Interview: Trade expert calls for setting new date for postponed WTO ministerial conference

Source: Xinhua| 2021-12-01 11:44:56|Editor: huaxia

by Martina Fuchs

GENEVA, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- A new date for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) should be set as soon as possible to revive crucial trade negotiations, an expert from the World Trade Institute (WTI) said Tuesday.

The Geneva-based WTO announced on Saturday that it would postpone its MC12 originally scheduled from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, as worries over the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 triggered fresh travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland and many other countries.

"The problems that the MC12 was going to address have not gone away," Peter Van den Bossche, the WTI's director of studies, told Xinhua via video call from Bern. "MC12 will take place. It's not whether it will take place, it's just when it will take place."

A new date has not yet been set for the conference, which would gather trade ministers from the WTO's 164 members, representing 98 percent of global trade.

Topics such as fisheries subsidies, the COVID-19 pandemic and settlement of the WTO's Appellate Body crisis will be high on the agenda of the MC12 negotiations, Van den Bossche said.

The Appellate Body, considered as the supreme court for global trade disputes and supposed to have seven judges and a minimum of three to function, is currently paralyzed.

The U.S. administration under former President Donald Trump blocked the nomination of new judges, leaving the Appellate Body unable to hear new disputes. The term of the last sitting Appellate Body member expired on Nov. 30, 2020.

Beijing has "come out in very strong support of the appellate body and the restart of the activities by appointing WTO appellate body members again," the trade expert said.

"China has been a strong advocate of the multilateral trading system," he said, adding that China has benefited greatly from trade with other countries and has seen spectacular growth in its economic output.

In October, the WTO projected global trade volume to grow 10.8 percent in 2021, up from the 8-percent forecast in March.

"In 2021, we have seen trade in goods going up. The figures are of course not final yet because we're not at the end of the year. Trade in services is still much more problematic," he said.

Noting the predictions depend on how the pandemic will further develop, Van den Bossche said: "We're not out of the woods yet. There may be new variants that we have to struggle with." Enditem