Abe, Merkel push for multilateralism to solve trade woes

DAVOS • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will seek to use his chairmanship of the Group of 20 (G-20) leading economies to rebuild trust in the global trading system and foster consensus on ways to address climate change.

His speech to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps yesterday was significant at a time when a bitter China-US trade dispute is one of several factors threatening to bring about a sharp slowdown in global growth.

"Japan is determined to preserve and committed to enhancing the free, open and rules-based international order," he told delegates.

"I call on all of you... to rebuild trust towards the system for international trade. That should be a system that is fair, transparent and effective in protecting intellectual property rights and also in areas such as e-commerce and government procurement," he added in a veiled swipe at Beijing.

Mr Abe said Japan hoped to work with the United States and Europe to reform World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules so that they adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

"We have to make the WTO a more credible presence. We have to make reforms to make it more credible. Japan would like to play a leading role in WTO reforms," he added.

The WTO has been paralysed as the US, unhappy with what it says is the organisation's failure to hold Beijing to account for not opening up its economy, has blocked new appointments to the world's top trade court.

 
 
 
 
 

With the French, British and US leaders cancelling their visits because of more pressing concerns at home, Mr Abe is one of only three Group of Seven leaders attending the annual event in Davos, where business executives are worried about the damage populism and trade protectionism are inflicting on the global economy.

Mr Abe's comments underscore Japan's hope to rally support from some of its G-20 counterparts to push for a multilateral approach in solving trade frictions. That could help Tokyo fend off pressure from Washington to open up its politically sensitive agriculture market and take other steps to fix bilateral trade imbalances, analysts say.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel separately delivered a robust defence of the post-war multilateral order yesterday in a veiled criticism of US President Donald Trump's "America First" approach.

"(The Western world) has to act against the fragmentation of the international architecture and be ready to reform the existing institutions," she said in her address in Davos. "I think we should understand our national interest in a way that we think about the interests of others, and from that, create win-win situations that are the precondition for multilateralism."

Mr Abe said Japan, as chair of this year's gathering of the G-20, hopes to build a group consensus on the need to reduce plastic waste flowing into the oceans and coordinate the global usage of digital data without infringing on personal privacy and intellectual property.

"Spending money on a green earth and a blue ocean - once deemed costly - is now a growth generator. We must invite more disruptive innovations before it is too late."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Abe, Merkel push for multilateralism to solve trade woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe