EU looks for reform of WTO at upcoming summit

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The EU's trade chief has set out the bloc's priorities for next month's WTO summit, with reform of the dispute resolution process top of the agenda.

The EU is set to use a forthcoming summit of World Trade Organization (WTO) members next month to seek agreement on reforms to the body's dispute resolution mechanisms.

Taking place in Abu Dhabi from February 26th to 29th, the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC 13) is seen by some as the last chance to forge a deal with the US on changes to the organization before the November presidential election.

Reforming the dispute resolution appeals process is considered vital to ensuring the continuing relevance of the WTO. This has been unable to function since 2019 due to the US' refusal to confirm new judges to the panel.

Speaking this week, vice-president of the EU Commission in charge of trade policy Valdis Dombrovskis said this will be the number one priority for EU delegates at MC 13.

He stated: "This is critical for the overall legitimacy of the WTO and is necessary to stop the further erosion of trade rules. It also provides the stability for companies to be able to invest and export."

Mr Dombrovskis added that beyond this, it is also important to ensure that the WTO rulebook is up-to-date in order to "revitalize the WTO negotiating function". This means efforts to address key global trade issues such as sustainability and digital transformation.

These steps will be vital in ensuring that the WTO is fit for purpose at a time when global trade has been put under pressure by a variety of issues, including  COVID-19, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and increasing tensions between the US and China.

It was noted by Euractiv that in recent years, a growing trend towards protectionism and subsidies by major economic blocs have sought to prioritize domestic industries. Despite this, more than three-quarters of global trade is still governed by WTO rules.

However, with the body's dispute resolution panel's appellate body still non-functional, there is little to be done if countries fail to follow these rules.