U.S. Said to Block Consensus OECD Statement Amid Trade War Fear

(Bloomberg) -- For the second year in a row, the U.S is refusing to join a consensus statement from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s ministerial council meeting, a document that traditionally outlines common goals for the multilateral trading system, according to two officials with knowledge of the decision.

Trade ministers instead plan to issue a chair’s statement that reflects the goals of the ministers present and the fact that one member -- the U.S. -- is unsupportive, said the officials who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

The dispute comes as the U.S. takes its most aggressive trade action yet against allies, imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from the European Union, Canada and Mexico to help protect America’s manufacturing base. Washington is also considering tariffs on U.S. auto imports and duties on $50 billion in Chinese goods.

Problems arise “when people don’t follow the rules, when the enforcement mechanisms are inadequate and even more so when the rules become obsoleted,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told a panel in Paris on Wednesday. “The difference between the U.S. approach and many others is we feel a greater sense of urgency for reform than do many of the other countries and I think that’s the most fundamental problem.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer declined to respond and a USTR spokeswoman didn’t immediately issue a comment to an emailed request.

Releasing a chair’s statement is not unprecedented at such events, but it reflects the precarious state of global trade and signals uncertain prospects for the future of the World Trade Organization. Last year in Baden-Baden, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin blocked a communique that would have pledged to avoid protectionism, leading the finance ministers to deliver a watered down statement.

The development may complicate French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the European Union, the U.S., Japan and China to work together on a “complete update” of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

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