UK calls for end to ‘pernicious’ trade practices, in apparent swipe at China

File photo. UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, 18 September 2019. [Lukas Coch/EPA/EFE]

Britain said it will push G7 allies at talks on Wednesday (31 March) to do more to ban “pernicious practices” in trade, such as forced labour and intellectual property theft, in an apparent call for a tougher line towards China at the World Trade Organization.

Trade minister Liz Truss will host her G7 counterparts and the new head of the WTO, using Britain’s platform as current president of the group of rich countries to promote post-Brexit Britain as a leading free-trade advocate.

“People cannot believe in free trade if it is not fair,” Truss said in a statement before the meeting.

“Public trust has been corroded by pernicious practices, from the use of forced labour to environmental degradation and the stealing of intellectual property.”

Although Truss did not mention China directly in the statement, the issues she described are all issues Britain has raised in connection with China in the past. Beijing denies that it steals intellectual property, unfairly hurts the environment or improperly trades goods made with forced labour.

Since leaving the European Union and pinning its economic future on global trade, Britain has stepped up criticism of China’s trade practices.

UK condemns Chinese 'barbarism' against Uighur minority

Britain on Tuesday (12 January) accused China of human rights violations amounting to “barbarism” against its Uighur minority, as it announced new rules to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labour.

Other G7 allies, including US President Joe Biden, agree on the need to reform the WTO and to address China’s rising global influence.

The ministers will be joined on the call by recently-elected WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who inherited an organisation that has struggled to enforce and modernise its rule book.

China, a WTO member since 2001, has expressed confidence in her leadership and also said it wants reforms and a more effective trading system.

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