Negotiating new WTO rules to rein in China futile: US trade agency

The US has set a March 2 deadline to hike tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods imports. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019
0

Negotiating new WTO rules to rein in China futile: US trade agency

  • The US remains frustrated with the WTO’s inability to curb what it sees as China’s trade-distorting non-market economic policies
  • But any WTO rule changes must be agreed by all 164-member nations, and past efforts have stalled

WASHINGTON: Negotiating new World Trade Organization rules to try to rein in China’s “mercantilist” trade practices would be largely a futile exercise, the Trump administration’s trade office said on Monday, vowing to pursue its unilateral approach to protect US workers, farmers and businesses.
The US Trade Representative’s office used its annual report to Congress on China’s WTO compliance in part to justify its actions in a six-month trade war with Beijing aimed at forcing changes in China’s economic model.
The report also reflects the US’ continued frustration with the WTO’s inability to curb what it sees as China’s trade-distorting non-market economic policies, and offered little hope that situation could change soon.
“It is unrealistic to expect success in any negotiation of new WTO rules that would restrict China’s current approach to the economy and trade in a meaningful way,” the USTR said in the report.
Some US allies, including Canada, the European Union and Japan, which are also frustrated with pressures created by China’s economic policies, have begun talks on the first potential changes and modernization of WTO rules since it was founded in 1995.
But any WTO rule changes must be agreed by all 164-member nations, and past efforts have stalled. It was “highly unlikely” China would agree to new disciplines targeting changes to its trade practices and economic system, the USTR said.
The report shed little light on progress in talks between the US and China to ease a bruising tariff fight, despite a swiftly approaching March 2 deadline to hike US tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods imports.
The WTO report follows two days of intense talks between high-level US and Chinese officials last week centered on US demands for structural policy changes. These include enforcing intellectual property protections, ending cyber theft of trade secrets, halting the forced transfers of American technology to Chinese firms and reining in industrial subsidies.
While US President Donald Trump said he would like to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping to try to hammer out a trade deal, the USTR report makes clear a massive amount of work will be needed to bridge the gulf between the two countries.
It cited the key structural issues in the talks, which also include China’s new cybersecurity law and discriminatory regulatory practices, as examples of how China aids domestic firms at the expense of foreign competitors in ways that escape WTO rules, adding that China has become “a unique and pressing problem for the WTO and the multilateral trading system.”
The criticism also comes as the US weakens the WTO’s role as global commerce watchdog by blocking the appointments of judges to its appellate body, which may no longer be able to function by December, when two judges step down.
USTR said the US intends to “hold China accountable” for adhering to existing WTO rules and “any unfair and market-distorting trade practices that hurt US workers, businesses, farmers or ranchers.” “Until China transforms its approach to the economy and trade, the US will take all appropriate actions to ensure that the costs of China’s non-market economic system are borne by China, not by the US,” USTR said.
The agency reiterated a broad array of concerns over China’s key structural issues, such as its 2025 plan for investment in particular sectors and its failure to follow market-oriented principles expected of WTO members, the report said.
“China retains its non-market economic structure and its state-led, mercantilist approach to trade, to the detriment of its trading partners,” it said.


Amazon workers strike as ‘Prime’ shopping frenzy hits

Updated 16 July 2019
0

Amazon workers strike as ‘Prime’ shopping frenzy hits

  • The protesters waves signs with messages along the lines of “We’re human, not robots”
  • The strike was part of an ongoing effort to pressure the company on issues including job safety, equal opportunity in the workplace, and concrete action on issues including climate change

SAN FRANCISCO: Amazon workers walked out of a main distribution center in Minnesota on Monday, protesting for improved working conditions during the e-commerce titan’s major “Prime” shopping event.
Amazon workers picketed outside the facility, briefly delaying a few trucks and waving signs with messages along the lines of “We’re human, not robots.”
“We know Prime Day is a big day for Amazon, so we hope this strike will help executives understand how serious we are about wanting real change that will uplift the workers in Amazon’s warehouses,” striker Safiyo Mohamed said in a release.
“We create a lot of wealth for Amazon, but they aren’t treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve.”
Organizers did not disclose the number of strikers, who said employees picketed for about an hour in intense heat before cutting the protest short due to the onset of heavy rain.
The strike was part of an ongoing effort to pressure the company on issues including job safety, equal opportunity in the workplace, and concrete action on issues including climate change, according to community organization Awood Center.
US Democratic presidential contenders Kamila Harris and Bernie Sanders were among those who expressed support for the strikers on Twitter.
“I stand in solidarity with the courageous Amazon workers engaging in a work stoppage against unconscionable working conditions in their warehouses,” Sanders said in a tweet.
“It is not too much to ask that a company owned by the wealthiest person in the world treat its workers with dignity and respect.”
Amazon employees also went on strike at seven locations in Germany, demanding better wages as the US online retail giant launched its two-day global shopping discount extravaganza called Prime Day.
Amazon had said in advance that the strike would not affect deliveries to customers.
Amazon has consistently defended work conditions, contending it is a leader when it comes to paying workers at least $15 hourly and providing benefits.
The company last week announced plans to offer job training to around one-third of its US workforce to help them gain skills to adapt to new technologies.
Amazon has been hustling to offer one-day deliver on a wider array of products as a perk for paying $119 annually to be a member of its “Prime” service, which includes streaming films and television shows.
The work action came on the opening day of a major “Prime” shopping event started in 2015.
Now in 17 countries, the event will span Monday and Tuesday, highlighted by a pre-recorded Taylor Swift video concert and promotions across a range of products and services from the e-commerce leader.
Prime Day sales for Amazon are expected to hit $5 billion this year, up from $3.2 billion in 2018, which at the time represented its biggest ever global shopping event, JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth says in a research note.