Trump threatened then-WTO chief with US withdrawal, reveals book

Bloomberg September 11 | Updated on September 11, 2020

A file picture of US President Donald Trump and former Director General of the WTO Roberto Azevedo   -  Bloomberg

The US President has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the world trade body

US President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw the US from the World Trade Organization during a contentious phone call with the group’s then-leader, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Trump demanded that Roberto Azevedo, who was then WTO’s director-general designate, give the US more favourable trading terms.

When Azevedo objected, Trump said, “Here’s what I’m doing: I’m pulling out of the World Trade Organization.”

Bloomberg News obtained the book ahead of its September 15 release.

Azevedo resigned from his position in May, well before his term was set to end in 2021. He said: “leaving early was the best thing for me, my family and the organization,” adding that the group’s work had ground to a halt.

The appointment of judges to the WTO’s appeals panel ground to a halt in December after the US blocked all nominations and allowed the terms of existing members to expire, hampering the body’s ability to resolve trade disputes.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the WTO, blasting the international body as the single worst trade deal ever made. But Woodwards book provides new details about the President’s willingness to use extreme leverage against friend and foe alike in search of trade deals.

During a private meeting about tariffs in 2017, the President mused about removing tens of thousands of American soldiers from South Korea, arguing the country was taking advantage of the US, according to Woodwards reporting. Later, Trump told trade adviser Peter Navarro he needed to take charge of steel negotiations, saying that his trade advisers were weak.

Navarro denied the conversation took place.

In a February 7 phone call with Woodward, Trump boasted that he was breaking China’s ass on trade and, by imposing steep tariffs on Chinese exports, forced Beijing’s annual gross domestic product growth rate to turn negative. The claim about China’s GDP is not supported by most economists.

The President also told Woodward that the European Union had been formed to screw the US and added that he had planned to take it on after completing trade agreements with China, Canada and Mexico. “I don’t want to be fighting every country in the world at the same time,” Trump said.

Woodwards book caused a new political headache for Trump on Wednesday after CNN and the Washington Post reported passages in which the President said he intentionally downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in order to avoid scaring Americans.

Trump made the determination even though he said he knew the virus was deadly and could be spread through the air in early February, more than a month before the US imposed social-distancing measures designed to slow the spread.

Trump told reporters on Thursday that he did’nt lie to the American public about the severity of the coronavirus.

“What I went out and said is very simple: I want to show a level of confidence,” Trump said, adding that he wanted to assure the public that the country would be fine one way or the other.

Published on September 11, 2020

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