Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Editorial | A message for Mike Pompeo

Published:Friday | January 17, 2020 | 12:50 AM

When Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s global legate, comes on his two-day State visit next week, he must be made aware that Jamaica won’t be quiescent about the often irrational behaviours of the US president, too many of which threaten to wreck a global order in which small states, like this one, are reasonably assured of protection against the arbitrary actions of powerful ones.

Among the matters about which our concern must be made known is Mr Trump’s accelerated swinging of his wrecking ball against the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose survival has grown increasingly tenuous with America’s continued blockage of the appointment of judges to its dispute-settlement body, which rules on complaints of unfair trade practices between countries.

When the roster is full, there are seven of these judges, each of whom serves a four-year term. But like almost all decisions at the WTO, the naming of judges is by consensus. So, a single holdout can be disruptive. Even under former president, Barack Obama, the Americans, dissatisfied with how this dispute mechanism works, have slowed the appointment of judges.

But in the face of Mr Trump’s America-first ideology, which looks askance at multilateralism, Washington’s grievances against the WTO have hardened, including to appointing judges to the dispute resolution body, which requires a panel of three to hear cases. Last month, the terms of two of the remaining three judges came to an end. No replacements have been appointed. So, there is now one – and not a quorum – to hear, and rule on, disputes.

The result is that dispute settlement, which – apart from establishing global trade rules – is the raison d’être of the WTO, has ground to a halt. That is to the liking of Donald Trump.

For, despite 90 per cent of the more than 130 complaints it has tabled at the WTO being ruled in its favour, the United States, which is often repelled for many of its trade actions against other countries, claims bias in the dispute-resolution mechanism. More significantly, it complains, too, that the WTO rulings, in appeals against its actions, generally usurp US law; that they rely too much on precedent; and that many of the principles in the decisions went beyond what the United States signed up to.

Indeed, Mr Trump now often ignores the WTO and uses national security claims to impose tariff penalties on other countries, as well as seek bilateral trade deals, such as the one signed with China this week, outside the umbrella of the United States. In other words, rich, powerful nations can arrive at their own accommodations in a new fling at mercantilism.

This is bad for countries like Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, which, despite their concern over the WTO shortcomings in fashioning trade arrangements that adequately cover all their interests as small, vulnerable states, acknowledge the insulation, as they stressed at their 2018 summit in Montego Bay, that comes with “an inclusive, rules-based and transparent multilateral trading system under the WTO”.

NO COMMITMENT

This appreciation is not singular to the Caribbean and other small-island developing states. Indeed, the Ottawa Group convened by Canada – and including Australia, Brazil, Chile, European Union, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland – has been meeting for more than a year, discussing reforms to the WTO, rather than seeking its obliteration. Moreover, Canada and the EU, last year, agreed on a WTO-style dispute-resolution arrangement to get around America’s blockage of the formal system.

Fifteen months ago, this newspaper urged Jamaica, in its own right, and as CARICOM’s lead on trade negotiations, to, if not crash the Ottawa Group’s party, get close to their action. It’s in our interest to know the ingredients before imbibing any brew they offer.

With respect to Mike Pompeo, he is likely to come to Jamaica with a geopolitical message: warning us off China, and that we stay clear of Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela.

Our Government must listen politely without committing to anything – except that which we already have with Venezuela. There must be the riposte, too, about Mr Trump’s damage to the global order, including to the WTO, and the danger that poses to Jamaica.