Experts say urgent reform needed at WTO

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-09 18:44:12|Editor: xuxin
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by Yang Dingdu, Sui Lixi, Wang Dier

BEIJING, July 9 (Xinhua) -- The World Trade Organization (WTO), an anchor of the global trading system, is mired in crisis and urgently needs to be reformed, experts said at the World Peace Forum held here on Monday and Tuesday.

During panel discussions, experts stressed that the reform of WTO's appellate body is of existential importance to the organization.

As the United States continues to block the appointment of its judges, the WTO appellate body could grind to a halt, disabling the organization's vital dispute settlement mechanism, experts warned.

The appellate body, which normally has six judges, needs at least three to rule on appeals. The threat of a dysfunctional WTO looms large with the upcoming retirement of one of the remaining three judges in December.

The U.S. has been blocking the appointments of members to the WTO appellate body to delegitimize a rule-based trading system, without offering constructive proposals for reform, said Mario Telo, emeritus president of the Institute for European Studies at the University Libre of Brussels.

"If we can not solve the problem by the end of the year, the WTO dispute settlement mechanism will come to a halt. Then the WTO itself won't be functional," said Rajat Kathuria, director of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.

A crippling factor is that "one major power" is bypassing the WTO on trade issues, according to EU ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis. "Not to judge but to state a fact: the Trump administration carries out its trade policies outside the WTO," he said.

In addition, international trade in today's world has evolved dramatically from that of the 1980s and 1990s.

According to Sebastien Jean, director of CEPII, a leading French institute for economics research, rules need to be made or revised in the WTO to cope with new realities in negotiation, enforcement as well as new technologies such as big data and e-commerce.

The WTO must be reformed, as it is an "extremely valuable public goods," providing a framework of rules to lend predictability and reliability to world trade, Jean added.

Experts agreed that the WTO has been hugely successful in reducing tariffs and promoting global trade in spite of the recent crisis.

Although people have differences on the reform of WTO, the multilateral body remains the "baseline and anchor" of the global trading system, said Song Hong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Mario Telo added that "the WTO is not only successful but also one of the best multilateral organizations" in existence today, he said.

According to Telo, the WTO sets a model of super-national governance that is binding even for big powers.