President Donald Trump said the U.S. is not currently planning action against the World Trade Organization but warned that, “If they don’t treat us properly, we will be doing something.”
Speaking to reporters at the Oval Office alongside visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Trump reiterated his complaint that the Geneva-based organization has mistreated the U.S. and put the country at “a big disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, U.S. administration officials pushed back on reports the White House has drafted a bill that would allow Trump to determine tariff rates outside the jurisdiction of the WTO, in effect allowing Washington to walk away from its commitment to the international body that deals with rules of trade between nations.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said reports alleging the U.S. planning to leave the WTO are “inaccurate,” but that the president has concerns about certain aspects of WTO he considers “unfair.”
Sanders said countries, including China, have used the WTO to their own advantage. She said Trump is “focused on fixing the system” by “continuing negotiations with individual countries as well as organizations.”
In an interview with CNBC, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said, “WTO knows some reforms are needed. So I think there really is a need to update and synchronize its activities and we’ll see where that leads.”
However, he added, “It’s a little premature to talk about simply withdrawing from it.”
On Friday U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also denied reports that Washington is planning to exit the WTO.
“There’s no breaking news here … it’s not right,” Mnuchin told Fox Business Network, calling the report “fake news.”
The leaked bill, called the United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff (FART) Act, was first obtained and reported by the Axios news website.
According to the Axios article, the bill ordered by Trump would allow U.S. presidents to raise U.S. tariffs without congressional consent and negotiate tariffs on a bilateral basis, outside of WTO framework. It would circumvent two fundamental WTO principles, the most-favored nation (MFN) principle, which bans WTO member countries from using favoritism in applying tariffs, and the bound tariff rate principle, which sets previously agreed upon tariff ceilings.
The bill is likely to face opposition from lawmakers in Congress, including from Trump’s own Republican Party, many of whom are alarmed by Trump’s unprecedented campaign of threats and tariffs to punish U.S. trading partners, including his latest threat to slap a 20 percent import tax on European Union cars.
Meanwhile, Russia has initiated action through the WTO against the U.S. over the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum duties. The complaint filed Monday is the seventh initiated by a WTO member against Trump’s 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum, following cases brought by Canada, Mexico, China, India, Norway and the European Union.
The Russian move sets off a bilateral consultation period, and if no agreement is reached after 60 days, Moscow can ask a WTO panel to intervene. Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a summit in Helsinki on July 16.