Trump: “The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”
Developments on Day 528 of Trump Administration:
Donald Trump ordered his officials to prepare an act to replace US membership in the World Trade Organization, bolstering his pursuit of tariffs and trade confrontations with other countries.
A “White House official” confirmed that a draft bill, the United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act, proposed US abandonment of key WTO principles, and that Trump was briefed on it in late May.
The bill removes the “Most Favored Nation” principle that countries cannot set different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements, and it lifts tariff ceilings to which each WTO country has agreed.
“It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal,” said a “source familiar with the bill”.
Axios, which broke the story, said most officials involved in the drafting — with the notable exception of arch-protectionist White House advisor Peter Navarro — believe the proposal is “unrealistic or unworkable“.
A “source familiar with the discussions on the proposed legislation” told CNN that the proposal is “the beginning of a conversation” on trade and not a signal that the US is leaving the WTO.
“We face unfair trade barriers,” the official insisted, “Something needs to be done.” He complained over the leak of the draft:
The President is a great salesperson,” the source said. “When this is ready to go, he will put his touch on it, message it in its most effective form. Make it his. [The leak] robs him of that.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the leaked draft is not “actual legislation that the administration was preparing to roll out”. She asserted, “Principals have not even met to review any text of legislation on reciprocal trade.”
But Trump has repeatedly criticized the WTO, saying it is a “disaster”, and has reportedly told other leaders that he is ready to leave.
A “source who has discussed the subject with Trump” said that he has threatened to withdraw “100 times, telling advisors: “We always get fucked by them. I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to push back the report, saying it is an “exaggeration”: “We are focused on free trade, breaking down barriers.”
“Insane” Bill is “Dead on Arrival”
Critics of the bill put their faith in legislative blocking of any measure. One official, describing the bill as “insane”, said:
The good news is Congress would never give this authority to the President.
It’s not implementable at the border. And it would completely remove us from the set of global trade rules.
In a White House meeting earlier this year, Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short bluntly told Navarro that the bill would be “dead on arrival” and receive zero support on Capitol Hill.
Navarro expressed his belief that the bill would get plenty of support, particularly from Democrats, but Short said he did not think Democrats were inclined to hand over more authority to Trump.