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Canada to host WTO reform meeting in October

Canada will host a meeting in October of trade ministers from countries supporting reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its rules for ensuring fair international trade.

Jim Carr, minister of international trade diversification, has invited ministers from around the world who are committed to the multilateral trading system, said Allison Lewis, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada.

“Canada is concerned about the future of the WTO as a linchpin of the global rules-based order,” she said in an email. “We recognize the WTO is facing a number of systemic challenges. The objective of the meeting is to identify concrete and tangible ways the operation and functioning of the WTO could be enhanced and improved over the short, medium and long term.”

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The October meeting is intended to launch the global discussion on updating the WTO. The invitees do not include the U.S. or China, which are locked in an escalating tariff battle.

“The initial group of ministers is deliberately small to ensure that there is ample room and time to have a meaningful and interactive conversation,” she said. “Representation in the group is diverse both with respect to geographic representation and levels of development.

“It is Canada’s intention to proceed transparently and to ensure that all WTO members are aware of our work,” she said. Canada has been speaking to various countries to outline the objectives for the ministerial.”

The meeting got a boost when Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, convinced the Trump administration during his recent visit to Washington to discuss trade matters to agree to work with “like-minded partners” to reform the WTO.

The U.S. has been widely criticized for ignoring WTO decisions, flouting its tariff rules and blocking the appointment of new arbiters for trade dispute appeals, which undermines the organization’s power to mediate trade squabbles.

The Canadian initiative came after the U.S. launched separate trade complaints with the WTO against Canada, China, the European Union, Mexico and Turkey over retaliatory tariffs they imposed after the U.S. hit them with stiff steel and aluminum tariffs. Trade experts called the American complaints to the WTO “as the height of gall.” The administration claims the U.S. tariffs are legal but retaliating against them isn’t.

Some saw the American action as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine international bodies such as NATO and the WTO. It’s expected resolution of the American claims could take several years at least.

The WTO is an international body that adjudicates trade disagreements between member nations. While they usually adhere to WTO rulings, the process can be so slow and cumbersome as was the Canadian campaign to end the American country-of-origin labelling on Canadian beef and pork.

While it succeeded, the livestock industry suffered billions of dollars in losses.

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