Leading US trade official calls for 'reset' of WTO tariffs system

Thu 18 Jun 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News


The US is to push for a "reset" of “outdated tariff determinations” by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), its trade representative in Geneva said yesterday (18 June).

Robert Lighthizer said the WTO was a “mess” and that the body treats the US unfairly.

He argued the WTO needs modernising to reflect current economic realities, with the WTO having failed to reach an agreement in its latest stage of talks – the Doha round which began in 2001.

“Many countries with large and developed economies maintain very high bound tariff rates, far above those levied by the United States,” he said to the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

The Geneva-based organisation sets and polices adherence to ‘WTO rules’ – agreements negotiated with and signed by most of the world’s trading nations, and ratified by their parliaments. 

Appellate body

The US continues to block appointments to the WTO’s critical Appellate Body, which rules on trade disputes.

Lighthizer argued against the body saying it has ruled against the US in 90% of disputes, saying he felt the US was viewed as “the world’s greatest trade abuser” despite having a large trade deficit.

Reuters reports Lighthizer having said it would be “fine” if the Appellate Body never returns.

New WTO leader

As the WTO searches for its new leader – with former Labour government Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson the latest throw his hat into the ring – Lighthizer said Washington would veto any candidate who had a “whiff of anti-Americanism”.

The US continues to argue that the WTO has failed to hold China to account as it has emerged as a global superpower over the last two decades. It accuses China of unfair trade practices.

Incumbent director general, Roberto Azevedo, decided to end his tenure in May, calling his early departure a “family decision”.

A number of high profile diplomats and political figures are rumoured to be considering standing to replace him.

These include European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan from Ireland, and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and development specialist who has served as Nigeria’s foreign minister and finance minister who has also served as a managing director of the World Bank.