U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross signaled on Friday that Washington may flex its muscle with additional trading partners in order to exert pressure on China to open its markets, saying that a "poison pill" provision in the recently completed pact with Canada and Mexico could be replicated.
Ross said in an interview that the provision was "another move to try to close loopholes" in trade deals that have served to "legitimize" China's trade, intellectual property and industrial subsidy practices.
If the EU and Japan signed on to provisions similar to the one in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), it would signal that they are fully aligned with Washington in trying to increase pressure on China, the world's No. 2 economy, for major economic policy changes.
The provision in USMCA, which is expected to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, effectively gives Washington a veto over Canada and Mexico's other free trade partners to ensure that they are governed by market principles and lack the state dominance that is at the core of President Donald Trump's tariff war against China.
Under the provision, if any of the three countries in the USMCA enters a trade deal with a "non-market country," the other two are free to quit in six months and form their own bilateral trade deal.
"It's logical, it's a kind of a poison pill," Ross said.
Ross, asked if the provision would be repeated in future trade deals, said: "We shall see. It certainly helps that we got it with Mexico and with Canada, independently of whether we get it with anyone else."
He added that with a precedent now set, it will be easier for the provision to be added to other trade deals. "People can come to understand that this is one of your prerequisites to make a deal," he said.