WTO ministerial meeting ends in stalemate after US criticism, member vetoes; no multilateral outcomes achieved

Driven by President Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy and a preference for bilateral deals, the United States had already blocked ambassadors from drafting a ministerial text in Geneva that included references to the centrality of the global trading system and to trade as a driver of development.

Reuters December 14, 2017 03:45:12 IST
WTO ministerial meeting ends in stalemate after US criticism, member vetoes; no multilateral outcomes achieved

Buenos Aires: The World Trade Organization’s biennial meeting ended in stalemate on Wednesday after US criticism and member country vetoes, raising questions about the body’s ability to govern increasingly disputed global trade.

Ministers gathered in Buenos Aires were never expected to agree on major trade reforms, but even relatively minor proposals on e-commerce and fishing subsidy curbs ran aground.

“We have not achieved any multilateral outcomes,” European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a news conference. “The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing.”She said the meeting laid bare the deficiencies of the WTO negotiating system, which requires unanimity among all 164 member countries. She said the United States was partly to blame, but other countries also held up progress.

“Procedural excuses and vetoes from one member or another, cynical hostage taking, have led to the sobering result of today,” Malmstrom added.

WTO ministerial meeting ends in stalemate after US criticism member vetoes no multilateral outcomes achieved

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom smiles next to China's Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen during the Business Forum at the 11th World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Reuters

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo added that WTO members needed to do some “real soul searching” about the way forward and realize they cannot get everything they want.

Absent any agreements, trade ministers focused on the WTO’s post-conference work programs, such as efforts to improve market efficiency and curb excess industrial capacity, WTO spokesman Ken Rockwell told reporters.

Some 70 member countries, including the United States, European Union, Japan and Brazil pledged to forge ahead with an effort to negotiate rules on electronic commerce after a broader deal among the full membership failed. Absent from the group were China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer set an acrimonious tone at the start of the conference with sharp criticisms of the WTO. The 23-year-old trade body requires unanimity among all 164 WTO member countries to reach any agreement.

Lighthizer told WTO ministers on Monday that it was impossible to negotiate new rules while many of the current rules were not being followed, and that the WTO was losing its focus and becoming too litigation-focused. Even the perfunctory joint ministerial statement looked in doubt at the conference, known as MC11.

America First
Driven by President Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy and a preference for bilateral deals, the United States had already blocked ambassadors from drafting a ministerial text in Geneva that included references to the centrality of the global trading system and to trade as a driver of development.

USTR spokeswoman Emily Davis denied that the United States was the problem in the lack of negotiated outcomes, saying the Obama administration had raised similar WTO grievances.

“The United States has remained engaged throughout MC11 to achieve progress where possible,” Davis said in an emailed statement, adding that Lighthizer made “honest remarks on issues the United States has been raising for years.”

Lighthizer left Buenos Aires for Washington on Tuesday night, missing the final day of the conference.

The failure to reach any major deals meant that negotiations on the same topics will continue into 2018, with no deadline and no heavyweight ministerial momentum to get agreement.

But on Tuesday, the European Union and Japan joined the United States in vowing to combat market-distorting policies, such as those pervasive in China that have fueled excess industrial capacity, including subsidies for state-owned enterprises and technology transfer requirements.

An EU source familiar with negotiations over the statement said it was instigated by Japan, partly as a means to coax Washington into working multilaterally to solve such problems rather than resorting to unilateral trade restrictions.

Updated Date:

also read

Ahead of G7 2021, EU promises to donate an extra 250 million euros as famine aid
World

Ahead of G7 2021, EU promises to donate an extra 250 million euros as famine aid

The aid will be given to Africa, Afghanistan and Venezuela as countries facing severe food insecurity due to Covid-19.

Vladimir Putin formalises Russia's withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty citing 'lack of progress'
World

Vladimir Putin formalises Russia's withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty citing 'lack of progress'

The treaty, which aimed to repair ties and smoothen bilateral relations between countries during and after the Cold War, was proposed in 1955 by then-US president Dwight Eisenhower

Facebook suspends former President Donald Trump's account for two years
World

Facebook suspends former President Donald Trump's account for two years

“At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded," Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post