U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer slammed the World Trade Organization on Tuesday after it sided with China to say that the Trump administration's tariffs on Chinese goods worth more than $200 billion are illegal.
"The United States must be allowed to defend itself against unfair trade practices, and the Trump administration will not let China use the WTO to take advantage of American workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers," Lighthizer said in a statement. "This panel report confirms what the Trump administration has been saying for four years: The WTO is completely inadequate to stop China’s harmful technology practices."
The WTO's decision won't affect the phase one trade deal that the U.S. and China signed in January, Lighthizer said. The deal "includes new, enforceable commitments by China to prevent the theft of American technology," he said.
"Although the panel did not dispute the extensive evidence submitted by the United States of intellectual property theft by China, its decision shows that the WTO provides no remedy for such misconduct," Lighthizer continued.
The decision marks the first time the Geneva-based trade body has ruled against a series of tariffs that President Trump's government has imposed on a number of countries, allies and rivals alike.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the WTO, which oversees international disputes on trade, for allegedly treating the U.S. unfairly.
In its decision, the WTO ruled against the Trump administration's argument that China has engaged in practices harmful to U.S. interests, on issues including intellectual property theft, technology transfer and innovation.
The ruling, in theory, would allow China to impose retaliatory tariffs on billions worth of U.S. goods, if the process is completed. But the U.S. government can appeal the decision announced by the WTO's dispute settlement body, and the WTO's appeals court is currently no longer functioning – largely because of Washington's single-handed refusal to accept new members for it.
The administration has justified the sanctions under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, a common tool used by the government to impose sanctions. The U.S. argued that China's actions had amounted to "state-sanctioned theft" and "misappropriation" of U.S. technology, intellectual property and commercial secrets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.