WTO gets moral support from G20
US should respect rules-based order: experts
Published: Sep 23, 2020 09:53 PM

Photo taken on July 15, 2020 shows an exterior view of the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Li Ye/Xinhua)

Chinese World Trade Organization (WTO) experts said the world trade body received needed nominal support after the trade and investment ministers of the Group of 20 (G20) countries vowed on Tuesday to support the necessary reform of the WTO.

Notably, the ministers "recognize that the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system depends on the implementation of WTO rules by all members, as well as their respective enforcement, in order to maintain the balance of members' rights and obligations," according to a communique by the G20 Saudi Presidency.

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qassabi told the meeting that the need for an open, fair and rules-based multilateral trading system is critical to support global economic recovery in difficult times amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saudi minister added that the G20 will work together to strengthen the global trading system for the benefit of all.

The communique also called for urgent action regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system in order to contribute to the predictability and security of the multilateral trading system.

Chinese experts said the G20 ministerial statement is in support of the WTO, which is in crisis. The multilateral organization's appeals court, which rules on international trade disputes, has been paralyzed by Washington's block on the appointment of new judges.

"The support for the multilateral system in the statement carries more weight than the consensus on pushing forward reform. And such a voice is directed at unilateralism by the US," He Weiwen, a former senior trade official and an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Despite the US' ill attempt to cripple its dispute settlement body, the multilateral body showed its resilience and capability last week when it said that the US violated international trade rules by imposing tariffs on China in 2018 during the US-initiated trade war.

After the ruling, China's Ministry of Commerce said that China hopes the US could fully respect the expert panel's ruling as well as the rules-based multilateral trade system, and take concrete action to meet China and other WTO members halfway to preserve the multilateral trade system.

Washington expressed its dissatisfaction with the result, by describing the WTO as "completely inadequate." US President Donald Trump said he had to "do something about the WTO because they've let China get away with murder."

Tu Xinquan, dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, told the Global Times that a communique bearing the above text is not easy to achieve given the current global environment and amid the growing trade tension between China and the US. "But for more substantial and concrete steps, I think countries are waiting for the result of the US election first," Tu said.

He, the WTO affairs expert, said that different countries have different opinions on how the WTO should reform itself.

China, as well as most other WTO members, supports a constructive reform approach, holding to the key principles of multilateralism such as the rules on non-discrimination, trade concessions for developing countries, and the principle of consultation and consensus. 

The US, on the other hand, wants a radical overhaul of the WTO in its favor.

Experts said that in the case that the US chooses to withdraw from the WTO, a scenario warned of by former WTO chief Pascal Lamy more than two years ago, its members should be able to cope. 

"It will depend on willingness and capability. If WTO members, especially major members, have the will to work out differences via dialogue and consultation under the original WTO framework, a 'WTO minus the US' should stand," Song Guoyou, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Song said that WTO reforms could also be pushed forward as the current differences among members are not fundamental ones and therefore can be resolved.

The EU, China and 15 other WTO members agreed in January on a temporary mechanism to settle trade disputes.