Trade Cases

WTO in Uproar Over Tariffs

Written by Sandy Williams

More than 40 members of the World Trade Organization took the floor at a meeting of the Council on Trade in Goods on Friday to voice their concerns over U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Members warned that the measures would have repercussions “not only on traders’ commercial interests but also on the predictability and stability of the rules-based multilateral trading system.”

China argued that the U.S. tariffs ignored information demonstrating that steel and aluminum imports do not affect national security. 

Russia said the new tariffs exceed the rates the U.S. had committed to under the WTO agreement and sought clarification on how exempting some WTO members from the tariffs and not others could be justified under WTO rules.

The U.S. responded that the quantities of imports and circumstances of global excess capacity for producing steel and aluminum “threaten to impair the national security” and that tariffs were necessary to address the situation. The U.S. added that relief from duties was authorized for steel and aluminum products that are not produced in sufficient quantity or quality in the United States. The WTO members that were exempted temporarily from tariffs were those with which the U.S. has a “security relationship,” said the U.S. official.

Director-General Roberto Azevedo issued the following statement: “At today’s meeting of the Council on Trade in Goods, WTO members reviewed and discussed many of the most pressing trade issues of the moment, including a number of the specific tensions that have arisen between different members in recent weeks. It is positive to see members continuing to use the WTO as a place to discuss these issues.

“I encourage members to continue working through the WTO’s many forums and mechanisms to deal with their concerns and explore potential solutions. Actions taken outside these collective processes greatly increase the risk of escalation in a confrontation that will have no winners, and which could quickly lead to a less stable trading system. Disrupting trade flows will jeopardize the global economy at a time when economic recovery, though fragile, has been increasingly evident around the world. I again call for restraint and urgent dialogue as the best path forward to resolve these problems.”

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