Today, the WTO adjourned without any major progress made other than vocal criticisms of global trade and the entity itself. Smaller trade proposals on e-commerce and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing which were expected to move forward, could not be reached.
“Members cannot even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing. Horrendous” European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
At the @WTO #MC11 meeting, members cannot even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing. Horrendous. The EU tried really hard, but destructive behaviour by several large countries made results impossible. How did we end up here?
— Cecilia Malmström (@MalmstromEU) December 13, 2017
Without naming names, though to do so may be too on the nose, Malmstrom also criticized “several large countries” who exhibited destructive behavior made results “impossible.”
More criticisms came from the EU, Japan, and the US through a thinly-veiled admonishment to China in a joint statement, vowing to combat market-distorting policies that have long been customary in Chinese businesses such as its subsidies for state-owned enterprises. US Trade representative Robert Lighthizer remarked that “some members are intentionally circumventing obligations” and that the US is pushing for a discussion on the need to correct the “sad performance” in transparency.
To be fair, it is hard to bring 164 countries together to work things out within a 72-hour period, but that was what they were expected to do. As all members must be unanimous in decision making, Lighthizer made it clear he wasn’t going to budge on his criticisms, and from there, there was not much left to negotiate.
The biggest topic the US has continued to dangle over the WTO is its refusal to appoint new judges to the seven-person appellate body. There is a sense of urgency with these appointments, as there are two current vacancies on the bench and one which will open at the end of this month. By withholding these appointments, the US has the potential to bring transnational trade disputes to a standstill, at a time when global trade is increasing year by year. This move by the US can be seen as strong-arming other countries into more America-centric policies in line with Trump’s world view. To put it lightly, a protectionist America does not bode well for the economies who have relied on it for years past.
The inability to reach even minor goals means that going into 2018 these conversations must drag on without a hard deadline in sight. The rumors of a possible Mercosur-EU agreement have stalled, denying the win that the Macri administration was prepared to tout for the nation’s leadership. According to Mercosur officials, the South American trade bloc was prepared to negotiate different changes on their end, however the EU was not due to pressure from the European agricultural industry. The two sides remain hopeful an agreement can be made in 2018.
There is still full-throttled support for globalist policies from non-yanqui countries. French Trade Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne stating that France is “attached to multilateralism” and does not want the framework to be called into question, while acknowledging that improvements are necessary. Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan called globalization an “irreversible” trend.
With high confidence among (most) members but low-success rate among actual deliverables, the WTO has some discerning to do in the near-term on the entity’s future and negotiations to come.