In retrospect, it seems obvious that President Trump might be considering withdrawing from the World Trade Organization. He’s fervently anti-globalization, so scratch “world.” He’s vowed to overhaul international economic treaties, so see you later, “trade.” As for his relationship with “organization”? Well, we’ll let you be the judges.
The report that Trump had spoken about withdrawing from the WTO came from Axios‘s Jonathan Swan on Friday morning.
“He’s [threatened to withdraw] 100 times,” one source told Swan. “It would totally [screw] us as a country.” (If you’re curious what word “[screw]” replaces, we have a guess.)
More broadly, though, the reason it should have been predictable that Trump would flirt with dropping out of the WTO is that this is what he does. Since becoming president, he has flirted with withdrawing the United States from several major organizations or agreements — and has actually withdrawn the country from several others. In some cases, those flirtations mean that small groups would become even smaller. In others, though, such a move would or does establish the United States as one of the only countries on the planet to hold its isolated position.
When Trump has withdrawn the U.S.
We can start with the Iran deal, more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump railed against the deal on the campaign trail, arguing that it was one of the worst deals that had ever been made and that its terms, including returning a large amount of money to Iran, were ridiculous.
Many within the foreign policy establishment recommended against withdrawal from the agreement, though, arguing that it would be an effective way to keep Iran contained. For a while, those voices prevailed. Last month, Trump went ahead and pulled out.
Trump also frequently criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a candidate, arguing in broad terms that it was a bad deal for the United States and, at one point, that agreeing to it might somehow empower China. (China was not a party to the agreement.)
Three days into his presidency, the United States was out of the trade agreement.
There’s a theme to the first two examples on our list: Each took a long time to negotiate. That holds true for the third example, too.
The Paris climate accord was meant to be a nonbinding global agreement that would result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from both large and small economies. Trump, again, criticized the agreement on the campaign trail as putting the United States at an economic disadvantage. In June 2017, he announced that the United States would withdraw from the accord — though that process won’t be finalized until the day after the 2020 presidential election.
Last week, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced American withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, frustrated at the body’s treatment of Israel.
Interestingly, Israel still participates in the council even though it is not a member. (That’s the same status held by North Korea and Eritrea.) The United States is the only country that does not participate in the council, according to a U.N. spokesman.
When Trump has spoken about isolating the U.S.
Then there are the threats and the rumblings and the comments that suggest that Trump isn’t happy with America’s position in other bodies and agreements.
We mentioned this one at the outset, but it’s still worth noting just how isolated the United States would be if it were to leave the WTO. Nearly every country on the planet — save exceptions such as Turkmenistan, Greenland, Eritrea, North Korea and French Guiana — is a member or WTO observer.
On a smaller scale, Trump has repeatedly flirted with withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, preferring instead to make individual deals with Canada and Mexico. This move is still very much on the table.
Earlier this month, Trump revealed a fissure within the Group of Seven countries (formerly the Group of Eight before Russia was booted for seizing Crimea). After a number of contentious debates at a summit in Canada, Trump announced after his departure that the United States would not sign a joint statement meant to represent the seven member states.
Then there’s the big one.
Trump has repeatedly disparaged NATO members for not contributing their fair share to the alliance and has reportedly complained about the organization in private conversations with world leaders as well.
Earlier this week, The Post’s Josh Rogin reported that Trump made a very specific joke on the subject in a conversation with the prime minister of Sweden in March.
“Prime Minister Stefan Lofven explained to Trump that Sweden, although not a member of NATO, partners with the alliance on a case-by-case basis,” Rogin reported. “Trump responded that the United States should consider that approach.”
Rogin noted that a senior administration official then told him that Trump was joking. One could be forgiven, though, for taking seriously his threat to leave an international compact.