October 25, 2018 3:44 pm

WTO countries meet in Ottawa to plan reform for trade body — without Trump

Canada's Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr speaks as delegates pose for a family photo at the Ottawa Ministerial on WTO Reform, in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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OTTAWA – No one country is the cause of – or holds the solution to – the woes facing the World Trade Organization, but the body can’t be saved without the two biggest economies on the planet, says Canada’s international trade minister.

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Building consensus on specific reforms will take time, and impossible without OKs from China and the United States, said International Trade Minister Jim Carr.

Neither the U.S. nor China is part of the day-long meeting in the national capital on the future of the world’s trade referee.

Carr said the problems facing the international trading system are not new and “were not created by any one WTO member.” Nor, he said, can those problems “be solved by any one member.”

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“There can be no meaningful reform of the WTO without the Americans and Chinese,” Carr said.

Reforms have been largely elusive for the 23-year-old WTO, but hostile rhetoric towards the organization from U.S. President Donald Trump – whose country wasn’t invited to Thursday’s gathering – is giving the meeting added urgency.

The closed-door sessions with 13 of the 164-member WTO is looking at safeguarding and strengthening the dispute settlement system, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the WTO monitoring function and modernizing trade rules for the 21st century.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office says he brought up the issue of trading rules in a phone call Thursday morning with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trudeau mentioned the issue again in a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Parliament Hill, speaking of their support for the WTO and “a trading system that is rule-based and fair.”

Trump has upended the world’s trading order with his “America First” policy and his penchant for punitive tariffs on imports, including levies on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico.

The tariffs made under national security reasons remain in place despite the North American partners agreeing on a new continental trade pact, christened the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

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Supplementary spending documents made public Wednesday show the Liberals will ask Parliament to approve $3.5 million in new spending to stop “unfairly priced foreign steel and aluminum” from entering Canada – and ultimately the American market.

The spending is part of ongoing efforts by federal officials to convince Trump that Canada is preventing Chinese products in particular from making its way to the United States.

Conservatives say the ongoing failure of the Trudeau Liberals to get Trump to lift the levies is forcing businesses to cut back on orders and other to lay off workers.

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“The longer these tariffs remain, the more damage they’ll do. The Liberal government has left Canadian steel and aluminum businesses hanging on by a thread,” Conservative trade critic Dean Allison said.

The U.S. has openly blocked the appointments of new judges to the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, known as the appellate body – a tactic that threatens to paralyse the organization and prevent it from making decisions.

A reformed WTO would ensure confidence that an independent body “based on consensus and common cause” can settle trade disputes, Carr said at the outset of the meeting.

“We are a relatively small country and our major trading partners are big. Rules matter because we each merit the protections they afford and the opportunity they create for even the smallest first-time exporter in the most far-flung corner of the world to compete and to succeed,” Carr said.

“To make that kind of relationship work, we have to believe the rules of trade work for all of us and our people have to see that, too.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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