By Li Chenggang
The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this particular year, a review of China’s role in the WTO is of great significance for the new journey of cooperation between the country and the international organization.
Over the last two decades, China has grown from a rule taker into an important participant in rule making within the framework of the WTO. During its full participation in the work of the WTO, the country has learned in practice, improved its work through introspection, and accumulated plenty of experience, making contributions to the normal operation of the three major functions of the WTO, i.e. rule negotiation, policy review, and dispute settlement.
As a major force in rule negotiations under the WTO, China has deeply participated in multilateral trade negotiations including the Doha Round negotiations and negotiations on fisheries subsidies, and submitted or co-sponsored over 100 negotiation proposals, making substantial contributions to facilitating the expansion of the scope of products covered by the Information Technology Agreement and the reaching of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
China is undoubtedly a “straight-A student” in WTO’s policy reviews. The country has gone through nine transitional reviews and eight trade policy reviews from the WTO, in which it has given honest answers to more than 10,000 questions raised by other WTO members. During the WTO’s eighth trade policy review of China alone, which was held at the end of October, the country answered over 2,500 questions from other WTO members.
Besides, China has served as a “night watchman” of the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism. The country has participated in nearly 200 lawsuits in the WTO. After the international organization’s dispute settlement mechanism was paralyzed, China, together with dozens of other WTO members including the European Union, established the multi-party interim appeal arbitration arrangement that opens to all members, endeavoring to safeguard the WTO’s two-tier dispute settlement system.
Over the last two decades, China has developed from a user of public goods to an important supplier of public goods on the WTO stage. It should be noted that China’s development is closely intertwined with the world’s prosperity. As China’s gross domestic product accounts for a larger proportion of the world’s total, the country voluntarily shoulders greater international responsibilities and provides more public goods.
As a close friend of the least developed countries (LDCs), China has provided funds and established the China’s LDCs and Accessions Program (the China Programme) together with the WTO Secretariat, in bid to support the LDCs in integrating into and benefitting from the multilateral trading system by helping them with capacity building and sharing experience with them. It has helped six LDCs accede to the WTO under the program.
China has been a supporter and advocate of the reform of the WTO. Back in 2018, the country already put forward specific proposals and suggestions for the reform of the WTO, and has explored new routes to making the WTO rules keep up with the times. It initiated the Friends of Investment Facilitation for Development (FIFD) and proposals for plastic pollution prevention and control, which have been joined by over 100 and more than 60 members respectively, making WTO rules more responsive to the needs of the times.
China is also a practitioner of the opening-up of markets. During the recently concluded negotiations on services domestic regulation, China, as a key participant, contributed to the success of the negotiations. It will implement the negotiations’ results on the basis of most-favored-nation treatment to further open the service market, which will benefit all WTO members.
Over the last two decades, China has fulfilled its commitments to the WTO and taken active actions, playing a constructive role in promoting the development of the international organization.
China has achieved an “A+” score in fulfilling its WTO commitments, noted Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the WTO.
During the WTO’s eighth trade policy review of China, representatives of many WTO members spoke for justice, acknowledged China’s contributions to the multilateral trading system, expressed gratitude to China for its selfless support for other countries in their COVID-19 responses, and looked forward to China’s bigger role in the WTO.
China will unswervingly safeguard true multilateralism, share market opportunities with the rest of the world, promote high-standard opening-up, and uphold the common interests of the world.
The country will continue to deliver even more brilliant performance on the WTO stage, advance the reform of the WTO in the right direction to make it meet the needs of the overall interests of its 164 members, and help all members benefit from the WTO.
(The author is China’s representative and ambassador to the WTO.)