Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Worried that President Trump is embarking on a global trade war, U.S. allies and adversaries alike are turning to the World Trade Organization to mediate — and getting nowhere.

The big picture: The WTO has no track record of dealing effectively with intellectual property theft or state-run corporations — two of the biggest modern trade obstacles — and takes months to resolve disputes at a time when the trade landscape shifts on a daily basis, according to trade experts.

Countries are taking the U.S. to court, but the WTO's quasi-judicial process moves too slowly.

  • China filed a case in April opposing Trump's tariffs and claiming they discriminate against Chinese goods. The 60-day waiting period triggered after the filing is still in effect, but in that time tensions between the U.S. and China have dissipated and flared up again.
  • India launched its own challenge over the tariffs — a step Delhi had threatened to take if it wasn't exempted. The move sets off another 60-day waiting period.
  • And the European Union did the same on June 1. Speaking about the EU's decision to file a case against the U.S., trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström said, “The US is playing a dangerous game here.”

The WTO's rules were written for a physical world.

  • The organization is best equipped to deal with the trade of physical goods, says Jim Lewis, a former Commerce and State Department official who's now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • But when it comes to the digital world, the WTO is ineffective, with no guidelines to handle intellectual property theft — a huge problem perpetrated by the Chinese — or the trade of intangibles.

The organization doesn't have a playbook for state-run enterprises.

  • China offers state-run firms exclusive access to capital and sets barriers to entry for foreign firms, but the WTO has no means of dealing with these issues, Thomas Duesterberg, a Commerce Department international trade policy expert who's now at the Hudson Institute, says.
  • "Trump is taking actions unilaterally ... and his team argues that's because WTO rules aren’t adapted to this century." He's right, says Duesterberg.

The bottom line: The chances of reforming a global agreement like the WTO are basically zero, Lewis says. The trade consensus that existed around the world before 2000 has largely disintegrated, he says.

Go deeper

Updated 36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 20,755,406 — Total deaths: 752,225— Total recoveries: 12,917,934Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 5,246,760 — Total deaths: 167,052 — Total recoveries: 1,774,648 — Total tests: 64,831,306Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats to investigate scientist leading "Operation Warp Speed" vaccine projectMcConnell announces Senate will not hold votes until Sept. 8 unless stimulus deal is reached.
  4. 2020: Biden calls for 3-month national mask mandateBiden and Harris to receive coronavirus briefings 4 times a week.
  5. States: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to drop lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate.
  6. Business: Why the CARES Act makes 2020 the best year for companies to lose money.
  7. Public health: Fauci's guidance on pre-vaccine coronavirus treatments Cases are falling, but don't get too comfortable.

Trump says he intends to give RNC speech on White House lawn

President Trump speaking to reporters on South Lawn in July. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump told the New York Post on Thursday that he plans to deliver his Republican National Convention speech from the White House lawn, despite bipartisan criticism of the optics and legality of the location.

Why it matters: Previous presidents avoided blurring staged campaign-style events — like party conventions — with official business of governing on the White House premises, per Politico.

Fauci's guidance on pre-vaccine coronavirus treatments

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Antibody drugs and various medicine cocktails against the coronavirus are progressing and may provide some relief before vaccines.

The big picture: Everyone wants to know how and when they can return to "normal" life, as vaccines are not expected to be ready for most Americans for at least a year. Two therapies are known to be helpful, and more could be announced by late September, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci tells Axios.