Tai: WTO Must Show "Meaningful Evolution" at MC13

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The World Trade Organization’s upcoming 13th ministerial conference is an important opportunity for the global trade body to show it can respond to today’s issues and challenges, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said last week.

Ms. Tai participated in a virtual meeting of G7 trade ministers, at which WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presented an update on the MC13 preparations.

The WTO must use the MC13 to demonstrate a “meaningful evolution” of its ability to deal with new issues and challenges as they arise, Ms. Tai told her counterparts, according to a readout from her office.

Ministers participating in the meeting stressed their commitment to reforming the WTO and building a more viable multilateral trading system.

Lawmakers Question Ambition Level
At a House Ways and Means trade subcommittee hearing yesterday, members from both sides of

the political aisle raised concerns that the United States is scaling back its level of ambition for MC13.
A number of subcommittee members expressed dismay with the US decision late last year to step

back from its previous positions supporting the free flow of data and banning the forced localization of data in negotiations on digital trade. Members also said they are concerned the Administration will allow the WTO’s long-standing moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic commerce to expire.

“This digital trade abdication does not inspire confidence that the Administration will vigorously defend the renewal of the longstanding moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions,” subcommittee chair Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb) said.

Panel Republicans also urged the Administration not to support the proposed waiver of intellectual property rights to make it easier for developing countries to manufacture COVID-19 tests and drugs, arguing it is no longer necessary.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee endorsed the Administration’s position that the WTO dispute settlement system must be reformed.

Ranking Democrat Earl Blumenauer (Ore) echoed Ms. Tai’s comments that the WTO must demonstrate it can address new issues like environmental protection, worker rights and industrial policies that undercut free trade.

“WTO reform must also address the disruptions caused by non-market economies,” he said. “Non-market policies practices are fundamentally inconsistent with the norms of the WTO. China, which continues to discriminate against American companies and subsidizing its key sectors, is the most egregious example. WTO reform needs to address harmful non-market practices.”