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Opinion | Why America Is Getting Tough on Trade (Published 2022) – The New York Times

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Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist
Remember when Donald Trump’s trade wars were front-page news? At this point, concerns over Trump’s tariff policy seem almost quaint: Who cares if an insurrectionist is also a protectionist?
But some of the tariffs Trump imposed are still in place, and on Friday the World Trade Organization, which is supposed to enforce rules for global commerce, declared that the official rationale for these tariffs — that they were needed to protect U.S. national security — was illegitimate.
And the Biden administration, in turn, told the W.T.O. — in startlingly blunt language — to take a hike.
This is a very big deal, much bigger than Trump’s tariff tantrums. The Biden administration has turned remarkably tough on trade, in ways that make sense given the state of the world but also make me very nervous. Trump may have huffed and puffed, but Biden is quietly shifting the basic foundations of the world economic order.
Since 1948 trade among market economies has been governed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which sets certain ground rules for, um, tariffs and trade. In 1994 the GATT was folded into the rules of the World Trade Organization.
The GATT/W.T.O. system doesn’t mandate any particular level of tariffs. It does, however, forbid countries from imposing new tariffs or other restrictions on international trade — in effect, it locks in the results of past trade agreements — except under certain specified conditions. One of these conditions, laid out in Article XXI, says that a nation may take action “which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests.”
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