Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election ushers in a period of policy adjustment, and his every statement and action make headlines around the globe. Trump’s spontaneous and flamboyant approach to policy-making has triggered heated discussions on where the US and the world are heading.
The “America first” slogan put forward by Trump weighs on many political minds around the world. The world must come up with innovative ways to adapt to the changes in US foreign policy. The Trump administration is set to upend or upset global balance as we know it, with great repercussions for the US and world peace and stability. In the meanwhile, it‘s worth pondering what are the effective means to safeguard US interests and advance US economic growth in a globalized and multipolar world? It carries implications far beyond the US border. The “go solo”, “zero-sum game” mindset will only ill-serve US regional or global interests. In an increasingly inter-connected world, inclusive cooperation and common development have become an irresistible and inescapable trend to come.
Trade will come to the fore of the new administration’s agenda. During his election campaign, Trump made unveiled attacks against the WTO, and threatened to pull the US out of the WTO unless renegotiations result in more favorable terms for the US. He also characterized China’s accession to the WTO as “the worst thing”. His explicit protectionist standing has been a pillar of “Trumpism”.
Trump’s cabinet nominations reflects his tough stance on trade with China, which has been a source of concern since his election campaign. The nomination of steel tycoon Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary and widely speculated nomination of former Nucor CEO Dan Dimicco as US Trade Representative will be the face of Trump’s trade team, supported by three seasoned anti-dumping lawyers.
Trump’s trade team will set their minds on more active use of WTO anti-dumping rules and other defensive tools to curtail imports from China and other major importing countries into the US. It is believed that Trump’s trade protectionist policy will lead to a spike in trade frictions with others, in particular in the realm of trade import and export.
The recent accusation of the US government against China that Beijing has failed to honor WTO market-access rules of grains such as rice, wheat and corn may well be a case in point. It is natural for both countries to resort to the WTO’s multilateral rules to solve problems. But the US accusation is rather tenuous -- first and foremost, the use of tariff-rate quota in the import of rice, wheat and corn is in line with WTO rules and consistent with China’s commitments and obligations as a WTO member. Second, China has never provided subsidies to agricultural products meant for export, and has been abiding by consistent policies and rules for those meant for domestic markets.
China has launched dispute settlement procedures at the WTO by requesting consultations with the US and the EU regarding the “surrogate country” practice in anti-dumping investigations against China. While most WTO members lived up to their obligations in accordance with Article 15 of the WTO accession protocol and abandon the practice before or on December 11, 2016, which was the expiration date of the surrogate-country approach, a handful of countries chose to ignore the integrity and authority of the WTO protocol, in total disregard of the “spirit of contract”, and deliberately confuse the concept of Market Economy Status (MES) with obligations under Article 15, and refused to grant China MES, so as to continue the use of surrogate country practice as a legal instrument to constrain China’s import to their home markets. China’s Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng said that China firmly defends its lawful rights and all WTO members should strictly abide by WTO obligations and abandon the surrogate-country approach as enshrined in Article 15 of the accession protocol of the WTO. Regarding those countries that failed to do so, he said China would stand firm and defend its lawful rights. It is the shared responsibility to uphold the integrity of WTO obligations and safeguard the authority of the multilateral trading regime, which will also serve the common interests of all.
It merits attention that China and the US are the twin engines of global economy growth. Bilateral trade binds the two economies together, and has significant bearings on the development and prosperity of the world economy as well. Cooperation is the only reasonable choice for China and the US. Trade frictions are natural in a constantly expanding relationship that extends into other sectors in the globalization process. Both countries should put aside the zero-sum game mentality when seeking to address disagreements, in a bid to ensure healthy and continued progress of bilateral relations. Trade imbalance could be solved through deepening cooperation that gears towards trade balance.
WTO is the premier platform for advancing free global trade. In the process of living up to its WTO commitments, China has addressed great challenges and tests, and charted a course of open, innovative and cooperative development in globalization for win-win benefits. China’s success in continued reform and opening up has shown that cooperation for mutual benefits is the key to advancing human civilization and drives forward economic and social progress.
When world economy is facing increasing uncertainty and anti-globalization and trade protectionism are on the rise, a free and multilateral trade system is beset with challenges. It is all the more important for China and the US to engage in trade cooperation more constructively, and work together with other WTO members to safeguard the effectiveness of the WTO trade system. By enabling the trade body to run with more efficiency, China and the US would contribute more to rejuvenating world trade.
Win-win cooperation while pursuing self-development is the theme of China-US cooperation over the years, which has contributed to the strong, sustainable and inclusive growth of the world economy. Deepened China-US trade relations will serve to enhance world peace and development, and improve the well-being of people around the world.