Document Type


Publication Date





Although much has been written about the ongoing trade war between China and the United States from 2017 to early 2019, this literature omits detailed examination of the substance of the US trade complaints about China. This article seeks to fill that gap in the literature by unpacking the 20 most prominent complaints that are being levelled by the Trump Administration. The article finds that half of the complaints involve behaviour that is contrary to WTO rules and yet the Trump Administration has lodged only three WTO cases against that behaviour. The Trump Administration justifies this omission on the ground that WTO dispute settlement is not capable of resolving legal complaints against China's nonmarket economy and that many of the Chinese measures characterized in this article as WTO-illegal are actually permitted by the WTO. The article suggests that the real reason why the Administration chose not to bring multiple new WTO cases against China is that the Administration prefers to confront China with power-based measures in the form of unilateral tariffs. Moreover, robust WTO dispute settlement is viewed by the Trump Administration as unwanted international control over disguised trade protectionism long favoured by US trade officials.

GW Paper Series

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2019-26; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-26

Included in

Law Commons