Next for Trump and Trade? A Review of All Trade Agreements and Possibly Ignoring WTO Rules

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President Trump wanted to shore up his first 100 days’ efforts in trade, coming through on a couple more moves promised throughout his campaign.

Trump signed two back-to-back executive orders in recent days—one that establishes an Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and another that orders the detailed review of all trade agreements for possible abuses, and also calls for the administration to review the United States’ membership in the World Trade Organization.

If you ask Peter Navarro, President Trump’s first 100 days have already been a windfall for trade.

The National Trade Council Director and now leader of the newly formed Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said in an opinion piece for CNN that the president’s efforts in trade are already working.

From ditching the TPP to putting a 100-day deadline on China’s progress in changing its trade policies to the new review of potentially unfair trade practices—that Navarro says “our partners use to run up our more than $700 billion annual trade deficit in goods”—it has all been vital to getting U.S. jobs back and holding firm on the America First promise.

“It has been a historic 100 days of action—and we are just getting started.”

What will the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy do?

The new trade office (OTMP) will be established within the White House and its mission, according to the executive order, will be to “defend and serve American workers and domestic manufacturers while advising the president on policies to increase economic growth, decrease trade deficit and strengthen the United States manufacturing and defense industrial bases.”

Trump’s executive order said the OTMP will advise him on innovative strategies, promote trade policies consistent with his goals, take on special trade-related projects as designated and serve as a liaison between the White House and the Department of Commerce.

The description sounds a lot like what the already established Office of the United States Trade Representative is supposed to do, though trade rep nominee Robert Lighthizer still isn’t approved to fill the role.

What’s expected in the review of current trade agreements?

Trump has ordered a thorough review of all trade agreements and investment agreements that the United States is part of, plus all trade relations with countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the U.S. but that are governed by WTO rules and that happen to run trade deficits with the U.S.

A report following the review of each deal will have to be submitted to the president within 180 days (the clock started May 1). The report will identify violations or abuses of U.S. trade agreements, unfair treatment by trading partners that harms American workers and instances where a trade agreement or preference program failed to deliver on certain factors like jobs created and expanded market access.

Trump promised throughout his campaign and showed with the early move to nix the TPP, that the U.S. wouldn’t remain in any agreement that doesn’t put “America First.” The president also threatened to pull the U.S. from NAFTA last week.

The executive order puts firm a policy to negotiate new trade agreements that will benefit American workers and manufacturers.

What’s more, the order continues, “It is also the policy of the United States to renegotiate or terminate any existing trade agreement, investment agreement, or trade relation that, on net, harms the United States economy, United States businesses, United States intellectual property rights and innovation rate, or the American people.”

This order, signed April 29, isn’t all that different from another executive order the president signed on March 31, requiring an omnibus report within 90 days from the secretary of commerce and the United States trade representative on significant trade deficits. That report is meant to identify whether U.S. trading partners are imposing “unequal burdens” on or “unfairly discriminating against” U.S. commerce and putting the U.S. at an “unfair disadvantage.”

What about the WTO?

The review of trade infringements will have to include any WTO rule that governs a trade relation that’s deemed to be “harming American workers or domestic manufacturer, farmers, or ranchers; harming our intellectual property rights; reducing our rate of innovation; or impairing domestic research and development,” the order notes.

The Trump administration said it won’t tolerate any such harm and seems prepared to go against WTO rules to ensure that.

“Unlike earlier presidents, Trump is signaling a willingness to impose import restrictions—especially against a country like China—where the justification under WTO rules for doing so may be highly questionable,” Chad Bown, senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics told Reuters. “The downside of the United States going down this path is that it is likely that other countries will follow suit immediately.”


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