President Donald Trump had harsh words for the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a press briefing Sept. 16, accusing the transnational body of taking advantage of America “to suck money and jobs out of the United States to the benefit of China and other countries.”
Trump was asked about whether the United States should remain part of the WTO after its recent ruling against the United States over $200 billion in tariffs on China. The WTO’s three-member panel ruled that the U.S. duties broke trading rules because they applied only to China and were above maximum rates agreed to by the United States, and that, when the tariffs were imposed, Washington didn’t adequately explain why its measures were a justified exception.
The president replied that the WTO has “never been good to us.”
“The WTO, as far as I’m concerned, was created to suck money and jobs out of the United States to the benefit of China and other countries—that’s what my opinion is—whether it was created [for that] or it just turned out to be that way,” Trump said.
“It was a method, in my opinion, of taking advantage of the United States,” Trump said, adding that the administration was evaluating the WTO ruling and considering its next steps.
Washington has said that tariffs imposed by the Trump administration two years ago on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods were justified because China was forcing companies to transfer technology and intellectual property.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement following the ruling that “this panel report confirms what the Trump administration has been saying for four years: the WTO is completely inadequate to stop China’s harmful technology practices.”
The WTO, which Trump earlier branded a “broken” institution, was formed to resolve international trade disputes through multilateral rules and institutions. Lighthizer and others have argued that the WTO is biased against the United States and that some of its members, notably China, have exploited membership to unfair advantage by pursuing trade dispute cases against other members while themselves flouting its rules.
Critics of China’s conduct after it joined the WTO in 2001 say that while China benefited from unfettered access to American consumers, it kept its market selectively closed to foreign competition, forced U.S. companies to enter into joint ventures with Chinese state-controlled enterprises, gaining access to key American technologies, while continuing its past pattern of suppressing dissent and violating human rights.
“The promised freedom in China didn’t develop,” wrote Epoch Times contributor Ronald J. Rychlak, the Jamie L. Whitten chair in law and government at the University of Mississippi, in an op-ed. “Many Western intellectuals and their Chinese counterparts have noted that China today is less free than it was a decade ago. Free speech, dissent, and religion have all been suppressed by the regime.”
Trump has said that China’s unfair trade practices have “ripped off the United States.”
“To make matters worse, they are considered a developing nation, getting all sorts of benefits that others, including the United States, are not entitled to,” Trump said, referring to the “developing nation” status China received when it entered the WTO, which gives the world’s second-largest economy special privileges, such as longer implementation periods for tariff cuts.
In 2018, Trump led an effort to rebalance the U.S.–China trade relationship, which led to the administration imposing about $400 billion in tariffs when negotiations stalled.