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Secretary of Commerce Says It’s ‘a Little Premature’ to Discuss a U.S. Withdrawal from the WTO

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said it’s “a little premature” to be talking about a U.S. withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO), despite a new bill that would effectively do so.

“WTO knows some reforms are needed. So I think there really is a need to update and synchronize its activities and we’ll see where that leads,” Ross told CNBC on Monday. “But I think it’s a little premature to talk about simply withdrawing from it.”

The U.S. has already blocked the appointment of legal experts to the WTO’s appeals body and the Trump administration has often complained the group interferes with sovereign trade.

“We’ve made no secret of our view that there are some reforms needed at the WTO,” said Ross.

As Ross is focused on reform, the Trump administration has drafted a bill that allows the U.S. president to determine tariff rates outside the jurisdiction of the WTO. This bypasses two major WTO principals and also puts more power in the president’s hands, as no congressional approval is required.

According to Axios, the bill’s implementation “would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal.” But the bill is not yet law, and lawmakers don’t seem anxious to make it so.

Ross has also been criticized for recommending the steel and aluminum tariffs that has fanned the flames of a global trade war since last February. As the president threatens to implement further taxes on European auto imports, the Commerce Department is investigating the need for such tariffs. Ross also said it’s too “premature” to tell if these auto-import taxes will become reality.