President Trump issued a stern warning on Friday to Asian countries whose trade practices he blames for siphoning jobs away from the U.S. economy, and told leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam that Americans would work to correct skewed trading relationships.
"We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses, and we will not tolerate them," Trump said at the APEC summit. "Despite years of broken promises, we were told that someday soon, everyone would behave fairly and responsibly. People in America and throughout the Indo-Pacific region have waited for that day to come. But it never has, and that is why I am here today — to speak frankly about our challenges and work toward a brighter future for all of us."
Trump has long saddled China with much of the blame for perpetuating unfair standards in the region. During the campaign, he vowed to go after China for currency manipulation, and threatened to crack down on China's intellectual property theft.
But since taking office, Trump has moved more slowly to put pressure on China over its trade practices. The White House has emphasized the more urgent need to cooperate with Beijing on countering North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and Trump had largely held back on the type of pointed criticism he leveled at China during his APEC speech.
"I recently had an excellent trip to China, where I spoke openly and directly with President Xi [Jinping] about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States. I expressed our strong desire to work with China to achieve a trading relationship that is conducted on a truly fair and equal basis," Trump said.
"The current trade imbalance is not acceptable," he added. "I do not blame China or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade. If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs. I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will."
Trump also called out the World Trade Organization for treating the U.S. unfairly. He has criticized the institution in the past, and even threatened to withdraw from it as a presidential candidate.
"Countries were embraced by the World Trade Organization, even if they did not abide by its stated principles," he said. "Simply put, we have not been treated fairly by the World Trade Organization. Organizations like the WTO can only function properly when all members follow the rules and respect the sovereign rights of every member. We cannot achieve open markets if we do not ensure fair market access. In the end, unfair trade undermines us all."
Trump argued the U.S. entered the WTO in good faith, with an open market, while other countries remained members of the organization while relying on "government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises."
"We adhered to WTO principles on protecting intellectual property and ensuring fair and equal market access. They engaged in product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation, and predatory industrial policies," Trump said. "They ignored the rules to gain advantage over those who followed the rules, causing enormous distortions in commerce and threatening the foundations of international trade itself."
"Such practices, along with our collective failure to respond to them, hurt many people in our country and also in other countries. Jobs, factories, and industries were stripped out of the United States and out of many countries in addition," he added. "And many opportunities for mutually beneficial investments were lost because people could not trust the system."