The US can no longer be allowed to go rogue at the WTO: Global Times editorial

Global times, December 12, 2022 — The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled on Friday local time that the US tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum products in 2018 on the grounds of national security contravened the organization’s regulations, recommending the US to bring its actions into conformity. Moreover, the US defended itself by invoking the WTO national security exception. In response, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body said that Washington’s measures were not imposed “in time of war or other emergency in international relations.” Therefore, the US could not invoke the “security exception” under Article 21 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. This ruling clarifies the criteria for using the security exception and limits for those who use this article to practice unilateralism and protectionism easily.

Four years ago, the Donald Trump administration used “national security” as a pretext to wave its tariff stick, disregarding the rules and credibility. This included imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum products, which caused outrage from the international community. These countries expressed their concern and filed lawsuits with the WTO. In addition, international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, have spoken out against the US measures. This is a typical example of how the US undermines free trade. For the cases brought by China, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, the WTO panel took more than four years to give an objective and fair ruling.

Since today’s global economic order is in urgent need of stability, this ruling is inspiring and significant. One, it has confirmed US’ abuse of the “national security” excuse with solid evidence, clarifying what’s right and wrong. This demonstrates that the security exception is not a “safe haven” for unilateralism and protectionism. Two, it has provided a clearer explanation of the WTO rules on “national security” at the international level. It has not only prevented more countries from using the security exception in a narrow sense, but also allowed nations that will face similar difficulties to stand up for their rights and interests.

However, Washington reacted sharply in the face of such a logical ruling. According to reports, the US government strongly opposed the WTO ruling, claiming they do not “intend to remove the Section 232 duties” and accusing the interpretation and conclusions of WTO panel reports of being “flawed.” “These reports only reinforce the need to fundamentally reform the WTO dispute settlement system,” the US added. What kind of hegemony and arrogance is this that allows Washington to express its contempt for the WTO so bluntly? Even some US media could not help but point out that Washington’s response was utterly “provocative.”

In fact, this is astandard behavior for US in the WTO. Once the US loses the case, not only will it not accept the result, but it will even accuse the WTO of not being qualified to judge its rights and wrongs, as in the so-called “lose the lawsuit and demolish the court.” As we all know, when the number of defendants in the WTO dispute settlement mechanism is increasing and the frequency of losing cases is increasing, the US even paralyzes the WTO’s appeal mechanism to obtain unfettered power. The US always talks about “rules-based international order” on various international occasions and the meaning of this is so clear in the US’ WTO practice. The so-called “rules” are nothing but that other countries must follow US’ rules, while it must have the privilege to be free from the rules.

It started with the Obama administration paralyzing the WTO appeals mechanism, followed by the Trump administration ignoring WTO rules and launching trade wars, and then the Biden administration breaking the law under the banner of “respecting the WTO.” The US government’s consistent attitude toward international organizations, including the WTO, is that “if it works, use it; if it doesn’t, discard it.” This year, the Inflation Reduction Act promulgated by Washington has once again demonstrated the hypocritical nature of the US to ignore morality and rules for its own self-interest. Recently, the US used the pretext of “responses to climate change” to plan to levy new tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. However, whether it is “national security” or “climate change,” the international community has seen enough of US’ tricks of fabricating rhetoric for its own interests.

As a pivotal part of the international order, the WTO has made great achievements since its establishment.The total trade volume of its members has reached 98 percent of the world trade. Its normal operation is equivalent to a protective shield for the prosperity of global trade. Now, with the formation of a multipolar world, it naturally needs to reform to adapt to the new situation, but the reform that Washington expects is the hegemonic thinking of “for my use” and “America first,” which runs counter to the international community’s expectations for the WTO to better safeguard fairness and justice. The provocative attitude it has shown toward the WTO this time is actually an offense to the entire international community.

We call on all WTO members to stand up and jointly oppose, condemn and resist Washington’s unilateralist approach that ignores international rules, which is a matter of the stability of the global system and also international morality. The US should no longer be allowed to act as a rogue in the WTO, nor should Washington’s hegemonism and protectionism be tolerated.

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