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Senate Trade Committee Leadership Issues Stern Editorial on WTO Reform

Senators Chuck Grassley (Republican-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, published an editorial in CNN-Business on the occasion of the World Trade Organisation Public Forum. The two highest-ranking senators with lead oversight of U.S. trade policy repeatedly criticised mainland China, arguing that it has self-designated as a developing country “to shirk WTO commitments in critical areas such as agriculture and illegal subsidies”, failed to comply with provisions to report subsidies provided to its domestic industries, and instituted too many cybersecurity requirements on information and communication technology. The only other country criticised by name in the piece was India, for its ban on U.S. agricultural products “for alleged safety concerns.”

Most WTO members remain concerned about a U.S. decision to oppose the appointment of new judges to the Appellate Body, which will lead to a lack of a quorum by 10 December. Grassley and Wyden wrote that their “concerns about systemic and procedural problems with the Appellate Body are not new, nor are they partisan”, noting that both Republican and Democratic presidents have had trepidations about the operation of the Appellate Body. The two lawmakers do support progress on two current negotiations: the e-commerce talks and discussions to curtail fishing subsidies that ostensibly “have long promoted overfishing and unfair competition.”

The senators noted that the United States has been discussing its WTO reform concerns with the European Union and Japan, although it is not clear that those parties would agree that the U.S. proposal to change the way the WTO treats developing countries is just “targeted at strengthening the negotiating function of the organization.”  The lawmakers insisted that “it is time for members to confront and address the problems that are eroding the WTO's credibility and effectiveness” and cautioned that “these are problems that, if left unresolved, will endanger the WTO's future relevance.”

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