Canada Encourages ASEAN Countries to Contribute to WTO Reform
Jakarta, 6 March 2020: In response to the challenges faced by the World Trade Organization (WTO), Canada has encouraged ASEAN member countries to get involved more in WTO reform.
Canada has taken a leadership role on WTO reform, including through the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded WTO members, namely Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland. The group’s work focusses on three of the WTO’s main challenges: dispute settlement, negotiations, and transparency.
Ottawa Group Ministers have met four times over the past two years, leading to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12), which will be held in Kazakhstan this June and is going to be the next critical juncture point for WTO.
ERIA invited Kendal Hembroff, Director General for Trade Policy and Negotiations at Global Affairs Canada to ‘ERIA trade talk’ - a discussion platform for international trade and trade policy - to share perspectives on WTO reform and the Ottawa Group’s work. ‘ERIA trade talk: WTO reform’ was held in Jakarta on Friday, March 6th.
Mrs Hembroff indicated that WTO’s relevance has been at risk recently due to rising unilateral actions taken by individual countries and stagnating negotiations.
Most critically, the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, which has also been proven effective in safeguarding international trade, is threatened with the ongoing impasse on new appointments of WTO Appellate Body members.
Canada has worked to mobilise support for an interim appeal arbitration arrangement, building off a similar bilateral arrangement with the EU. The Davos Ministerial Statement of January 2020 represents significant progress towards such an interim appeal arbitration arrangement.
Briefing on the WTO negotiations, Mrs Hembroff said that the plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce, domestic regulation of services investment facilitation, and MSMEs (micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises) and fisheries subsidies and multilateral negotiations would be of special interest to ASEAN member states.
In attracting ASEAN countries, most of which being developing nations, Mrs Hembroff said the WTO needs to look at what constitutes a developing country to make sure that they have equal positions in WTO mechanisms.
'The right way to tackle this issue is to actually look at what kind of flexibilities are needed case by case in specific negotiations,' she said.
There are several ways ASEAN countries can contribute in WTO reform, Mrs Hembroff added, such as providing capital-based engagement, offering interim solutions in cases of Appellate Body impasse, actively participating in Joint Statement Initiatives, and helping move dialogue past impasses issues towards a more constructive process.
As a discussant to Mrs Hembroff’s presentation, Dr Intan Murnira Ramli, Policy Fellow at ERIA, pointed that many intra-ASEAN agreements have embodied WTO principles as their baseline, thus confirming ASEAN’s effort in keeping WTO relevant.
Moderating the session, Anita Prakash, Director Policy Relations at ERIA advocated that WTO’s approach to address trade and development in existing agreements and future negotiations should be influenced by ASEAN and East Asia’s commitment to rules-based trade agreements such as RCEP- whose majority members are developing or emerging economies and three are least developed countries (LDCs).
Some very constructive comments were made by the audience which consisted of ASEAN Secretariat officials, think tanks, diplomatic missions and researchers. They especially highlighted the structural and capacity issues in AMSs and between capitals and WTO. These observations will provide a regional feedback to the workings of the Ottawa Group and to the overall WTO reform process.