President Donald Trump on Friday vowed to root out unfair trade practices around the world and target countries that contribute to America’s substantial trade deficit.
“From now on those who break the rules will face the consequences, and there will be very severe consequences,” Trump said announcing two executive orders in the Oval Office.
The first, largely symbolic order, tasked officials to pinpoint “cheaters” - either countries or firms - who are responsible for America’s nearly $50bn a month trade deficit.
Much of that deficit data is already publicly available and well known, but Trump’s initiative doubles down on his tough trade rhetoric and is being seen as a protectionist warning shot a week before the US leader meets Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to put America’s trading relationship with the world on a more advantageous basis and put “America first.”
“Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country, but these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House,” Trump said.
“The well-being of America and the American worker is my North Star,” he said, adding that without the issue of trade he may not be president today.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the order would result in analysts going “country by country, and product by product,” reporting back to Trump within 90 days.
Officials will look for evidence of “cheating,” inappropriate behavior, trade deals that have not lived up to their promise, lax enforcement, currency misalignment and troublesome World Trade Organization constraints.
“Needless to say the number one source of the deficit is China,” Ross said, before listing more than a dozen other “countries that will potentially be involved.”
The others were: Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
However, Ross said the presence of a deficit does not necessarily mean that retaliatory or remedial action would be taken.
“It’s a little bit hard to say that someone is an evildoer if they are providing a product we can’t,” he said.
In a second executive order Trump asked the government to better recover trade duties on products that are subsidized by foreign governments or dumped on the US market.
The order, Trump said, would “ensure that we fully collect all duties imposed on important importers that cheat. They are cheaters.”
The proposals being considered by US customs officials could impose more substantial bonding requirements at the border or examine products’ risk more stringently.