Can Trump Withdraw US From WTO as He Wishes?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/29/2018 08:06:00 PM
Are the WTO's days numbered with Trump desiring that the US leave it?
Well, it always was bound to come down to this: I have discussed about how various US trade actions on aluminum, steel, automobiles and heaven knows what else are flat-out WTO-illegal. These Section 232 actions on dubious "national security" grounds and Section 301 actions on equally questionable claims about righting US trade partners' injurious trade policies predate the WTO. Indeed, Trump's US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer who was renowned for using these actions was last in government when Ronald Reagan was in power.

A common thread here is a desire to return to a pre-WTO situation when international trade rules were less codified and the United States presumably had more leeway in pushing others around as it pleased--at least according to the likes of Lighthizer and Trump's assorted minions. Ironically, of course, many developing countries have criticized the WTO for being designed largely to fulfill US wishes regarding trade such as the incorporation on intellectual property rights. At any rate, the main reason to leave the WTO as I have explained is that cases involving Trump's trade actions are likely to be ruled against when brought to its dispute settlement mechanism. To his way of thinking, this outcome would be "unfair." So, why not just leave altogether?
President Trump has repeatedly told top White House officials he wants to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization, a move that would throw global trade into wild disarray, people involved in the talks tell Axios.

What we're hearing: “He’s [threatened to withdraw] 100 times. It would totally [screw] us as a country,” said a source who’s discussed the subject with Trump. The source added that Trump has frequently told advisers, "We always get fucked by them [the WTO]. I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States."
There will certainly be "globalists" even in Trump's cabinet pushing back against this line of action. But, as his other moves on trade demonstrate, he often ignores advisers going against his racist / protectionist / isolationist instincts:
Between the lines: Even if his advisers put a policy process in place and try to make sure he’s well-informed on what it would mean to try to withdraw from the WTO — there is no guarantee that Trump won’t do it. History shows he doesn't care about the process.
  • Remember when Trump upended his globalist trade advisers’ carefully constructed policy process and simply announced he’d be imposing massive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports? It’s not unimaginable that the same could eventually happen with his desire to try to withdraw from the WTO.
So, what can Trump do? Similar to NAFTA, it is a question as to whether withdrawing from the body in question can be done by the executive. That is, congress having authorized entry into NAFTA or the WTO, another act of congress should also be necessary to authorize departure:
The safety valve: Should Trump defy his advisers and announce a withdrawal at some point in the future, he would run into significant legal hurdles.
  • As head of state, Trump under international law could make the notification at the WTO. But the U.S. law implementing the WTO agreements states quite plainly that withdrawal from the WTO requires an act of Congress.
Just because he isn't authorized to leave NAFTA or the WTO doesn't mean he won't try since this president does not feel bound by law.