[Updated on August 27 to incorporate comments by Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova at a WITA webinar held on August 26.]
In a post on August 17, I provided background on a group of issues that are important to various Members though opposed by some that for shorthand will simply be referred to issues surrounding WTO rules’ applicability to economies operating differently than market economies. See August 17, 2020, The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues: convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, background on issues, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/17/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-address-dist/.
What follows is a review by candidate of his/her prepared statement to the General Council (Juy 15-17, 2020), my notes from the press conference for each candidate which followed immediately after his or her meeting with the General Council and my notes on each candidate’s webinar organized by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and generally also by the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI).
Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)
Dr. Seade did not in his prepared comments address directly any of the issues surrounding the question of compatibility of different economic systems with the WTO rules, or whether changes in rules to address some of the distortions perceived to be caused by economic systems which vary widely from market-economy structures are needed. Dr. Seade did include at the end of his prepared statement an indication of neutrality to all Members.
“All along my career I have worked with Ministers and legislators, often Heads of State. I present myself to you with my fullest energy, passion and experience, at a difficult time for the WTO. My commitment is to achieve with you the reform and restoration of a WTO back at the center of global governance for the benefit of world economic growth. My solemn commitment to you is to be an effective DG and interlocutor, close to all members north and south, east and west, and indeed fully equidistant from you all.”
During the press conference held after his meeting on July 15 with the General Counsel, Dr. Seade was not asked a question dealing with any of the issues surrounding different economic systems.
WITA had a webinar with Dr. Seade on July 7. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-seade/. During the webinar, Dr. Seade was asked several questions that dealt with U.S.-China tensions. My notes on Dr. Seade’s responses (and on at least one of the questions) follow.
The animosity between the United States and China in a way is understandable. The hardest part of negotiations during the Uruguay Round for GATT Contracting Parties to conclude was not the agriculture negotiations or the negotiations on intellectual property but rather the negotiations on antidumping. To simplify, the antidumping negotiations pitted the U.S. and EU against the Asian tigers who were excessively competitive and creating problems in world markets. But the Asian tigers were much smaller in size than China is today and were much more market oriented than China is today. So the chasm in the system was much smaller than what exists today So it is not surprising that there is a big challenge today. But challenges are there to be met and solutions found. Dr. Seade is convinced that China will want to respond to avoid chaos in the system. Once they view the U.S. as serious about engaging, China will want to know what they need to do to get the WTO functioning again. The same question should apply to the U.S. and the EU. So we should be able to save the system.
Question on the U.S.-China dynamic: USTR Lighthizer has indicated he has three criteria for next DG – he or she must support a robust reform agenda; he or she must acknowledge that the current system doesn’t adequately deal with China’s economy and state trading practices; he or she can’t have a “wiff” of anti-Americanism. China may have a different set of priorities. How do you get US and China to do business in the WTO?
Dr. Seade response: on the US-China conflict, how do you handle China? One way is through dispute settlement. To date there have been 44 cases brought by WTO Members against China. This is a good way to address problems a Member has with another Member, and it has worked. We have to resolve the problems with the dispute settlement system and make it work better. At the same time, there are initiatives that have been begun by the US (e.g., EU, Japan and US) on industrial subsidies. Dr. Seade believes that it is really for US to work out with China how to incorporate more disciplines on industrial subsidies or other issues. This will likely require the U.S. and others to add items of interest to China to make negotiations more acceptable to China. While China is a tough negotiator, China will not risk bringing down the WTO. In Dr. Seade’s view, the most important thing China has done in last fifty years other than the start of the reform process back in 1978 was joining the WTO. So we need to amend the dispute settlement system which would be a good starting point to helping address existing problems. Dr. Seade agrees with the U.S. that there have not been real negotiations on most agreement areas in the last 25 years. As China was not part of WTO in the 1990s, there can be little question that rules need to be updated both to reflect changing trade realities and to incorporate China in the process and resulting rules.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in her prepared statement reflected that Members have differenting views on “new or enhanced rules” identifying state-owned enterprises (SOEs) but by implication including industrial subsidies.
“Members’ views differ on a number of fundamental issues, such as special and differential treatment or the need for the WTO to tackle new issues and develop new or enhanced rules to deal with SOEs and agricultural subsidies, for example. Trade tensions among the membership have flared up, threatening the fundamental architecture of the MTS. With all these, the WTO, unfortunately, is now perceived by some as an inefficient organization that has failed to keep abreast of developments in the global economy.”
Her prepared statement goes through a range of issues that need to be addressed by the WTO but does not include in that list any of the issues flowing from different economic systems. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala does link being able to renew the WTO to getting Members to recall core objectives and principles. The objectives and principles to many would be understood to require updating rules so that different economic systems are subject to effective rules to eliminate or minimize distortions.
“Renewing and improving the organization will require recalling the core objectives and principles on which the MTS was built – the value of open trade, competition and non-discrimination, security and predictability of market access, and transparency. These principles have contributed to economic growth and development and will continue to do so if Members renew their commitment to them.”
During the press conference on July 15th after Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had met with the General Council, she was asked one question about what she would say to the U.S. about staying in the WTO. The question doesn’t directly address different economic systems, but concerns about U.S. staying in the WTO are generally understood to reflect U.S. problems with many aspects of the WTO including rules which do not effectively address distortions created by non-market economies. My notes on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s answer to the question are provided below.
On the question of why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated she would communicate to the U.S. that the WTO delivers for all Members. The GATT and WTO have provided shared prosperity which has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Where the trading system is not working, Members need to fix the problems. Peace, security and stability are needed now just as they have been over the last decades. These are what the WTO rules-based system provides. If we didn’t have the WTO, we would need to invent it.
WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. During the webinar, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was asked a number of questions that resulted in answers that touched on tension between the U.S. and China, industrial subsidies and more. My notes on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s responses and to some of the questions follows:
Q: On the important issue of building trust between Members, there are major differences between the U.S. and China, including (for the U.S.) whether existing WTO rules adequately discipline Chinese policies and (for China) whether US is abiding by the rules. What do you see to be the main challenges to building trust among Members to permit a reform agenda to move forward?
A: Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that building trust between the Members is critical. When developed countries bring an agenda item to the WTO, developing countries may view the issue as not in their interest (and vice versa) because of a lack of trust. On the conflicts between the U.S. and China, we need to find areas of common interest for the two Members. We are used to looking at what are the differences between the Members, but we should be looking for common interests among Members. If we can use those common interests to accomplish incremental progress, that will help build trust.. You build trust negotiation by negotiation (using the issue of special and differential treatment as example). If we can solve any problem, it helps build trust. Another way to build trust between developed and developing Members is to conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations taking into account the needs of individual Members. If the WTO Members can wrap up those negotiations, the success will start to build trust.
Q: On resetting of tariff commitments (comment from USTR Lighthizer as a problem within the WTO based on changing economic development of many countries), would this be in the best interest of the system?
A: This is a critical question and issue. Renegotiating any agreement would require consensus building that would be very difficult to achieve. That would certainly be true on bound tariffs. The balance of rights and obligations raised by the United States flows from the concerns about state-led economies and state-owned enterprises and whether such economies belong in the system. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO is not there to comment on the economy of any Member. In her view, the key question is what disciplines does the WTO have around any issue that arises. Are the disciplines sufficient to address the imbalances in rights and obligations that may arise? We need to start there. What are the fundamental issues — state-owned enterprises (SOEs), public body. Can we come to agreement on the meaning of the term public body? Can we tighten subsidy disciplines that already exist or can we negotiate new subsidy or other disciplines to address the concerns that arise from these types of economies? That is the approach all Members should be pursuing.
Q: On industrial subsidies, China has signaled that they will oppose tightening disciplines. The U.S., EU and Japan have been working on a proposal and discussing with some Members. How can the Director-General help the membership navigate these issues?
A: If Dr. Okonjo-Iweala becomes the next Director-General, she would encourage that proposals from the U.S., EU and Japan be tabled so all Members can see what they are and how acceptable they are to other Members (including China). Let’s start to work with an actual proposal. Sometimes countries are not as far away as one might think. Members need to work on a specific proposal and see what happens.
Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)
Mr. Mamdouh in his prepared statement to the General Council on July 15 made only one reference to the issues pertaining to differences in economic systems when he acknowledged that addressing industrial subsidies should be a priority.
“Reviving the built-in agenda of agriculture and services must be a priority because WTO Members agreed on this, and it has not happened. Trade distorting subsidies, both agricultural and industrial, will also be a priority.”
During Mr. Mamdouh’s press conference on July 15 after his meeting with the General Council, Mr. Mamdouh was asked one question about the U.S.-China conflicts. My notes on his response to the question are provided below.
A question was asked on what should be the role of the US and China in the new WTO. Mr. Mamdouh responded that the role of these two Members is to engage in the WTO. Start from the point that bilateral disputes should be resolved in the WTO. Since we all believe in the multilateral process, Members must keep in mind that bilateral disputes and solutions have effects on other Members. Moreover, bilateral solutions are less likely to be effective and are likely to be short lived.
WITA had a webinar with Mr. Mamdouh on June 23. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-candidate-hamid-mamdouh/. During the webinar, Mr. Mamdouh was asked various questions that dealt with the U.S.-China conflicts, need for better rules on industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises and more. My notes on Mr. Mamdouh’s response and to some of the questions follows.
Q: Why are you well suited to deal with the deep and potentially ruinous conflicts between US, China, EU? How would you get these big powers to do business with each other?
A: Mr. Mamdouh responded that this issue is the first frontier for a new Director-General. The key is to have the right attitude toward the conversation (less political). The types of problems that Members face deal with noncompliance and with inadequacy of rules. Both need to be handled. The issues must be addressed in an intellectually honest and politically courageous way if there is to be progress. In the past, reform occurred at the GATT when there was a perceived threat to the survival of the system. Mr. Mamdouh believes that the WTO is facing such a threat now. Do WTO Members have a common purpose? Do Members need a WTO? If the answer to the latter question is no, the conversation among Members has nowhere to go. It is in everybody’s interest to have the answer to the question be “yes”. For progress, the Director-General needs to bring the players to the table to identify problems with the current system. The system needs more transparency. For progress, it is important to keep the conversation at the level of looking at the contract and whether the contract adequately addresses the problems identified. If the contract is not adequate to the current needs, then WTO Members must modify the contract.
Q: is the near death experience the WTO is experiencing now an opportunity to move to a meaningful reform agenda?
A: Mr. Mamdouh responded that yes the current crisis can lead to a meaningful reform agenda, if there is the political will of the Members. But political will can only be generated if there is a common purpose.
The WTO needs to address issues of interest to Members, including those raised by the US (e.g., e-commerce, SOEs, forced technology transfer). Increasingly, the WTO is facing complex issues that go beyond simple trade liberalization but also deal with regulatory objectives. In these complex areas, such as e-commerce, the WTO Members need to find ways to accomplish differing regulatory objectives in a least trade restrictive manner. That can only be accomplished if there is a thorough discussion of the regulatory needs and development of factual information on possible trade options that can be taken back to capitals for review and for negotiation. Unfortunately, the deliberative function has nearly died at the WTO. To address the increasingly complex issues of importance to Members, the WTO needs to restore the deliberative function.
Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)
Amb. Ulianovschi’s prepared statement that he provided to the General Council on July 16 doesn’t contain direct reference to any of the issues dealing with different economic systems. Amb. Ulianovschi does indirectly reference the need to address other important issues through negotiations.
“In terms of immediate priorities for the future Director General of the WTO, the following should be considered (including in the preparation process for MC12): * * *
“3. Facilitating dialogue with Members regarding on-going negotiations on the remaining and other important issues.”
During the July 16th press conference following Amb. Ulianovschi’s General Council meeting, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked a question about U.S.-China conflict and how he, as Director-General, would be able to reduce tensions. My notes on his response to the question are provided below.
On the question of how he would use the role of Director-General to ease tensions between U.S. and China, Mr. Ulianovschi responded that this topic had been discussed with Members during his meeting with the General Council. In his view, the role of the Director-General is to be an honest broker between WTO Members. The Director-General must be able to listen to concerns with a view to using his offices to engage Members involved in a dialogue process. At the same time, the Director-General is not there to impose a solution but to listen and raise awareness of the impact of actions on the larger organization and to mitigate harm to others. The next Director-General needs to engage in talks both in Geneva and in capitals and see that any outreach is transparent and inclusive.
WITA held a webinar with Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi on August 26, 2020, https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-tudor-ulianovschi/. During the webinar, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked several questions where answers dealt with some aspect of the U.S.-China conflict, differences in economic system, need for improved rules, etc. My notes on the questions and responses from Amb. Ulianovschi follow.
Q: How important is it to have a reform agenda, and how can you convince the major Members to agree on a common agenda?
A: Amb. Ulianovschi stated that reform is absolutely necessary. In his view, cosmetic reform is not sufficient, a fact made clear by major Members. Amb. Ulianovschi believes that political experience and dialogue by the Director-General will be key to get those who have put forward proposals to get into a discussion that is inclusive and transparent. There are a large number of issues that are affecting the environment at the WTO. For example, the current situation between the U.S. and China is affecting the system.
Q: US-China relations and how it affects the WTO. Amb. Lighthizer says he is looking for a Director-General who recognizes that the current system doesn’t address Chinese trade practices and that changes need to be made. Do you agree? There has been some work done by the U.S., EU and Japan on industrial subsidies and other topics. Would you support improving industrial subsidies?
A: Amb. Ulianovschi believes that the topic has to be of priority for the next Director-General. The Director-General can provide his/her good offices to the U.S. and China to take up any issue, but such discussions must be consensual. Based on Amb. Ulianovschi’s conversations with the broader membership, he knows that there is interest by many on the spillover effects on other economies from the US-China conflict. Having said that, Amb. Ulianovschi reiterated the need for the organization to have a Director-General with political experience not to politicize the organization but to reach out to the decision makers and raise awareness of the concerns of the larger membership and encourage the two Members to sit down and discuss issues they consider appropriate. On industrial subsidies and other issues, we need to have more indepth discussions at the WTO to have a better understanding of the issues, coverage of the current rules and the existing situation. As a member driven organization, the incoming Director-General will have to see whether the membership is willing to move to more discipline on industrial subsidies. Amb. Ulianovschi also believes that a review of transparency and notifications could be useful. An open, sincere dialogue based on timely and full information would lead to a better understanding of the issues of concern and then lead to a better decision making process to address the issues.
H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea)
Minister Yoo included a general reference in her July 16 prepared statement to the General Council to “sensitive” proposals for reform which presumably include the U.S. proposal on non-market economies and the efforts by the European Union, Japan and United States to tighten disciplines on industrial subsidies.
“I am well aware of the proposals that Members have put forward on WTO reform. I also know how sensitive these issues can be to individual Members. A high degree of trust among Members must be the starting point in exploring cooperative solutions.”
Minister Yoo was not asked a question during her press conference that dealt with different economic systems or distortions flowing therefrom.
WITA had a webinar with Minister Yoo on August 11. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/candidate-h-e-yoo-myung-hee/. Minister Yoo was asked some questions on how she would address the U.S.-China conflicts and the U.S. view that the current WTO rules don’t adequately address the market distortions caused by the Chinese economic model. Below I provide my notes on the questions and Minister Yoo’s responses.
Q: In prepared statement you mention you can serve as a bridge between US and China. Please elaborate. Second, Amb. Lighthizer is looking for a Director-General who recognizes that current rules don’t adequately discipline China. Do you agree there is a problem in terms of adequacy of WTO rules for China’s policies?
A: On the first issue of serving as a bridge, Minister Yoo believes that the WTO can provide a good place for US-China issues to be addressed if the negotiating function is working. In her view, part of the problem which has led to actions outside of the WTO has been the lack of progress on negotiations. Thus, Minister Yoo believes WTO Members need to revitalize the negotiating function, so Members will use the WTO to ensure adequacy of rules in an evolving world. Minister Yoo believes the next Director-General needs to engage in dialogue with the U.S. and China to find and understand the real issues between them. Minister Yoo reviewed that she has done negotiations with both the United States and China. She believes that she can use that experience to engage in dialogue with each country and find commonalities between them among the real issues. By focusing on commonalities, Minister Yoo believes that one can find a path forward to achieve a negotiated success, even if small, and build trust. After finding small successes, the Members then move forward to address the more challenging issues.
On the second question relating to Amb. Lighthizer’s concern that current rules are not sufficient to discipline China’s practices, Minister Yoo believes one needs to look at the rule book. In her view, all policies adopted by governments can have spillover effects on trade. If policies do have such spillover effects and are not covered by existing WTO rules, one needs to evaluate whether the policies are consistent with WTO principles (fair competition, nondiscrimination, etc.). If a policy is not consistent with WTO principles and has spillover effects on trade, one must determine if current rules can be used to address the policy. If not, then the WTO needs to look at whether modifications to existing rules or the addition of new rules are needed. Minister Yoo believes Members will need to be willing to engage in this type of process.
H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)
Like other candidates, Minister Mohamed didn’t directly address the issue of different economic models reflecting the conflicting positions of some major Members. Rather, Minister Mohamed acknowledged that there were different reform priorities for different Members and that Members needed to get past the challenges in current negotiating approaches. The following four paragraphs from Minister Mohamed’s prepared statement to the General Council on July 16 provides some general comments on the road forward which can be viewed as applicable to differing economic models and many other contentious issues.
“12. You do not all share the same reform priorities. This makes it essential to work together for convergence around elements that all can support. We need to break the cycle of despair and enter into a new phase of hope and realism.
“13. Renewal has to start with facing up to the defects that have weakened the system in recent years: the inability to update rules to reflect the changing realities of how trade is conducted; the sterility of ideological standoffs; the retreat into defensiveness; and the sense of the benefits of trade not being equitably shared.
“14. The WTO has to engage again in good faith negotiations, and this means openness to change and to new ideas, within a culture of inclusiveness and transparency.
’15. Renewal should also build upon the WTO’s core values and achievements. Trade has been transformational. It has helped to lift close to 1 billion people out of poverty and facilitated the attainment of higher living standards in countries at all levels of development. These successes were possible because Members did not see trade as a zero-sum game. They understood that trade-offs were needed to produce outcomes. All Members should contribute to trade opening and facilitation efforts, especially those most in a position to do so.”
During Minister Mohamed’s press conference on July 16 after her meeting with the General Council, she received two general questions about how she would work with major players to resolve trade tensions. Below is my summary of the questions asked and her response.
Q: If selected as the next Director-Generaly, will you be more engaged in resolving trade tensions between major players? If yes, what tactics would you use?
A: Minister Mohamed reviewed the types of powers that a Director-General has to work with Members. For example, the Director-General has engagement powers and can encourage members to consult, to use the good offices of the Director-General. So while the Director-General has only limited powers, those powers ca be used effectively by a Director-General to help Members to use the WTO system to resolve differences.
When asked what her approach would be to deal with trade tensions between US and China, Minister Mohamed stated that she would encourage all members to resolve their trade differences within the WTO rules.
WITA had a webinar with H.E. Mohamed on August 6. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/ambassador-amina-mohamed/. During the webinar, Minister Mohamed addressed briefly the rise of China as a major trading nation and was asked about whether current WTO rules adequately address distortions that flow from China’s policies. My notes from Minister Mohamed’s comments follow.
Minister Mohamed stated that since the WTO was set up in 1995, new and powerful players have emerged onto the trade scene, in particular China. The resulting tensions with the United States have fed the dysfunction within the WTO. Minister Mohamed believes that to address the tensions, the WTO needs to pursue reform. However, governments don’t share the same reform priorities. The WTO needs to identify issues all can support if reform is to move forward.
Q: Amb. Lighthizer has raised his concern that the current WTO rules are not capable of disciplining conduct of non-market economies, particularly China. Do you agree? How would you go about finding common ground?
A: Minister Mohamed’s response was that one needs to start by looking at the existing rule book. The rule book is outdated in some cases. Moreover, some rules are weak and are being circumvented. If you have candid discussions with WTO Members, you will find the problems are with the adequacy of the rules. If the rules are inadequate, WTO Members need to address them to achieve modifications or new rules. For example, the U.S.-EU-Japan effort on industrial subsidies is potentially important. If Minister Mohamed becomes the next Director-General she would urge the U.S., EU and Japan to table their proposal, so all WTO Members can discuss what are being raised as the real issues. It is important to understand what conduct is driving up the tension between Members.
H.E. Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)
Minister Al-Tuwaijri was the first candidate the General Council met with on July 17. In his prepared statement, Minister Al-Tuwaijri did not directly address the issue of different economic systems and the potential distortions created by non-market economies. Rather he indicated that any negotiating agenda would work only where all Members view the agenda as including items of interest to them. Applied to different economic systems, this would suggest that for negotiations to occur on the topic it would have to be part of a larger package of issues of interest to those Members (like China) who would potentially perceive themselves the target of the industrial subsidies issue or the differing economic systems issue.
“Concerning working together through negotiations, I believe that Members will participate in negotiations when they are convinced that the agenda includes an incentive for them to participate. Therefore, in order to have a successful multilateral negotiation, the agenda needs to be balanced – it needs to include something for everyone.”
At the press conference after his meeting with the General Council, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was not asked any questions dealing with the issue of differing economic systems or on industrial subsidies.
WITA had a webinar with H.E. Al-Tuwaijri on August 5. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/director-general-candidate-he-mohammed-al-tuwaijri/. During the webinar, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was asked several questions dealing with the relationship between some of the major trading Members (U.S., China, EU) and specifically whether he supported negotiations on industrial subsidies to address U.S. concerns that existing rules don’t discipline the policies of China. Below are my notes on the questions asked and answers provided.
Q: Can you have a successful launch of a reform agenda if the leaders in key Members (China, US, EU) aren’t committed to help you make it work? In the first six months as the new Director-General if selected, how would you get these Members to buy into a reform ageanda?
A: Minister Al-Tuwaijri started his response by noting his involvement in working with G20 countries where the major WTO Members are involved. He noted that one of the issues G20 countries have supported is engaging in reform at the WTO. Individual countries may have different views on reform — how, when, and what — but all agree reform is needed. Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that six-months is too long a period to determine if there is support among the major Members for a reform initiative. He believes that within the first two – three months of becoming the next Director-General he should know if the intent of the major Members is to support reform or not. He would reach out with a specific set of questions (e.g., here are top five issues for reform discussions) and seek input on where Members are on a willingness to address the issues. Minister Al-Tuwaijri has the ability to reach out to the major Members and be viewed as an honest broker. Saudi Arabia has always been a neutral country and has been serving as President this year in the G20.
Q: On China, Amb. Lighthizer is looking for a candidate to be the next Director-General who understands that the current WTO rules don’t discipline China. Do you agree that the current rules don’t adequately discipline China? Would you support efforts to improve disciplines on industrial subsidies?
A: Minister Al-Tuwaijri supports all efforts of WTO Members to engage in negotiations. China is a major country and major trading nation. He believes that the more that is done to promote negotiations and promote timely resolution of issues, the better it is for restoring the negotiation function. He believes that the U.S. and China should bring all of their issues with each other to the table. He knows that there are many. But WTO Members need to move the negotiating process forward to ensure rules are adequate.
The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)
Dr. Fox was the last of the candidates to meet with the General Council and the second candidate who met on July 17. His prepared statement talks about the array of issues likely to be addressed heading into the twelfth Ministerial Conference in 2021 and the agreed need for broader reform. However, he does not mention in his prepared statement the issues surrounding different economic systems or the need for revised rules on industrial subsidies.
During Dr. Fox’s press conference on July 17, he was asked one question that was broad but fairly did include the U.S. effort to address non-market economies (how would you deal with the broad U.S. concerns with the WTO). Dr. Fox viewed the main U.S. concerns as being with the Appellate Body and limited his remarks to that issue.
He was asked a different question on why the multilateral trading system is important to large parties. My notes on his response are provided below.
Q: Why is the multilateral trading system important to the large parties?
A: Dr. Fox indicated that he viewed the Director-General position to not be one of taking sides in bilateral disputes but to maintain the international trading system. If Members don’t enforce what currently exists, what is the credibility of new rules signed onto later? He stated that all Members have benefited from the multilateral trading system. The alternative to a rules- based system is not acceptable. That is true for most countries, not just smaller countries. He used the examples of the 4th and 5th largest economies, Germany and UK, for whom global trade is a major component of their economies.
WITA had a webinar with Dr. Fox on July 30, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-dr-liam-fox/. During the webinar, Dr. Fox was asked several questions about China, including whether existing rules adequately discipline China’s policies and whether new negotiations on industrial subsidies are needed. My notes on the questions asked and Dr. Fox’s responses are provided below.
Q: USTR Lighthizer has indicated there are three factors he is looking for in considering candidates for the Director-General post: (1) no anti-Americanism; (2) a belief that there is a need for broad reform at the WTO; and (3) someone who understands that the current WTO rules don’t adequately discipline China’s policies. Do you agree with Amb. Lighthizer’s last point on the need for new rules to address Chinese policies?
A: Dr. Fox’s answer dealt with all three factors including that he is not anti-America. He also believes there is a need broad-based reform. In Dr. Fox’s view, the reform needed is both internal at the Secretariat as well as in changing the rule book. For example, Dr. Fox had had dozens of meetings by the time of the webinar with WTO Members. Many countries felt that if you weren’t a large Member or a squeeky wheel, your voices were not heard. In Dr. Fox’s view, the next Director-General needs to review the operation of WTO Secretariat to be sure all Members can be heard and improve the outreach to all Members and listening to their views and concerns. Dr. Fox believes that there is also a need to reform how the WTO operates during negotiations. He used the example of the fisheries subsidies negotiations. He opined that better outreach to NGOs and other groups about the negotiations and encouraging their engagement with Members would help constituencies better understand that the WTO is engaged in issues that are importance to them. The failure to have such engagement can undermine the concept of shared endeavor which is important to forward movement at the WTO. So different forms of reform are needed at the WTO.
On the question about whether rules adequately discipline the policies of China, Dr. Fox stated that reform is not about focusing on any one country. He stated that, of course, all Members must comply with the existing rules. In his view, Members need an effective dispute resolution system to ensure such compliance. Beyond that, the question is how do WTO Members take forward and address common challenges (e.g., e-commerce). The key for the WTO is to bring the rule book up to date with the changing commercial realities. Up-to-date rules and getting all Members to comply are the main objectives of reform.
Q: what about industrial subsidies. Is this an area that needs to be updated.
A: Dr. Fox indicated that WTO Members have a lack of trust in each other. One way to improve trust is to improve transparency. Dr. Fox used as an example, efforts by the OECD to quantify subsidies to aluminum producers around the world. He had visited the OECD recently and heard from them about the extraordinary efforts they went to to make up for a lack of available data on items like production capacity and production. The efforts undertaken were both expensive and time consuming. The example of aluminum indicates that it is important to improve objective data that are provided by Members to the WTO. If WTO Members want improved transparency and improved accuracy of information provided, the WTO also will need to find better ways to verify data submitted.
The question of whether non-market economies or state-directed economies or state-capitalist economies properly fit within the WTO Agreements was not addressed by any candidate, though Dr. Okonjo-Iweala took the position that the nature of the economic system of any Member was not an issue for the WTO to consider.
On whether the current rules of the WTO adequately discipline the policies of China (and more broadly other non-market economies), candidates generally were of the view that the reform process should permit an evaluation of the changing global landscape and developments and where issues were not addressed or inadequately addressed by current rules, Members should consider what changes would be appropriate. Dr. Seade noted that since China was not part of the GATT in the 1990s during the Uruguay Round negotiations, with all the change that has occurred in the first 25 years of the WTO and limited update of rules, there is little doubt that rules need to be updated both to address practices of new Members and to incorporate their views on needed updates. Minister Yoo suggested a somewhat similar approach.
On the question of the need for an update to the rules on industrial subsidies, Minister Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala were of the view that the proposal being worked on by the U.S., EU and Japan should be tabled in Geneva so all Members could start the process of understanding the concerns and appropriateness of the approaches recommended to address. Mr. Mamdouh included updating industrial subsidies rules as one of the priority issues to be addressed by the WTO.