US President Donald Trump was to spend his 100th day in office talking tough on trade in one of the states that delivered his unlikely win.
Trump was expected to sign an executive order yesterday that would direct the US Department of Commerce and Trade Representative to perform a comprehensive study of the nation’s trade agreements to determine whether the US is being treated fairly by its trading partners and the 164-nation WTO.
It is one of two executive orders the president was to sign at a shovel factory in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County, the kind of place that propelled his surprise victory in November last year.
Trump earlier this week announced his intention to work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and begin renegotiating a free trade deal with South Korea, with which the US has a significant trade deficit.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that the president doesn’t discuss some aspect of trade,” US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said at the White House on Friday.
The executive orders to be signed yesterday marked Trump’s 31st and 32nd since taking office — the most of any president in his first 100 days since World War II.
The more significant of the two orders would give the US Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative 180 days to identify violations and abuses under the nation’s trade agreements and recommend solutions.
Ross said the WTO, the Geneva-based arbiter of world trade rules, is bureaucratic and outdated and needs an overhaul.
He downplayed the possibility that the US would consider leaving the organization, but did not rule it out.
“As any multilateral organization, there’s always the potential for modifying the rules,” he said.
The administration argues that unfair competition with China and other trade partners has wiped out millions of US factory jobs. Ross said dissatisfaction with trade policy is one reason voters turned to Trump.
“They’re fed up with having their jobs go offshore. They’re fed up with some of the destructive practices,” he said. “So in effect, the country said in this last election: It’s about time to fix these things, and the president heard that message.”
Ross said that the WTO is too narrowly focused on limiting traditional tariffs — taxes on imports — and does little to counter less conventional barriers to trade or to police violations of intellectual property rights.
Trump has pushed a model of “reciprocal trade” agreements in which the US would raise or lower tariffs on a nation’s imports depending on how that nation treats the US.
Trump, who campaigned on a vow to crack down on China and other trading partners, has announced several other moves on trade, including an order to the commerce department to study the causes of the US’ massive trade deficit in goods — US$734 billion last year and US$347 billion with China alone.
The administration is also imposing duties on Canadian softwood timber and is investigating whether steel and aluminum imports pose a threat to national security.
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