Entering an affray the body has long sought to avoid, the World Trade Organization agreed on Wednesday to open an investigation into the legal status of the highly contentious Section 232 aluminium and steel tariffs enacted by the administration of United States President Trump earlier this year.
Though the WTO has been pushed in the direction of an investigation by a long and growing list of states and regional unions, the United States warned that such a move threatens to damage the organization.
Upon hearing the news, the U.S. delegation opined that an investigation “would undermine the legitimacy of the WTO’s dispute settlement system and even the viability of the WTO as a whole.”
The fight over the Trump administration’s aluminium and steel tariffs presents a political minefield for the organization. Should the decision be made to uphold the Trump tariffs, the precedent has been set for the organization’s 13 dozen other members to enact similar tariffs of their own. However, should the decision go against Trump’s tariffs, the specter of the United States leaving the WTO may suddenly come to life.
In addition to chiding the WTO, American representatives to the body issued a stern warning to Canada and Mexico for its retaliatory moves in response to the Trump aluminium and steel tariffs.
“Just as these members appear to be ready to undermine the dispute settlement system by ignoring the plain meaning of” the national security exemption allowed by the WTO, “so too are they ready to undermine the WTO by pretending to follow its rules while imposing measures that blatantly disregard them.”
To date, seven governments have enacted retaliatory measures against United States goods, namely Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the European Union, India, Mexico, the Russian Federation, and Turkey. All in, the retaliatory measures affect over US$25 billion of American goods.