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    Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee

    WTO Officials Warn Against Speculating on Possible US Exit

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    Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin has said media speculation that the US could soon leave the World Trade Organization (WTO) is "fake news," as the Trump administration is committed to exploring all its possible options on trade before resorting to decisive unilateral action.

    Kristian Rouz — US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says a recent report that President Donald Trump is weighing withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) is an "exaggeration," and suggested it is false.

    WTO officials said they haven't yet received any formal notification that the US is seeking to suspend its membership in the organization.

    "We have not heard anyone express this to us at any level of the US government," Keith Rockwell, a spokesman for the WTO, said. "We won't speculate on anything we don't know anything about."

    The speculation comes amidst elevated US trade tensions with China and the EU, as well as its NAFTA partners — Canada and Mexico — as some of these countries have sought to contest US tariffs in the WTO as contradicting the organization's rules.

    Reports of the Trump administration considering quitting the international framework of the WTO were first released by news website Axios on Friday, and Secretary Mnuchin reacted swiftly after their release.

    "There's no breaking news here… it's not right," Mnuchin said in a Fox Business interview, referring to the speculation as "fake news."

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    Mnuchin confirmed Trump has reasonable concerns over the WTO's understanding of free trade, which has been criticized as allowing some countries to maintain their trade restrictions, whilst insisting others remove trade barriers altogether.

    "He (Trump) has concerns about the WTO. He thinks there are aspects of it that aren't fair," Mnuchin stressed.

    Trump himself has told both the members of his cabinet and administration and repeated this in his public speeches, that the US could withdraw from the WTO over its unfair application of free trade rules.

    Trump administration officials also said a US withdrawal from the WTO is a possibility, but it is not being seriously considered at this point. Some say the White House is still hoping its push to refurbish the international trade framework and supply chains within the WTO rules.

    "He (Trump) is frustrated with it and doesn't love it but it's not like we're doing some formal process to withdraw. He thinks they impede good trade deals and make trading more complicated," an unidentified administration source told Reuters in the wake of Axios' report.

    The WTO was established as a supranational body to oversee global trade back in December 1994. According to the organization's documents, a US withdrawal would require approval from both the House and the Senate.

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    This is likely not something the Trump administration would want to embark on at this point, as US lawmakers are currently busy trying to resolve the immigration standoff, advance the faltering nominations process, and many other domestic affairs.

    "Congress would not accept that," Bill Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. "They are very well aware how it has benefited the US. When we file a complaint, we generally win."

    The US Trade Representative is hoping to use the WTO's declared commitment to free trade to assist the Trump administration's agenda of bringing down protectionist trade barriers in other countries.

    The US currently has a WTO complaint filed against mainland China, alleging the findings of the Section 301 investigation revealed Beijing's tech licensing practices violate WTO rules.

    Besides, the Trump administration has repeatedly stated its tariffs on industrial metals and China trade are reciprocal in nature and spirit, as they come in response to already existing tariffs against US products in foreign countries. The White House is allegedly planning to resort to this argument in any possible WTO proceedings.

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    Tags:
    concerns, withdrawal, trade, World Trade Organization (WTO), Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump, United States
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