Business

G20 ministers end Tsukuba meet with pledge to seek reform of World Trade Organization

by Masumi Koizumi

Staff Writer

Ministers from the Group of 20 major economies wrapped up a two-day meeting on trade and the digital economy on Sunday with a joint statement pledging to pursue an overhaul of the World Trade Organization.

“We will work constructively with other WTO members to undertake necessary WTO reform with a sense of urgency,” the statement said.

Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, said that it is significant that specifics concerning WTO reform were included in a G20 ministerial statement for the first time.

Improving the organization’s system for resolving disputes was one of the issues raised at the meeting in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

“We agree that action is necessary regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system consistent with the rules as negotiated by the WTO members,” the statement said.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono said it was a “big feat” for Japan, which places importance on this issue, that the need to address the system was explicitly mentioned in the statement.

Tokyo argues that the organization’s appellate body, which makes final judgments, does not effectively settle disputes and has called for change.

The body dealt Japan a setback earlier this year when it overturned an earlier decision against South Korea’s ban on imports — introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster — of some fish products from Japan.

Seko also noted that G20 representatives confirmed the need to work on resolving trade frictions.

The statement, however, did not contain a vow to fight protectionism, which up until last year had been a long-standing collective stance of G20 nations.

The chairs’ statement, which was released alongside the communique, noted “many ministers expressed serious concerns about the current tensions surrounding trade.”

The ministers did confirm they would strive to realize “a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment to keep our markets open,” the joint statement said.

During Saturday’s sessions, which focused on the digital economy, the G20 ministers agreed on guiding principles for using artificial intelligence and backed the free flow of data based on trust, a vision pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The G20 leaders’ summit will be held in Osaka on June 28 and 29.