The EU’s WTO Case Against China Is More Than Just Symbolic

The EU’s WTO Case Against China Is More Than Just Symbolic
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talks during an online press conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Sept. 14, 2020 (AP photo by Yves Herman).

The European Union has launched a case at the World Trade Organization against China over what Brussels describes as Beijing’s “discriminatory trade practices” toward Lithuania. By doing so, the bloc joins a growing list of countries, including Australia and the United States, seeking to hold China accountable via the multilateral trading system.

But with the WTO’s dispute settlement system in disarray due to longstanding procedural obstacles put in place by the Trump administration, the WTO currently lacks the ability to resolve commercial disputes in the absence of a spirit of compromise among the parties involved. So the EU’s move in some ways resembles more of a symbolic gesture than an attempt to create an effective deterrent to economic coercion.

“Launching a WTO case is not a step we take lightly,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s trade commissioner, said in a statement. But Dombrovskis further noted that repeated attempts to resolve the issue bilaterally have failed to yield progress, adding, “We see no other way forward than to request WTO dispute settlement consultations with China.”

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