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WTO members say US actions threaten trade body’s credibility

Urgent, coordinated action needed to address challenges

By Reuters - Mar 20,2018 - Last updated at Mar 20,2018

Roberto Azevedo, director general of the World Trade Organisation and India's Trade Minister Suresh Prabhu (left) leave after a news conference in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday (Reuters photo)

NEW DELHI — Nearly 50 countries expressed concern on Tuesday to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about the "serious threat" posed by unilateral trade actions, a pointed reference to US import tariffs that have caused a global outcry.

Delivering concluding remarks after a two-day informal meeting of the WTO members in New Delhi, Indian Trade Minister Suresh Prabhu did not refer to the United States by name.

He said members expressed deep concern over the "serious threat" posed to the credibility of the WTO, particularly on its principle of "non-discrimination" following the cycle of recent unilateral trade measures.

"In some interventions, the need for WTO members taking urgent and coordinated action to address the underlying issues was highlighted," Prabhu said.

"It was recognised by almost all the participants that it is the collective responsibility of WTO members to address the challenges facing the system and putting it back on a steady and meaningful way forward so that it continues to serve the people of our countries."

Calling for a united front to respond to the US tariffs, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said the recent unilateral trade measures have the potential to escalate tensions.

"We heard today, many, many countries saying we have a concern over this. There is a potential of escalation. We should try to work in the framework of WTO," Azevedo said. 

Separately, Prabhu told reporters that the United States was committed to the World Trade Organisation, even though Washington has raised concerns about the functioning of the WTO and asked for reforms.

US President Donald Trump has pressed ahead with import tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent for aluminum, but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier "no-exceptions" stance. 

Prabhu also said India will bilaterally discuss import curbs on steel with the United States.

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