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Protection of developing nations’ interests urged in WTO reform

Jing Shuiyu and Zhong Nan
Updated: Nov 24,2018 9:19 AM     China Daily

Necessary reform to the World Trade Organization should safeguard the multilateral trading system, protect the interests of developing member countries and take into account all parties’ concerns, the Ministry of Commerce said on Nov 23.

Wang Shouwen, vice-minister of commerce, said China supports reform of the international body to enhance its “authoritativeness and effectiveness”, since unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise.

Introducing China’s five-point proposal on the issue, Wang said WTO reform should strengthen the role of multilateralism in boosting global trade liberalization and facilitation.

The reform should give priority to resolving issues that threaten the future survival of the WTO, Wang said, adding that certain countries have been blocking the appointment of Appellate Body members. The Appellate Body is responsible for resolving disputes, a core function of the WTO.

Other priorities include resolving unfair trade rules and responding to current pressing issues, Wang said. For example, the reform should address the problem that some developed members provide huge subsidies in the trade of agricultural products.

Wang stressed that WTO reform should protect developing member countries in accordance with “special and differential treatment” — a term used to describe how developing countries are treated differently from developed countries within the WTO system.

Wei Jianguo, vice-president of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a government think tank, said: “Special and differential treatment is an important cornerstone of the WTO. The principle cannot be denied; otherwise it will shake the foundation of the multilateral trading system.”

The WTO has met with many challenges after the Doha round of trade talks in 2006 failed to reach key agreements. Consequently, trade protectionism and investment barriers have grown quickly.

Though many countries have begun talks on WTO reform, a consensus has been elusive and views on the issue vary widely, said Xue Rongjiu, deputy director of the Beijing-based China Society for WTO Studies.

To speed up the pace, China and the European Union have recently established a high-level working group on WTO reform, according to Hong Xiaodong, head of the Commerce Ministry’s department of WTO affairs. The two sides will seek advice from the WTO and conduct discussions on a respectful and equal basis, Hong said on Nov 23.

Experts said WTO reform should reinforce the primary purpose of the WTO and push forward worldwide trade liberalization.

The WTO is for the good of the public, not a tool for meeting the needs of particular members, said Zhang Xiangchen, China’s ambassador to the WTO. The reform has to stick to “the principle of nondiscrimination and adopt a democratic approach”, he was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.

Sang Baichuan, director of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said the WTO framework, which took decades to crystallize, is now under threat from rising protectionism and unilateralism. China is pushing for reform for the benefit of all economies, Sang added.