USTR Critical of WTO at Ministerial Opening
United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer criticized the World Trade Organization at the opening of its eleventh ministerial conference in Argentina earlier this week.
While acknowledging that “the WTO is obviously an important institution” and that “it does an enormous amount of good,” “serious challenges exist,” Lighthizer said.
First on the USTR’s list of challenges is that the organization is “is losing its essential focus on negotiation and becoming a litigation-centered organization.” “Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table,” Lighthizer said. He called into question whether that is good for the institution and suggested a re-look at the WTO’s litigation structure.
Another of Lighthizer’s problems with the WTO relates to the disparity in how the organization’s rules apply to developed versus developing countries. “Five of the six richest countries in the world presently claim developing country status,” said Lighthizer. “We should all be troubled that so many members appear to believe that they would be better off with exemptions to the rules.” If playing by the rules “makes it harder to achieve economic growth,” he added, “then clearly serious reflection is needed.”
Although he did not mention China by name, that country falls into that category. China has emerged in recent years as a major international trade competitor, yet it is still classified as a developing country for the purpose of WTO rules.
The US believes that the WTO can act to make markets more efficient. Lighthizer wants WTO committees to focus on “chronic overcapacity and the influence of state-owned enterprises,” again references to China.
“The United States looks forward to working with all members who share our goal of using the WTO to create rules that will lead to more efficient markets, more trade and greater wealth for our citizens,” Lighthizer concluded. “Such outcomes will build public support not only for open markets, but for the WTO itself.”