Trump aims to root out 'cheaters' to combat burgeoning trade deficit

US President Donald Trump speaks about signing executive orders on trade policies in the Oval Office of the White House. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Washington, United States Mar 31, 2017, 09.46 PM (IST)

United States President Donald Trump Friday doubled down on his promise to tackle the substantial trade deficit by signing two executive orders and shooting a stern warning to countries or companies who have "stolen factories" from the country.

Calling countries contributing to the US' burgeoning trade deficit as "cheaters", Trump said: "From now on those who break the rules will face the consequences, and there will be very severe consequences."

"Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country, but these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House," the 70-year-old president said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also pinpointed China as the primary source of the US economy's bugbear, a week before Trump is due to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

Ross also listed a dozen other countries responsible for the lopsided trade deals. Among them were: Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

But the Commerce Secretary stopped short of calling all countries as "evildoers" and reasoned that the new order would not necessarily trigger retaliatory action against them.

Trade reset 

In a second executive order Trump asked the government to better recover trade duties on products that are subsidised 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.

Listing various problem areas, Trump advisor Peter Navarro said: "This is a big deal. It's steel, chemicals, agricultural products, machinery -- it's the whole gambit."

WTO head Roberto Azevedo said there was a need for clarity on US trade policy, to see how public declarations translate into policy.

"It is difficult to predict and speculate about what US trade policy will be. It's a very important country, one which the whole world has its eyes on."

In a sign of brewing unease, Germany on Friday protested over planned US punitive anti-dumping duties on steel plate products from companies in that country and half a dozen others.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel charged the step breached global trade rules and unfairly disadvantaged suppliers in Germany, as well as in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Italy also voiced alarm, amid fears that products like Vespa scooters could be hit by punitive duties.

"Trump declares war on the Vespa" said a headline in national daily Il Messaggero, reflecting the tone of most of the media coverage on an issue that dominated front pages and topped news bulletins.

Navarro insisted the new measures would fall within rules at the World Trade Organization, where some might see the United States erecting a technical barrier to trade.

"There is no issue here," he said. "We've been collecting these duties -- we just haven't been doing it very well. The WTO is silent on the issue of incompetence."

The US Chamber of Commerce gave the orders a qualified welcome.

"The Chamber supports strong enforcement of trade rules and agreements, as long as such enforcement is based on facts and the proper interpretation of those facts and not politics," said CEO Thomas Donohue.

(WION with inputs from AFP)