BRUSSELS – The European Union’s head of trade said Thursday that at a Group of 20 summit meeting in Japan next June she will support efforts to reform the World Trade Organization.
The European Union and Japan see reform as necessary to check dubious trade practices by members such as China and to create a more level playing field.
“It is true that the WTO needs to be reformed, updated, modernized,” European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels, adding the European Union will support Japan in the issue when it takes over the G20 presidency next year.
Earlier this month the European Union, along with Japan and the United States, submitted a joint proposal to the international trade body calling for tougher rules against trade-distorting subsidies, among other reforms.
Malmstrom said the European Union, too, is critical of China’s massive industrial subsidies and for forcing foreign companies to transfer technology, but stressed that WTO reform cannot be achieved without China.
“We need to engage with China to remind them that the WTO has been very good to China and it is in their interest to participate to update the rules within the WTO, and not outside,” she said.
At the same time, she criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade stance against China as the tariff war between the world’s two largest economies shows no signs of ending.
“We do not think that the way to make China change is to have a tariff war or trade war. It is not going to create changes. We prefer the multilateral way, to sit down for talks, to try to negotiate, to find compromises and move forward,” Malmstrom said.
But for now, she said the world can “only hope” that a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming week in Buenos Aires will ease trade tensions, which have raised concerns of a sharp slowdown in the global economy.
Malmstrom warned that a trade war is bad for the world economy, and that it has “no winners.”
Regarding the free trade agreement between Japan and the EU that was signed in July, Malmstrom confirmed that the deal will enter into force on Feb. 1 if the ratification process goes smoothly.
“This is a win-win agreement between two friends and allies,” she said, adding that it will not only remove nearly all tariffs but also make Japanese farm products easier to export.
Japan and the European Union are moving to ratify the free trade agreement as both sides face tough trade negotiations with the Trump administration over its “America First” policy.
Trump has also criticized the WTO, which sets rules on global trade and resolves disputes between member nations, of being biased against the United States, and has threatened to withdraw from the organization if it fails to implement reforms.
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