G20 summit calls for WTO reform

Kamal Uddin Ahmed | Published: December 03, 2018 21:18:21 | Updated: December 05, 2018 21:27:56


-Reuters photo

The G20 two-day annual Summit (November 30 and December 01) held in Buenos Aires, Argentina is the 13th meeting of the group which is supposed to promote a liberal international economic order and ensure monetary and financial stability.

But challenged by protectionism and escalating trade disputes, G20 apparently deviated from its primary goals and chose   the theme of this year's Summit as "Building consensus for fair and sustainable development".

The current President of G20, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri underscored the top issues namely, the future of work, infrastructure, development, climate change and food security. But some other global concerns overshadowed these issues, and were the focus of crucial bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Summit.

While recognising growing uncertainties about multilateralism, President Mauricio Macri inaugurated the G20 Summit with a plea for global cooperation, urging leaders of the world's leading economies to meet common challenges through concerted action. He noted that multilateralism was now threatened because of social and politico-economic policy shift by some countries during the past few years.

The most significant development on the occasion of the summit was a truce in the US-China trade war. US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at  a business meeting, held on the sidelines of the summit, to suspend new tariffs and engage in negotiations to reach an agreement within three months' time.

It is a good move for the participants of global economy which also signals a positive approach to improve US-China tensed bilateral relations. This also shows some relevance of G20 even though it has become largely a talk-fest with little conspicuous achievements.

Indeed, as aptly stated by Australian political and economic analyst Ross Gittins, "the more meeting and chatting they do, the safer the rest of us are…it was the legendary American economist Thomas Schelling who realised international conflicts can arise simply because one side can't understand what's eating the other side."

Thus, during the Summit, President Donald Trump signed up a revised trade deal i.e. US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) with Canadian and Mexican leaders substituting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

However, responding to rising domestic pressures on his leadership, President Trump abruptly cancelled planned formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors which Moscow termed a "provocation."

Yet, the G20 summit escaped the incidence of this year's Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) meeting when leaders failed to agree to a final joint communiqué in its 30-year history, because of deep disagreements largely between the leaders of the US and China on the appropriate phrasing of trade issues.

The G20 summit in Argentina released a final joint statement urging necessary reform and restructuring of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to make it more relevant and effective to play its central role in regulating global trade disputes. However, recognising trade as an important engine of global growth, it merely referred to "current trade issues" and evaded strong phrasing on protectionism - an unpredictable signal for the future of free global trade.

Thus, it still remains uncertain whether the G20 would be able to agree on an inclusive architecture for global economic governance, a desperate need since the collapse in 1971 of the Bretton Woods Agreement which provided stability for worldwide economy for two decades, and delivered the "golden age" of shared prosperity.

Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.

kamal112au@yahoo.com

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