UK supports WTO reform at G20 meeting

Legislation | 18 June 2019

The UK's trade minister is among those hoping for resolution of the WTO's problems.


International trade secretary for the UK Dr Liam Fox has said Britain will fully support a resolution to the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Appellate Body in order to create a system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Dr Fox attended the G20 ministerial meeting on Trade and Digital Economy in Japan on June 8th and 9th 2019 and put addressing global trade tensions and looking at new Appellate Body solutions highest on his agenda.

The WTO Appellate Body is tasked with resolving trade disputes in a fair and transparent way, but it has been facing a number of problems in recent years. These have included the pace of decision-making and issues with appointing new members, which has led some analysts to question if it is still relevant in today's global economy.

At the meeting in Japan, trade ministers considered new recommendations made by the B20 international business group, which is comprised of businesspeople from the G20 countries.

This body has already called on the G20 to renew its commitment to the WTO and to update its global trade rules as opposed to shelving it altogether.

Dr Fox said the UK is championing a "strong, forward-looking approach to reform".

However, he added in a statement released after the meeting that the WTO faces "one of its biggest tests since its establishment with all its functions under strain. It could become an existential crisis".

Dr Max Mendez-Parra from the Overseas Development Institute said he believes the international rules-based system has been essential over the past two decades and also called on the G20 to commit to enhancing and updating it.

Trade ministers agreed in their official statement following the meeting "to undertake necessary WTO reform with a sense of urgency", something that will form the basis of further discussions at a summit of G20 leaders at the end of the month.

According to an EU official at the end of the last G20 summit in Argentina, the WTO is "currently falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement".

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has accused it of having outdated and dysfunctional rules and WTO head Robert Azevedo told the BBC it is facing its worst crisis since 1947.