China warns WTO facing 'existential crisis' amid US trade moves

Geneva (AFP) –


China on Monday blamed US policies for creating an "existential crisis" at the World Trade Organization, and urged reform of the body to help it withstand the pressure from Washington.

In a document posted on the WTO website, China cautioned that a range of recent "unilateralist and protectionist practices" had "undermined the authority and efficacy of the WTO".

"As a consequence, the organisation is facing an unprecedented existential crisis," it said.

China did not mention the United States by name, but it referred to a number of policies clearly associated with Washington.

Among other things, it warned that the decision by a "certain member" to use its national security as a pretext to impose "unwarranted tariffs on steel and aluminium", had "disturbed the international trade order and international market... and undermined the relevant rules of the WTO".

It also slammed the unnamed WTO member for taking "unilateralist measures of raising trade barriers and imposing import tariffs in an arbitrary way and without authorisation from the WTO".

The document was released amid new eruptions in the US-China trade war, despite ongoing discussions aiming to resolve the two countries' differences.

Beijing said earlier Monday it would raise tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods from June 1 in retaliation for the latest round of US tariff hikes on $200 billion worth in Chinese products.

US President Donald Trump had also ordered the start of a process to impose new duties on another $300 billion worth of Chinese items.

Trump, who began the standoff last year complaining about unfair Chinese trade practices, has specifically blasted the WTO for slighting US trade interests to the benefit of China.

In the document filed to the WTO, China said it supported "necessary reform of the WTO so as to overcome its existential crisis, enhance its authority and efficacy, and increase its relevance in terms of global economic governance."

It stressed the need to resolve several "urgent issues threatening the existence of the WTO".

In addition to the issues related to tariffs, it decried the blockage of the appointment of new judges to the appellate chamber at WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.

The appellate body, which offers a last resort to settle international trade disputes and avoid escalation between countries, normally counts seven judges.

But the number has gradually dwindled amid Washington's refusal to agree to fresh appointees, amid US complaints the body's arbitrators treat the US unfairly.

The Chinese document warned that if the blockage continues, there will be only one WTO appeals judge left in office by December.

"Such a situation would severely threaten the proper functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism and therefore pose an imminent and institutional risk to the Organization," it said.