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Canada commits to support WTO, ‘rules-based’ international trade during pandemic

Thursday, May 07, 2020 @ 4:15 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

In the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Canada and 41 other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have signed a joint statement supporting the centrality of the embattled WTO, and committing to maintain predictable and rules-based trade, including trying to find “a lasting solution” to the present inability of the WTO’s Appellate Body to hear appeals because the United States is blocking judicial appointments, due to concerns over judicial activism and American sovereignty.

“In this period of unprecedented health and economic challenges due to COVID-19, the predictability and stability provided by the WTO and the rules-based international trading system is crucial for Canadian businesses and workers, as well as the path towards economic recovery,” Mary Ng, federal minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, said in a statement that announced Canada’s agreement.

The 550-word joint ministerial statement signed May 5, was agreed to, for example, by Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, but not by the United States.

“Canada and these 41 WTO members support resuming WTO activities as soon as possible, including the important work that Canada is leading on WTO reform, and finding a permanent solution to the WTO Appellate Body impasse,” Ng said.

The WTO’s dispute settlement system was set up to stop tariffs and trade retaliation in violation of internationally agreed-on rules and arbitration, but the organization’s ability to enforce multilateral trade rules was hamstrung last December with the expiry of the terms of two of the three remaining Appellate Body judges — leaving the tribunal without quorum it to hear appeals. The U.S. has blocked the appointment of new judges and so far efforts to reform the system have failed.

The joint statement signed by ministers responsible for the WTO in their member countries states “we support the full resumption of all WTO activities as soon as feasible. We will intensify our efforts to develop new WTO disciplines, to improve existing WTO disciplines and to find a lasting solution to the situation relating to the WTO Appellate Body in order to support long-term, sustainable economic growth. We will also support continued efforts to reform the WTO so that it is as effective as possible.”

The ministers also stated that “a predictable, transparent, non-discriminatory and open global trading system will be essential for broad-based, sustainable economic recovery. We, therefore, strongly reaffirm our support for the rules-based multilateral trading system and the central role of the WTO. We will continue to act in a manner consistent with our WTO rights and obligations. We will refrain from raising new unjustified barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services.”

The 42 WTO member countries also stressed, among other things, “the necessity of maintaining agriculture supply chains and preserving members’ food security. We, therefore, pledge to not impose export restrictions and to refrain from implementing unjustified trade barriers on agricultural and food products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”