Reforming the WTO to adapt to developments in world trade (own-initiative opinion)

EESC opinion: Reforming the WTO to adapt to developments in world trade (own-initiative opinion)

Key points:

  • The European Economic and Social Committee would like to reiterate its commitment to the WTO as the guardian of international trade and a crucible for developing rules and disciplines to ensure fair trade, the liberalisation of trade in goods and services, and transparency in trade-related policy-making.
  • The proliferation of barriers to trade and the increasing taxation of imports (aluminium, steel, etc.) by key players in world trade (US, China, etc.) are a real danger to the growth of world trade – already slowing down since 2014 – which could harm global growth, efforts to reduce inequality, the development of the most fragile economies and the creation of value and jobs in global value chains.
  • The EU civil society is asking for free but fair trade.
  • The EESC is convinced not only that urgent reforms should be implemented as soon as possible, particularly for the functioning of the Appellate Body of the DSB, but also that WTO members should be committed to more ambitious and systemic changes. These proposals supported by the EESC mainly cover three areas: labour standards and decent work, climate change objectives and the achievement of the UN's 2030 SDGs.
  • The EESC considers urgent for the first phase that the WTO should also become more ambitious with regard to the agricultural sector in order to ensure good quality, safe and secure supplies of food. Safeguarding data protection in international trade through multilateral instruments inspired by standards and rules put in place in the EU, and in the OECD, APEC and UN, is another priority for the EESC.
  • The EESC, as a representative of European organised civil society, is very involved in monitoring free trade agreements, the fulfilment of commitments undertaken by the parties in the sustainable development chapters, and the requirement to take into account the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the fight against climate change.
  • How to articulate core labour standards and multilateral trade rules has been a longstanding issue for more than 20 years. The EESC considers that, with the adoption of ambitious and comprehensive SDGs by the UN, the time has come for the WTO as the guardian of international trade to play its role in actively promoting core labour standards. This could be achieved through recognition of the SDGs and the core ILO conventions in a general preamble and full use of Article XX of the GATT both for environmental matters (XX g) and for social matters (XX e).
  • The Committee is asking the European Commission, in cooperation with its major partners, to open the reflection on possible evolutions in the WTO's decision-making procedures, the transparency of its work, and the involvement of civil society.