EU Fires Back After US Hobbles WTO

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — The EU on Thursday proposed a move to strengthen its power to hit back in global trade fights, looking for defensive alternatives after the United States crippled the World Trade Organization.

Dennis Shea, US Ambassador to the WTO, arrives for the Monday opening of the General Council, at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization, WTO, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

The new measures would hand Brussels powers to unilaterally decide countermeasures against other countries, a power that traditionally sits with the WTO in Geneva.

Sometimes referred to as the supreme court of global trade, the WTO has since Wednesday been unable to issue rulings, victim of a campaign by President Donald Trump accusing it of anti-U.S. bias.

The Trump administration has for two years blocked appointments to the WTO’s appellate body, and work there finally broke down on Wednesday, when just one sitting member remained.

“Whilst we seek to reform the WTO and re-establish a well-functioning WTO system, we cannot afford being defenseless if there is no possibility to get a satisfactory solution within the WTO,” EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said.

“Today’s proposals will let us defend our interests in these particularly uneasy times for international trade.”

WTO membership bars countries from unilaterally calculating and imposing countermeasures, but with the new measures the EU would reclaim that authority.

These “will allow us to defend our companies, workers and consumers whenever our partners do not play by the rules,” Hogan said.

At an EU summit Thursday and Friday in Brussels, European leaders will urge the European Parliament and the member states “to examine the Commission’s proposal as a priority”, according to a draft seen by Agence France-Presse.

The breakdown at the WTO came despite months of talks to reconcile the United States with the WTO’s 163 members, which include China.

The United States has wide-ranging concerns about the WTO that predate Trump’s presidency, its allegedly soft stance on China a main criticism.

Trump’s trade officials have argued that the U.S. Constitution does not permit a foreign court to supersede an American one.

The EU is also seeking to create an ad hoc arbitration process with other countries during the WTO stalemate, but so far only a handful of countries have signed on.

© Agence France-Presse

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