The WTO should penalize “bad behavior when it occurs,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday ahead of a G7 leaders’ meeting in the UK 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 World Trade Organization 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 delivered in Australia’s west coast city of Perth before leaving for the G7 meeting in Cornwall, England.
The Australian government in December last year announced that it would ask the WTO to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects other nations to become involved in the case.
China in May last year effectively ended imports of Australian barley 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 COVID-19 pandemic.
The Geneva, Switzerland-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.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month said that the US would not leave Australia alone to face coercion from China, and that such behavior toward US allies would hamper improvement in relations between Washington and Beijing.
Morrison said in his speech 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,” Morrison said.
The G7 meeting “provides an opportunity to point a way forward” at a WTO ministerial conference on trade reforms in November, he said.
Japan and Australia yesterday said they had “serious concerns” about reported human rights abuses against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
In a joint statement, they also expressed concern about recent moves that they said weakened Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, and grave concerns about the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.
The meeting, between the foreign and defense ministers of both nations, took place via videoconferencing.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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