Donald Trump threatens US withdrawal from WTO

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Could the US be ready to pull out of the WTO?

US president Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw the country from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if conditions are not improved.

Speaking at an event at a chemical plant in Pennsylvania, he told workers: "We will leave if we have to. We know that they have been screwing us for years and it's not going to happen again."

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised the WTO on a number of issues, including the terms given to China when it first joined the organisation.

A memorandum from the White House pointed out that despite their increasingly developed status, China and a number of other nations continue to claim they are developing countries under WTO rules, "allowing them to enjoy the benefits that come with that status and seek weaker commitments than those made by other WTO members".

The Trump administration has also effectively paralysed the WTO's Appellate Body by blocking naming of new members to its panel, meaning the current system will not be able to continue by the end of the year.

Mr Trump has called the WTO a "catastrophe" for the US, despite the fact that it actually has a good record of winning the disputes it submits to the trading body.

These latest comments are sure to cast further uncertainty over what will happen to the WTO, especially if the US is to make good on its threats and withdraw its membership.

Discussions on its reformation have been going on for a number of years, but the member states have yet to reach a consensus.

Structural shifts in global markets since the 1990s and huge leaps forward in technology have meant the WTO is less fit for purpose than it once was, with some wondering if it has any place in the 21st century.

Global economy and finance specialist Matthew Oxenford recently said in an article for Chatham House Expert Perspectives that it may eventually become a repository for plurilateral agreements and for monitoring and data collection.