US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.


UK economy faces long climb back to health

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago

UK economy faces long climb back to health

  • Wave of job losses feared after data shows record 20 percent economic hit

LONDON: Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20.4 percent in the second quarter when the coronavirus lockdown was tightest, the most severe contraction reported by any major economy so far, with a wave of job losses set to hit later in 2020.

The scale of the economic hit may also revive questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, with Britain suffering the highest death toll in Europe. More than 50,000 UK deaths have been linked to the disease.

“Today’s figures confirm that hard times are here,” Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said. “Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs, and sadly in the coming months many more will.”

The data confirmed that the world’s sixth-biggest economy had entered a recession, with the low point coming in April when output was more than 25 percent below its pre-pandemic level.

Growth restarted in May and quickened in June, when the economy expanded by a monthly 8.7 percent — a record single-month increase and stronger than forecasts by economists in a Reuters poll.

However, some analysts said the bounceback was unlikely to be sustained.

Last week the Bank of England (BoE) forecast it would take until the final quarter of 2021 for the economy to regain its previous size, and warned unemployment was likely to rise sharply.

Any decision to pump more stimulus into the economy will hinge on the pace of growth in the coming months, and whether the worst-hit sectors such as face-to-face retail and business travel ever fully recover.

The second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) slump exceeded the 12.1 percent drop in the euro zone and the 9.5 percent fall in the United States.

Some economists said the sharper decline partly reflected the timing of Britain’s lockdown — which fell more in the second quarter — and its dependence on domestic consumer spending.

Suren Thiru, an economist with the British Chambers of Commerce, said the recent pickup probably only reflected the release of pent-up demand rather than a sustained revival.

“The prospect of a swift ‘V-shaped’ recovery remains remote,” he said.

Britain’s unemployment rate is expected to jump when the government ends its huge job subsidy program in October.

Sunak said he saw “promising signs” in GDP data for June and reiterated his opposition to extending the program. In July he cut sales tax for the hospitality sector and in August is subsidising restaurants to draw in diners.

Hotels and restaurants did just one fifth of their normal business in June, when the lockdown was still largely in force.

British GDP shrank by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, reflecting the lockdown that started on March 24.