China must see need to reform WTO rules, says EU trade chief

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 11:10 AM

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – China needs to play a constructive role in talks at the World Trade Organization to reform global trade rules on industrial subsidies or risk rivals setting their own policies at China’s expense, the European Union’s trade chief said on Monday.

Ministers from the WTO’s 164 members will gather in Abu Dhabi for a biennial conference on Feb 26-29, aiming to agree on reforms of the global trade body itself, on trade in e-commerce and on subsidies for fishing and agriculture.

European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the EU was keen to drive debate on trade and industrial policy, which includes allowing the least developed countries to industrialise while limiting the distortive effect of subsidies elsewhere.

“It’s important what kind of position China takes in those discussions,” Dombrovskis told Reuters in an interview.

China, he said, was arguably the country that had benefited most from the WTO, meaning it should be interested in preserving it and ready to address new challenges.

“If those issues are left unaddressed, then different countries will start addressing them one-by-one according to their own understanding and political dynamics,” he said, adding this could be more damaging to export-oriented China.

There was no immediate comment from China on his remarks.

The WTO’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13) is not expected to produce an accord on the topic. Nor is it expected to result in a consensus on another topic, that of its Appellate Body, which acts as a global supreme court to resolve trade disputes.

It has not functioned since 2019 because of U.S. blocking of the appointment of adjudicators.

“If we talk about the specific issue of the Appellate Body, so far we have not seen much of an opening from the U.S,” Dombrovskis said.

However, the EU trade chief said MC13 could still prove a success.

“Also ahead of the previous ministerial, MC12, expectations were not really high, but eventually it became one of the most successful ministerials in WTO history,” he said.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Timothy Heritage)