US trade chief Katherine Tai says WTO needs infusion of energy, vision

Ms Katherine Tai said a return to the prior status quo of the WTO's dispute settlement system would not work for the US. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Wednesday (Nov 10) that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) cannot return to its prior status quo and needs "an infusion of energy, dynamism and vision", to revamp its rules for a rapidly changing global economy.

Ms Tai told reporters in Washington that a return to the prior status quo of the WTO's dispute settlement system would not work for the United States, as the system needs to help resolve trade disputes rather than stringing them out for decades, she said.

The US has rendered the WTO's appellate body inoperable by blocking the appointment of new judges. Washington over several administrations has complained that the body has exceeded its authority by making new trade rules in its decisions.

Ms Tai said it was unclear how or whether the appellate body would fit into a redesign of the dispute settlement system, but members needed to "be honest" and articulate what they want it to achieve.

Trade ministers from the 164 WTO countries are due to converge on Geneva at the end of November for the body's ministerial meeting to try to bring to a conclusion negotiations to curb fishery subsidies and discuss potential reforms to the 26-year-old institution.

Ms Tai called the meeting a "laboratory" for seeing how new leadership at the WTO and in some key economies can change the organisation's dynamics.

"I think that we need to be very bold here. Just restoring the WTO to where it was four years ago, five years ago, is not actually going to bring back the energy that we need, frankly, for a world economy that is changing very quickly," Ms Tai said.

Ms Tai also said she did not intend to bring a new US proposal on Covid-19 intellectual property waivers to the Geneva meeting, but would continue to work through text-based negotiations towards such waivers to allow more widespread production of vaccines in developing countries.

Ms Tai announced in May that the Joe Biden administration supported negotiations for vaccine intellectual property waivers, but acknowledged that this may not guarantee vaccine access.

"Right now, it is trying to facilitate something that is going to work, and that's going to be meaningful and that can be accepted by the WTO," she said.

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