According to trade sources quoted in media reports, Western countries are declining to interact with Russia at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva in a coordinated strategy that has already stalled discussions in a variety of sectors. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, followed by economic isolation as a result of Western sanctions, is the latest setback in the WTO’s efforts to reestablish rules-based commerce in the face of rising protectionism.
Trade delegations are now concerned that a June 13 conference of trade ministers, which was originally scheduled for 2020 but was thrice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, may fail to produce agreements.
“There are WTO members who do not want to negotiate with Russia,” said Hamid Mamdouh, an ex-WTO official and trade lawyer in Geneva. “The longer the war drags on, the more disruptive it will be to the work of the WTO.”
Washington and its G7 colleagues have already indicated that Russia’s “most favoured nation” status, under which countries pledge to treat each other as equal commercial partners, is being revoked, as well as their support for Belarus’s eventual entrance.
Russia, for its part, has accused the West of attempting to “completely dismantle” the global economic system.
Tensions have damaged the trade watchdog’s day-to-day operations beneath the barbed exchanges.
The European Union, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, according to one delegate from a Western country, are among those not engaging with Russia at the WTO. Official requests for comment were not responded to by those missions.
“We refuse to engage bilaterally or in the context of smaller groups,” the source said.
According to the trade sources, the strategy has so far damaged negotiations on fisheries, agriculture, e-commerce, and investment facilitation, with meetings either postponed or never arranged.
“Many governments have raised objections to what is happening in Ukraine and these objections have manifested themselves in a lack of engagement with the member concerned,” WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell said.
The 27-year-old body was already under pressure to establish its significance before Russia’s operations in Ukraine.
With its main dispute resolution body paralysed since 2019 due to former US President Donald Trump’s resistance to its methods and no significant global trade agreement in years, some regard the June conference as a last chance to redeem itself.
WTO ministerials are held every two years, but due to Covid, officials postponed the 2020 meeting until November 2021, only to have the plot thwarted by the Omicron wave.
A day before Russia’s invasion, a new date was set.
“The cumulative effect (of the problems) could lead the WTO to a breaking point,” said Mamdouh.
(Adapted from Koppr.com)