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December 12, 2017

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China, EU urge stronger WTO amid US criticisms

WORLD Trade Organization members must shore up and strengthen the global trade body, China and the European Union said at the opening of the WTO’s ministerial conference yesterday.

“Let us join hands and take real actions to uphold the authority and efficacy of the WTO,” Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan told the WTO, which has been pushed into a crisis by a US veto of new judges for trade disputes.

“We need to have a clear objective in mind,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said. “For the European Union, this is clear: to preserve and to strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s trade chief said yesterday that the WTO is losing its focus on trade negotiations in favor of litigation and needed to rethink how it defines developing economies.

Setting a combative tone at the start of the WTO’s 11th ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer complained that too many countries were not following WTO rules and too many wealthier members had been given unfair exemptions as developing countries.

“We need to clarify our understanding of development within the WTO. We cannot sustain a situation in which new rules can only apply to a few and that others will be given a pass in the name of self-proclaimed development status,” Lighthizer told the opening session.

Lighthizer said it was impossible to negotiate new WTO rules when many of the current ones were not being followed, and added that too many members viewed exemptions from WTO rules as a path to faster growth.

He also said Washington wanted the WTO to help make markets operate more efficiently, addressing new challenges such as chronic industrial overcapacity and the influence of state-owned enterprises.

Lighthizer, who has long criticized the WTO’s dispute settlement system, has emerged as the leading voice behind the Trump administration’s “America First” trade agenda.


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