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American Shipper

Froman: WTO is a baseline, not end-all

Michael Froman, the former U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), said at a symposium on trade enforcement Wednesday the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would have built momentum for stronger trade enforcement globally.

   Former U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman said Wednesday that the United States shouldn’t view the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the bar by which to measure the effectiveness of trade enforcement.
   Froman, now a distinguished fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations, was the USTR when the United States negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement that was abandoned in January by President Donald Trump.
   Speaking at a symposium in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Froman argued that the WTO should provide a baseline for other agreements.
   “The WTO and the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) before it, those are agreements of the lowest common denominator to get everyone to agree to,” he said. “And often times, those obligations aren’t as strong as we would like. They form a baseline, which is important, below which countries aren’t allowed to fall.”
   Froman said that structure is ideally used to raise standards through other mechanisms, like plurilateral agreements.
   “That was certainly the goal of the TPP,” he said. “Use the fact that you have a group of countries – developed, developing, large, small, critical mass, 40 percent of the global economy – who could collectively agree on a set of rules that go beyond the WTO, on state-owned enterprises, labor, environment, intellectual property rights, the digital economy. And begin to create momentum to raise the standard of multilaterals as well.”
   Froman said current U.S. dissatisfaction with the WTO enforcement mechanism is misplaced.
   “The enforcement tools are only as good as the underlying obligations that they seek to enforce, and if those obligations are not terribly well defined, they’re ambiguous, or if they’re of a relatively modest standard, there’s going to be frustration,” he said. “And that’s why agreements like TPP were and are so important. Because they seek to raise that standard, and oh, by the way, strengthen the enforcement mechanisms as well.”

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