On March 1, 2017, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released The President’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda.
As detailed in the Agenda, the Administration believes that the United States will be best served by focusing on bilateral negotiations rather than multilateral negotiations – and by renegotiating and revising trade agreements when US goals are not being met. The Administration rejects the argument that the United States should, for an purported geopolitical advantage, ignore unfair trade practices that disadvantage American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in global markets.
This Agenda strongly reinforces the President’s promises to promote economic nationalism and sovereignty over traditional deference to international trade rules, treaties and multilateral dispute settlement mechanisms. The new Administration’s key priorities will be: (i) to defend U.S. national sovereignty when pitted against international rules; (ii) to vigorously enforce U.S. trade laws; (iii) to use all possible sources of leverage — not only international trade rules — to pressure other countries to open their markets to U.S. exports and to protect against theft of U.S. intellectual property rights; and (iv) to negotiate new and better bilateral trade deals with countries in key markets around the world.
The next steps in advancing these Trade Policies include: (1) renegotiating NAFTA and (2) cracking down on China and researching potential avenues to increase duties on Chinese imports. While the President reversed himself on labeling China “currency manipulator” there does not appear to be a more general change in the Administration’s enforcement posture. For example, the US Commerce Department announced a record-breaking US$1.192-billion fine against China-based ZTE for using US-origin components in its Chinese telecom products exported to both Iran and North Korea in violation of US Sanctions. The fine is the largest ever imposed by OFAC against a foreign non-financial institution. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has warned that “These penalties are just the first example of the extraordinary powers Commerce will use” to enforce U.S. trade laws.