US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.


Minister: ‘Mind-blowing’ prospects for Saudi mining

Updated 25 January 2020

Minister: ‘Mind-blowing’ prospects for Saudi mining

  • Bandar Alkhorayef, the Kingdom’s minister for industry, says multibillion riyal program underway

DAVOS: The opportunities presented by Saudi Arabia’s mining industry are “mind-blowing,” the country’s minister for industry and mineral resources told Arab News.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bandar Alkhorayef — who was appointed to the newly created post last summer — said many of the Kingdom’s mineral resources were “untapped,” and that a multibillion-riyal investment program was now underway to find and exploit new sources of natural wealth.

Saudi Arabia has launched a five-year geological survey of its natural resources, hoping to identify and quantify new wealth in the form of gold, phosphates and other valuable minerals.

Some experts believe that the Kingdom could be a source of precious earth metals valued in hi-tech production processes.

If these are found in significant quantities, it could help stimulate domestic high-tech manufacturing processes in Saudi Arabia.

“The government has linked mining with industry. We’ll export raw materials of course, but we’re more interested in the wider value chain,” Alkhorayef said.

A new mining law will soon be enacted, allowing for a revamped regulatory regime in the mining industry, and new investment in mining infrastructure that could reach tens of billions of riyals, he said, adding: “It shows you how serious we are about the mining industry.”

He joined the government after 26 years at the top of private sector business, with the Alkhorayef Group industrial conglomerate.

“The core of the Vision 2030 strategy is to diversify the economy, and industry and mining are key parts of that. My view as a minister is to be an enabler for the transformation of those sectors,” he said.

A key agency is the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, which aims to distribute funds to the private sector to encourage expansion.

Its available capital has been increased from SR65 billion ($17.3 billion) to $100 billion, and its mandate has changed to cover new industrial and technological sectors, Alkhorayef said.

“Both industry and mining are capital intensive and need long-term stability and visibility. Our aim is to be profitable in order to compensate investors for the risk they take,” he added.

 

“Investors always look at risk and return, and they make decisions based on that. Our vision is to open up opportunities for local and foreign investors.”

His ministry is also closely involved in the rollout of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, the big strategy to transform the Saudi economy launched a year ago by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.

“It’s going great,” Alkhorayef said. Two zones have already been opened in Riyadh and Jeddah, and there are further projects under review.

He met with investors in the logistics sector while in Davos, and further investment is expected.

He said in Saudi Arabia’s case, the advantages presented to investors by the Kingdom’s natural resources, demographics and geographical location outweigh any geopolitical risk.

Alkhorayef added that it is relatively risk-free in terms of currency fluctuations because of the dollar peg and freedom of capital. “I worked in a global company, so I understand those kinds of risks,” he said.

Decoder

Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics Program

The National Industrial Development and Logistics Program aims to transform the Saudi economy by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.