Trade disputes could multiply without WTO reform: candidate

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Trade disputes could extend beyond the current U.S.-China conflict if the World Trade Organization is unable to transform, according to the South Korean vying to lead the Geneva-based body.

Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee told Reuters the Washington-Beijing battle might be due to the lack of progress at the WTO and the fact that its global trading rules had not been updated.

“If the WTO fails to reinvent itself more members might be compelled to resort to their own ways of dealing with disputes - protectionism or unilateralism because the WTO rule cannot provide any way out or solutions to them,” she said late on Tuesday.

Yoo said she believed the WTO could act as a forum for negotiations between Washington and Beijing and hoped they could find some areas of convergence with results in the hope this rebuilt trust, a key ingredient in short supply at the WTO.

The South Korean, one of five remaining director-general candidates, is pitching herself as an experienced minister overseeing trade in challenging times and closing deals with the United States, China and others, while supporting global rules.

Those rules, though, have barely changed since the WTO was created in 1995, partly because the WTO’s 164 members have struggled to negotiate and agree change.

“We should revitalise the negotiating function and constantly update the rule book to accurately reflect reality,” Yoo said.

Yoo, 53, said she wanted to see the WTO more equipped to handle the COVID-19 crisis and future emergencies.

One of the WTO’s functions is to monitor new trade measures. Yoo said she wanted the WTO to help developing countries struggling to comply and to streamline the notification process.

The WTO should then work with its members to ensure that temporary curbs do not become permanent barriers.

WTO members, she said, should also come up with guidelines to deal better with future crises and ensure the flow of goods and services.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood