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Statement by Ambassador Shea at Heads of Delegation Meeting
March 2, 2020

Statement delivered by Ambassador Dennis Shea
Heads of Delegation Meeting
Geneva, March 2, 2020

I would like to use today’s meeting to highlight the importance of meaningful WTO reform to the United States given the publication this past weekend of the U.S. President’s Trade Policy Agenda. This important report provides direct guidance to me and the rest of the Executive Branch in the U.S. Government on trade policy priorities.

The WTO and WTO reform feature prominently in the Agenda. This is a significant development and demonstrates the attention paid to this institution at the highest levels of our Government.

The Trade Agenda highlights current shortcomings of the WTO, including its inability to keep pace with changing global realities over the past 25 years and to negotiate new rules in response. These changing realities include the rise of large emerging economies, the growth of non-market practices and policies, and technological advances fostered by the evolution of the Internet.

Equally important, the Agenda also sets out some of the reforms the United States believes would bring about a WTO that can deliver on its initial promises.

These reforms include reaffirming our original mandate to promote trade liberalization based on free and fair competition through the adoption of market-based policies across the WTO’s membership.

We are also focused on reform that will repair the WTO’s negotiating function by addressing imbalances created by outdated special and differential treatment for advanced economies as well as improve transparency and compliance with existing rules to ensure we can negotiate based on the most up-to-date information.

We have already advanced proposals in these areas.  Members are familiar with our proposals on differentiation and transparency, and tomorrow I will introduce a draft General Council Decision on the importance of market-oriented conditions to the world trading system.

These are all essential building blocks that would allow the WTO finally to move forward with some important negotiating objectives – reducing tariff disparities that have been left unaddressed since the Uruguay Round; creating new rules to respond to trade-distorting industrial subsidies; and finding a means to alleviate forced technology transfer and other deeply concerning practices.

Despite the serious challenges facing the WTO, the U.S. continues to value this institution and we are working to find solutions.

I also want to spend some time today emphasizing the critical state of the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations.  It is incumbent on all of us to recognize that the negotiations are in serious trouble.  With just three short months to Nur-Sultan, the WTO remains far from delivering on what Ministers directed us to do at MC11 – that is, to reach an “agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines.”

The impasse we face is both significant and familiar here at the WTO:

  • On the one hand, certain Members are working to create meaningful new prohibitions on fisheries subsidies that will actually change the way governments have been irresponsibly providing government support over the years; and
  • On the other hand, another group of Members is fiercely defending its right to continue to subsidize – or to develop subsidies policies in the future – and advocating little, if any, meaningful change to the WTO rules.

If we want the WTO to be taken seriously, we must produce fisheries subsidies rules that are strong and clear and that will meaningfully change the status quo that has led to the current, dire situation in which nearly 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are “fully exploited, overexploited or entirely depleted.”

Lastly, I wanted to echo the comments made by Brazil and Canada concerning a new SPS initiative, and that it is our shared intention to seek a ministerial declaration at MC12 reaffirming the vital role of the SPS Agreement and calling for its enhanced implementation. We appreciate our collaboration on this effort and welcome the support of other Members.