New Tariffs against the US by WTO Members

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released the following statement regarding new tariffs against the United States by certain WTO Members, including the European Union:

“President Trump has taken actions on trade in steel and aluminum to protect our national security interests. These actions are wholly legitimate and fully justified, both as a matter of U.S. law and WTO rules. By contrast, the European Union has concocted a groundless legal theory to justify immediate tariffs on U.S. exports. Other WTO Members, including China, have adopted a similar approach.

“These retaliatory tariffs underscore the complete hypocrisy that governs so much of the global trading system. For months, the EU, China, and others have criticized the trade policy of the United States, while claiming to champion the WTO. But their recent tariffs prove that they simply ignore WTO rules whenever doing so is convenient.

“Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade gives broad authority to WTO Members to take action necessary to protect essential security interests. For decades, the United States has consistently held the position that actions taken pursuant to Article XXI are not justiciable by any panel of the WTO. In other words, each sovereign country must have the power to decide, for itself, what actions are essential to its security. Any other reading of the Article would represent an unacceptable constraint on the freedom and independence of all WTO Members.

“President Trump’s actions regarding steel and aluminum plainly fall within the legitimate scope of Article XXI. Faced with massive excess capacity that puts the very future of our steel and aluminum industries at risk, President Trump took certain measures that he deemed essential to the national security of the United States. These measures were implemented only after long and careful analysis, and after all trading partners had the chance to address our concerns.

“While the United States has acted responsibly here, the European Union and its followers have not. Rather than work with the United States, they have retaliated with tariffs designed to punish U.S. companies and workers. In an effort to give cover to this blatant disregard for WTO rules, they claim to be acting in reliance on a narrow exception that applies only in response to a safeguard measure. That exception does not apply here, however, because the United States has not taken a safeguard measure. The President’s actions here were taken under a U.S. national security statute – not under the separate U.S. statute for safeguard measures. In fact, there is no credible basis for the EU’s legal theory.

“When the EU and others falsely assert the U.S. steel and aluminum duties are safeguard measures, and impose retaliatory duties under this pretense, they do great damage to the multilateral trading system. Indeed, they show that they are willing to distort WTO rules to mean whatever they want, whenever they want.

“Faced with these unjustified tariffs, the United States will take all necessary actions under both U.S. law and international rules to protect its interests.”