To WTO or Not to WTO?

By June 23, 2009Policy Experts, Trade

The United States and the European Union today initiated World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement procedures against China for it trade-distorting export restrictions on critical raw materials. Those materials, such as coking coal, are vital inputs to U.S. and other manufacturing, and China’s action has hiked world prices for those inputs while holding China’s internal prices down. That gives China an unfair competitive advantage and is directly contrary to the promises that China made when it joined the WTO. (See Ambassador Kirk’s statement, USTR materials.)

America’s manufacturers have been hurt by these practices, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has pressed the U.S. Government to take action to get China to stop. As our press release today indicates, we strongly support the action taken today.

I am surprised, though, at some of the press reaction feeling this is a negative step. For example, the Guardian’s website has a headline screaming, “China and U.S. head for trade war.” Ridiculous. The WTO dispute settlement mechanism is in effect the international trade court for the world — the impartial place you go to resolve trade disputes so you don’t have to have a trade war.

While I am sure China will say they haven’t done anything wrong and will contest the charges before the WTO, China’s past record on settling and complying with WTO cases has been pretty good. I expect that they will abide by whatever decision the WTO makes this time, though it would be really good if China recognized they are in the wrong and voluntarily came into compliance.

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