United States violated trade rules with tariffs on China: WTO

15 Septembre, 2020, 19:57 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
  • World Trade Organization logo at the entrance of the WTO headquarters in Geneva

A World Trade Organization panel ruled Tuesday that Trump administration tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods are illegal, vindicating Beijing even if the United States has all but incapacitated the WTO's ability to hand down a final, binding verdict.

Washington has imposed levies on US$400 billion (S$545 billion) in Chinese exports. That means the United States can appeal the decision "into the void", said Timothy Keeler, a lawyer at Mayer Brown and former chief of staff for the U.S. Trade Representative.

China's Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Tuesday that it "appreciates the objective and fair ruling made by the expert group".

The panel found that the duties were inconsistent with trading rules because they applied only to China and were above the maximum rates to which the United States had committed.

Beijing and Washington reached a partial truce earlier this year with the signing of their "phase one" trade deal. He said the USA had presented "extensive evidence" of China's intellectual property theft and the WTO has offered no fixes for it.

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President Donald Trump justified the China tariffs by citing a 1974 law allowing the president to impose tariffs and other restrictions on imports in retaliation for unfair trade practices and other tactics that disadvantage the United States commercially, insisting the levies were necessary to counter China's allegedly rampant violation of intellectual property rights, particularly in the technology sector.

China had argued the USA tariffs violated GATT's most-favored treatment provision because they did not apply equally to other WTO member countries. China also alleged the tariffs violated a key dispute settlement rule that requires countries to first seek recourse from the WTO dispute settlement body before imposing retaliatory tariffs against another country. The US can appeal the decision at any time within 60 days, an act which would essentially veto it, since Washington has hamstrung the WTO's appellate department by refusing to appoint a representative to it.

The Trump administration has justified the sanctions under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, once a common tool used by the US government to impose sanctions - and recently revived by Trump. The Trump administration has claimed the United States tariffs were necessary to confront China's widespread violations of intellectual property rights and forced technology transfer policies on the part of China.

While the European Union has so far been spared USA levies based on the controversial Section 301, the 27-nation bloc may breathe a sigh of relief over Tuesday's WTO verdict.

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