Boao Forum speakers call for upholding multilateralism as "protectionism doesn't protect"

2024-03-28 09:48:19 | Author:xinhua | Source:xinhua 2024-03-27

A panel discussion themed on "Confronting Fragmentation in Global Trade" is held during the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024 in Boao, south China's Hainan Province, March 26, 2024. (Xinhua/Zhang Liyun)

BOAO, Hainan, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Participants at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024 have called on countries to uphold trade multilateralism and oppose protectionism.

In recent years, globalization and trade multilateralism have faced some headwinds due to slowing economies and domestic politics in some countries, giving rise to trade protectionism that threatens the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"The WTO has been marginalized, and I think the most urgent task today is how countries can work together to strengthen the function of the WTO and carry out some necessary reforms," said Long Yongtu, China's former chief negotiator for entry into the WTO, during a panel discussion.

Carlos M. Gutierrez, BFA board member and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, said at the panel discussion that the U.S. has a lot of responsibility for the trend of de-globalization prevalent in the world today, given the fact that the U.S. has adopted what he calls "political nationalism," as reflected by "Buy America" and "Bring jobs back to America."

"We cannot have these individual nationalistic policies, because they go against globalization," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez emphasized that there has to be a commitment to respecting institutions, adding that the WTO is a worldwide institution and that leaders of countries have to make it clear that the WTO is important.

Gutierrez also said the United States has to believe that a prosperous world is good for the U.S. as "protectionism doesn't protect."

In the process of globalization, the issue of the "share of the pie" among different nations can be negotiated and solved through mechanisms like the WTO, said Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization.

"But if all the people stop making the pie together by staying in small yards and behind high walls, we will lose out in terms of prosperity and development," Wang said.

Meanwhile, in Long's view, the WTO should strengthen its function of setting up global trade rules for new global issues, like cross-border e-commerce and digital trade.

Wong Kan Seng, former deputy prime minister of Singapore, expressed similar viewpoints. The WTO's function of setting up rules and upholding trade multilateralism is very important, said Wong, urging that the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism should be restored soon.

"No one benefits from having a closed market," Wong said.

Justin Yifu Lin, dean of the Institute of New Structural Economics at Peking University, criticized some countries for using international trade as a scapegoat for domestic problems, such as high unemployment, a slowing economy, and a dwindling middle class.

"Now some developed countries have begun to impose restrictions after losing manufacturing competitiveness, thus making it more difficult to push globalization," Lin observed.

Lin called for solidarity among developing countries to continue promoting the international trading system under the WTO. "Despite the difficulty, the target could still be reached with unity and solidarity."

At a time when the multilateral trading system is not fully functional, some countries are turning to suboptimal solutions, such as regional free trade agreements. But in Long's view, "regional cooperation would not fully replace the global mechanism."

Over the years, China has always been a staunch supporter of multilateralism.

China, as the largest developing WTO member, has always firmly supported the multilateral trading system, genuinely practiced multilateralism, and earnestly fulfilled its WTO commitments, China's Ministry of Commerce said earlier this year.  ■