GENEVA — Major trading partners, including the European Union and China, blasted the United States at a World Trade Organization forum for resorting to protectionist measures that threaten to derail the global trade system, and urged Washington to resume its leadership of global free trade.
U.S. leadership has driven much of the phenomenal growth in prosperity across the world over the last few decades, said Marc Vanheukelen, the EU’s ambassador to the WTO. However, he said, “in deciding to use tariffs as a central plank of its trade policy, and in suggesting that trade wars can have winners, the U.S. is putting these achievements at risk.”
“The multilateral system is in deep crisis and the United States is at its epicenter,” the EU envoy said during a heated two-day review of U.S. trade policy that ended Wednesday.
Dennis Shea, U.S. ambassador to the WTO, told delegates the United States maintains one of the most open trade regimes “that is firmly based in the rule of law and that is a powerful engine for growth.”
Shea said, “We continue to seek trade liberalization…with countries who share our commitment to fair market competition and reciprocity,” and then proceeded to argue the U.S. is “raising serious concerns with the functioning and direction of this institution, and the fundamental challenge posed by China’s state-led mercantilist approach to the economy and trade.”
He said the WTO “is not well equipped to handle the fundamental challenge posed by China” and also declared “China’s actions are incompatible with the open, market-based approach expressly envisioned and followed by other WTO members…”
Zhang Xiangchen, China’s WTO ambassador countered: “With great power comes great responsibility. It is very unfortunate that we are seeing especially during the last year, a different America with severe mismatched power and responsibility.”
“A top dog should act like a top dog. It cannot only see a narrow spectrum of its own self-interest, and it certainly should not do whatever it wishes at the sacrifice of others,” Zhang said.
In a follow-up, Shea said, “We also note the deep irony in China’s reference to power and responsibility. China—the world’s largest exporter and an economic heavyweight, insists on being treated in the WTO like a much poorer member…China apparently believes its power comes with little or no responsibility.”
The remarks led Hu Yingzhi, deputy director-general for WTO affairs at China’s Ministry of Commerce, to take the floor and blast the repeated references to China in what was a review about the U.S., and voiced: “We reject the role of scapegoat.”
“Undoubtedly, the United States is at the epicenter of this crisis. It is the largest economy in the world and the main beneficiary of the current order and the multilateral trading system,” Hu stated.
India’s WTO ambassador, J.S. Deepak, said the U.S. is abusing the use of trade-restrictive measures. India also faulted the U.S. for retaining “significant” tariff peaks in sectors like textiles and leather.
Turkey said it was “deeply regrettable” the U.S. had recently resorted to unilateral tariff measures.
Stephen de Boer, Canada’s WTO ambassador called on the U.S. to “remain engaged” in the creation and promotion of improved international trade and investment rules.
With low applied tariffs and nearly 70 percent of all imports entering duty-free, WTO members were of the view at the end of the session, that the U.S. trade and investment regime remained overall open and liberal.