U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer laid out a reasoned rebuke this week of countries claiming a World Trade Organization (WTO) basis for retaliating against the United States’ new national security-based tariffs.
In a statement, Lighthizer accused China, the European Union, and other countries of going after the U.S. with “groundless legal theory” under the WTO to justify immediate tariffs on the U.S.
“President [Donald] Trump has taken actions on trade in steel and aluminum to protect our national security interests. These actions are wholly legitimate and fully justified, both as a matter of U.S. law and WTO rules,” he said.
In March of this year, President Trump concurred with a January report from the secretary of Commerce that found that certain steel and aluminum imports threaten U.S. national security.
Lighthizer contrasted the U.S. actions with the EU: “The European Union has concocted a groundless legal theory to justify immediate tariffs on U.S. exports. Other WTO Members, including China, have adopted a similar approach.”
“President Trump’s actions regarding steel and aluminum plainly fall within the legitimate scope of Article XXI,” affirmed Lighthizer.
“These retaliatory tariffs underscore the complete hypocrisy that governs so much of the global trading system,” he said about China, the EU, and other countries that have criticized the U.S. and slapped tariffs on the U.S.
Lighthizer said the U.S. has held for years under Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that actions taken under this article are “not justiciable by any panel of the WTO.” Simply put, “each sovereign country must have the power to decide, for itself, what actions are essential to its security.”
The trade representative accused the “European Union and its followers” of retaliating “with tariffs designed to punish U.S. companies and workers.” He further charged, “In an effort to give cover to this blatant disregard for WTO rules, they claim to be acting in reliance on a narrow exception that applies only in response to a safeguard measure.”
Lighthizer argued that this exception does not apply because “the United States has not taken a safeguard measure.”
“When the EU and others falsely assert the U.S. steel and aluminum duties are safeguard measures and impose retaliatory duties under this pretense, they do great damage to the multilateral trading system,” said Lighthizer. He accused them of willingly distorting “WTO rules to mean whatever they want, whenever they want.”
“Faced with these unjustified tariffs, the United States will take all necessary actions under both U.S. law and international rules to protect its interests,” he said.
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