO is a key focus of the review because the trade body is “the grandparent of all trade arrangements that we’ve had”, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said.
The last week has been a frenzy of activity at the White House as Trump and his team have tried to rack up accomplishments and make good on campaign promises before reaching the symbolic 100-day mark.
The executive orders to be signed Saturday would mark Trump’s 31st and 32nd since taking office - the most of any president in his first 100 days since the second world war.
Earlier, Trump announced his intention to work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He also said he would begin renegotiating a free trade deal with South Korea, with which the US has a significant trade deficit.
Trump, who campaigned on a vow to crack down on China and other trading partners - and threatened to withdraw from the WTO which he called a “disaster’ - has announced several other moves on trade in recent weeks.
Ross acknowledged that the United States currently ran a trade surplus for the export of services. But, accounting for goods alone, the United States still runs a global trade deficit of some $700 billion, 47 per cent of which comes from trade with China, he said.
The administration is also imposing duties on Canadian softwood timber and is investigating whether steel and aluminium imports pose a threat to national security.
Robert Lighthizer, a trade lawyer Trump has nominated to be his trade representative, has criticised the 2001 decision to let China into the WTO.
Washington naively assumed China was “merely a more exotic version of Canada,” Lighthizer once testified, and would learn to live within WTO rules and open its market to American exports; instead, China has limited foreign competition, manipulated its currency and subsidised its exporters.
But Trump has declined to fulfil his campaign promise to label China a currency manipulator as he leans on the country for help neutralising the threat posed by North Korea’s missile programme.
Ross said the aluminium action should not be seen as an attack on China.
“This is not a kind of China-phobic programme. This has to do with a global problem,” Ross said.
Ross said the free-trade principles of the US had kept the country’s import tariffs low relative to those set by most other countries. This makes it difficult to entice other countries into pacts that would offer the US better trading terms.
“In a weird way, the fact that we have been so free-trade-oriented historically actually impedes our ability to make new free trade agreements,” Ross said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press