President Donald Trump sought to push his crusade for fair trade and more manufacturing jobs back to the top of his agenda on Friday by ordering a study into the causes of US trade deficits and a clampdown on import duty evasion.
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One of the orders directed the Commerce Department and the US trade representative to conduct a 90-day review of the causes of massive US trade deficits. It will study the effects of abuses such as the dumping of products below costs, unfair subsidies, “misaligned” currencies and “non-reciprocal” trade practices by other countries.
“We are going to investigate all trade abuses, and, based on those findings, we will take necessary and lawful action to end those many abuses,” Trump said, adding that he was not beholden to any businesses.
Trump administration officials have said they plan tougher enforcement of US trade remedy laws and will initiate more unilateral trade deals. In his 2016 White House bid, the New York businessman campaigned heavily against free-trade deals and accused China of draining jobs from US factory towns with cheap exports.
and noted that China had a trade deficit in services.
The study of trade abuses appeared aimed at justifying unilateral retaliatory trade actions by the US, said Matt Gold, a former deputy assistant US trade representative who is now an adjunct trade law professor at Fordham University in New York.
“They probably think it will give them better political ammunition,” Gold said.
The trade abuses study will focus on those countries that have chronic goods trade surpluses with the US.
China tops the list, with a $347 billion surplus last year, followed by Japan, with a $69 billion surplus, Germany at $65 billion, Mexico at $63 billion, Ireland at $36 billion and Vietnam at $32 billion.
The study will also examine past trade deals that have failed to produce forecast benefits for the US, as well as World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said do not treat countries equally, such as on taxation.
The US has long complained that WTO rules allow exports from other countries to be exempt from value-added taxes (VAT), but do not allow equivalent corporate income tax benefits for US exporters.
The Trump administration is considering a border tax that would be levied on imports and which would aim to put the US on a similar tax basis for trade as countries that have VAT.
The second trade order will fight nonpayment and under-collection of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties the US slaps on many foreign goods.
White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro said some $2.8 billion in such duties went uncollected between 2001 and the end of 2016 from companies in some 40 countries.
Navarro said the order directs the Commerce and Homeland Security departments to close these gaps by imposing tougher bonding requirements to ensure duty collections and new legal requirements for assessing risks associated with importers.
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