Trade ministers, minus U.S., China, meet to discuss WTO overhaul


Thirteen trade ministers representing all regions of the world met in Ottawa on Thursday to come up with proposed reforms to the troubled global trading system.

Canada hosted officials from Australia, Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland for the talks.

The United States and China, however, were not at the table.

"The problems facing the multilateral trading system were not created by any one WTO member," Canada's Trade Minister Jim Carr said in his opening remarks.

"They are not new and they cannot be solved by any one member."

The failure to adjust global trade rules in the last two decades, particularly in agriculture and services, has undermined the potential to boost growth and reduce poverty, according to a joint report by the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and World Bank released September 30.

The organizations are urging redoubled efforts to accelerate reforms, especially in the WTO, to salvage the economic benefits of trade, which have stalled, and ensure that prosperity is shared more widely.

U.S. President Donald Trump's relentless attacks on the WTO and threats to pull his country out of the global trade body have added urgency to the discussions.

His "America First" policy and use of punitive tariffs have unsettled trade relations.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, who joined the talks, has said he agrees that the WTO needs reforms, and soon.

Carr, meanwhile, acknowledged that there can be no meaningful reforms without the U.S. or China.

"We are a relatively small country and our major trading partners are big," Carr said. "Rules matter because we each merit the protections they afford and the opportunity they create for even the smallest first-time exporter in the most far-flung corner of the world to compete and to succeed."

"To make that kind of relationship work, we have to believe the rules of trade work for all of us and our people have to see that, too."

Among the reforms being discussed at the Ottawa ministerial are ways to safeguard the WTO dispute settlement system, improve its "monitoring and transparency functions," and adjust rules to reflect the dominance in trade of services, including ecommerce.

© 2018 AFP

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