International trade must be ‘reshaped’ to improve multilateralism

1 Jun 18

The international trade system must be ‘reshaped’ to forge stronger ties between countries moving towards a common goal, a panel at this year’s OECD Forum has said.

Ministers from around the world called for countries to come together and transform the current system and tackle ‘challenges’, such as protectionism, at the event in Paris on Wednesday.       

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said: “We share some of the worries expressed, for example, by the United States over the faulty workings of certain multilateral agencies.”

He named the World Trade Organisation as one of these organisations.

“This organisation is needed[but] it should be profoundly rethought,” he added.

French president Emmanuel Macron also called for the WTO to be reformed and to improve international trade, as threats of trade wars are looming, in a separate keynote speech at the OECD Forum on Wednesday.  

“We should neither give up the current system nor believe that it is perfect. We need to transform it,” he said

The WTO makes it possible to “fight on fair competition” but it should be “reshaped”, he said.

The president added that unilateral solutions and threats of trade wars will not fix the issues facing international trade.

He said: “A trade war is a war that everybody loses.”

In the panel on Wednesday, the finance minister of Norway Siv Jensen said that trade had huge benefit to countries around the world and a multilateral framework is essential.

She said: “Trade creates opportunities and jobs, but to meet the challenges we must collaborate.”

The panel also said that a strong and fair global trading system was essential for an open economy.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross told the panel: “By its very nature, trade is multilateral.”

But he added that the US tends to favour bilateral agreements over multilateral.

He added that multilateral agreements currently take too long, are too complex and often entail compromises that are not in the best interest of both sides.

“Too often multilateral organisation become an excuse for people to say they are fixing the problems in the systems but what they are doing is rescheduling a meeting three months down the road,” Ross said.

The US announced on Thursday that they will impose additional duties of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium on the EU, Canada and Mexico, starting 1 June.

EU leaders had expressed concern following the Trump administration proposed steel tariffs, which the bloc wants to be exempt from.

Dutch foreign trade and development minister Sigrid Kaag said in a different session that the EU would not “negotiate under threat”.

“EU leaders have expressed the expectation that there should be an unlimited exemption,” she added.

The OECD also called for global reforms to ensure the current strength of the global economy is sustainable as risks, including trade tensions, are looming.  


Public Finance International was a media partner for this year’s OECD Forum.

Did you enjoy this article?

Related articles

Have your say

CIPFA latest

Related jobs