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Trade: Trump tariffs break global trade rules, says WTO

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The WTO came out in support of a complaint from China about tariffs set at around $ 234 billion in goods in 2018. The panel found that tariffs broke some rules, including that countries apply equal tariff rates to all member trading partners.

The WTO decision will have little practical effect, however – because the group’s appeals board has too few members to act on as unrelated states blocked the necessary appointments.

Trump has set tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese imports in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table and address issues of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers.

The United States and China agreed on a preliminary agreement earlier this year, but most of the tariffs remain in place. They make those goods more expensive for American businesses and sometimes lead to higher prices for consumers.

The Trump administration has long criticized the WTO for not holding China accountable. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer criticized the group’s decision on Tuesday, arguing that it confirms the body is ineffective.

“Although the panel did not dispute the extensive evidence presented by the United States of the theft of intellectual property from China, its decision shows that the WTO does not offer any solution to such misconduct,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

China currently also has tariffs imposed on U.S.-made goods, but the United States has not filed a formal complaint over those duties.

Tariffs have been a common tool for Trump. He has used them against neighbors like Canada and Mexico during negotiations to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Also Tuesday, the United States agreed to lift tariffs on Canadian aluminum, hours before Canada had decided to announce retaliatory tariffs.

Instead, the United States is setting a quota and reserving the right to set tariffs retroactively if the quota level is exceeded.

In August, Trump again imposed a 10% tariff on Canadian aluminum, arguing that imports threatened U.S. national security. He had lifted tariffs on Canada and Mexico last year amid negotiations over a new NAFTA. The renegotiated trade agreement, known as the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, entered into force in July.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Trump administration move because tariffs made aluminum more expensive for some U.S. manufacturers. But the group expressed concern about the uncertainty left in the country.

“What American producers need now is the reassurance that these tariffs will not make another resurgence,” Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement.

CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to the report.

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