context: China is positioning itself a the defender of multilateralism and WTO is one forum. While the WTO was sidelined under the Trump administration, renewed interest in the organisation from the Biden administration may mean greater room for collaboration.

A seminar on China’s role in WTO reform was held on 14 May 2021 at the Globalisation Think Tank in Beijing. Speakers included

  • Yi Xiaozhun 易小准 former WTO deputy director-general and former MofCOM vice minister:
    • argues that with the ebb of globalisation and rising protectionism WTO reforms must not be used to support these goals
    • proposes a system to measure proposed reforms, by assessing
      • does the initiative lead to trade liberalisation and facilitation, or are a small number of members using it as an excuse to increase trade barriers and implement trade protection
      • will the initiative strengthen the most-favored-nation treatment that is the cornerstone of the multilateral trading system, or will they introduce more discriminatory factors in the WTO
      • will the initiative maintain the authority of the multilateral trading system and promote multilateral cooperation, or are those arguing this case motivated by geopolitics
    • suggests that, in the face of an increasing number of members and increasingly complex issues, the one-vote veto system in the WTO’s decision-making mechanism has led to deadlock in many issues; plurilateral negotiations are the way forward, particularly on topics like
      • e-commerce
      • domestic regulation of trade in services
      • small and micro enterprises
  • Hong Xiaodong 洪晓东 former director of MofCOM World Trade Department:
    • argues the WTO must be more active in promoting trade liberalisation and establishing new rules
    • suggests the outcome of 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2021 will indicate whether the WTO can continue to lead the liberalisation and facilitation of global trade
  • :Li Yong 李永 China Society for International Trade Expert Committee deputy director
    • suggests positive outcomes of the conference face challenges in
      • the politicisation of economic globalisation
      • unilateral abuse of national security threat claims
      • using carbon emissions as a weapon
  • Xu Xiujun 徐秀军 CASS, who argues China must
    • play its role as a defender of the multilateral trading system
    • must maintain a fair and reasonable multilateral trade system
    • actively leverage the WTO’s impact on China’s institutional opening
    • attach importance to the role of high-standard bilateral and regional free trade agreements in domestic opening