President Donald Trump signed two executive orders Friday designed to crack down on trade partners taking advantage of the U.S.
The orders aim to identify the causes of the huge U.S. trade deficit, look into countries that are engaging in questionable trade practices, and strengthen America’s ability to punish countries that give their industries and businesses an unfair competitive advantage in international markets through unacceptable subsidies. Trump has repeatedly stated that he wants to bolster U.S. manufacturing create trade deals that work in America’s interests.
“The jobs and wealth have been stripped from our country,” Trump remarked at the time of the signing, “Voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House. The theft of American prosperity will end. We are going to defend our industry and create a level playing field for the American worker. Today I am signing two executive orders that send this message loud and clear and that set the stage for the great revival of American manufacturing.”
The U.S. will “take necessary and lawful action to end” trade abuses, the president explained, adding, “We are going to get these bad trade deals straightened out.”
The first order will give officials 90 days to create a comprehensive list of “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that now contributes” to the $500 billion U.S. trade deficit.
“Needless to say, the number one source of the deficit is China,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday. The U.S. had a massive $347 billion trade deficit with China last year, guaranteeing it a spot at the top of the list.
Government officials will look for signs of “cheating” and other inappropriate trade behavior.
The second order will improve the collection of anti-dumping and countervailing duties, which are levied against foreign countries that unfairly subsidize their industries, allowing businesses to sell products below market cost. China regularly pumps state funding into industries and companies in valuable sectors to boost their competitiveness, a major aspect of Chinese projects like the Made in China 2025 program. China has also repeatedly run afoul of U.S. anti-dumping laws.
Ross and Director of the National Trade Council Peter Navarro told reporters Thursday that the executive orders are not designed to target any specific country or to put China on notice.
“These actions are designed to let the world know that this is another step in the president fulfilling his campaign promise,” Ross said. “Nothing we’re saying tonight is about China,” Navarro added. “Let’s not make this a China story. This is a story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of duties.”
The orders come just days before a high-level meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Given Trump’s tough talk on trade during the campaign and his criticisms of Chinese practices, U.S.-China bilateral trade is likely to feature prominently in their discussions on the future of the relationship.
Trump said Thursday he expects the meeting with China to be “difficult,” noting, “We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses.” The president said Friday that he and Xi will get down to “very serious business.”
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