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WTO says US tariffs on China are not justified and breach trade rules

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has undercut the main justification for US President Donald Trump’s trade war against China, saying that American tariffs on Chinese goods violate international rules.

A panel of three WTO trade experts yesterday said the US broke global regulations when it imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in 2018. Washington has imposed levies on $400bn (€337bn) in Chinese exports.

The panel said in its report that “the United States had not met its burden of demonstrating that the measures are provisionally justified”.

While the ruling bolsters Beijing’s claims, Washington can effectively veto the decision by lodging an appeal at any point in the next 60 days. That’s because the Trump administration has already paralysed the WTO’s appellate body, a tactic that has rendered virtually toothless the world’s foremost arbiter of trade.

“Although the panel did not dispute the extensive evidence submitted by the United States of intellectual property theft by China, its decision shows that the WTO provides no remedy for such misconduct,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a statement. He added that the report has no effect on the phase-one agreement between the nations.

The dispute centres on the Trump administration’s use of a 1970s-era US trade law to unilaterally launch its commercial conflict against China in 2018.

In a statement, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the nation “approves of the objective and fair ruling of the expert group”.

It repeated Chinese criticisms of unilateralism and described the WTO as the “core of the multilateral trading system which forms the cornerstone of multilateral trade”.

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