President Trump signed an executive order on March 31 requiring that the secretary of Commerce prepare and submit a report that examines the causes of trade deficits within 90 days (i.e., by June 29, 2017). The analysis will focus on the major causes of trade deficits, including, as applicable, differential tariffs, non-tariff barriers, injurious dumping, injurious government subsidization, intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, denial of worker rights and labor standards, and any other form of discrimination against the commerce of the United States or other factors contributing to the deficit. The report will also assess the effects of trade relationships on the production capacity and strength of the manufacturing and defense industrial bases of the United States and on employment and wage growth in the United States, and identify imports and trade practices that may be impairing the national security of the United States.

In signing the order, the president stated that he was “ordering the first-ever comprehensive review of America’s trade deficits and all violations of trade rules that harm the United States and the workers of the United States.” The executive order states that “For many years, the United States has not obtained the full scope of benefits anticipated under a number of international trade agreements or from participating in the World Trade Organization. The United States[’] annual trade deficit in goods exceeds $700 billion, and the overall trade deficit exceeded $500 billion in 2016.” In announcing the order, Trump stated that “We’re going to investigate all trade abuses, and, based on those findings, we will take necessary and lawful action to end those many abuses.”

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has indicated that the study will focus on the countries primarily responsible for the U.S. trade deficit: China, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Thailand, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia and Canada.