UIBE WTO Chair hosted a seminar on MC12 and WTO Reform
On 21 November 2022, the WTO Chairs Program at University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) hosted its online Seminar on MC12 and WTO reform, in collaboration with the Network for International Trade and Investment System (NITIS). WTO DDG Zhang Xiangchen, Former DDG Yi Xiaozhun, Director of WTO General Council Santiago Wills, Vice President of UIBE Prof. Hong Junjie, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the WTO Hung Seng Tan, Permanent Representative of Honduras to the WTO Dacio de Castillo, Permanent Representative of Philippines to the WTO Manuel Teehankee, Professor Peter van den Bossche from University of Bern, Professor Yang Guohua from Tsinghua University, Professor Shi Jingxia from Renmin University of China, Professor Zhang Jianping from Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation (CAITEC), Mr. Hong Xiaodong from China Society for WTO Studies, Associate Prof. Mr. Maarten Smeets, the Senior Advisor to the WTO Chairs Program at UIBE, as well as more than 100 experts and scholars from China and abroad attended the seminar.
At the beginning of the Seminar, Professor Tu Xinquan, WTO Chair holder and Dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at UIBE, delivered the opening speech. After that, Professor Hong Junjie, Vice President of UIBE, delivered a welcoming speech. Professor Hong expressed his appreciation for the long-term support from wide-ranging policy makers and academics for UIBE and the WTO Chairs Program. He believed that the successful convening of the MC12 was a major step forward for the multilateral trading system and looked forward to speeches of the experts sharing insights on the MC12 and WTO reform.
Mr. Zhang Xiangchen, Deputy Director-General of the WTO, delivered a keynote speech. He believed MC12 has achieved remarkable outcomes and unprecedented success on several fronts. Nevertheless, the success of MC12 does not mean that the WTO has walked out from difficulties. Many systematic issues remain to be reviewed and addressed if possible. Otherwise, the crisis of the WTO will continue. In this regard, the WTO reform should be pragmatic and step by step, focusing on key issues that are of broad interest to delegations. DDG Zhang raised expectations for academic institutions, in particular WCP Chair holder institutions, play an important role in making WTO-related research, advising their governments on WTO matters, and reaching out to relevant stakeholders.
Dr. Maarten Smeets, the Senior Advisor to the WTO Chairs Program at UIBE, presided over the first panel of the seminar. He made an introductory note of the theme of the panel. Dacio de Castillo, Permanent Representative of Honduras to the WTO, shared his views on strengthening the WTO negotiation function and resisting trade protectionism. He mentioned the challenges faced by WTO members during the COVID-19 pandemic and the declaration mandate made in MC12 on responding to present and future pandemic. He stressed the importance of transparency to resolve the lack of trust and information asymmetry and key tasks that have to be done to facilitate the WTO negotiation function.
Santiago Wills, Director of the WTO General Council, shared view on fishery subsidies negotiation and reviewed the outcome reached in MC12. He believed that the MC12 achievement would benefit the members and contribute to limiting the illegal fishing and overfishing towards sustainability. He also raised expectation for the rule ratification and implementation by members.
Professor Peter Van den Bossche, Director of Studies of the Institute of World Trade at the University of Bern, expressed his view on the MC12 outcome on the dispute settlement system of the WTO. He laid out several difficulties in the re-establishment of a fully and well functioning dispute settlement system by 2024, but he also suggested that joining the Multiparty Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) would be a good interim solution for members and the experience gained in the context of the MPIA may show us how the WTO appellate review could be reformed.
Manuel Teehankee, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the WTO, commented on the importance and benefits of WTO transparency enhancement. He shared the experience and the initiative of Philippines in the utilization of digital tools which can improve the compliance of notification obligations.
Hung Seng Tan, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the WTO, shared with the participants his views on the content and necessity of the WTO Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce, and he looked forward to more cooperation among countries under the JSI framework.
The second part of the seminar was moderated by Professor Tu Xinquan. Four domestic scholars and trade experts participated in this session. Shi Jingxia, Professor of Law at Renmin University of China, delivered a speech on the WTO rules and negotiations on digital trade. She commented on the challenges member are facing in the negotiation of the digital trade rules, that debates on core issues all strike at the core of the WTO about how to reach a balance between the sovereign rights of members to define their domestic policy and concessions that are required to reap the benefits of a digital trade. She also maintained that it is imperative that existing rules books of the WTO shall be updated to make the WTO work better for the interests of all its members with respect to digital trade.
Professor Yang Guohua from Law School of Tsinghua University analyzed the dilemma of the WTO dispute settlement system. He pointed out that it is unreasonable for the United States to obstruct the operation of the dispute settlement system. The negative impact of the "lockout" of the Appellate Body is profound and deteriorates the interests of the U.S. as well. Efforts made by all sides are needed to maintain the WTO dispute settlement mechanism running.
Professor Zhang Jianping from Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation shared his views on WTO and environmental issues. He believed that we need to have a systematic consideration on trade and environmental issues, and be very careful to deal with the relationship between trade and environment. He cited the CBAM proposed by the EU as an example of how the punishing measure leads to unfairness for developing countries. Mr. Hong Xiaodong from China Society for WTO Studies, shared his views on plurilateral trade cooperation. He believed the negotiations under JSIs are crucial to restoring the WTO negotiation function. These initiatives are not only good for the participants for the WTO, but also provide benefits for the nonparticipants.
Mr. Yi Xiaozhun delivered concluding remark at the end of the seminar. He said the seminar was of great success, and the speeches made by experts and scholars were very enlightening. Considering the low expectations before the MC12, it is hard to imagine that ten valuable achievements could be achieved. The success of the MC12 is the result of collaboration, which is also needed by the successful WTO reform. Trade makes countries develop better, and also makes them more connected to each other. The success of the MC12 light the hope that, even in a highly fragmented world, WTO members can work together to counter the downturn and recession in the world economy.