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Don’t just blame Trump or China for this trade war

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Headline writers and Twitter lit up this week on news that the Donald Trump administration has drafted a bill, unfortunately acronymed the “Fart Act”, that seeks to abandon fundamental principles of the World Trade Organisation.

In a significant shift in American trade policy, the proposed Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act would allow the US president to raise tariffs without congressional consent and bypass international rules.

To be clear, there are problems galore with global trade regulations. We now have a trade architecture that is no longer perceived as capable of delivering mutually beneficial trade, and vulnerable to be gamed by powerful players smart enough to use its outdated provisions to their advantage. In that sense, the Trump administration is not the cause of the current dysfunction in the global trade system, it is a symptom. But the US administration’s approach to these shortcomings is no less broken, and is unlikely to help in any way.

The tariffs now being imposed on China, based on US concerns about intellectual property rights, illustrate the structural weaknesses in the current trade architecture. US trade officials have essentially conceded that at least some of their complaints against China’s intellectual property rights practices are not really violations of the WTO. This doesn’t mean that the US........

© South China Morning Post