America’s relationship with the World Trade Organization is about to get a lot more complicated.
President-elect Donald Trump already has threatened to withdraw from the Geneva-based organization, but his selection of Robert Lighthizer to be the next U.S. Trade Representative last week increases the odds that the U.S. will turn the WTO into a major battlefield.
Lighthizer, a longtime trade attorney who spent his career defending U.S. steel companies and other domestic industries from allegedly unfair foreign competition, can be expected to make a push for a major reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement process, or at least carry out such an aggressive litigation strategy that he could shake the group's well-insulated legal system to its core, experts say.
“That’s an area Bob knows well,” said a trade lawyer who has worked closely with Lighthizer defending domestic companies. “He will try to put pressure on the WTO to rein in some of these outlier decisions.”
I'm preparing myself for the worst here, but I really don't know where the Trump administration trade folks will try to take WTO dispute settlement. I can imagine something that completely undermines the system, but I can also imagine a few tweaks that improve it. Some of the key areas they are likely to want to address are particular substantive issues related to safeguards, anti-dumping and countervailing duties, as well as the standard of review for these kinds of cases.
I hope they do some stakeholder consultations when coming up with their objectives and developing their strategy. A lot of different groups will be affected by whatever they try to do, and it's worth getting a range of views about the best approach.