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March 3, 2017

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WTO faces first US attack by Trump

THE World Trade Organization yesterday became the target of a first concrete attack launched by US President Donald Trump’s administration when Washington declared it was not bound by the body’s rulings.

The US decision is a clear break from precedent and could threaten the viability of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, where major trade conflicts have been adjudicated.

A letter sent from the United States Trade Representative to Congress on Wednesday outlining Trump policy reviewed the terms under which the US joined the WTO when it was founded in 1995.

According to the Trump government’s interpretation, “Congress had made clear that Americans are not directly subject to WTO rulings,” said the document.

The text — entitled “The President’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda” — also says Trump’s government “will aggressively defend American sovereignty over matters of trade policy.”

Overall, the document reads like the trade version of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy doctrine and follows the president’s call for companies to “Buy American and hire American.”

In another rebuke to the 164-member WTO, which aims to forge deals applicable to its whole membership, the US said it believed American trade goals “can be best accomplished by focusing on bilateral negotiations rather than multilateral negotiations.”

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo responded with an olive branch yesterday, noting it was “clear that the United States has a variety of trade concerns, including about the WTO dispute settlement system.

“I am ready to sit down and discuss these concerns and any others with the trade team in the US whenever they are ready to do so.”

China, in response to a rising tide of American protectionist sentiment, said yesterday that it will continue to support the “open and unbiased” WTO.

“China would like to work with all WTO members to ensure that the WTO can play an important role in global trade,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a response to a question about the Trump letter.


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