US President Donald Trump speaks after signing two executive orders on trade in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday. (AP Photo)
Thailand is among 16 countries that President Donald Trump has singled out in an order calling for an investigation into the US trade imbalance.
Mr Trump also promised on Friday to crack down on “foreign importers that cheat”, signing two executive orders that he said would lead to a historic reversal of his country’s trade deficit.
US exports to Thailand last year were worth $10.57 billion and imports totalled $29.49 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $18.92 billion, according to US Census Bureau data. That was an increase from $15.4 billion in 2015 and $14.3 billion in 2014.
Local industry experts warned earlier this week that shipments of Thai-made auto parts and tyres to the US could suffer if the Trump administration follows through on some of its protectionist rhetoric or imposes a “border adjustment tax”. About 35% of all tyres imported by the United States come from Thailand.
The United States and China were Thailand’s two top export markets last year, with each accounting for about 11% of total shipments. Major exports from Thailand to the US include electrical machinery, rubber, precious stones and processed meat and fish.
In Washington on Friday, Mr Trump directed some tough talk at importers that he believes are not playing by the rules, saying his two executive orders would lead to a historic reversal of his country’s trade deficit.
“They’re cheaters! From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences and they’ll be very severe consequences,” he said.
He blamed the trade imbalance largely on unscrupulous foreign powers, aided by US special interests that have helped push through “bad trade deals”.
“Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country, but these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House,” he said.
“Under my administration, the theft of American prosperity will end. We’re going to defend our industry and create a level playing field for the American worker, finally.”
The first of the two orders will require a report on the causes of the trade imbalance within 90 days. It will focus on 16 countries: China, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia and Canada.
The Trump administration plans public meetings to hear from manufacturers, service providers, workers, farmers and consumers.
The second order calls for a strategy for customs agents to use legal tools to collect anti-dumping duties already owed to the United States. The White House is proposing to require new importers — or those already found guilty of abusive trade practices — to post a bond before their goods are permitted through US ports.
The Government Accountability Office says importers have racked up more than $2.3 billion in uncollected anti-dumping and countervailing duties since 2001.
Trump administration officials touted the orders as sweeping and historic. “If anyone had any doubt about the president’s resolve to fix the trade problems, these two executive orders should end that speculation now and for all time,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
“This marks the beginning of a totally new chapter in the American trade relationship with our partners overseas.”
According to the National Trade Estimate report released on Friday, the US deficit in manufactured goods has doubled since 2000, to $648 billion.
The biggest trade deficit was with China, at $347 billion in 2016, a 5.5% decrease from 2015 as imports from China fell.
Mr Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida retreat this coming Thursday and Friday, and the trade deficit will be on the agenda. “And we’re going to get down to some very serious business,” Mr Trump said.
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