Could President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the World Trade Organization?
That’s what he’s been threatening to do in conversations with top advisers, Axios reported Friday.
According to the outlet, Trump said he sees the WTO — which the U.S. helped establish — as an organization “designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States,” and said he doesn’t “know why we’re in it.”
The reported comments come as Trump hurtles toward a multi-front trade war and upends relationships with longstanding allies, including Canada and France.
Trump has blasted trade relationships with U.S. allies as unfair and in May announced his administration would impose harsh steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
“The U.S. has been taken advantage of for decades and decades, and we can’t do that anymore,” Trump said following the G7 summit in Canada earlier in June. “We have to have deals that are fair.”
He has also gone after China on trade, announcing June 15 that he would impose a 25% tariff on Chinese technology and threatening Beijing not to retaliate.
“The United States can no longer tolerate losing our technology and intellectual property through unfair economic practices,” Trump said in a statement at the time. “The United States will pursue additional tariffs if China engages in retaliatory measures, such as imposing new tariffs on United States goods, services or agricultural products; raising nontariff barriers; or taking punitive actions against American exporters or American companies operating in China.”
While his moves on trade have already been combative, withdrawing the U.S. from the WTO could have dramatic implications for global trade.
The intergovernmental organization — which was established in 1995 — regulates trade, oversees the implementation of agreements and helps resolve disputes. As a White House report noted earlier this year, the U.S. has benefitted from the WTO, winning 85.7% of the cases it presented to the regulatory body — compared with a global average of 84.4% and China at a mere 66.7%.
“It would totally [screw] us as a country,” a source familiar with Trump’s threats to withdraw from the WTO told Axios.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin pushed back on the report, telling Fox Business Network that the Axios story was an “exaggeration.”
Axios noted that such a move would be “extreme, even for Trump,” and that he would have to leap over several legal and political hurdles to follow through on his threats.
But he has shown a willingness to defy norms in the past and suggested during his campaign for president that he would consider withdrawing the U.S. from the WTO.
“We’re going to renegotiate or we’re going to pull out,” Trump told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press in July 2016. “These trade deals are a disaster, Chuck. World Trade Organization is a disaster.”