GENEVA — Major trading partners including the European Union, China and Japan praised the openness of the U.S. economy at a World Trade Organization forum, but also voiced concerns about the increase in protectionist talk and hoped the incoming Trump administration renews its commitment to the global trade system.
“Our commitment to open markets and to the rules-based multilateral system embodied in the WTO remains a vital part of the United States’ trade and investment policy,” said Michael Punke, U.S. ambassador to the WTO, during a two-day review of U.S. trade policy that ended Wednesday. “Since World War II, 12 U.S. presidents — six Democrats, six Republicans — have toiled to sustain and build on this commitment.”
Punke also noted that the WTO’s rules-based trading system had “lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.”
A number of top WTO envoys used the session to voice their apprehensions about growing antitrade sentiment and to send a clear signal to the pending new administration in Washington not to steer off course.
“Many members are concerned by the rhetoric about globalization and trade used by the President-elect during the campaign,” said Marc Vanheukelen, the EU’s ambassador to the WTO. “Whether these relate to penalizing U.S. companies choosing to invest abroad, increasing local content requirements on domestic producers or giving this organization the cold shoulder at a time when it is in need of leadership, we hope that, come Jan. 20, engagement and enlightened self-interest will prevail over the siren’s songs of protectionism and exclusion.”
Yu Jianhua, China’s WTO ambassador, told delegates that recent campaign talk of “pulling out of the WTO,” made by President-elect Donald Trump “has caused serious worries among WTO members.”
“China hopes that the U.S. will keep showing the leadership in preserving the multilateral trade system as the major avenue for trade liberalization,” the Chinese envoy said.
In the review sessions, trading partners also took issue with the increasing use by the U.S. of trade defense measures.
“The U.S. has abusively used trade remedy measures and challenged the WTO rules,” complained China’s Yu.
Punke, in response to the criticisms, said, “injurious dumping and subsidization…is a problem we should all be concerned about.”
Punke also cautioned, “To speak frankly, support in the United States for any future trade liberalization agenda will be on highly unstable ground if injurious dumping and subsidization are not met with effective and enforceable remedies as provided for in existing agreements.”
A report compiled by the WTO secretariat for the review notes the U.S. “continues to be an active user of anti-dumping duties,” and documents that from June 2014 to June 2016, 85 antidumping investigations were initiated and that 269 antidumping orders were in place.
In the same period, the WTO report said, 60 countervailing duty investigations were initiated, and a total of 69 CVD orders were in place in late June.
While Punke noted that 70 percent of U.S. imports entered the U.S. duty free, the WTO report shows that while most industrial tariff lines averaged 4 percent, some products such as textiles and apparel have higher tariffs. The average for 1,082 textile tariff lines in 2016 stood at 7.8 percent, and for 571 apparel lines the average was 11.6 percent, it said.
A number of apparel exporting countries highlighted the importance of preferential access terms to the U.S. market, the world’s biggest importer of goods.
The delegation of Lesotho said “we shall forever remain grateful” to the U.S. for the enactment of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
“Lesotho was able to defy the odds of size and managed to establish one of the largest textiles and garment manufacturing in Sub-Saharan Africa,” it said. “AGOA has been a lifeblood for the industry in Lesotho and a beacon of hope for the people to free themselves from the shackles of poverty.”