US President Donald Trump on Friday signed two executive orders aimed at identifying and targeting foreign trade abuses - one directing a scrutiny of US trade deficits with some of its largest trading partners to identify potential trade abuses and cheating and another to strictly and effectively enforce US anti-dumping laws.
The move comes ahead of his planned meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, during which the two leaders are expected to discuss in detail bilateral trade relation and the future of their trade ties.
The announcement, which comes just days ahead of Trump's first meeting with his Chinese counterpart, is widely seen as targeting China.
The two orders, however, were signed in seclusion after harried media queries prodded the President to walk out of the signing ceremony at the White House, without actually signing the orders, forcing his deputy Mike Pence to chase him.
During the signing ceremony, White House pool reporters asked Trump questions about his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has offered to testify on alleged Russian involvement in the US election in return for immunity from prosecution.
Trump, a declared a media-baiter, ignored the questions and moved to another room, only to be chased by Vice President Pence, who picked up the folders containing the two executive orders.
The first order directs a 90-day study of US trade deficits with some of its largest trading partners to identify potential trade abuses and cheating. US has massive trade deficits totaling more than $500 billion per annum with 16 countries, including China and India.
The second orders stricter and more effective enforcement of US anti-dumping laws to prevent foreign manufacturers from undercutting US companies by selling goods at an unfair price.
It would ensure that the US fully collects all duties imposed on foreign importers that ''cheat'', Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
''They're cheaters. From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences and there will be very severe consequences,'' Trump said without naming any country.
Trump said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will lead the review of the factors and violations behind the trade deficits. ''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. I'm not beholden to any political or financial interest. I don't care. I'm here to do a job,'' he said while insisting that he was acting for the ''American worker''.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Department of Commerce and US Trade Representative will submit a ''comprehensive report'' to the president on the causes of the ''unduly large deficit'' within 90 days.
Spicer also said countervailing duties were put in place to address the problem of other countries ''dumping undervalued goods'' into US markets, which makes it ''impossible'' for homegrown businesses to compete with ''artificially low prices''.
''This is especially a problem in countries whose governments subsidise exports into our country. So, to discourage this practice, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency has a mechanism for assessing these type of transactions and imposing financial penalties, known as countervailing duties, when it's determined that this kind of malicious dumping has occurred,'' he said.
Since 2001, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency has not collected over $2.8 billion in these duties, he said. ''We could do a lot by maximising this enforcement power for our country. So we need to do a better job on behalf of the American worker. If a foreign company, often due to its being partly or entirely government-run or subsidised, is able to flood American markets with an artificially cheap steel, for example, they price American companies out of the system,'' Spicer said.
Talking to White House reporters, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross insisted that the executive orders were not just about China.
A day earlier he had identified 16 major countries with which the US has significant trade imbalances, while noting that the communist nation was the number one source of the deficit.
Ross also named India down the line with a trade deficit of $24 billion. The US has a massive trade imbalance of $347 billion with China, followed by Japan with $68.9, Germany ($64.9), Mexico ($63.2 billion), Ireland ($35.9 billion) and Vietnam ($32 billion).
Other countries mentioned in the list were Italy, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Indonesia and Canada.