Robert Lightizer, the U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade chief will meet his WTO counterparts over Trump’s “America First” trade agenda. He has already pointed out that no major new agreements at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires are wanted. U.S. officials have blocked the WTO’s efforts to elaborate a satement of unity over the “centrality” of the global trading system and the need to aid development.
The former steel industry trade lawyer denied wanting to weaken the body, despite voicing criticism over the past decade of WTO rulings against U.S. trade actions. In a 2010 testimony to a congressional China security review panel, he advocated that the United States could “derogate”, or partially ignore, some WTO decisions to force change in the trading system.
He has warned that any WTO ruling that concedes “market economy status” to China would be “cataclysmic” for the WTO. The issue, now in the body’s dispute settlement system, would severely weaken U.S. and EU trade defenses against subsidized Chinese goods.
Trade analysts interpret this statement as suggesting that Washington would simply ignore a ruling in favor of Beijing, weakening the WTO and inviting other countries to follow suit.
Trade diplomats say that the U.S. trade stance has overshadowed preparations for the four-day biennial conference of ministers representing the WTO’s 164 members.
Although the United States has not threatened to leave the WTO, trade experts say that Washington is threatening the group’s authority by vetoing judicial appointments, undermining one of the WTO’s core functions: dispute settlement.
Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union Trade Commissioner, told reporters in Brussels that many WTO members are worried that the U.S. stance “risks blocking the whole functioning of something that has been working well.”
Many trade analysts say that the WTO dispute system has generally worked well for the United States, which tends to win most of the cases it argues. On Wednesday, the WTO ruled against Indonesia’s challenge to U.S. anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Indonesian coated paper.