Washington says it's ready to engage on WTO reform

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States is committed to “positive, constructive and active engagement” with all members of the World Trade Organization on reforming the body and is actively considering who to choose as its next chief, a U.S. official said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A delegate arrives before a meeting at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The comments by David Bisbee, charge d’affaires at the U.S. mission to the WTO, are an early sign of how U.S. President Joe Biden plans to approach the global trade body and appeared to be in sharp contrast with the stance of ex-president Donald Trump, whose actions paralysed some of its workings.

“The United States stands ready to engage on all of these difficult issues,” Bisbee told a virtual informal WTO ministerial gathering in place of the annual Davos meeting.

The 164-member WTO has gone for months without a director-general after the Trump administration rejected a candidate from Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, selected as the first woman and first African to lead the body by a WTO panel.

Its top appeals body that arbitrates on global trade disputes is also inoperable because the former U.S. administration refused judge appointments, accusing the body of overstepping its mandate and making unjustified trade rules.

“We look forward to progress on this (the selection of a new director-general) and other key priorities in the near future,” said Bisbee.

Among the other issues he mentioned were ongoing talks on fisheries subsidies and the next ministerial conference.

One delegate described the U.S. speech as “positive news”.

Reform of the 25-year-old WTO, including its Appellate Body, is widely seen as a top priority, although countries have widely different views about how this should be done.

The European Union is due to submit a WTO reform proposal next month.

Trump, a strong advocate of “America First” unilateral action, had described the WTO as “horrible” and biased towards China.

Biden, who took office this month and favours a more multilateral approach in diplomacy, has still to get his choice of U.S. trade chief, Katherine Tai, approved by Congress.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Gareth Jones