Negotiate, not bypass WTO: Forum

By Zhang Liying
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 19, 2018
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Since the start of this year, the United States has launched a series of restrictive measures to combat what it claims to be unfair trade and investment practices.

Those actions, targeted at its allies and economic rivals alike, have aroused growing concern about not only the world economy but also the existing rules-based multilateral trading system.

Speakers at the 7th World Peace Forum held in Beijing from July 14 to 15 shared their views on the escalating situation and the future of the trading system.

A panel discussion with a theme of “Sino-U.S. Trade Relations’ Impacts on Trade Order” is held during the 7th World Peace Forum in Beijing on July 15, 2018. [Photo by Zhang Liying /]
A panel discussion with a theme of "Sino-U.S. Trade Relations' Impacts on Trade Order" is held during the 7th World Peace Forum in Beijing on July 15, 2018. [Photo by Zhang Liying /]

Marc Uzan, executive director and founder of the Reinventing Bretton Woods Committee, said that the future of the global trading system is facing more uncertainty than any time after World War II.

"It is very clear what the current U.S. administration wants; and that is to replace the existing network of rational and multilateral arrangements with bilateral agreements…and to remove the WTO dispute settlement panel," Uzan said.

Stanley Loh, Singapore's ambassador to China, said that the current U.S. administration has adopted a significantly different position from previous U.S. administrations on free trade and the WTO-led multilateral trading system. This has injected a lot of uncertainties into the system over what could happen in the future, he said.

Loh gave credit to the system, saying that most countries, if not all countries involved, have benefited from it.

He used statistics to illustrate that the U.S. is actually a major beneficiary. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the average American household has gained about US$10,000 in annual purchasing power from WTO-enabled access to low-cost imports."

WTO services have also enabled the U.S. to become the largest exporter of services, he said, noting that last year saw U.S. total services exports valued at nearly US $800 billion.

Loh suggested the current trade tensions should be resolved under the rules-based multilateral WTO framework, which he said "provides common settled rules and great rules that apply to all of us."

While admitting the system is not perfect and can be improved, he asserted that "at present, there is no better alternative."

Unilateral actions are not a viable alternative to the WTO system, because those actions lead to tit-for-tat retaliation which can generate a trade war, he said.

Paul Gewirtz, the Potter Stewart Professor of Constitutional Law at Yale University also believed that it is important to uphold the existing trading system, and "the U.S. is currently not doing it."

As to the defects of the current WTO-led trading system, Zhang Yuyan, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it is necessary to reform the system to keep it responsive to the changing times.

What's crucial is that relevant parties sit down at the negotiating table to discuss the issue under the multilateral framework and with all parties' concerns taken into account, he said.

"It will be a difficult process and can by no means be achieved through threats and intimidation," he added.

Yoon Young-kwan, former minister of foreign affairs and trade for South Korea, pointed out that returning to the liberal multilateral rule-based international order means political leaders of the U.S., China and other countries should pursue the right direction. "But many politicians who are concerned only about short-term political interest," he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the international community to uphold the multilateral trading system in his speech at the opening of this year's Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.

At a press briefing on a white paper titled "China and the World Trade Organization," China's Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen said that China firmly observes and upholds the WTO rules, and supports the multilateral trading system that is open, transparent, inclusive and non-discriminatory.

Since China joined the WTO in 2001, China's role in the system has increased a lot with its exports being increased by seven times and imports by six times, according to Director-General of the WTO Roberto Azevedo.

The WTO chief also said he believed that China will be part of the efforts to make the organization even more effective, and to figure out the problems with other members to improve the system.

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