Trade Cases

WTO Members Critical of U.S. National Security Measures

Written by Sandy Williams

The World Trade Organization is keeping busy fielding complaints from countries concerned about U.S. trade policies. So far seven countries have filed requests to the WTO for consultation with the U.S. on Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum. 

WTO logoRussia was the latest to file a complaint, charging that the Section 232 measures violate WTO rules under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Agreement on Safeguards. Norway, Mexico, Canada, the EU, India and China have filed similar complaints claiming that the U.S. tariffs are safeguards rather than national security measures.

Other WTO members, such as Hong Kong, Thailand and Turkey, have not filed their own disputes, but have asked to be third parties to the consultations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has pushed back on the safeguard argument, maintaining that under GATT “each sovereign country must have the power to decide, for itself, what actions are essential to its security.”

“Rather than work with the United States, [the EU and others] have retaliated with tariffs designed to punish U.S. companies and workers,” said Lighthizer. “In an effort to give cover to this blatant disregard for WTO rules, they claim to be acting in reliance on a narrow exception that applies only in response to a safeguard measure. That exception does not apply here, however, because the United States has not taken a safeguard measure.”

The Section 232 measures on steel and aluminum, as well as proposed measures on autos exported to the U.S., were central to discussions at the WTO Goods Council meeting in Geneva last week. GATT issues fall under the purview of the Goods Council. Members at the meeting discussed how the U.S. measures will affect global value chains, consumer costs and the multilateral trading system.

Members struggled to see how U.S. national security could be threatened by the import of automobiles and auto parts. Over 40 WTO members spoke at the meeting, warning that imposing auto tariffs could seriously disrupt the global market and multilateral trading system.

Russia, which along with Japan initiated the auto tariff discussions at the meeting, said the U.S. is losing its reputation as a trusted trading partner by threatening the rules of the global trading system. Japan postulated that auto tariffs would lead to an avalanche of retaliatory measures.

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