Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

It is no secret that US President Donald Trump is fed up with the World Trade Organization – he has insisted publicly since his campaign that it is “a disaster,” which treated the US unfairly.

According to a report on Friday, instead of making efforts to address perceived problems with the international trade regime, the president has been pushing privately for the US to throw in the towel.

“He’s [threatened to withdraw from the WTO] 100 times. It would totally [screw] us as a country,” Axios quoted one source who’s discussed the subject with Trump as saying. “We always get fucked by them [the WTO],” Trump frequently tells advisors, according to the source. “I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”

But the president has not managed to convince White House officials, who, according to Axios have yet to put in place a policy process that would allow Trump to move forward with such a threat.

The characterization bears an eerie resemblance to the discussions on tariffs, an issue on which White House staff stymied Trump’s efforts for a long time before he lost his patience, but it would be harder for Trump to make a similar decision with the WTO.

Trump could make a symbolic move, notifying the WTO of US intentions to withdraw, but Congress would need to be involved to make such a move official.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s unilateral trade actions have already succeeded in making the WTO less relevant, flouting long-adhered to norms that allowed the global trade regime to function. Specifically, invoking national security as a basis for unilateral tariffs, as Trump did with tariffs on steel and aluminum, has long been identified as a danger to the sustainability of the WTO system.

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