The Trump administration is exploring alternatives to taking trade disputes to the World Trade Organisation in what would amount to the first step away from a system that Washington helped to establish more than two decades ago.
Incoming officials have asked the US Trade Representative’s office to draft a list of the legal mechanisms that Washington could use to level trade sanctions unilaterally against China and other countries.
Their goal, people briefed on the request told the Financial Times, is to find ways that the new administration could circumvent the WTO’s dispute system.
Is this as simple as going to back to unilateral sanctions imposed through Section 301, or some modified version of that approach? I'm not sure how well it worked back then. Would it work at all today? It's hard to imagine it being a productive way to open foreign markets. More likely it would just lead to a series of trade wars.
But putting that aside, I wonder if the real objective here is to gain leverage for the proposed changes to WTO dispute settlement that are likely to be coming from the Trump administration. The idea might be that the U.S. could threaten to leave the system and use an alternative approach if it did not get the changes it wanted.