Donald Trump signs twin executive orders targeting trade 'cheaters'

The first of the pair directs the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative - the latter being a position that Trump has not yet filled - to conduct a 90-day study into America's trade deficit to determine to what extent, if any, trade abuse and fraud has contributed to the deficit.

"My view is that the United States is about the least protectionist of the major countries-and that China is one of the most protectionist", Ross said.

Trump said his administration was going to defend American industry and create a level playing field for the workers.

Trump also ordered strengthened enforcement of existing countervailing duties and anti-dumping penalties against foreign products to address under-collection, said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council.

The US Commerce Secretary listed more than a dozen other countries including India "that will potentially be involved". It said that, as of May 2015, about 2.3 billion dollars in anti-dumping and countervailing duties owed to the U.S. government remained uncollected.

The study would focus on countries that have chronic goods trade surpluses with the US. "It's been very bad what's been happening to our country, in terms of our companies and in terms of our jobs".

Donald Trump has tied deficits to unfair trade practices and has vowed to renegotiate major trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to give the USA a better advantage.

President Donald Trump, leaves after speaking but before signing executive orders regarding trade in the Oval Office at the White House, Friday, March 31, 2017, in Washington.

"Nothing we're saying tonight is about China, let's not make this a China story", Navarro said. Officials said they would look for signs of cheating, lax enforcement, inappropriate behavior, currency manipulation and other irregular practices.

The executive orders came a week after Trump's promise to replace Obamacare imploded in Congress and a week before he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, a summit that promises to be fraught with trade tensions.

However Ross said the presence of a deficit did not necessarily mean that retaliatory or remedial action would be taken.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump tweeted that "the meeting next week with China will be a very hard one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits".

Breaking down trade country by country and product by product "will form the basis for decision making by the administration" after the investigation is done, Ross said.

"Undoubtedly with some of the countries we will conclude that there is no real action that should be taken", Ross emphasized. Given Trump's tough talk on trade during the campaign and his criticisms of Chinese practices, U.S.

Trump has portrayed trade deficits as strangling economic growth and devastating factory jobs at home.

On the other hand, Secretary Ross told the American people that the two executive orders mark the beginning of a new chapter of the country's trade relationship with its partners overseas. Ross said the USA has never made such an analysis to follow up with trading partners and assess how the trade relationship has worked out or why a deficit developed.

  • Zachary Reyes