Australian PM: WTO needs mending to keep up with the times

SINGAPORE — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that the World Trade Organization needs mending to keep up with the times.

Morrison said many leaders attending the Group of 20 summit in Osaka later this month share the view.

"There is a strong consensus about the need to modernize the WTO and its rules," he said.

"We need to mend it, we don't need to break it, and mending it requires a lot of partnership," he added. "Just now it's the technical practical things that need to get done."

Morrison, who spoke at a lunch organized by the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, didn't go into the specifics of what needed to change.

But he referred to a "very practical" speech by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at an annual security conference last week.

Lee said multilateral institutions like the WTO were "far from perfect" and in need of reform.

"Multilateral global deals like the Uruguay Round are no longer practical, when agreement requires a full consensus among 164 member countries of hugely diverse interests and philosophies," he said.

"Furthermore, the WTO was designed for an agricultural and manufacturing-based world economy, but the world has moved on to services and now increasingly digital and intellectual property, which need much more complicated rules," Lee added.

Morrison is on his first overseas trip after a shock election victory in May. It includes stops at the Solomon Islands, Britain and Singapore.

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