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Trump administration says US may defy WTO rulings: What does that mean?

The Christian Science Monitor
Weston Williams
Thursday, March 2, 2017

"On Wednesday night, the Trump administration released the 2017 Trade Policy Agenda to the public. The document, which was also sent to Congress, outlines a new approach to trade, with a focus on tougher bilateral trade deals which President Trump has touted as a way to get better "deals" for the United States.

Included in the agenda was a highly unusual and controversial promise that the US would not be bound by settlements from multinational bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO) if it deemed that such settlements encroached on 'American sovereignty.'


The WTO has a number of specific functions, Raj Bhala, law professor and associate dean for International and Comparative Law at the University of Kansas, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. These include: serving as a forum for negotiation and monitors the trade laws and policies of its 164 member nations; conducting research on matters relating to trade; educating the public on economic matters; and serving as liaison with other multinational organizations like the UN and World Bank.

But the function most in danger of being undermined by the new Trump agenda, says Prof. Bhala,  is also WTO's most significant role: as an international body with the ability to settle trade disputes.

'The first thing to note about that is that ability is actually [often described as] the 'crown jewel' in the WTO, because it's been the most successful of all the functions,' says Bhala. 'This organization has handled 500 cases in just 21 years. That's more than any other international legal forum has handled in a similar period of time in human history. So, for people who like the international rule of law, this is a remarkable success story.'"

Faculty name: 
Raj Bhala