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Trump’s New Trade Agenda Includes Ignoring World Trade Organization Rulings

Continuing on his “America first” commitment, President Trump said he’s prepared to ignore World Trade Organization rulings that don’t fit with that focus.

The Trump Administration released its official trade policy Wednesday, outlining plans for U.S. relations moving forward. Put briefly, the 336-page document stresses defending U.S. sovereignty over trade policy, strictly enforcing U.S. trade laws, using all means necessary to get other countries to take U.S. exports, and favors bilateral trade negotiations over multilateral deals.

The new policy also criticizes the World Trade Organization for hampering U.S. trade remedies, and the Trump Administration has said it will disregard any WTO rulings it sees as an affront to America first—which could stir trade retaliation from other abiding nations.

Some of the trade changes Trump has floated, like a 20 percent blanket tax on imports from Mexico, for one, could have come in conflict with commitments the U.S. has made as a member of the WTO, and though some trade lawyers have said they don’t expect Trump to quit the international trade body, the president may set those conflicts aside if they appear to threaten U.S. sovereignty.

Because Americans aren’t directly subject to WTO decisions, the new trade policy states, “even if a WTO dispute settlement panel – or the WTO Appellate Body – rules against the United States, such a ruling does not automatically lead to a change in U.S. law or practice.”

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told The Wall Street Journal he wants to work with the new administration to enforce trade laws but that he didn’t agree with Trump’s potential treatment of WTO rulings.

“I strongly believe that our current trade agreements—including the WTO—have been successful for Americans because these agreements establish a firm rule of law to hold our competitors in check and open markets for us to sell our goods, services, and farm products,” Brady said.

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In an attempt to extend what seemed to be an olive branch, WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a statement, “It is 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 U.S. whenever they are ready to do so.”

Critics of the new trade policy say the document still doesn’t give Americans a clear understanding of the actions the president will take on trade.

Beyond outlining key objectives, the Trump Administration said the president has already started consultations with Congress on how future trade agreements can work more effectively for Americans, put together a “strong team” of officials to defend American sovereignty and enforce trade laws, and that there would be “more activity on all of these fronts in the near future.”

The document then goes on to conclude: “…in too many instances, Americans have been put at an unfair disadvantage in global markets. Under these circumstances, it is time for a new trade policy that defends American sovereignty, enforces U.S. trade laws, uses American leverage to open markets abroad, and negotiates new trade agreements that are fairer and more effective both for the United States and for the world trading system.”

The remainder—and bulk—of the document goes into the 2016 annual report on trade.

“It is troubling that the president’s trade agenda still leaves the American people in the dark about the actions the president intends to take on trade,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told the Journal.