I read in a June 2018 news piece that:

The White House's legislative director, Marc Short, said that Trump was frustrated with the WTO but that he was not aware of any plan to get the US out of the organization.

But there are no further details in there what about the WTO frustrates Trump. So did Trump (or his spokespersons) say anything that may shed light on his beef with the WTO?

I actually found a press event (from July 2) in which he briefly said the WTO treated the US "very, very badly". But is there something more specific than that?

“WTO has treated the United States very badly and I hope they change their ways. They have been treating us very badly for many, many years and that’s why we were at a big disadvantage with the WTO,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“And we’re not planning anything now, but if they don’t treat us properly we will be doing something,” he said.

2 Answers 2


Google finds Factcheck.org quoting Dan Ikenson:

“When the United States has been a complainant (as it has in 114 of 522 WTO disputes over 22 years — more than any other WTO member) it has prevailed on 91 percent of adjudicated issues,” he wrote. “When the United States is a respondent (as it has been in 129 cases — more than any other WTO member), it has lost on 89 percent of adjudicated issues.”

That's 104 wins and 10 losses as a claimant and 14 wins and 115 losses as a respondent, assuming multiplying and rounding gives the correct result. So overall, 118 wins and 125 losses (243 total). The US loses more complaints than it wins. It wins 48.6% of the time (ignoring cases where it appeared as a third party).

That particular article is arguing that that's a fair number. However, that stat shows that the US loses a small majority of its cases overall and 89% of the cases brought against it. Note that the normal rate is about 90%. So the US does better than average on both sides. The reason it loses overall is that more cases are brought against it than by it. So its slight advantage is eaten up by that. It would only have won 47.5% of the time if it won and lost at the 90% rate.

There's an argument that the US should bring more cases than are brought against it. The US imports more than it exports. So on a per dollar basis, the US should have more complaints (about its imports) than responses (about its exports). The Balance says that the US had exports of $2.3 trillion and imports of $2.9 trillion in 2017. Using that number to provide a ratio, the US should win 54.6% of its cases assuming a 90% win rate.

If you want, you can go direct to the World Trading Organization for lists of disputes by country, claimant, and respondent. But they don't break it down by winner or loser.

An article by Daniel J. Ikenson (presumably the same person as Dan) cites a paper by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (PDF) which may have more arguments from the Trump side.

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    I upvoted even though it's not terribly clear Trump was referring to this, but it probably has something to do with it. Trump's' administration has filed complaints at WTO against all 5 retaliatory measures after his aluminium and steel tariff hike. He may be simply trying to moon the jury. Aug 16, 2018 at 3:08
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    There's an argument that the US should bring more cases than are brought against it. The US imports more than it exports I do not see where the relationship between being a complainant or being a respondent is linked to imports and exports. AFAIK you can claim against a country as an importer because of unfair practices (e.g. subsides, dumping prices) or as an exporter (protectionist measures like tariffs or draconian quality controls). Probably you can sue without any of those (if China dumps steel prices and India buys China steel rather than mine, probably you can sue).
    – SJuan76
    Aug 16, 2018 at 8:32
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    Also, from your link But most of the … losses were a result of the U.S. refusing to change its anti-dumping methodology even after it lost cases, thereby incurring repeated rulings against them for continuing the same practice. If you take those cases out, the US has a better record as a defendant than China or most others also helps explaining the difference of numbers between being a respondent or a complainant.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 16, 2018 at 8:34
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    Oh, and the PDF just complains about the "anti-dumping" measures that the WTO organization considered to be unfair and forced to remove, but it does not critically analize them, and does not mention the measures that were allowed to stand. Basically the tone is "the USA was always right so whenever the WTO ruled against the USA it was wrong". It also does not analize the cases when the USA was the complainant, only those where it was the respondent.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 16, 2018 at 9:02
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    Unlike the US civil court system, I'd guess WTO complainants are less likely to file if they don't have a case they feel can strongly win on its merits. The number of wins, generally, vs losses for complainants suggests that the WTO has a pretty narrow and well-defined criteria for what is a legitimate dispute, whether I agree with the philosophy behind it or not. Aug 31, 2018 at 14:13

Trump has made his frustration a bit more explicit recently:

Mr Trump says the body too often rules against the US, although he concedes it has won some recent judgments.

He claimed on Fox News earlier this year that the WTO was set up "to benefit everybody but us", adding: "We lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO." [...]

Mr Trump said on Thursday that the 1994 agreement to establish the WTO "was the single worst trade deal ever made".

And more generally from his administration there have been more detailed complaints:

Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the WTO, which he reckons is far too lenient toward Beijing. He has often mapped out strategies where the U.S. bypasses Geneva and wins trade wars simply by flexing its muscle as the world’s biggest economy. In a world without arbitration, Trump reckons he wins.

Officially speaking, however, the United States says that it is simply worried about the way the court works.

Very specifically, there are four points that Washington wants addressed.

First, the U.S. thinks judges should not be allowed to continue working on a case once their terms have expired. Second, it does not want WTO judgments to have precedent value. Every case should be judged independent of old cases. Third, Washington says the court should comply with a 90-day deadline for issuing reports. While that deadline is mentioned in the WTO treaties, in practice judges often take longer.

Fourth, and most crucially, Washington thinks that Appellate Body judges have “overstepped” their mandate by interpreting WTO law beyond what’s foreseen in the treaties.

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is spearheading the current blockage, has a long-running feud with the WTO over the level of tariffs imposed. The WTO’s Appellate Body decided in 2006 that the way the United States calculated dumping artificially inflated the duties. Lighthizer has always claimed that this was clearly an overreach by the WTO’s judges, since nothing in the WTO treaties formally forbids calculating anti-dumping duties in the more aggressive manner that Washington uses.

In his annual trade report, Lighthizer wrote that “the WTO is undermining our country’s ability to act in its national interest … First among those concerns is that the WTO dispute settlement system has appropriated to itself powers that the WTO Members never intended to give it.”

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