Call for WTO to punish 'coercion'

World | 10 Jun 2021

The World Trade Organization should penalize "bad behavior when it occurs,'' Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday ahead of a Group of Seven leaders' meeting in Britain where he hopes to garner support in a trade dispute with China.

Morrison said Australia would be "working with others to buttress the role of the WTO and to modernize its rulebook where necessary.''

"In my discussions with many leaders, I've taken great encouragement from the support shown for Australia's preparedness to withstand economic coercion in recent times,'' Morrison said in a speech in Perth before leaving for the G7 meeting in Cornwall, England.

The Australian government announced in December that it would ask the WTO to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects other nations to become involved.

China effectively ended imports of Australian barley in May 2020 by putting tariffs of more than 80 percent on the crop, accusing Australia of breaching WTO rules by subsidizing barley production and selling the grain in China at below production cost.

Trade in Australian seafood, wood, beef, wine and coal has also been disrupted since Australia angered China by requesting an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Geneva-based WTO, which makes rules governing international trade, is facing calls for restructuring and reform as it struggles to forge a long-awaited world trade pact.

"A well-functioning WTO that sets clear rules, arbitrates disputes objectively and efficiently penalizes bad behavior when it occurs - this can be one of the most powerful tools the international community has to counter economic coercion,'' Morrison said.

He added that the most practical way to address economic coercion would be to restore the WTO's binding dispute settlement system.

"Where there are no consequences for coercive behavior, there is little incentive for restraint," he added.

The G7 meeting "provides an opportunity to point a way forward'' at a WTO ministerial conference on trade reforms in November, he said.


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