Trump to order ‘trade abuse’ study

Jennifer Jacobs

President Donald Trump will order on Friday a comprehensive study to identify every form of “trade abuse” that contributes to U.S. deficits with foreign countries, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.

Trump also will take steps to toughen enforcement of trade penalties just a day after announcing the date for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, leader of the country Trump has blamed most frequently for trade deficits and job losses. Ross said the two executive actions weren’t intended as a warning to China.

The trade study, to be completed within 90 days, will examine deficits “country by country and product by product” to assess the extent they are caused by “cheating or inappropriate behavior,” Ross said. He said the findings, which also will cover currency misalignments and "constraints" imposed by the World Trade Organization, will help guide Trump’s trade policies.

Trump also will announce Friday an order to strengthen enforcement of existing countervailing duties and anti-dumping penalties against foreign products to address under-collection, said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council. Anti-dumping penalties target exporters that sell goods below the cost of production and countervailing duties are intended to compensate for foreign-government subsidies to producers.

Navarro said such duties have been under-collected by a cumulative $2.8 billion since 2001. Last year, the nation collected $1.5 billion in the penalties, he said.

Trump made addressing what he called unfair foreign trade practices a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal his predecessor negotiated. Yet key promises such as renegotiating Nafta, imposing border taxes on companies that move production overseas and labeling China a currency manipulator remained unfulfilled.

Trump sent out a tweet Thursday evening suggesting he remains irritated with China over trade.

“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses,” Trump said via his Twitter account. “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

China is the biggest U.S. trade partner, as well as the nation running up the biggest deficit in trade of goods — $347 billion in 2016, almost half of the U.S. total. But China also is among the top three export markets for 33 states.

At a White House briefing for reporters previewing Friday’s actions that began barely 15 minutes after Trump’s tweets on China, Navarro dismissed questions about whether the orders should be read as a warning to the nation.

“Nothing we’re saying tonight is about China,” Navarro said at a Thursday evening briefing. “Let’s not make this a story about China. This is a story about trade abuses.”

Navarro said the administration will seek better collection of duties imposed as trade penalties by directing the secretary of Homeland Security to work with the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Department to impose bonding requirements and take other legal actions based on risk assessments.

Another goal is to step up the seizure of counterfeit and pirated goods, Navarro said.

The White House on Thursday also distanced itself from a document suggesting it was softening its goals for a renegotiation of Nafta.

A letter sent to key members of Congress as part of a consultation process required before triggering a renegotiation suggested the administration would seek more modest changes and would leave in place controversial pieces of the trade deal, including an arbitration panel that lets investors bypass the court system to redress claims under the pact.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday said the letter “is not an accurate statement of where we are at this time.”