US denies report ‘Trump planning to exit WTO’

June 30, 2018

It would be an “exaggeration” to say US President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw from the World Trade Organization, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday, denying a media report.

“I won’t use our favourite word about the fake news but this is an exaggeration,” Mnuchin told Fox Business television about the report from Washington news website Axios.

“The president has been clear with us and with others he has concerns about the WTO. He thinks there’s aspects of it that aren’t fair.” And although Trump complains that China and others have used the WTO system to their own advantage “we are focused on free trade” and “breaking down barriers,” Mnuchin said.

Axios cited sources saying Trump has repeatedly told his top officials he wants to exit the global trading body that Washington helped design and which most often rules in favor of the United States when Washington brings cases before the world body.

But Trump has publicly complained about the trade rules, calling the WTO a “disaster” and has flouted international norms by hitting key allies with stinging tariffs on steel and aluminium and imposing crippling fees on tens of billions of Chinese goods in the name of US national security.

The 164-member WTO is the only international organisation that deals with the rules of trade between countries and states its key purpose as opening trade “for the benefit of all.” A US withdrawal from it would require an act of the US Congress, and Trump was unlikely to persuade lawmakers to carry out his wish, the Axios report said.

“Sources with knowledge of the situation say the Trump administration will continue to call attention to various ways in which the US encounters what some Trump advisers perceive is unfair and unbalanced treatment within framework of the WTO,” the report said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last Friday, the United States told the Geneva-based WTO that appeals rulings in trade disputes could be vetoed if they took longer than the allowed 90 days.

The statement by US Ambassador Dennis Shea threatened to erode a key element of trade enforcement at the 23-year-old WTO: binding dispute settlement, widely seen as a major bulwark against protectionism.

It came as Trump, who has railed against the WTO judges in the past, threatened to levy a 20 per cent import tax on European Union cars, the latest in an unprecedented campaign of threats and tariffs to punish US trading partners.