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U.S. Statement at the Informal Meeting of WTO Heads of Delegation
May 7, 2018

HODs Meeting 

Statement as delivered by Ambassador Dennis Shea
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Permanent Representative to the WTO

Geneva, May 7, 2018

As a newcomer, I especially welcome today’s meeting as an opportunity to hear your perspectives, Director General, and to listen carefully to the views of my new colleagues around this room.

In my initial weeks here in Geneva, I’ve been struck by how often I’ve heard about the importance fellow Members attach to U.S. leadership in the work of the WTO. I take this seriously, and I am humbled by the desire of many other Members for constructive U.S. leadership. On behalf of the United States Government, I am committed to engaging with each of you in a constructive spirit that always aims to make the WTO better and more effective.  I look forward to the friendships that will develop among us as we pursue that work.

I have also been struck by the emphasis many colleagues have placed on the notion of the WTO as being, in the words of one colleague, in a “pretty critical state.” You, DG, have also alluded eloquently this morning to some of the challenges facing our work.

With the indulgence of Members, I would like to reflect a bit on these introductory impressions.

I certainly agree, as does Ambassador Lighthizer, with the general assessment that the WTO is struggling with some big challenges – challenges that are complex, multi-faceted, and which have been in the making for a long time, and certainly not just in the past 15 months.

The depth of our internal divisions surrounding development is particularly striking, and distressing.

Let me be clear: the United States does not contest that development constitutes an extremely important element in the work of the WTO, one that is relevant to all

We continue to believe that the economic growth necessary to drive development can only be accrued through Members’ responsible participation in international trade.

But clearly something has gotten terribly contorted when our discussions are dominated by a focus on how the majority of WTO Members can remain outside WTO rules, rather than increase their participation in international trade based on high standards.

Over 20 years after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round, we see continued attempts to unravel existing commitments and demands that all self-declared developing countries, regardless of their level of development, have full access to all S&D in any new outcomes.

We have unfortunately allowed some clumsy and blunt structures – notably, self-designation of development status, and an apparent inability to distinguish among different kinds of developing countries – to get in the way of our collective progress.

I’m encouraged to perceive that a meaningful discussion of these challenges is beginning to happen. It strikes me as urgent that we all look for ways to break out of old patterns, as we see little likelihood of any future multilateral outcomes if the issue of development status is not fully addressed.

Another area of enormous challenge is, perhaps obviously, dispute settlement.

This organization has been living off the fruits of a previous generation’s negotiations for too long, and Members have over the years turned to litigation to impose new rules where none had been agreed.Did our dispute settlement system take care to avoid writing new rules?  Sadly, it did not.  And the Appellate Body has even been reshaping the system without Members’ consent to expand its own authority.

When a supposedly rules-based organization fails to ensure that its own dispute settlement system follows the rules, we clearly have reached a bizarre and disturbing juncture. The United States will not shy away from continuing to shine a spotlight on these shortcomings, and if this organization is to be restored to health, other Members must contribute to finding ways to correct them.

The United States is also extremely concerned about the increasingly obvious shortcomings in the WTO rule book, particularly as concerns our ability to ensure fair play by WTO Members whose economies are extensively driven by state-controlled activity.

And we even see some Members seeking to use WTO dispute settlement as a shield to promote their unfair, trade-distorting behavior. If this situation persists, the relevance and sustainability of the WTO and the international system it seeks to promote will be in grave jeopardy.

The United States is determined to work with those WTO members who are committed to addressing these and other problems, and to building a better WTO for the future.

And we acknowledge, and welcome, that U.S. leadership will be part of bringing that about.

But let me be clear: leadership and complacency don’t often mix well.  And what I have sometimes perceived in the comments of welcoming colleagues is a yearning to leave everything alone – to avoid disruptions – to be complacent in the WTO that we have, rather than in a WTO that could be more effective as a driver of fairness in global trade and as an engine for economic growth and development of all our economies.

The United States is not content to be complacent about this institution. And the leadership that the United States will bring to the WTO in the coming months and years will consequently involve a good deal of straight talk and a willingness to be disruptive, where necessary, in the interest of contributing to a stronger, more effective, and more politically sustainable organization.

I’ve been pleased to see, in my early weeks here, that the United States is in fact engaged in leadership in some quite tangible ways.

We are calling attention to the urgent need to improve performance in connection with our most basic obligations to notify our trade policies and practices, and we are engaging constructively with other Members to share ideas in this area.

We are bringing to the table some fresh and constructive ideas to break away from a discouraging recent track record on agriculture, and to build a more sustainable foundation for negotiations to reform global agricultural trade.

We are bringing leadership to our newest committee, the Trade Facilitation Committee, to cultivate effective implementation of the TFA and to encourage serious discussions about how trade reforms support and deliver tangible development results. For the first time in quite a while, the WTO is delivering new benefits to our private sectors. We need to ensure the momentum we worked hard to achieve is maintained, and for us that means meeting again before October.

We are quite often the only Member substantively engaging with acceding countries to help them successfully integrate into the WTO.

And we are participating with enthusiasm with like-minded Members seeking to keep the WTO relevant in the critical area of digital trade, even as we follow with interest other “joint statement” initiatives arising from our last Ministerial Conference.

In these and other areas, my pledge is to work with all of you as partners in the endeavor of building a more open and fairer global trading system. I promise to listen carefully to all of you, just as I hope you accept that my government’s occasionally tough-minded approach to the WTO is motivated by a determination to make it better.

Thank you again for making me feel welcome, and I look forward to working with you all.