NAGOYA – Foreign ministers from the Group of 20 major economies agreed Saturday that it is “urgent” to reform the World Trade Organization, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said, amid an escalating U.S.-China tit-for-tat tariff trade war.
Motegi, serving as the chairman of the G20 foreign ministers gathering in Nagoya, also said at a news conference that ongoing negotiations on a sprawling Asia-Pacific free trade agreement should be concluded by all the original 16 member states, including India, which pulled out of the agreement earlier this month.
“As trust in the multilateral framework is now being undermined, the G20 has shared the view that the WTO should be reformed so that it can address several current issues,” Motegi said after the end of the two-day meeting.
At the gathering, the foreign ministers discussed reforms to the WTO, as Japan, the United States and other countries are pushing for the Geneva-based organization to improve its dispute settlement system — a point touched on in a declaration issued by G20 leaders after their summit in Osaka in June.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, did not participate in the G20 meeting, apparently reflecting Washington’s lack of interest in multilateral economic and financial policy dialogue.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan took his place at the G20, whose members make up about 80 percent of the global economy.
With U.S. President Donald Trump pursuing protectionist policies as part of an “America First” agenda, the absence of the foreign minister of the world’s largest economy has raised questions as to the significance of the G20 framework, foreign affairs experts said.
Against the backdrop of the trade row between the United States and China, the world’s second-largest economy, Motegi said during Saturday’s gathering, “We should deepen discussions to make concrete efforts” to boost free and fair trade.
In late June, the G20 leaders agreed to promote free trade and committed to using “all policy tools” to support the global economy, which faces downside risks.
Motegi also said that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is an important framework to boost free trade across the globe.
Earlier this month, RCEP leaders gave up on attaining their goal to seal a pact by the end of the year after India dropped out.
The United States is not part of RCEP, which covers a third of the global economy and accounts for half of the world’s population.
Established in 1999 as a forum aimed at financial stability, this is only the fourth time that a foreign ministers’ meeting has been held.
In addition to G20 members, this year’s gathering of foreign ministers was attended by nine other countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and Thailand.
The G20 foreign ministers meeting in Nagoya was the last of a series of ministerial gatherings hosted by Japan this year, with the group’s rotating presidency passing to Saudi Arabia in 2020. No joint statement was released following the meeting.
The start of the gathering on Friday had been overshadowed by speculation over whether South Korea would let a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan expire, as previously announced.
South Korea ultimately decided to temporarily hold off on ending the General Security of Military Information Agreement while the countries hold talks to resolve a trade spat.
The G20 consists of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.