Carr to rejoin 'like-minded' for next talks on WTO reform at Davos

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr's office has confirmed he's attending the next gathering of 13 members of the World Trade Organization looking to reform the institution in the face of ongoing threats to the rules-based multilateral trading system.

Jan. 24 meeting on sidelines of World Economic Forum reconvenes group that met in Ottawa in October

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr is off to the World Economic Forum later this month for the next gathering of WTO members working on reform proposals for the international trading system. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr's office has confirmed he's attending the next gathering of 13 members of the World Trade Organization looking to reform the institution in the face of ongoing threats to the rules-based multilateral trading system.

Canada will join a dozen other WTO members on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 24. 

The group first met for talks hosted by Carr in Ottawa last October. The minister's office expects most if not all of the ministers from the original talks to attend the upcoming meeting.

The group that met in October included representatives of Australia, Brazil, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland — trading partners described by Carr and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo as "like-minded" regarding the urgent need to reform the global trading system.

The group was intended to be regionally diverse, bringing on board the large customs union of the EU, regionally-significant trading powers like Brazil and Japan, and smaller and more independent players like Switzerland.

Its goal was to agree on some reform options as a smaller group before gradually bringing more countries — including the U.S. and China — into a future agreement on changes. October's meeting began the process but participants did not reveal exactly what reforms were under consideration.

The early partners felt that WTO rules needed to be strengthened in the face of damaging unilateral tariffs and other actions imposed by the U.S. and China as part of their trade war.

The U.S. has said it believes that China does not respect intellectual property rules and exploits its membership in the WTO to obtain unfair advantages for its state-owned enterprises. China argues it has played by the rules that were in place when it joined the global trading system.

Following bilateral talks between the American and Chinese leaders at the G20 summit in Argentina in early December, a 90-day trade truce was called in an attempt to allow the two powers to sort out their differences. A second day of talks between officials from the U.S. and China ended Tuesday without tangible results.

WTO 'mini-ministerial' at Davos

On top of these U.S.-China tensions, the Americans still have problems with the WTO's arbitration system that predate the Trump administration's most recent actions.

The U.S. has blocked replacements for the WTO's appellate body, to the point where it has so many vacancies that it may not have enough judges to hear any more appeals by the end of the year.

One option for this reform group is to set up a parallel appellate body without the U.S., to arbitrate disputes between trading partners until the U.S. can be persuaded to rejoin a reformed system.

Ottawa hosted talks between a dozen "like-minded" WTO members to consider potential reforms to the international trading system last October. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In addition to the group Canada convened, other initiatives are underway to consider potential reforms to the WTO. The European Union and Japan are participating in separate talks with the U.S. The need for WTO reform was highlighted in the final communiqué from G20 leaders last month.

Carr also will attend a "mini-ministerial" meeting of the WTO in Davos on Jan. 25 which will include representatives from the U.S. and India, and perhaps 20 other ministers. That group will be considering other WTO business, not reform initiatives.

Later this month, the Swiss ski resort town of Davos is expected to host up to 300 government officials, including heads of state, along with 1,500 business leaders.

Other than Carr, members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government have yet to confirm their participation in multiple meetings and speaking engagements at the gathering. In past years, Trudeau and several of his ministers have attended some of the events or have been featured as panellists.

The forum in Davos has been a prime international networking opportunity for those engaged in global business and policy. It is often the site of low-key private meetings between leaders as well.


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