President Trump recently ordered a bill drafted that withdraws the U.S. from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and grants him unilateral authority to raise tariffs on any country, to any degree.
The bill, obtained by Axios, would have the U.S. abandon the WTO’s “Most Favored Nation” principle, which holds that no member can establish different tariff rates for different countries, outside of free trade negotiations. It also disregards the commitment to remaining within pre-negotiated tariff ceilings, known as “bound tariff rates.”
Trump was briefed on the bill in May despite a strong belief among all of his advisors — save for Trade hawk Peter Navarro — that the bill is politically untenable.
“It is no secret that POTUS has had frustrations with the unfair imbalance of tariffs that put the U.S. at a disadvantage. He has asked his team to develop ideas to remedy this situation and create incentives for countries to lower their tariffs. The current system gives the U.S. no leverage and other countries no incentive,” White House spokesman Lindsey Walters said in a statement.
Walters emphasized that the administration has no immediate plans to advance the legislation.
“The only way this would be news is if this were actual legislation that the administration was preparing to rollout, but it’s not,” she said. “Principals have not even met to review any text of legislation on reciprocal trade.”
The attempt to establish executive autonomy with respect to tariffs comes as Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) attempts to solidify congressional oversight on trade. Corker introduced an amendment to a Senate farm bill last week that would empower Congress to approve or disapprove tariffs implemented under a national security justification.
Efforts to rein in the administration’s aggressive protectionist tendencies have floundered thus far due to a lack of support from majority leader Mitch McConnell.