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Trade tensions between the US and China continue to escalate and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the global forum of the management of trade rules and disputes, seems powerless to stop them. The WTO’s multilateral, rules-based trading system has underpinned huge increases in global prosperity since the 1960s. But shortcomings in investment rules and enforcement mean WTO reform is now top of the G20, US and EU agenda. Much of the drama stems from US accusations that the WTO has failed to hold China to account for not opening up its economy as promised when it joined the body in 2001. No reform, says US President Donald Trump, could see his country withdraw from the WTO. The US is seriously concerned about China’s attitude to intellectual property (IP) rights. The Trump administration claims Chinese theft of American companies’ proprietary knowledge, through cyber-attacks, counterfeiting, online piracy and forced technology transfer from investing companies has cost $50bn in corpo...

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