Trump just threatened to pull out of WTO unless the US keeps winning cases

Donald Trump at White House briefing
Donald Trump listens to a question during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the James Brady Briefing Room April 10, 2020, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty

President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization unless the international organization's appellate tribunal resolves cases in favor of the U.S.

Trump claimed without evidence that the United States frequently lost cases until he assumed the presidency in 2017, but that the country's fortunes there had reversed due to his influence. His comments came while addressing reporters during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing Friday.

"We have the World Trade Organization, and until I came along we were losing cases—so many cases—it was ridiculous, we were always losing these cases in almost every case," Trump said. "And now we're winning cases...because they know I'm not going to put up with it."

He added that the reason the U.S. wins cases before the WTO's appellate body is "because they know that if we're not treated fairly, I'm going to pull out."

Trump also threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the WTO in 2018 and 2019 on account of the body's rules which consider the People's Republic of China—the country with the world's second-largest economy—to be a developing nation.

Under WTO rules, developing nation status can afford a country certain rights, such as longer periods between joining the organization and being required to comply with regulations prohibiting the imposition of certain tariffs on foreign goods.

Although Trump frequently claims claim that the U.S. previously lost most of the disputes it brought before the WTO's arbitration bodies, statistics compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics show that the U.S. wins more of its cases against China than China does against the U.S.

Despite this record of success in trade cases against China, Trump and the international trade representative he appointed, Ambassador Robert Lightheizer, in recent months have declined to approve the appointment of new judges to the WTO's appellate body.

The failure to appoint new judges has caused the appellate body to lack the quorum it needs to function, which means most second-tier disputes can no longer move forward.

"Because all of these countries are taking advantage of the United States now in the [WTO] courts and the court system, we're not approving new judges," Trump said, because the U.S. has not controlled a majority of the appointments to the organization's appellate body.

"We had always a minority position, meaning in numbers of judges -- we'd have a minority number of judges," Trump continued. "How do you win with a minority number of judges?"