World

Trump to sign executive orders tackling unfair trade

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump would sign executive orders aimed at identifying abuses that are causing massive US trade deficits and clamping down on non-payment of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on imports, his top trade officials said.

The orders, which underscore China's position as the biggest contributor to the US$734 billion (S$1.02 trillion) US goods trade deficit last year, comes as Mr Trump prepares for his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week in Florida, where trade issues promise to be a major source of tension.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said one order would result in analysts going "country by country, and product by product" and reporting back to Mr Trump within 90 days.

They will look, he said, for evidence of "cheating", inappropriate behaviour, trade deals that have not lived up to their promise, lax enforcement, currency misalignment and troublesome World Trade Organisation constraints.

"It will form the basis for decision making by the administration," he said.

The order comes a week before Mr Trump meets Mr Xi and is likely to be seen as a warning shot across Beijing's bow.

"Needless to say, the No. 1 source of the deficit is China," he said, before listing more than a dozen other "countries that will potentially be involved".

The others listed were: Japan, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia and Canada.

But Mr Ross said the presence of a deficit did not necessarily mean that retaliatory or remedial action would be taken.

"It's a little bit hard to say that someone is an evil-doer if they are providing a product we can't," he said.

"In some cases, it will simply be that they are better at making the product or can do it far cheaper than we can.

"This is not meant to say that everybody on this little list is an evil-doer."

Mr Trump had vowed to put America's trading relationship with the world on a more advantageous basis and put "America first".

Critics counter that although the US runs a deficit with some countries, no nation has benefited more from current global trading arrangements than its only superpower.

In a second executive order, Mr Trump will order the government to look at ways the US can better recover trade duties on products that are subsidised by foreign governments or dumped on the US market.

"We've under collected 2.8 billion of these duties" said Mr Peter Navarro, a top Trump trade advisor outlining the plan.

Under the proposals being considered, US customs officials could impose more substantial bonding requirements at the border or examine products' risk.

Listing various problem areas, Mr Navarro said: "This is a big deal.

"It's steel, chemicals, agricultural products, machinery..."- WIRE SERVICES