October 9, 2019 / 11:21 AM / 7 days ago

UK trade minister Truss backs WTO reform before Brexit

GENEVA, Oct 9 (Reuters) - British trade secretary Liz Truss said she opposed protectionism but backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s calls to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Her comments came on a visit to the WTO’s Geneva headquarters on Wednesday, where she was seeking to ease fears of trade disruptions before a potential no-deal Brexit.

Within the organization, Britain has been represented by the European Union until now. It will get its own seat if it quits the EU as planned.

“... I can assure you we will be unapologetic in fighting the forces of protectionism, in favour of genuinely free trade,” Truss said in a speech to the International Chamber of Commerce in Geneva. She attended a meeting with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo later on Wednesday.

Britain revised a tariff regime on Tuesday in the event of a no-deal Brexit to make 88% of imports eligible for tariff-free access. Much uncertainty remains about the impact of Brexit on trade, however.

Britain’s expanded role in the WTO comes amid criticism from Washington, which has brought its seven-member Appellate Body — effectively the supreme court of trade — to the brink of collapse by blocking the appointment of new judges. After December, the court will have only one judge.

“President Trump has said he wants the WTO to modernise, and I agree,” Truss said in the speech. However, she pledged support for a diplomatic process meant to resolve the crisis at the court.

“We must work together to resolve the Appellate Body impasse,” she said. She also urged action on liberalising digital trade and on fish subsidies negotiations. (Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Larry King)

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