• Exclusive
    Following the path of multilateralism
    By ZHANG XIANGCHEN | chinawatch.cn | Updated: 2022-01-14 16:10

    With its accession to the World Trade Organization, China has proactively embraced economic globalization and achieved leapfrog development through reforms and continual opening-up.

    China made extensive commitments to reform its market and reduce trade barriers during its accession negotiations, and these have been fully and effectively fulfilled, with the country having revised its laws, regulations and policies to conform with WTO rules. Since 2001, more than 2,300 laws and regulations have been reviewed and revised by the central authorities, and over 190,000 regulations have been revised by local authorities. China's overall tariff level has dropped to 7.4 percent from 15.3 percent in 2001, lower than the 9.8 percent that the country promised when entering the world trade body. By January 2005, in accordance with its commitments, China had eliminated import quotas, import licenses, specific import tendering requirements and other non-tariff measures with regard to 424 items.

    More than implementing its WTO commitments, China has played a constructive role in promoting global development. Over 120 countries and regions have benefited from having China as a major trading partner.

    The past two decades have seen China's role in the WTO change from being a learner of rules to an active promoter of WTO reform. Since its accession, it has worked on global trade liberalization together with other members. For instance, the expansion negotiations of the Information Technology Agreement in 2015 was the first significant agreement to eliminate tariffs reached by the WTO this century, and China was an important participant and contributor in the process.

    China has become an active part of new international trade issues by taking the lead in organizing consultations on investment facilitation and plastic pollution and trade. It has also played a positive role in fisheries subsidies, intellectual poverty rights, e-commerce and other areas.

    Most WTO members have reached the consensus that the multilateral trading system is the cornerstone of international trade with irreplaceable significance. When trade frictions hit the organization in the past few years, besides holding a supportive attitude, they, with a sense of crisis, found WTO reform an urgent necessity.

    Recently, heads of Geneva delegations from the 67 WTO members participating in the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation announced the successful conclusion of negotiations aimed at slashing administrative costs and creating a more transparent operating environment for service providers hoping to do business in foreign markets. Negotiations on facilitating investment, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and e-commerce have made progress. Although the 12th Ministerial Conference has been postponed several times due to various reasons such as the COVID-19 pandemic, talks concentrated on fisheries subsidies, and trade and public health are still in place.

    In the context of economic globalization, the interests of countries need coordination under a multilateral framework as many comprehensive issues such as agricultural subsidies have not been dealt with by a regional or bilateral agreement. The WTO provides a stable and predictable policy environment for international trade and firmly safeguards the common interests of members, which is vital for all.

    According to the WTO, global trade amid the pandemic has the twin characteristics of sensitivity and resilience. Hit by the virus, global industrial and supply chains have shown their resilience by continuing to operate. But due to the close connections between economies, global trade has proved sensitive to the detrimental effects of the pandemic. However, the connections created by the WTO through rules are also a source of resilience and guarantee international economic cooperation.

    It should be acknowledged that some institutional flaws have been exposed in the process of economic globalization. The WTO rules that were mostly designed more than 20 years ago need reform to keep pace with the times. Such reform does not mean starting all over again, but asks for ways to uphold the existing outcomes and core values of the WTO in light of the changed global circumstances. The WTO members should jointly support and enhance the status and role of the organization and strive for common benefits in promoting global trade and advancing trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.

    On some issues on which agreement cannot be reached by all members, some members have already carried out a trial and are exploring plurilateral approaches, which, however, should not replace multilateral negotiations. Instead, more economies should be encouraged to get involved, in the efforts to form multilateral rules. That will ensure each member benefits from the system.

    The WTO's dispute settlement mechanism bears on the effective implementation of agreements. Hence, members should hold in-depth and candid discussions on current issues so that the mechanism can resume operation in a timely manner.

    Now, the pandemic situation remains grim and complex. The WTO should work with the international community to find a resolution to the unfair distribution of vaccines as soon as possible and maintain the stability of supply chains of medical products and services.

    WTO reform needs to synergize the interests of the 164 members at different stages of development with various aspirations. The process is full of challenges and there can be no quick fix. Dialogues on policies to gradually expand consensus are necessary before reaching agreements. Such hard work requires patience and cannot be accomplished overnight.

    The reform should highlight inclusiveness and compatibility. That asks the WTO to focus on creating a level playing field with multilateral rules where members adopting various economic models can compete fairly and achieve common prosperity.

    Multilateralism is a bright road for global development, which is currently facing challenges. As long as economic globalization continues, the importance of the WTO remains. Facing the escalating conflict between proponents of economic globalization and those advocating anti-globalization, the organization's path ahead is full of challenges and uncertainties. However, cooperation among all parties, along with reflection and exploration, can reactivate trade liberalization on a global scale, and the WTO can regain its value and vitality.

    The author is deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization.

    The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

    With its accession to the World Trade Organization, China has proactively embraced economic globalization and achieved leapfrog development through reforms and continual opening-up.

    China made extensive commitments to reform its market and reduce trade barriers during its accession negotiations, and these have been fully and effectively fulfilled, with the country having revised its laws, regulations and policies to conform with WTO rules. Since 2001, more than 2,300 laws and regulations have been reviewed and revised by the central authorities, and over 190,000 regulations have been revised by local authorities. China's overall tariff level has dropped to 7.4 percent from 15.3 percent in 2001, lower than the 9.8 percent that the country promised when entering the world trade body. By January 2005, in accordance with its commitments, China had eliminated import quotas, import licenses, specific import tendering requirements and other non-tariff measures with regard to 424 items.

    More than implementing its WTO commitments, China has played a constructive role in promoting global development. Over 120 countries and regions have benefited from having China as a major trading partner.

    The past two decades have seen China's role in the WTO change from being a learner of rules to an active promoter of WTO reform. Since its accession, it has worked on global trade liberalization together with other members. For instance, the expansion negotiations of the Information Technology Agreement in 2015 was the first significant agreement to eliminate tariffs reached by the WTO this century, and China was an important participant and contributor in the process.

    China has become an active part of new international trade issues by taking the lead in organizing consultations on investment facilitation and plastic pollution and trade. It has also played a positive role in fisheries subsidies, intellectual poverty rights, e-commerce and other areas.

    Most WTO members have reached the consensus that the multilateral trading system is the cornerstone of international trade with irreplaceable significance. When trade frictions hit the organization in the past few years, besides holding a supportive attitude, they, with a sense of crisis, found WTO reform an urgent necessity.

    Recently, heads of Geneva delegations from the 67 WTO members participating in the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation announced the successful conclusion of negotiations aimed at slashing administrative costs and creating a more transparent operating environment for service providers hoping to do business in foreign markets. Negotiations on facilitating investment, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and e-commerce have made progress. Although the 12th Ministerial Conference has been postponed several times due to various reasons such as the COVID-19 pandemic, talks concentrated on fisheries subsidies, and trade and public health are still in place.

    In the context of economic globalization, the interests of countries need coordination under a multilateral framework as many comprehensive issues such as agricultural subsidies have not been dealt with by a regional or bilateral agreement. The WTO provides a stable and predictable policy environment for international trade and firmly safeguards the common interests of members, which is vital for all.

    According to the WTO, global trade amid the pandemic has the twin characteristics of sensitivity and resilience. Hit by the virus, global industrial and supply chains have shown their resilience by continuing to operate. But due to the close connections between economies, global trade has proved sensitive to the detrimental effects of the pandemic. However, the connections created by the WTO through rules are also a source of resilience and guarantee international economic cooperation.

    It should be acknowledged that some institutional flaws have been exposed in the process of economic globalization. The WTO rules that were mostly designed more than 20 years ago need reform to keep pace with the times. Such reform does not mean starting all over again, but asks for ways to uphold the existing outcomes and core values of the WTO in light of the changed global circumstances. The WTO members should jointly support and enhance the status and role of the organization and strive for common benefits in promoting global trade and advancing trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.

    On some issues on which agreement cannot be reached by all members, some members have already carried out a trial and are exploring plurilateral approaches, which, however, should not replace multilateral negotiations. Instead, more economies should be encouraged to get involved, in the efforts to form multilateral rules. That will ensure each member benefits from the system.

    The WTO's dispute settlement mechanism bears on the effective implementation of agreements. Hence, members should hold in-depth and candid discussions on current issues so that the mechanism can resume operation in a timely manner.

    Now, the pandemic situation remains grim and complex. The WTO should work with the international community to find a resolution to the unfair distribution of vaccines as soon as possible and maintain the stability of supply chains of medical products and services.

    WTO reform needs to synergize the interests of the 164 members at different stages of development with various aspirations. The process is full of challenges and there can be no quick fix. Dialogues on policies to gradually expand consensus are necessary before reaching agreements. Such hard work requires patience and cannot be accomplished overnight.

    The reform should highlight inclusiveness and compatibility. That asks the WTO to focus on creating a level playing field with multilateral rules where members adopting various economic models can compete fairly and achieve common prosperity.

    Multilateralism is a bright road for global development, which is currently facing challenges. As long as economic globalization continues, the importance of the WTO remains. Facing the escalating conflict between proponents of economic globalization and those advocating anti-globalization, the organization's path ahead is full of challenges and uncertainties. However, cooperation among all parties, along with reflection and exploration, can reactivate trade liberalization on a global scale, and the WTO can regain its value and vitality.

    The author is deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization.

    The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

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