Liam Fox: Urgent protection needed for the WTO’s existential crisis

Liam Fox has called for urgent action to protect the World Trade Organisation (WTO) from an “existential crisis”.

The International Trade Secretary spoke after visiting Japan to meet trade ministers from other G20 countries to discuss issues including steel overcapacity.

But Dr Fox, who is also president of the Board of Trade, said the agreement reached did not address “the scale nor urgency” of the challenges and urged partners to go further.

The International Trade Secretary highlighted how “unilateral action or tariff hikes” was making the current problems worse.

He said: “The WTO now faces one of the biggest tests since its establishment and, with all its functions under strain, it could become an existential crisis.

“So, the message from the UK is clear: urgent and drastic action must be taken to protect the global trading system as we know it.”

Dr Fox claimed the UK was leading the way in reducing trade tensions.

Warning of a “stalemate” in appointing independent adjudicators to the Appellate Body of the WTO, he called for a reduction in protectionism.

And he praised the work of the EU-US-Japan group in seeking to strengthen the rules on industrial subsidies to ensure trade is fair and open, as well as prioritising work to solve issues like steel overcapacity together.

He said: “The WTO’s dispute settlement system is suffering huge challenges, including a stalemate in the appointment of Appellate Body members.

“We need an urgent, viable solution to this issue, and I urge all WTO members to continue to engage constructively in the ongoing discussions.

“The UK continues to lead the way in calling for a firm commitment from G20 members to reduce trade tensions and fight protectionism in all its forms.”