Will the World Trade Organization survive the digital age?

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 29, 2019
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The World Trade Organization (WTO) is facing impending uncertainty as a result of rising protectionism and unilateralism, and the world should defend the multilateral trading system by any means necessary, said Pascal Lamy, the former WTO director-general and president of Paris Peace Forum. 

Lamy made the remark while delivering a keynote speech at a roundtable discussion hosted by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), on Monday, March 25, in Beijing. 

According to Lamy, the increasing volatility across the globe has impacted the WTO in unprecedented ways and the tension can be attributed to three major factors. First, the United States' social system provided a good opportunity for Donald Trump to assume the presidency with his stance of trade protectionism. Second, the geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States remains an enduring problem. Third, the multilateral system has not yet completed a central commission to create a level playing field in trade. 

According to Lamy, the WTO needs immediate reform to tackle the unprecedented challenges that the digital era presents to the world economy. 

The former WTO director-general silhouetted a reform agenda with three major aspects, hoping that they can help the organization sustain its operation in the long run. 

In his proposal, he advised to countries to reduce agricultural subsidies; adopt balanced policies which would better balance the interests of producers and consumers; and better reinforce the foundation of a multilateral trading system. 

Joining Lamy at the discussion was Chong Quan, the former Vice Minister of Commerce and the Chair of China Society for WTO Studies. "The reform of the WTO is a hot topic for everybody concerned with globalization, foreign trade and international trade."

Chong cited the upcoming G20 Summit hosted at Osaka, Japan in June, this year as an opportunity to press ahead with reforms. He said Japan was likely to try and begin negotiations of WTO reform but he doubted whether their efforts would be successful due to the difficulty and complexity of the issue. 

"In my personal view," Chong said, "WTO reform will be a very hard and long-term negotiation." However, Chong reiterated that China is a responsible country and will perform its duties in the ensuing negotiations about the WTO's reform.

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