U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has called for meaningful reform within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address China’s “non-market” practices. In a speech at a trade forum in Washington, Tai emphasized the need for better tools to handle unfair practices and promote fair-market competition. Although she did not specifically mention China, she later clarified that her remarks were indeed directed towards China.
According to Tai, the WTO has failed to address non-market practices by some countries, including their attempts to dominate key industrial sectors, promote national champions, discriminate against foreign competitors, provide massive subsidies to certain sectors, and manipulate cost structures. Such practices are deemed unfair and disadvantage workers in both developed and developing countries, undermining the very purpose of the WTO, which is to empower and uplift people.
Tai stressed the importance of having “real conversations” on how the WTO can effectively address these issues. She called on the 164 member countries of the trade body to seize the upcoming 13th Ministerial Meeting in Abu Dhabi as an opportunity to “lock in” any reforms where consensus can be found. This is crucial, as the WTO operates on a consensus-based model, making it difficult to negotiate and implement rule changes since its establishment in 1995.
However, Tai expressed optimism by citing the progress made in cutting harmful state fishery subsidies. This achievement demonstrates that differences can be bridged and that reforms are possible within the WTO. She further highlighted the need to reform the organization’s dispute settlement system and ensure that it supports a fair and effective resolution of trade disputes.
Notably, the United States has long rendered the WTO’s Appellate Body inoperable by blocking the appointment of new judges. The U.S. argues that the dispute appeals process has exceeded its mandate. Tai made it clear that the U.S. desires a fair and effective dispute settlement system that upholds a healthy balance of sovereignty, democracy, and economic integration.
Furthermore, she emphasized the need for transparency among all WTO members and advocated for better rules and tools to address non-market policies and practices. Tai has consistently criticized China’s non-market economic and trade practices, particularly its failure to embrace market-oriented principles as promised when it joined the WTO in 2001. She also highlighted the WTO’s inability to counter China’s subsidies and support for state-owned enterprises.
In conclusion, Tai’s call for meaningful progress in reforming the WTO demonstrates the United States’ commitment to ensuring a fair and transparent international trading system. By addressing China’s non-market practices and bolstering the WTO’s ability to handle such issues, Tai aims to create a more level playing field for all member countries. The upcoming ministerial meeting in February offers a crucial opportunity for WTO members to come together and effect the necessary changes that will promote openness, transparency, and fair-market-oriented competition within the global trade landscape.