China recently convened a “mini-ministerial” meeting of about 30 World Trade Organization (WTO) members on the fringes of a massive import fair in Shanghai. On the surface, the purpose of the meeting was clear and entirely constructive: to discuss the international trading system and WTO reform. The hope was to lay the groundwork for a productive outcome from the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, to be held in Kazakhstan in June 2020.
The international trading system continues to teeter, and few issues in trade are more urgent than undertaking the necessary WTO reforms. The continued relevance of the institution is at stake, and any useful dialogue that could be conducted in Shanghai under Chinese leadership would be welcome.
There is however a powerful subtext to the mini-ministerial, which, over the longer term, might prove to be of equal if not greater importance than the ostensible purpose of the meeting. As the United States continues to withdraw from its historical role as de facto leader of the global trade system, China is in the process of defining the nature and the parameters of the role that it intends to play.
There are, therefore, two separate but closely related stories unfolding: 1) the ongoing efforts of ministers from key trading countries to attempt to work out much-needed WTO reforms, and 2) the gradual redefinition of China’s place and role in global trade governance.
Developments on each track are closely linked and mutually reinforcing: To the extent China can play a constructive role in galvanizing useful WTO reforms, it will burnish its credentials as a primary guardian of the global trade system. By the same token, if China is increasingly looked upon as a champion of the trade system, it will enhance its ability to shape the WTO reform process.WTO Reform_ Will China Be Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution_ – The Diplomat
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