WTO or World Trade Organization is an intergovernmental organization established in 1995, to ensure smooth functioning of international trade. WTO currently has 164 countries as members. WTO members constitute almost 98% and 95% of global GDP and global trade respectively.
The organization is currently in the crosshairs of Trump. It has been reported that he wanted to withdraw US from the global trade regulator. Trump recently declared in an interview that WTO had done nothing positive for the country and he might think about leaving the organization if nothing is done about the current situation. Axios.com has obtained all this information from a leaked draft of a bill that purports to give Trump unprecedented powers in deciding tariffs and negotiating with each country individually. These two actions go against the very core of what WTO stands for and what has already been negotiated and decided by the member countries in decades of negotiation. Peter Navarro is primarily pushing the Bill “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”. He is a trade advisor to Trump and a trade extremist whose views have been roundly panned by almost all major business publications. The bill, even with Republicans controlling the House and Senate, has a minuscule chance of passing but it should anyways ring alarm bells as to the thinking of the Trump administration. All the great work done by tax relief and deregulation would go down the drain with one single act of destabilizing a global pillar of world trade.
The impact of any such unilateral action is predicted to be severe and swift. It will lead to dismantling of the organization with decades of hard work in hammering out trade deals going out the drain. The United States might be a short-term beneficiary with its ability to bully nations especially small exporters into accepting its demands. But the overall reduction in global trade would not only offset any advantage accrued to US, but have a long term detrimental effect on the same global trade United States depends on to survive and grow.
The other impact would be that US would lose the ability to approach WTO for any dispute. Losing such a mechanism would force US to retaliate via direct trade tariffs and other crude tools which would only create trade wars and raise geopolitical tensions.
Even without the bill, the US has been indirectly discrediting the global trade forum. Every judicial appointment to WTO has been vetoed by the Trump administration. This has led to chaos within the organization, as it has been unable to adjudicate on any trade issues.
Supporters of global trade are obviously worried of this new disposition. Republicans have usually been always pro-trade. But new political commitments demand that Trump focus on the rust belt, which helped him achieve the presidency. This internal shift towards protectionism seems to be focused on appeasing that very vote bank. The question is that the economics behind this decision-making clearly shows that any such action by Trump would be extremely bad for the same electorate. It is just that the optics of berating these pro-globalization bodies can be leveraged for electoral gain for the coming midterm elections in November. Even the majority of Trump advisors are against any such move and history suggests that this is just Trump trying to ratchet pressure on the organization to get them to concede to his demands. But in any situation, it is definite that world trade and financial markets are in for a rough ride these few months.