Australia moves to end logjam over trade disputes

Australia moves to end logjam over trade disputes

“We believe that functioning dispute settlement system of the WTO is of the utmost importance for a rules-based trading system, and that an independent and impartial appeal stage must continue to be one of its essential features,” the statement said.

As well as Australia, other signatories include the European Union, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.

The WTO’s Appellate Body has effectively been dismantled, with the Trump administration vetoing the appointment of new judges to hear disputes.

Mr Trump did not mention the appeals body when he announced his bid to reform the WTO on the sidelines of Davos.

‘WTO needs more teeth’

But Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told AFR Weekend a more “efficient dispute process” was needed, as that’s “at the heart of the dysfunction that’s come about with the operations of the WTO”.

Senator Birmingham has already urged the Trump administration that any reforms to the WTO had to deliver trade rules that encouraged the benefits of liberalisation while being fair for both big and small economies.

He said the body needed to be brought into the 21st century but would require compromise all round to deliver changes to the consensus-based body.

“The WTO needs to better demonstrate it’s fit for the modern global economy. There are many more significant economic players than existed during the initial era of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade,” he said.

“The WTO needs to have more teeth in terms of ensuring that nations are transparent and accountable in terms of their trade policy practices, so it’s clear all are living up to the commitments that they make.

“So there’s a wide area of partly reform of the organisation – and partly renewed efforts in terms of effective negotiation of important new trade rules for the world.

“And that will take a lot of engagement from all the significant players – [and also] a lot of compromise from all to achieve the type of consensus driven outcomes that the WTO structure requires.”

The European Union also used the Davos forum to warn China and other large fossil fuel producers to find a way to price carbon emissions at home or face being hit by a planned carbon tax on imports.

Australia, which exported $4.3 billion of coal to the European Union in 2018, is negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, but Senator Birmingham emphasised Australia had met and exceeded its climate change obligations to date.

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