President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders targeting the US trade deficit, ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit.
One order includes a study looking at causes of the deficit by examining unpaid duties and foreign trade abuses.
The second will initiate a review of the American trade deficit and rules Mr Trump says harm US workers.
Administration officials said Beijing was not the focus, but China is the largest source of the US trade deficit.
"We are going to get these bad trade deals straightened out," he told reporters during the signing.
"These actions are designed to let the world know that this is a president taking another step to fulfil his campaign promise," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday night, previewing the executive orders.
Mr Trump spent a large part of his presidential campaign railing against the US trade deficit and foreign trade deals.
Mr Ross will lead a comprehensive review accounting for the sources of the $502.3bn trade deficit and report back to the White House after 90 days.
The study will look at whether cheating, trade deals, lax enforcement and World Trade Organization rules play a role in the deficit, according to Mr Ross.
The orders also will focus on stricter enforcement of the US anti-dumping laws and countervailing duties, or the penalties imposed on foreign governments who violate trade rules, as well as pirated and counterfeited intellectual property owned by US companies.
The pair of orders come one week before Mr Trump meets the Chinese president at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Director of the White House National Trade Council Peter Navarro told reporters that the orders had nothing to do with Mr Xi's visit.
But China is the source of America's highest trade deficit, at $347bn a year.
"Nothing we're saying tonight is about China. Let's not make this a China story. This is a story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of duties," Mr Navarro said.
Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday night that his first meeting with Mr Xi would "be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits...and job losses".
"American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives," he added.
The half trillion-dollar deficit slightly increased from 2015, according to the Commerce Department.
The trade gap reached a record level since 2012 last year, though the imbalance remains below its previous high in 2006.