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A man sits in front of a restaurant billboard stating that American customers will be charged 25 percent extra due to ongoing China-U.S. trade tensions, Guangzhou, China, Aug. 13, 2018 (Chinatopix photo via AP Images).

The WTO Needs Reform, but Trump Seems Focused on Breaking It

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019

Since the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995, every American president has struggled to some extent with the compromises embedded in the bargaining over the rules of international trade. But that mild discomfort has boiled over with President Donald Trump, who is deeply skeptical of multilateral institutions and has focused much of his ire on the WTO. This is now leading to a situation where the WTO’s system for settling trade disputes could grind to a halt this year. How has that happened, and what would it mean for U.S. interests?

A key American goal during the Uruguay Round of trade talks in the 1990s that created the WTO was to strengthen the system for settling trade disputes and make enforcement of the rules more certain. A second one was to extend those international trade rules to areas of U.S. comparative advantage, including services and products most dependent on intellectual property. While negotiators largely achieved those goals, the United States also had to concede to stronger rules in areas that were priorities for other trade partners. After all, it was a negotiation. ...

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