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US takes fire at WTO trade policy forum

December 18, 2018

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GENEVA: Major economic powers took aim at the United States on Monday at a World Trade Organisation forum, where Washington was accused of abandoning its leadership role for the sake of self-interest.

Every WTO member faces a trade policy review, but the latest US audit turned especially hostile, with nations blasting a raft of tariffs and other measures implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Speaking first after a US presentation, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen said the US was not honouring its obligations as the world’s largest economy.

“A top dog should act like a top dog. It cannot only see a narrow spectrum of its own self-interest, and it certainly should not do whatever it wishes at the sacrifice of others,” Zhang said, according to quotes distributed from the closed-door meeting by a Geneva trade official.

The 164-member WTO has been one of many fronts where the US-China trade war has played out.

Trump’s WTO envoys have consistently condemned the WTO for failing to respond to threats posed by China and letting it defy market-based global trading rules with impunity.

US Ambassador Dennis Shea insisted Washington would continue to push for reform but insisted that without action to challenge China the WTO’s importance would diminish.

“We must recognise that the WTO (the US) helped create, and the WTO we seek, is in key respects not the WTO we have today,” Shea said.

The WTO must recognise that China’s conduct is “contrary to the fundamental principles of this organisation,” he added.

The European Union has voiced support for some US efforts to challenge China within the WTO.

But EU Ambassador Marc Vanheukelen said Monday that Washington was at the “epicentre” of the crisis affecting the multilateral trading system.

“The US has (in the past) consistently sought to uphold WTO rules, and ambivalence about their value casts a long shadow to the future,” he told the forum.

Canada and Japan also joined the fray, restating criticism over Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs. Beyond China, Washington has also targeted the WTO’s dispute settlement system - sometimes dubbed the supreme court of world trade.

Shea on Monday again accused WTO judges of having an “activist approach” and overstepping their mandate by making pronouncements on issues that must be decided through negotiations.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2018