President Donald J. Trump has threatened to leave the WTO according to reasons that include unfair treatment by the international body. This comes as no surprise – after all, his protectionist trade policies often contradict the open-trade ethos of the WTO. In true Trump-like fashion, the US president has deemed the 1994 agreement to establish the WTO as the “single worst trade deal ever made”. It seems now that the Trump administration has given up on the organisation altogether, with this latest threat of withdrawal.
A long time coming?
Observers are attributing this commotion to the recent debacle over the tit-for-tat trade tariffs that the Trump administration is currently embroiled in, especially with China. Over the past few months, US-China trade relations have soured over a trade war, with both sides turning to the WTO, to enforce international trade laws that have been violated. However, this is not the first time President Trump has brought up his issues with the WTO. During his election campaign, he had already mentioned in an NBC interview that if WTO rules had not been in his favor as president, he would consider withdrawing from the international organization.
In addition, the Trump administration has refused to support the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appellate body, resulting in a diminishing number of judges on the ultimate arbiter of international trade disputes. European leaders on the other hand are trying their best to ascertain the US’s intentions in its aggressive approach towards the WTO by preparing measures for possible reforms for the organization. In an interview, the chair of the European Parliament trade committee, Bernd Lange, said that “The EU will make proposals to the WTO in September to kickstart the [reform] process and to test who is really willing to work on a reform. Those who frequently issue criticism will then also have to commit to such a reform. And this means first and foremost the United States.”