© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2021. Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
By Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Thursday affirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that reforms were possible as the body readies for a major ministerial conference next month.
The 25-year-old global trade body is facing questions about its relevance and director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is under pressure to deliver quick reforms and clinch its first multilateral trade deal in years at the Nov. 30-Dec. 3 meeting.
“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade – and the WTO – can and should be a force for good that encourages a race to the top and addresses global challenges as they arise,” Tai said in a speech set to be delivered later on Thursday in the WTO’s host city of Geneva, Switzerland.
“We all recognise the importance of the WTO, and we all want it to succeed.”
Many observers blame Washington for the paralysis of the WTO’s top dispute settlement panel whose judge appointments were blocked by the administration of former president Donald Trump.
The Appellate Body has thus been unable to rule on a trade dispute since Dec. 2019 and Biden’s trade officials have not since removed their opposition.
Tai reiterated U.S. criticism of the panel, saying WTO dispute settlement had become “synonymous with litigation” which she said was “prolongued, expensive and contentious”.
She was more upbeat on WTO negotiations, saying that reform might succeed “if we create a more flexible WTO, change the way we approach problems collectively, improve transparency and inclusiveness, and restore the deliberative function of the organization.”
Among other deals, WTO members are aiming to land an agreement on fishing subsidies after 20 years of talks at the ministerial meeting.
Overall, Tai called for a focus on “commonalities” rather than areas of disagreement.
“By working together and engaging differently, we can make the WTO an organization that empowers workers, protects the environment, and promotes equitable development,” she said.
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