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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 11)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:17 December 11, 2019

Trump cripples WTO

Twenty-four years after its birth as the global arbitrator of trade disputes, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is nearing collapse because of American sabotage. Worldwide commerce, which has already been thrown into chaos due to the U.S.-China trade war, will hardly be able to avoid the additional shock. Hit hardest will be countries like Korea that live on exports, as it will have to struggle to survive in the judgeless jungle of international trade.

According to reports, the Appellate Body, a seven-member panel of the WTO that hears appeals in trade disputes, will lose its function Tuesday as it has failed to meet the minimum quorum of three members. Under a system that requires the unanimity of 164 member nations, the U.S. has refused to fill the vacant seats since the protectionist Donald Trump administration took office two years ago. The incapacitation of the body is threatening the existence of the WTO itself. The international community ought to pool their wisdom quickly to keep the dispute settlement body from being skeletonized.

The WTO, launched in 1995 to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), has championed free and fair trade order based on its quasi-judicial authority. However, the WTO-led global trade system began to unravel when China emerged as the world's second-largest economy, making the most of its developing country status. President Trump has complained that Beijing used nontariff barriers, state subsidies and exchange rate manipulation to amass a colossal trade surplus with America, shifting away from the WTO's multilateral trade rules to bilateral agreements based on his country's enormous economic power.

Other WTO members are likely to set up an informal appeals process. Still, there will be limitations to the new system if Washington boycotts it. Korea, which has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the WTO system, should go all-out to help normalize its dispute-settling function. On the other hand, it needs to beef up efforts together with major partners to expand bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. No less critical, Seoul also ought to pay keen attention to Washington's moves seeking to create a new trade order in pursuit of its self-interest.

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