Ex-WTO official warns of attempts to split multilateral trade system
Published: May 14, 2021 08:18 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)

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)

With an eye on the 12th Ministerial Conference, scheduled to take place in November, a former senior official of the WTO said China firmly supports a widely expected reform of the body, who also warned some members using the reform to weaken and split the WTO is "the biggest danger" the multilateral trade system faces today. 

Yi Xiaozhun, who served as the deputy director-general of the WTO in 2013 and recently returned to China, said the country has been doing a great job in fulfilling its commitment and abiding by WTO rules.

Considering that the WTO reform is underway, Yi warned to remain vigilant on the reform being used to push forward the agenda of protectionism, as a few member countries used the occasion to raise different proposals for reform to support their trade barriers or to introduce more discriminatory factors, "which is also a very dangerous trend," he said at a conference of the Beijing-based think tank the Center for China and Globalization on Friday in Beijing. 

Amid worries about China's state-owned enterprises, the US, the EU and Japan have been pushing for curbs on industrial subsidies, which required unanimous approval from the WTO's 164 members, Reuters reported in April. However, WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told a conference hosted by the European Commission that targeting China with trade reforms won't work, claiming that she has worked with China in a very constructive way, the media report said. 

"I think there's a tool of measurement to see some of those proposals aim to safeguard the authority of the multilateral trade system in boosting multilateral cooperation or out of the geopolitical purpose to form small groups of alliance to further weaken and split the WTO, and this is actually the biggest danger to the system," Yi said. 

If some positive results are reached at the meeting in November, including urgent topics like a vaccine waiver and the inclusion of anti-pandemic resources later this year, it would also be a window of opportunity for resuming multilateral trade talks, some former officials of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said during the conference. 

In the past 20 years, the WTO has had growing difficulties in reaching a consensus on major topics, as no matter what the topic was, there was a member state to block it, Yi noted. "When public confidence in the WTO was waning, China played an ingenious role, taking an initiative of opening discussions in pushing forward the WTO in a possible way," he said, noting that without the participation and support of China, the WTO couldn't reach any meaningful agreements. 

China has won the support of major developing countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Russia, in addition to some African countries, with such innovative ways of bringing up new proposals, encouraging more countries to follow this manner in opening up new trade talks on issues like e-commerce, services and small enterprises.