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President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before signing a U.S. China trade agreement President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before signing a U.S. China trade agreement, in the East Room of the White House, Washington, Jan. 15, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S.-China Tensions and Pandemic Fallout Collide in the Race to Lead the WTO

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The global, rules-based trading system that the United States helped to create after World War II is in deep trouble. President Donald Trump had already spent the past three years sparking trade wars and undermining the World Trade Organization. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, hammering economies and sharply reducing trade flows worldwide. Panicked governments, including in Washington, have imposed export restrictions on critical medical supplies and, in some cases, food. To make things even worse, the White House has blocked the normal process for settling trade disputes, just when it is needed most.

Because of the concerns about hosting large events while the novel coronavirus is still spreading, the WTO in April cancelled its biennial ministerial conference scheduled for this month. It is where members typically make important decisions and set the agenda for the next two years. In a further disruption, in May, the WTO’s director-general, Roberto Azevedo of Brazil, announced that he would be leaving his post at the end of August, cutting his second term short by a year. ...

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