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WTO Ministerial Calls For Reform, Vows To Fight Protectionism

"We should strengthen the monitoring and transparency of members' trade policies which play a central role in ensuring WTO members understand the policy actions taken by their partners in a timely manner," the ministerial said

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Asserting that the current situation at the World Trade Organization is no longer sustainable, the Ottawa Ministerial on WTO reform Thursday vowed to fight against protectionism.

Among other things, the group comprising top trade officials of 12 countries and the European Union sought for urgent action to develop 21st-century trade rules at the WTO.

"The current situation at the WTO is no longer sustainable. Our resolve for change must be matched with action: we will continue to fight protectionism; and we are committed politically to moving forward urgently on transparency, dispute settlement and developing 21st-century trade rules at the WTO," said a joint communique issued by Ottawa Ministerial on WTO Reform.

Ministers and Heads of Delegation representing a dozen "like-minded" WTO members and the European Union met in Ottawa on October 24 and 25 to discuss ways to strengthen and modernise the world body, which of late has been at the receiving end of President Trump.

The meeting was chaired by Jim Carr, Canada's Minister of International Trade Diversification. Other countries represented in the group were Australia, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland. The group is scheduled to meet next in January 2019. India, China, and the US are not part of the meeting.

Acknowledging that concerns that have been raised about the functioning of the dispute settlement system, the group said it is ready to work on solutions, while preserving the essential features of the system and of its Appellate Body.

Asserting that WTO must reinvigorate its negotiating function, the group underscored the need to conclude negotiations on fisheries subsidies in 2019 consistent with instructions from WTO Ministers at the 11th ministerial conference (MC11) held last year in Buenos Aires.

"Its rules must also be updated to reflect 21st century realities, such as the Sustainable Development Goals. Addressing modern economic and trade issues, and tackling pending and unfinished business is key to ensuring the relevance of the WTO," it said.

Observing that development must remain an integral part of the WTO, the Ottawa Ministerial said the members need to explore how the development dimension, including special and differential treatment, can be best pursued in rule-making efforts.

"We should strengthen the monitoring and transparency of members' trade policies which play a central role in ensuring WTO members understand the policy actions taken by their partners in a timely manner," the ministerial said.

Expressing their concern with the overall record of compliance by WTO members with their notification obligations, the group agreed that improvements are required to ensure effective transparency and functioning of the relevant agreements.

Reacting to the joint communique, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said the international body must take seriously President Donald Trump's longstanding call for reform.

"The WTO urgently needs reform to keep the organisation well-functioning and viable, including with respect to negotiations toward new agreements as well as improving dispute resolution. Now that many of our key trading partners are focused, it is important that we address the full range of topics and confront longstanding issues," Brady said.

One of the key enforcement reform, that the US would like to see is to establish meaningful consequences if WTO members continue to ignore their commitments to submit timely notifications as to their compliance with their obligations, he said.

The top US lawmaker said the appellate body must be reformed so that it functions as designed and is accountable to WTO members.

According to him, such reforms include procedural fixes to make sure the appellate body does not diverge from the timelines and procedures established by WTO members, as well as structural reforms to avoid troubling appellate body overreach and "gap-filling" that go beyond its mandate.

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