There are some core rules intended to ensure fairness on international trade. The United States helped write those rules, and U.S. officials have long supported institutions like the World Trade Organization to enforce them.
But once again, Donald Trump is a very different kind of president.
President Donald Trump is not a fan of the World Trade Organization.
Axios is reporting that Trump has told several top White House officials he wants to withdraw the United States from the WTO.
“He’s [threatened to withdraw] 100 times. It would totally [screw] us as a country,” one source told the media outlet. The same source said Trump has told his advisors, “We always get f—ed by them [the WTO]. I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”
If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because this was an overlooked part of Trump’s campaign pitch. In July 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump threatened to pull the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization if membership in the global trade body interferes with his plan to impose penalties on companies that move American production offshore.”
The then-Republican candidate said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” two years ago that the World Trade Organization is “a disaster.”
There’s no reason to assume Trump has a deep understanding of what the World Trade Organization is or what it does, and he’s never spoken publicly in any depth about his concerns.
And to a certain degree, it doesn’t matter. As the Axios report makes clear, the president can rant and rave about the WTO, but he doesn’t have the authority to withdraw unilaterally: “[T]he U.S. law implementing the WTO agreements states quite plainly that withdrawal from the WTO requires an act of Congress.”
There’s no reason to believe Congress, even one led by Trump’s allies, would go along with such an effort.
But the list of alliances, partnerships, agreements, and pillars of international stability that the Republican president has no use for continues to grow. For those keeping score, Trump has already made his hostility toward NATO and the European Union clear. He’s also been inimical toward the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the American leader has also rejected the Paris climate accord, the international nuclear agreement with Iran, and the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently spoke to administration officials about how they define the “Trump Doctrine” and he heard a few summaries. One senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking, said, “The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.”
Evidently, he wasn’t kidding.