Just one month after US President Trump upended the global order with threats of tariffs against allies and adversaries alike, his ambassador to the WTO took aim at both China, a main focus of Washington’s ire, and the global trade body itself.
China’s “trade-distorting policies” represent a “threat to the international trading system,” Deputy US Trade Representative Dennis Shea said on Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, during his first public comments on the matter.
China’s technology transfer policies harm every WTO member and industry that “relies on technology for maintaining competitiveness in world markets,” he added.
Trump has proposed tariffs on up to US$150 billion in Chinese imports as punishment for what his administration sees as widespread violations of US intellectual property rights.
Beijing has vowed to retaliate in kind, with levies on everything from US soybeans to airplanes.
US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow are to travel to Beijing next week for trade talks with top Chinese officials.
It is a “very delicate” moment in relations, and the conflict has the potential to curb economic growth and weaken the WTO’s role as a global trade arbiter, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo has said.
“Progress could be quickly undermined if governments resort to restrictive trade policies, especially in a tit-for-tat process that could lead to an unmanageable escalation,” Azevedo told reporters earlier this month.
Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative to the WTO Yu Benlin (余本林) on Friday said that Washington’s tariffs are unilateral and do not comply with WTO rules.
The US actions are “challenging the foundation of the rules-based multilateral trading system,” Yu said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
“We believe the time has come for all members to join with each other to take actions against the unilateralism and protectionism manifested in the US conduct,” Yu said.
Shea dissented, saying that the US measures are legal and they aim to counter China’s “harmful trade distorting policies,” according to a copy of his remarks.
“Instead of addressing its damaging and discriminatory policies, China accuses the United States of ‘unilateralism,’” Shea said. “This criticism has absolutely no validity.”
“If the WTO is seen as a shield protecting those members that choose to adopt policies that can be shown to undermine the fairness and balance of the international trading system, then the WTO and the international trading system will lose all credibility and support among our citizens,” Shea said.
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