Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar18/15)
22 March 2018
Third World Network
Ministers concerned over unilateral trade measures, AB impasse
Published in SUNS #8646 dated 21 March 2018
New Delhi, 20 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) - Many trade ministers expressed
grave concern at an informal trade ministerial summit on Tuesday (20
March) over escalating unilateral trade measures that could push the
multilateral trading system into a downward spiral, several trade
ministers told SUNS.
Around 50 countries called for a "collective" to face the
systemic challenges in the multilateral trading system, particularly
at the WTO.
Trade ministers demanded an urgent resolution of the logjam at the
World Trade Organization's Appellate Body (AB) so as to restore the
credibility of the dispute settlement mechanism.
While major industrialized countries along with several developing
country members pushed hard for considering plurilateral initiatives
in electronic commerce, investment facilitation, and disciplines for
micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), a large number of developing
countries pressed for resolving the Doha issues.
At the end of a one-and-half-day informal trade ministerial summit,
52 countries joined forces against unilateral trade measures imposed
by the United States and Washington's repeated blocking of the filling
of the three vacancies at the Appellate Body.
In his concluding statement, the Indian trade minister Suresh Prabhu
said many participants underscored the need for preserving and enhancing
the functioning and credibility of the multilateral trading system
in which the World Trade Organization remains at the center.
Prabhu said that participants sought an expeditious resolution to
the impasse for filling the three vacancies at the Appellate Body
so as to ensure the credibility of the independent and impartial Dispute
Without naming the United States, which is resorting to discriminatory
Section 232 security-related trade restrictive measures, the Indian
commerce minister said "the cycle of recent unilateral trade
measures and proposed countermeasures" will severely undermine
the principle of non-discrimination. He told reporters that only "dialogue"
will avert further crises in the global trading system.
Commenting on the renewed push for "differentiation" and
the need for classifying developing countries for the provision of
special and differential flexibilities, the Indian minister said that
several ministers emphasized the "need" for all developing
countries, including LDCs, to avail SDT flexibilities without any
Japan, Norway, New Zealand, the European Union, and Kenya among others
spoke in support of differentiation.
The EU said countries must justify why they need SDT flexibilities
case by case while other developed countries called for new classification
of developing countries.
But South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies said any tinkering with
SDT flexibilities case by case is a redline that developing countries
will never accept. (See separate story).
The WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said the discussion on development
which involves differentiation and reclassification of countries must
be intensified, suggesting that it cannot be deferred to 2019, said
a participant familiar with the meeting.
Many participants, particularly developing countries, according to
the Indian trade minister, emphasized that paragraph 31 of the Nairobi
Ministerial Declaration must remain at the center of negotiations
at the WTO for resolving the unaddressed issues in the Doha Development
Prabhu said that participants said they are ready to adopt "pragmatic
and flexible options" for advancing the negotiations on the Doha
Indonesia which is the coordinator for the G33 developing country
coalition along with several other countries called for "locking
domestic reforms in domestic farm subsidies, a permanent solution
on public stockholding programs for food security purposes, cotton,
and an agricultural special safeguard mechanism."
The Indian trade minister said participants highlighted the need for
intensifying work in areas such as domestic regulation in services
and fisheries subsidies. Prabhu said fisheries subsidies remain an
integral part of the Doha mandate, suggesting that it would also help
in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.
Many trade ministers, according to Prabhu, insisted that "open,
transparent and inclusive discussions within the joint initiatives
of the proponents of the various issues, which are presently not within
the scope of the negotiating mandate of the WTO, would deepen the
understanding of issues and benefit all members."
He admitted that several questioned the underlying assumptions for
pursuing plurilateral initiatives saying that "all negotiations
at the WTO must follow the fundamental principle of multilateralism
and any other approach represents a threat to the multilateral trading
China took the floor first during the day-long meeting to warn about
the threat posed by unilateral trade measures to the multilateral
trading system. China's vice trade minister Wang Shouwen said the
crisis at the AB must be resolved expeditiously and immediately without
Commenting on the steel and aluminum safeguard measures, the Chinese
minister said trade remedy measures must be in conformity with the
More important, China opposed graduation and reclassification of developing
countries for availing special and differential flexibilities. The
Chinese vice minister said it will require SDT flexibilities.
The new US deputy trade representative and envoy to the WTO Ambassador
Dennis Shea raised several problems with the way the AB functioned,
suggesting that many procedures were not properly followed by AB members.
Ambassador Shea said the AB members failed to issue reports within
the 90-day limit. The deputy USTR argued that the AB continues to
issue rulings in which two members had already retired. Ambassador
Shea argued that some AB reports went beyond their mandate for resolving
The US, he said, welcomes the plurilaterals in electronic commerce
and other areas, suggesting that it is an opportune time for addressing
the fundamental reforms in the negotiating and dispute settlement
functions at the WTO, according to participants familiar with the
The European Union said unambiguously that countries which need special
and differential flexibilities must justify why they would need them
with evidence, a stand that was echoed by several other industrialized
In short, the New Delhi meeting offered room for a frank political
discussion on development and the work program to be adopted at the
WTO but there is going to be little change either at the Appellate
Body or in the multilateral trading system, several ministers said.