Cybertheft of intellectual property – do there need to be greater trade deterrents?

Cybertheft is a tremendous problem for governments, companies and individuals. While actors in the space are pursuing a range of objectives, this post looks at cybertheft of intellectual property and its effects on industry. Thus, the huge losses incurred by governments and by individuals outside of the business arena are not addressed nor are the misinformation campaigns of recent years.

In 2011, The Council on Foreign Relations published an interview with Dmitri Alperovitch, then McAfee’s vice president of threat research. The interview was titled “Cybertheft and the U.S. Economy”. See Council on Foreign Relations, Cybertheft and the U.S. Economy, August 11, 2011, https://www.cfr.org/interview/cybertheft-and-us-economy. The summary introduction paragraph summed up the situation as follows:

“In August 2011, the cybersecurity firm McAfee released an eye-opening report (PDF) detailing its investigation into a multi-year, most likely state-sponsored cyberattack that includes intrusions into the U.S. federal government and defense contractors, resulting in the theft of massive stores of intellectual property. The report’s author and McAfee’s vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch, describes these attacks, known as Operation Shady RAT, as a profound threat, indicative of a larger trend that may result in ‘the complete destruction’ of the U.S. economy. Rather than focus on the potential for a theoretical ‘cyber Pearl Harbor,’ he says that U.S. policymakers should use all of the nation’s power to stem the steady theft of national secrets.”

A 2019 report prepared by Price Waterhouse Cooper for the European Commission examined the scope of the cybertheft problem for businesses in the EU. See PWC, Study on the Scale and Impact of Industrial Espionage and Theft of Trade Secrets through Cyber, 2019, https://www.pwc.com/it/it/publications/docs/study-on-the-scale-and-Impact.pdf. The estimated cost to EU industry was summarized in the conclusion on the last page:

“Estimates of February 2018 provide details of the negative impacts at the European level of cyber theft of trade secrets: about €60 billion lost in economic growth, resulting in a loss of competitiveness, jobs and reduced R&D investments. More specifically, 289,000 jobs could be at risk in 2018 in Europe and 1 million jobs could be at risk by Stakeholders emphasized that direct impacts account for about 10% of costs the company will have to face. Therefore, the remaining 90% of costs are due to indirect impacts that are effectively measured and assessed 5-6 years after the cyber-intrusion.”

There have been many other reports looking at the costs and problems from cyber theft. See, e.g., U.S. Department of Justice, REPORT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S CYBER DIGITAL TASK FORCE, 2018, https://www.justice.gov/archives/ag/page/file/1076696/download.

But efforts at cybertheft have continued and intensified. See, e.g., New York Times, U.S. Accuses Hackers of Trying to Steal Coronavirus Vaccine Data for China, July 20, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/politics/china-hacking-coronavirus-vaccine.html, (“The Justice Department accused a pair of Chinese hackers on Tuesday of targeting vaccine development on behalf of the country’s intelligence service as part of a broader yearslong campaign of global cybertheft aimed at industries such as defense contractors, high-end manufacturing and solar energy companies.”).

Existing deterrents

Theft of intellectual property and other cybertheft actions face civil and criminal penalties in many countries, including the U.S. and other WTO Members. U.S. law also permits blockage of imports that violate IP holders rights (e.g., patents). The WTO since its launch in 1995 has had a Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, which incorporates provisions from a range of IP conventions, and requires WTO Members to provide adequate enforcement of such rights. The WTO has dispute settlement provisions which permit challenging trading partners who are not enforcing intellectual property rights. In addition, the U.S. has worked through its Special 301 authority to work with governments where the U.S. doesn’t perceive adequate enforcement occurring. It has also entered into bilateral agreements (e.g., U.S.-China Phase I Agreement) to address enforcement concerns including on cybertheft of intellectual property.

Despite these tools and the vast sums spent by industry trying to protect its intellectual property, the problems continue and in many ways are intensifying.

Experts like Dmitri Alperovitch have put forward a series of proposals for U.S. Congressional and Executive Branch action in 2022 to improve the situation for U.S. companies. See January 14, 2022 email from Silverado Policy Accelerator, Inc. (Mr. Alperovitch is Co-founder and Executive Chairman), Silverado’s 2022 Cybersecurity Policy Priorities for the Legislative and Executive Branches. The contents of the email are copied below (NOTE: I serve as one of a number of strategic advisors to Silverado but was not involved on the cybersecurity issues).

“To the friends of Silverado Policy Accelerator,

“The past year witnessed several notable bipartisan policy advances in the cyber arena. In March, Congress authorized $1 billion for the Technology Modernization Fund as part of the bipartisan American Rescue Plan to support new investments in federal agencies’ cybersecurity infrastructure. In May, the Biden administration released its Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity, which included provisions to increase security standards for vendors who supply high-risk software through the government acquisition process and a number of critical technology implementation requirements that raise the bar for security across federal government networks. Finally, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in November, included $1.9 billion for a range of cyber-related investments. 

“Although these bipartisan initiatives collectively represent a historic investment in the nation’s cybersecurity, there is much still to do to ensure that government agencies—as well as American companies and organizations—are protected from cyber attacks. As the legislative and executive branches look ahead to the coming calendar year, Silverado Policy Accelerator has compiled its own list of six policy priorities that deserve particular attention in 2022 (included below).

“Additionally, please join us tomorrow, January 13 from 9:00-10:00 am ET as Silverado’s Co-Founder and Executive Chairman Dmitri Alperovitch sits down with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Congressman John Katko (R-NY), DHS Under Secretary for Policy Robert Silvers, and the FBI Cyber Division’s Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran to hear their perspectives on cybersecurity policy priorities for the coming year. You can register for tomorrow’s event here.

“A recording of tomorrow’s event will be available on Silverado’s website following the live broadcast. 

“* * *

Silverado’s 2022 Cybersecurity Policy Priorities for the Legislative and Executive Branches 

1. Passage of a comprehensive federal cyber incident reporting law

“In light of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act not including provisions requiring companies to report hacks and ransom payments to the government, Congress should consider alternative paths to enacting a mandatory cyber incident reporting requirement in 2022. Such a law should require major private companies, including critical infrastructure entities, to report technical indicators associated with breach attempts to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).  CISA should also build the architecture to immediately pass the information on to other agencies with a need to know, such as the FBI and sector-specific relevant agencies. Rapid access to these incident reports by CISA and FBI, among others, is necessary to allow the government to have a clear view into adversary campaigns targeting the U.S. and to support timely federal action. Such legislation is critical to provide insights to the government about the true nature of the threat to the private sector in order to take appropriate deterrent action (criminal investigation, cyber offense, sanctions, etc), as well as to help warn and notify other victims or vulnerable organizations who may not be aware that they had been targeted.

2. Provide CISA with the appropriate authorities and resources to eventually become the operational federal CISO, or Chief Information Security Office, for the civilian federal government (excluding DoD and IC)

“Congress took an important step toward centralizing federal cybersecurity strategy by creating CISA in DHS in 2018, but the next step is to give CISA both the authority and the resources that it needs to effectively execute its mission. The long-term goal for CISA should be to evolve into an operational cybersecurity shared services provider for most civilian federal government agencies, taking over fully or partially their cybersecurity operations. Achieving this objective would result in streamlined and more effective cybersecurity efforts, centralized accountability and a higher standard for security across the government.

“Congress should support CISA’s ongoing efforts in the following ways: 

  • Provide CISA with the resources and authority to create a 24/7 threat hunting operation center to search for intrusions on federal networks. 
  • Authorize CISA to conduct a trial in which it assumes responsibility for running cybersecurity operations of a small executive agency. The trial would allow the government to gauge what sort of additional resources CISA would need to be able to evolve into an operational Chief Information Security Office (CISO) for the civilian federal government.
  • Create budgetary and FISMA compliance incentives for federal agencies to outsource their cybersecurity operations to CISA, turning it into a Shared Service Provider for cybersecurity.
  • Provide CISA with the appropriations that are commensurate with its growing importance by reallocating resources from agencies that opt into the Shared Service Provider model. 

3. Adopt speed and outcome-based metrics to measure agencies’ response time to cyber threats

“In cyberspace, the only way to reliably defeat an adversary is to be faster than they are. For this reason, Congress should require federal agencies to adopt speed-metrics that measure agencies’ response to cyber threats based on the time it takes to begin and complete fundamental defensive tasks. ​

“Through legislation, Congress could require agencies to adopt speed-based metrics by mandating that they collect data on the average time it takes to perform three fundamental defensive actions: (1) detecting an incident; (2) responding to an incident; and (3) fully mitigating the risk of high-impact vulnerabilities. Taking these measurements should be as simple as recording the times of the initial discovery of the event (intrusion or vulnerability) and the time when the investigation or mitigation action is finished. Thus, it should require minimal additional resources to implement. Congress could also include a “recoverability metric” to measure agencies’ ability to recover data in the event of a ransomware attack or major cyber incident.

“Over time, these metrics would provide objective and diachronic measurement of an agencies’ incident response capabilities that they could report to CISA, OMB, and the relevant oversight committees in Congress. If the metrics prove effective at driving the right behavior to decrease agencies’ response time to cyber threats, Congress should also consider models to extend their adoption by the private sector.

“In addition to these fundamental intrusion and mitigation metrics, CISA should also be given the authority to develop new metrics beyond these fundamental intrusion and mitigation ones to respond to changes in the threat and defense landscape. To incentivize agencies to drive down the times it takes to discover and respond to intrusions or vulnerabilities, CISA should also implement a civilian-government-wide annual awards program to publicly acknowledge agencies and their leaders who achieve the best metrics.

4. Strengthen the executive branch’s authority to sanction foreign cryptocurrency exchanges that fail to comply with basic “Know Your Customers” and anti-money laundering requirements

“Ransomware criminals rely on widely-available and largely anonymous cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments each year and to launder ransom payments into fiat currencies without risk of disclosing their identities to victims or law enforcement. Although U.S.-based exchanges are required by law to comply with robust “Know Your Customer” (KYC) and other anti-money laundering regulations, foreign exchanges have been slow to adopt similar requirements. The lack of widespread compliance undermines the efficacy of the U.S.’s and other like-minded governments’ efforts to clean up the global cyber ecosystem, since malicious actors can easily circumvent security requirements simply by using less secure foreign exchanges.

“The United States should pursue a two-pronged strategy to level the international playing field. First, it should work with existing and new trading partners to ensure they have adequate KYC and AML safeguards in place for cryptocurrency exchanges based in their jurisdictions. Second, the executive branch should explore its ability to sanction foreign cryptocurrency exchanges that fail to comply with minimum KYC and other anti-money laundering requirements or that refuse to cooperate with U.S. law-enforcement on investigations. 

“The Treasury Department currently has broad authority to sanction specific foreign exchanges based on evidence that they cooperate with prohibited nations or entities, but it does not have the authority to sanction exchanges for non-compliance with KYC and AML regulations. Granting them such authority explicitly would likely encourage foreign institutions to implement these regulations in order to avoid the prospect of sanctions.

5. Incorporate cyber-specific details into OFAC’s SDN list

“The most difficult task facing many foreign cyber threat actors is procuring anonymous, reliable, fast, and long-lasting infrastructure (such as domains and cloud servers) to support malicious cyber attacks. These actors frequently go to great lengths—including registering shell companies and developing complex anonymous payment mechanisms—to disguise their activity, since using stolen bank accounts and credit cards for payment often results in the rapid shutdown of their infrastructure once the chargebacks start being reported. In addition, threat actors are increasingly taking advantage of legal constraints on the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to monitor domestic networks to gain access to the U.S.-based cyber infrastructure needed to carry out attacks against both private sector companies and U.S. government agencies. 

“The United States needs stronger mechanisms to deter cyber threat actors from leveraging U.S.-based cyber infrastructure to carry out cyber attacks. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) already maintains a Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN), but the list only contains names of cyber criminals and other threat actors and does not include bank account information, credit card numbers or cryptocurrency wallets. As a consequence, the list is not always effective at identifying and blocking cyber threat actors, who almost always use fake names to procure infrastructure. 

“The Treasury Department should consider how to add these other identifying financial elements to the SDN to allow payment processors and cryptocurrency exchanges to block adversary-initiated transactions at the point of sale.

6. Require threat hunting on Defense Industrial Base (DIB) networks

“In March of 2020, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission recommended that Congress direct regulatory action that the executive branch could pursue in order to require companies that make up the Defense Industrial Base, as part of the terms of their contract with DoD, to create a mechanism for mandatory threat hunting on DIB networks. This recommendation was partially authorized in Section 1739 of the FY21 NDAA, but that article only required DoD to conduct an assessment on the feasibility and suitability of a DIB threat-hunting program without requiring DoD to establish the program after the report is issued. Congress should pass the necessary legislation to fulfill the intent of the initial proposal and enable DoD to execute threat hunting operations on the networks of cleared defense contractors that hold sensitive national security information.”

Are other trade remedies needed?

When the only remedies available to companies are individual or company specific and require the cooperation of the country from which cybertheft is occurring (if offshore), there is often a reluctance of companies who have been harmed to identify the problem or pursue legal actions. Fear of retaliation by foreign governments can also reduce the willingness of companies to defend their commercial interests in such situations.

This raises the question whether broader-based remedies should be available to deter such activity and provide a major incentive better behavior by trading partners where such conduct is not being addressed adequately.

For example, where a country provides notice to a trading partner of problems and there is no resolution in a relatively short period (e.g., 90 days), should the complaining party block imports of products in the same general category, prohibit investments in the sector, and/or other actions?

If the cybertheft from companies appears to be for the benefit of a foreign government or at the direction of a foreign government, should there be a loss of MFN treatment for the sector or more broadly?

The concerns around cybertheft could be addressed within the WTO or within bilateral or regional agreements. Considering the length of time that cybertheft has been harming many economies, unilateral action may be warranted pending broader agreement.

Is it time for a new approach to bilateral trade with China?

Press accounts last week reviewed new record merchandise trade surpluses for China with the world and a growing trade surplus with the United States despite the Section 301 tariffs and other actions which reduced the bilateral trade deficit in 2019 and 2020 from the figures in 2018. See Reuters, China posts record trade surplus in Dec and 2021 on robust exports, January 14, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/currencies/chinas-exports-imports-grow-more-slowly-december-2022-01-14/ (“The trade surplus hit $676.43 billion in 2021, the highest since records started in 1950, up from $523.99 billion in 2020, according to data from the statistics bureau.” “China’s hefty trade surplus with the United States, a key source of contention between the world’s two biggest economies, hit $39.23 billion in December, widening from $36.95 billion the month before, but below this year’s high of $42 billion in September.”). While U.S. trade data are not yet available for December, the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China for eleven months of 2021 was $319.151 billion, suggesting full year deficit with China of more than $358 billion — reversing the declining deficits of the last several years with China.

For the U.S., 2021 will be the first year where the trade deficit in goods exceeds $1 trillion dollars. So while the U.S. has significant deficits with a number of countries, for the Biden Administration and Congress, the most concerning aspect of the deficit is the effect of distortions flowing from China’s economic system, one that is at odds with the U.S. market-based system and not consistent with WTO basic principles.

I have in prior posts reviewed the incompatability of the Chinese economic system with WTO norms. I have also provided the views of a former WTO Deputy Director-General on the importance of convergence of economic systems as opposed to coexistence, and the views of trade officials in the U.S. and EU on challenges posed by Chna’s economic system. See, e.g., December 11, 2021:  20 Years of China’s Membership in the WTO — a brief critique, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/11/20-years-of-chinas-membership-in-the-wto-a-brief-critique/; October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/; April 8, 2021:  USTR 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers — areas of concern with a focus on China, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/ustr-2021-national-trade-estimate-report-on-foreign-trade-barriers-areas-of-concern-with-a-focus-on-china/; March 31, 2021:  “Blowing up the trading system” — Clyde Prestowitz’s suggested way for the world to move forward in light of China’s economic system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/blowing-up-the-trading-system-clyde-prestowitzs-suggested-way-for-the-world-to-move-forward-in-light-of-chinas-economic-system/; March 29, 2021:  China and the WTO – remarks by Dennis C. Shea to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/29/china-and-the-wto-remarks-by-dennis-c-shea-to-the-coalition-for-a-prosperous-america/; January 17, 2021, USTR on January 14, 2021 released its 2020 report to Congress on China’s WTO compliance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/17/ustr-on-january-14-2021-releases-its-2020-report-to-congress-on-chinas-wto-compliance/; November 10, 2020:  The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/; August 24, 2020:  USTR Lighthizer’s Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal – How to Set World Trade Straight, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/24/ustr-lighthizers-op-ed-in-the-wall-street-journal-how-to-set-world-trade-straight/; July 25, 2020:  A new WTO without China?  The July 20, 2020 Les Echos opinion piece by Mogens Peter Carl, a former EC Director General for Trade and then Environment, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/25/a-new-wto-without-china-the-july-20-2020-les-echos-opinion-piece-by-mogens-peter-carl-a-former-ec-director-general-for-trade-and-then-environment/.

As has been reviewed in annual USTR reviews of China’s compliance with WTO commitments, the challenges faced by China’s trading partners are many and largely unaddressed despite efforts through dispute settlement, through bilateral negotiations and otherwise. The U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement resulted in minimal affirmative movement in U.S. exports to China and there are open issues in terms of China’s implementation and enforcement of other commitments. See, e.g., Peterson Institute for International Economics, December 23, 2021, US-China phase one tracker: China’s purchases of US goods, As of November 2021, https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/us-china-phase-one-tracker-chinas-purchases-us-goods. While there were increases in U.S. exports to China over 2017 levels in 2020 and 2021 for agriculture, manufactured goods and energy, there were large declines for non-covered goods, so that there was relatively little actual overall progress on merchandise trade and large declines in services trade. See, e.g., USITC data web, U.S. total exports to China (2017, $130.0 BN; 2018, $120.2 BN; 2019, $106.4 BN; 2020, $124.5 BN; 2021 (11 mos.) $137.7 BN); U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, NOVEMBER 2021, January 6, 2022, https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/ft900.pdf (Exhibit 20b).

Options

Obviously for nations facing the challenges of dealing with the distortions flowing from China’s economic system, one can attempt to work through the WTO and seek reforms that will address at least some of the major distortions. The U.S., EU, Japan and others are attempting that in the areas of industrial subsidies, state owned and controlled entities and other areas. The prognosis for movement is limited in the near term and even in the middle or long-term as long as China is committed to maintaining its system. Plurilateral negotiations on Joint Statement Initiatives also offer some hope for certain areas, assuming China is a participant and actually implements obligations undertaken.

Plurilateral trade agreements, such as CPTPP, could be another option. China has applied and would have to undertake some significant reforms to enter. The real question would be whether those changes would change the underlying disconnect between the state system pursued by China and market disciplines followed by many others.

Others have argued for major countries withdrawing from the WTO and setting up a system where China is either not a member or must become a market economy in fact to participate. Arguably if the EU and US were to join the CPTPP and seek further modifications, and if China’s application were not accepted until China’s system were significantly modified, this would be an option. A suggestion from the former EC Trade Commissioner is for the EU and U.S. to join the CPTPP. See PIIE’s Cecilia Malmstrom, The EU should use its trade power strategically, January 4, 2022, https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/eu-should-use-its-trade-power-strategically (“The European Union should also seek to enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and convince the United States to do the same. The European Union already has agreements with most members of the CPTPP, but an FTA would signal the European Union’s readiness to strengthen global trading rules with its partners.”).

The United States has pursued a strategy of strengthening various tools to address discrete issues with China and working with China to have them honor their existing WTO and bilateral agreements. Presumably that approach will continue to be pursued, but the downside of such an approach without more is the long time delay to meaningful change which means ongoing harm to the U.S. industrial base, workers and communities.

Warren Buffett in 2003 and again in 2016 advocated for a system of issuing import certificates to exporters equal to the value of the exports which certificates could be sold, etc. and which would result in a trade balance in goods. See, e.g., Fortune, Warren Buffett: Here’s How I Would Solve the Trade Problem,
April 29, 2016, ttps://fortune.com/2016/04/29/warren-buffett-foreign-trade/. His idea was to address the trade deficit overall and not focus on trading partners whose economic systems don’t mesh with the U.S. model. But an approach vis-a-vis selected countries pending the necessary economic reforms would be a narrower option and more focused on the underlying concern.

Last month in the Harvard Business Review, an article by Thomas Hout argued for a cap and trade system with China. See Harvard Business Review, Thomas Hout, A New Approach to Rebalancing the U.S-China
Trade Deficit, December 20, 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/12/a-new-approach-to-rebalancing-the-u-s-china-trade-deficit. The cap and trade approach is similar to Warren Buffett’s idea but limited to trade with China, as the author notes.

“Such a cap-and-trade system for imports from China would be much like the one for greenhouse gas emissions in various parts of the world. The beauty of this system is its insulation from political favoritism and bureaucracy: Market forces would determine who buys licenses and what gets imported. The cap’s level can be managed relative to a target such as GDP or the size of the trade deficit.” The author suggests flexibility in its implementation to limit any disruptions to U.S. businesses.

Conclusion

The Biden Administration has put its initial efforts into addressing domestic competitive needs such as the infrastructure legislation and the Build Back Better bill. At the same time, the Administration has been reviewing how the U.S. should be dealing with China across a broad array of issues including trade.

A multifaceted approach will certainly be needed. While the U.S. has pursued various multifaceted approaches in the past, China’s decision not to abandon state direction and control requires a recognition that global trade principles alone will not ensure fair trade conditions for U.S. companies either in the U.S., in China or in third countries.

In such a situation, considering a cap and trade system for trade with China and encouraging our major market-based trading partners to do the same would seem an important tool for achieving greater sustainability in our trade relationship with China.

WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest

As the world enters the third full year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO continues to seek both a response to the current challenges and a path forward for future pandemics. India, which along with South Africa (and later support from other countries), has sought since October 2020 a waiver from certain intellectual property protections provided under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in late December 2021 sent a letter to the General Council Chair of the WTO seeking a virtual ministerial meeting to address the WTO response to the pandemic. This followed the postponement of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel flowing from the increase in COVID cases from the omicron variant.

The WTO press release on the General Council informal meeting held on January 10, 2022 to explore India’s request put a largely positive spin on the meeting, although press accounts suggest that there was push back from many other WTO Members to holding such a virtual Ministerial for various reasons, including lack of progress in developing an agreed text on any TRIPS waiver, need to address other pressing issues and the challenges of doing a Ministerial meeting virtually based on last year’s experience. See WTO news release, General Council discusses India’s call for virtual ministerial meeting on pandemic response, 10 January 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_10jan22_e.htm (” General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) convened the 10 January meeting in response to India’s recent proposal to hold a virtual Ministerial Conference on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a proposed waiver of relevant intellectual property protections. At the meeting, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged WTO members to urgently step up their efforts, suggesting that with the requisite political will, members can in the space of the coming weeks reach multilateral compromises on intellectual property and other issues so that the WTO fully contributes to the global response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.”); Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO members reluctant to hold virtual ministerial on TRIPS waiver, January 10, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-reluctant-hold-virtual-ministerial-trips-waiver (“India’s bid to schedule a virtual ministerial meeting focused on the proposed waiver of some intellectual property obligations to fight the pandemic did not win the support of other World Trade Organization members on Monday, as they raised concerns about the virtual format as well as with a lack of progress in the negotiations.”). While the U.S. was reportedly favorably disposed to such a meeting with greater clarifications, the European Union statement noted all of the issues raised in the Inside U.S. Trade article. See also The Hindu, WTO General Council discusses India’s call for holding virtual Ministerial meet on COVID-19 pandemic response, 11 January 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/business/wto-general-council-discusses-indias-call-for-holding-virtual-ministerial-meet-on-covid-19-pandemic-response/article38231454.ece.

While the U.S., under the Biden Administration, has stopped posting on the U.S. Mission website their statements at meetings other than the Dispute Settlement Body (unclear if this is due to a policy change or simply the lack of a Deputy USTR confirmed by the Senate), the EU is posting their statements on their Geneva website. See EU Statement at the General Council Informal Meeting, 10 January 2022, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/109489/eu-statement-general-council-informal-meeting-10-january-2022_en. The entirety of the EU statement is copied below.

“Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

“For the European Union, the WTO needs to put in place a process that is conducive to progress on all topics of the MC12 agenda.

“Of course, the European Union shares the view that the response to the pandemic is important. However, we need to be careful that a focus on this part of the MC12 agenda must not lead to a loss of momentum on the other key components, which are equally essential to the revitalisation of the organisation – such as the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, agreeing on a way forward on agriculture, and finalising the Ministerial Declaration with a strong commitment on WTO reform – and this, building upon the work done by you, Chairman [Chairman of the General Council], in the run-up to the Ministerial meeting in November. These elements are all essential for the credibility and viability of this organisation. WTO reform is also essential from a health perspective. We need an efficient and effective organisation if we are going to be in a position to act decisively in the case of future pandemics.

“Before any decision to call a virtual Ministerial meeting and topics to be decided, we believe the WTO Director General and the Chair of the General Council should hold consultations with Members, to assess the way forward on all four issues that I referred to.

“As regards trade and health, the aim should be to seek consensus on the way forward both on intellectual property and on the Declaration and Action Plan. As regards the latter, Ambassador Walker’s draft text should be the basis for such consultations. And as regards intellectual property rights, consultations should continue with a view to identifying a text on which the WTO Membership can agree.

“Any virtual Ministerial should take place only once there is a consensus both on intellectual property rights and on the Declaration and Action Plan on the wider pandemic response. Only a comprehensive trade response to the pandemic can make a difference and address the identified bottlenecks as regards the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines such as restricted access to raw materials and other inputs as well as complex supply chains. Agreeing on the comprehensive elements contained in the Walker text will be important not only to tackle Covid-19, but also to address future pandemics.

“If we want to take forward work on all elements of the MC12 agenda, we must have a credible process in place.

“In summary, the European Union is open to consider the proposal by India and to reach an agreement on all aspects of the response to Covid-19 as quickly as possible. However, in the European Union’s view, it is premature to decide at this point in time on either the principle or on the date for such a virtual meeting.”

Thus, while the Director-General is pushing Members for an early resolution of the pandemic response (including any TRIPS waiver), the path forward looks certain to take significantly more time than a few weeks to reach agreement.

The WTO has added a page to its website entitled “Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. The page accessed today states “State of Play – 6 January 2022” — i.e., before the informal General Council meeting on January 10th. However, it provides a good overview of what has been proposed and differences that exist on the waiver issue. See Briefing Note, State of Play 6 January 2022, Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bftrade_and_health_e.htm. The briefing note is embedded below.

WTO-_-Ministerial-conferences-MC12-briefing-note

Some current developments of interest

By the end of 2021, COVID vaccines were being produced at a rate of about 1.5 billion doses per month. Additional vaccines are being added which will drive production up even higher during the early months of 2022. See, e.g., BBC, Covovax and Corbevax: What we know about India’s new Covid vaccines, 28 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55748124.

Corbevax has received a lot of attention in the media in the last few weeks. The Indian producer has 150 million doses ready for distribution, will be producing 100 million doses per month and plans to export one billion doses to other countries. The developers and the Indian producer are working with the WHO to pursue emergency use authorization through the WHO as well. See, e.g., NPR, A Texas team comes up with a COVID vaccine that could be a global game changer, January 5, 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/01/05/1070046189/a-texas-team-comes-up-with-a-covid-vaccine-that-could-be-a-global-game-changer (“A vaccine authorized in December for use in India may help solve one of the most vexing problems in global public health: How to supply lower-income countries with a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective and affordable. The vaccine is called CORBEVAX. It uses old but proven vaccine technology and can be manufactured far more easily than most, if not all, of the COVID-19 vaccines in use today. ‘CORBEVAX is a game changer,’ says Dr. Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s going to enable countries around the world, particularly low-income countries, to be able to produce these vaccines and distribute them in a way that’s going to be affordable, effective and safe.'” “Hotez says that unlike the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and the viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, protein subunit vaccines like CORBEVAX have a track record. So he and Bottazzi were relatively certain CORBEVAX would be safe and effective. ‘And it’s cheap, a dollar, dollar fifty a dose,’ Hotez says. ‘You’re not going to get less expensive than that.'”); The Times of India, Discussions underway for WHO approval for
Corbevax Covid-19 vaccine, says developer, 31 December 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/discussions-underway-for-who-approval-for-corbevax-covid-19-vaccine-says-developer/articleshow/88604880.cms.

These developments are occurring at a time of record breaking numbers of new infections due to the more highly contagious omicron variant. While many parts of the world are seeing huge surges, Europe and the United States are seeing particularly huge increases. See, e.g., Reuters, U.S. reports 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a day, shattering global record, January 11, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/us-reports-least-11-mln-covid-cases-day-shattering-global-record-2022-01-11/; WHO, WHO: 7 million new omicron COVID cases in Europe last week, January 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/who-7-million-new-omicron-covid-cases-in-europe-last-week/2022/01/11/7e901e28-72cc-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html.

A few thoughts

When one looks at vaccination distribution in 2021, the concerns about inequity center largely on the vary small volume of vaccines that have gone to low income countries (as classified by the World Bank) and to some lower middle-income countries. See, e.g., December 30, 2021:  COVID-19 and vaccine equity — outlook for 2022, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/30/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-outlook-for-2022/.

The largest volume of vaccines that COVAX had envisioned going to these countries were lower cost ones that would be easier to store, handle and administer than some of the high cost new technology vaccines. Production problems and export bans of the more cost effective and easier to store vaccines in 2021 were the largest reasons of poor distribution of vaccines to lower income countries.

With large volumes of donations committed for 2022 from countries like the U.S. and EU and others and with Indian production both ramping up significantly and exports having resumed and with the availability of low cost options, including new vaccines like Corbevax already approved in India and likely to be produced in various countries around the world at very low costs, and with the overall very high levels of global vaccine production by the end of 2021 continuing to expand, the question of getting the world vaccinated in 2022 against COVID will almost certainly be more about issues other than availability of vaccines.

So the WTO’s most important role in the coming weeks and months is to focus on reducing barriers to trade such as those covered by the Walker draft text (discussed in the briefing paper). The TRIPS waiver issue is one that has attracted a lot of attention because of the perception of global needs and whether intellectual property rights were restricting access. In my view, while the proposal was popular with many groups, the evidence of production during 2021 did not support the concern that the TRIPS agreement was restricting production. More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines were produced and shipped in 2021 — twice as many doses as all vaccines produced and shipped in 2020 for all other needs. Many licenses were granted for production in other countries. A waiver would not have resulted in significantly more production in 2021.

Production in 2022 and the arrival of new low cost vaccines should mean there is adequate volumes for the world to achieve 70% vaccination rates this year. The issue of equity in 2021 had to do with distribution of the production, infrastructure in many countries, trade restrictions on vaccines and inputs. These do not require a TRIPS waiver to address in 2022.

Looking forward to the next pandemic, there is much that the WTO Members could agree to that would reduce many of the challenges COVID-19 has posed. It is not clear that actions on intellectual property beyond what is being proposed by the EU are needed or justified by the experience gained these last several years.

How to Make Trade Work for Working Men and Women in 2022 — changing the status quo is needed but unrealistic in the near future

In prior posts, I have reviewed how the existing global trading system is not working as intended because of the massive distortions created by different economic systems (in particular, the presence and growth on state directed economies). See, e.g., October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/ (“Trade and the WTO have obviously been highly beneficial to China and to many other Members. Nonetheless, China has been working hard not to have its economic system evolve to a market-based one. It has generally not pursued liberalization that benefits all versus favoring China. It insists on coexistence vs. convergence. It uses the consensus system to prevent evaluation of its practices which distort trade It has limited transparency of its actions and has engaged in actions against individual Members that are retaliatory and coercive. As the world’s largest exporter, China has a critical role in global trade. But the dangers Amb. Wolff has outlined in his speech where market principles and convergence are not the core values are manifesting themselves in the world marketplace as countries look for alternative approaches to deal with China’s trade distortions. Amb. Wolff’s speech outlines a number of ways that China can improve the functioning of the WTO and exhibit leadership in WTO reform. His speech is an important one which hopefully has had a receptive audience in China. Unfortunately, while there are some identified actions that China may take, it is unlikely that China will do anything to address the critical differences that its economic system poses to the survival of the global trading system.”); October 8, 2021: The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/08/the-gap-between-wto-activity-and-the-needs-of-businesses-and-workers-for-the-international-trading-system/ (“The challenges at the WTO flow from some historical challenges (the preference of India to see no agreements imposing obligations on them, now supported by South Africa and others), from the growing divergence in views as to the purpose of the WTO, from the increased importance of non-market economies in the global trading system and the current failure of existing rules to address their distortions to global trade flows and competition, and the inability of a consensus system with 164 Members to move forward in a timely manner, if at all.”); May 1, 2021:  Alan Wolff’s vision for saving the WTO — aspirational but is it achievable?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/01/alan-wolffs-vision-for-saving-the-wto-aspirational-but-is-it-achievable/; March 31, 2021:  “Blowing up the trading system” — Clyde Prestowitz’s suggested way for the world to move forward in light of China’s economic system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/blowing-up-the-trading-system-clyde-prestowitzs-suggested-way-for-the-world-to-move-forward-in-light-of-chinas-economic-system/, March 29, 2021:  China and the WTO – remarks by Dennis C. Shea to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/29/china-and-the-wto-remarks-by-dennis-c-shea-to-the-coalition-for-a-prosperous-america/; March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/.

The Biden Administration has been advocating a worker centric trade policy and has advanced domestic policies intended to improve U.S. competitiveness. But the challenges for working men and women in a trading system that doesn’t operate in fact on market principles and doesn’t have effective tools for addressing quickly distortions can be seen in the conflicts that arise when trade actions are taken by a single country. Remedies imposed (such as duties, quotas, etc.) will help the harmed industries and workers, although based on the level of difficulty of achieving a remedy, may occur only after the industry and its workers have suffered isignificant harm (layoffs, plant closings, reduced investment, etc.). At the same time, downstream users who have to compete with products from producers in other countries who have access to the distortively priced products view themselves as harmed by conditions of fair trade being imposed on inputs.

When a country like China engages in massive distortions through state direction, subsidization and other means, global excess capacity of extraordinary amounts can put global competitors in a long term struggle to survive despite not having caused the excess capacity. The Trump Administration imposed Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum to address U.S. national security concerns about the sectors with the primary cause of the problem being China’s actions and the global reactions to massive excess capacity. Similarly, long standing concerns about a range of practices by China led to the Trump Administration’s Section 301 investigation in 2018 and action when China did not address the U.S. concerns (with retaliation and counter actions following).

While many countries filed WTO disputes in 2018 on the 232 actions of the U.S. and a number of countries retaliated without WTO authorization (many claiming U.S. was a safeguard action permitting at least some retaliation immediately) and China challenged the 301 action, and the U.S. filed challenges to the retaliation taken by trading partners, those disputes remain before panels at the beginning of 2022, with indications that panel reports will issue during the first half of 2022 (232 challenges) or second half of 2022 (cases on retaliation).

The Biden Administration has continued both sets of remedies though has come up wth alternatives to tariffs for steel and aluminum with certain trading partners (EU, Japan in negotiations).

Because users of products subject to Section 232 or 301 tariffs look at the short term issue of cost competitiveness (and the consequences to their businesses and workers), importers have pursued broader product exclusions from tariffs or an end to the tariffs altogether. As has been true over the last three years, such efforts have support from some members of Congress.

Thus, conflict exists among different groups within the United States but flows directly from the massive market distortions flowing from activities by some countries for which there are no existing remedies. While seeking changes in global trading rules is an important avenue for change, such change will take years (a decade or more in all likelihood) to achieve, if any resolution is actually possible. The steel and aluminum sectors have been seeking a global solution to the massive excess capacity problem caused by China and others for years now with no demonstrable progress.

For workers in the industries directly affected by the massive distortions, they have been promised a trading system where trade will be guided by market principles and where distortions can be addressed through trade defense instruments or other tools or where temporary relief from imports can take place to address significant problems. Very clearly, the trading system has not ensured a level playing field in fact and has not addressed the massive distortions that exist for countries with state-controlled or directed economies like China. This has put an unreasonable burden on workers and their employers to pursue trade remedies in a system where there is no compensation for past harm and relief is not available until jobs are lost, companies have shuttered factories, reduced investment including in R&D.

A recent letter to the U.S. Congress from the United Steelworkers International President Thomas M. Conway on various duties (301, 232 and other) lays out the frustrations of working men and women who are in the direct line of attack from trade distortions abroad and their need for relief from such practices. The letter is embedded below.

USW-letter-to-Hill-re-301-and-232-relief

The USW is a former client of my firm before my retirement. As a result, I am aware of the extraordinary effort they take to preserve jobs from the effects of market distortions in a wide array of manufacturing sectors in the U.S. The USW understandably views efforts to undermine trade actions to address distortions or to protect national security as contrary to the interests of working men and women.

While 232 and 301 relief have been subject to exclusion processes in the U.S., for users, such processes will work only when applicants are actually attempting to work with domestic producers or third country producers for alternative sources of supply (for either immediate supply or for supply in the coming months/years) and only where frivolous requests carry some costs for the applicant. Exclusions should only continue until an alternate source or sources of supply are found and shouldn’t frustrate efforts of domestic producers and their workers to expand offerings. The existence of a lower price from China or others should not be the basis for an exclusion where a domestic producer is producing or will product the specific product of interest.

The challenge for the United States and other WTO Members is to adopt rules that deliver a level playing field in fact, that prevent massive global excess capacity, that permit defensive action to be taken before plants are closed, workers laid off, investments postponed or cancelled and R&D reduced, and that compensate companies and workers injured by dumping, subsidization and other distortive practices to reduce the incentive to engage in such practices.

The WTO and Member governments can’t be surprised at the lack of support for the trading system from many working men and women when a fundamental promise of the system is not kept — competition based on market principles with remedies to address distortions in a timely manner. The WTO has never been able to move quickly. Many issues simply never get addressed because of the consensus system and the lack of agreement on fundamental purpose and principles by the existing 164 Members. Thus, one should expect continued concern among working men and women with the ability of the WTO to deliver market based competition with effective remedies for distortions.

China’s “bullying” of Lithuania — a repeating story inconsistent with WTO rules

While China portrays itself as a champion of the global trading system and the WTO rules, it has a long history of misusing WTO provisions and cutting off market access to punish countries that take actions that China objects to. In a prior post, I reviewed the actions of China against Australia — actions that China has pretended were not occurring or simply reflected product quality issues or unfair trade actions by Australia. See December 22, 2020:  China’s trade war with Australia – unwarranted and at odds with China’s portrayal of itself as a strong supporter of the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/22/chinas-trade-war-with-australia-unwarranted-and-at-odds-with-chinas-portrayal-of-itself-as-a-strong-supporter-of-the-wto/.

Members have raised concerns about lack of transparency and discriminatory practices in various fora at the WTO including during the recent Trade Policy Review of China (hearing held on October 20 and 22, 2021), as captured in the Chair’s concluding statement. See WTO news release, TRADE POLICY REVIEW: CHINA, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 20-22 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp515_crc_e.htm (“Some Members also voiced concerns over a general increase in non-transparent and discriminatory measures and practices in China, sometimes in response to political disagreements with other trading partners. They urged China to take measures to end non-transparent and discriminatory measures.”).

Similarly, in the January 2021, USTR 2020 Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance (pages 7-8), USTR provided a review of a number of concerns including retaliation, intimidation and lack of transparency. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2020/2020USTRReportCongressChinaWTOCompliance.pdf

“China has been a particularly bad actor when it comes to trade remedies. While the use of trade remedies in a manner consistent with WTO rules is an important tool for protecting domestic industries
from unfair and injurious trade practices, China has made a practice of launching antidumping (AD) and
countervailing duty (CVD) investigations that appear designed to discourage its trading partners from the
legitimate exercise of their rights under WTO rules. This type of retaliatory conduct is not typical of WTO
members, nor is it a legitimate basis for seeking AD and CVD relief. Moreover, when China has pursued
AD and CVD investigations under these circumstances, it appears that its regulatory authorities have tended to move forward with the imposition of duties regardless of the strength of the underlying legal claims and evidence. The United States’ three successful WTO cases challenging the duties imposed by China on imports of U.S. grainoriented electrical steel (GOES), U.S. chicken broiler products, and U.S. automobiles offer telling examples of this problem. Indeed, China’s poor behavior does not always stop after an adverse WTO ruling. In two of the three WTO cases brought by the United States on trade remedies, China did not implement the WTO’s recommendations, and the United States was forced to bring Article 21.5 compliance proceedings to secure China’s compliance.

“China’s retaliatory use of trade remedies highlights another unique issue that WTO members face when
dealing with China – the threat of reprisal. It is no secret that foreign companies are hesitant to speak
publicly, or to be perceived as working with their governments to challenge China’s trade policies or
practices, because they fear retaliation from the Chinese state. A study by one U.S. industry association noted that foreign companies confidentially have reported receiving explicit or implicit threats from Chinese government officials – typically made orally rather than in writing – about possible retaliatory actions that could have severe repercussions for a company’s business prospects in China. At the same time, it is also no secret that China threatens more vulnerable WTO members to dissuade them from speaking publicly against China.

“A further persistent problem is China’s inadequate transparency. China disregards many of its WTO
transparency obligations, which places its trading partners at a disadvantage and often serves as a
cloak for China to conceal unfair trade policies and practices from scrutiny. For example, for the first 15
years of its WTO membership, China failed to notify any sub-central government subsidies to the WTO,
despite the fact that most subsidies in China emanate from provincial and local governments. The magnitude and significance of this problem is illustrated by the five WTO cases that the United States has brought challenging prohibited subsidies maintained by China. While those cases involved hundreds of subsidies, most of the subsidies were provided by sub-central governments. The United States was able to bring those cases only because of its own extensive investigatory efforts to uncover China’s opaque subsidization practices. Most other WTO members lack the resources to conduct the same types of investigations. Today, China continues to shield massive sub-central government subsidies from the scrutiny of WTO members. Together with other non-market practices, these subsidies contribute to the serious excess capacity problems that plague industries like steel, aluminum, solar panels, and fishing and devastate global markets and foreign competitors. Industrial plans such as Made in China 2025, which reportedly targets 10 sectors in China with hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, inevitably will create a new wave of industries with severe excess capacity to the detriment of China’s trading partners.

“For years, the United States has urged China to change the behaviors described above and become a
responsible member of the WTO. In the future, the United States will continue this effort. The United States also will continue to use the WTO dispute settlement mechanism as an enforcement tool as
appropriate and will continue working through WTO committees and councils and other WTO bodies to
seek effective actions to curb problematic Chinese policies and practices.”

The Chinese actions against Lithuania and indirectly against the European Union and United States

Last year, China embargoed imports from Lithuania after a warming of relations between Lithuania and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei). There are many articles on the row between China and Lithuania, but China’s political concerns about Lithuania’s actions towards Taiwan have led it to put pressure on European and U.S. companies in China to cut off using Lithuanian parts as well as embargoing imports from Lithuania and from other countries where products include Lithuanian components. See, e.g., Politico, China’s trade attack on Lithuania exposes EU’s powerlessness; Companies from several EU countries that depend on Lithuanian supply chains are now finding they face blockades at Chinese ports, December 16, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/china-trade-attack-on-lithuania-exposes-eu-powerlessness/ (“As Lithuania sought to deepen diplomatic ties with Taiwan over recent months, Beijing has moved to make an example of Vilnius by flexing its massive trade muscle and stopping imports of Lithuanian goods. Business organizations told POLITICO that China’s embargo is now hitting manufactured goods from other EU countries — such as France, Germany and Sweden — that are dependent on Lithuanian supply chains.” “A China-based business executive told POLITICO that Beijing is putting pressure on EU businesses to stop importing Lithuanian products. The executive explained that two German companies in the auto industry had parts stopped at Chinese ports in recent days because they were manufactured in Lithuania. Some of these components could take years to be replaced with trusted alternative suppliers, he added.”); Bloomberg, Europe Raises China-Lithuania Trade Dispute With WTO Chief, December 9, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-09/europe-raises-china-lithuania-trade-dispute-with-wto- chief#:~:text=The%20EU%20raised%20Lithuania’s%20claim,denied%20it’s%20blocking%20Lithuania’s%20exports (“The European Union raised its concerns over a growing dispute between member state Lithuania and China to the World Trade Organization as efforts by the bloc to get information from Beijing have been rebuffed.” “‘The EU is informed that Lithuanian shipments are not being cleared through Chinese customs and that import applications from Lithuania are being rejected,’ the EU’s trade chief, Valdis Dombrovskis, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.”).

Typically, the Chinese government has hidden behind claims of faulty products, have denied intimidation or failing to grant import licenses. See, e.g., Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on December 22, 2021, question from The Paper and answer by Zhao Lijian https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/202112/t20211222_10474336.html:

The Paper: During the phone call with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on December 21, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he noted public reports that China’s customs authorities are not clearing Lithuanian shipments or shipments with Lithuanian components, and that they are rejecting import applications from Lithuania. He said that such measures appear to constitute economic coercion. The US underscored its support for Lithuania and the commitment to work with like-minded countries to push back against China’s coercive diplomatic and economic behavior. What is China’s comment?

“Zhao Lijian: The Lithuanian side bears the sole responsibility for the severe difficulties in China-Lithuania relations. The claim that China’s authorities ‘are not clearing Lithuanian shipments’ and that ‘they are rejecting import applications from Lithuania’ is not true. If companies face technical problems in exporting certain products to China, they can report to competent Chinese authorities through normal channels.”

Nonetheless, Chinese media understand the embargo applied by China against Lithuanian goods and other goods incorporating Lithuanian components. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, China snubs EU efforts to mediate in Lithuania row, as trade embargo worsens, 9 December 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3159086/china-snubs-eu-efforts-mediate-lithuania-row-trade-embargo.

The U.S. has announced its support for Lithuania and the European Union in seeking to end the bullying and coercion. See, e.g., USTR press release, Readout of Ambassador Katherine Tai’s Call With Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, January 5, 2022, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2022/january/readout-ambassador-katherine-tais-call-lithuanian-foreign-minister-gabrielius-landsbergis; U.S. Department of State Press Release, Secretary Antony J. Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at a Joint Press Availability, January 5, 2002, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-german-foreign-minister-annalena-baerbock-at-a-joint-press-availability/. The USTR readout and an excerpt from Secretary Blinken during the joint press conference are copied below.

“January 05, 2022

“WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today spoke with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and expressed the United States’ continuing strong support for Lithuania in the face of economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“Ambassador Tai emphasized the U.S. commitment to working with the European Union and its Member States to address coercive diplomatic and economic behavior. They discussed the importance to addressing our shared challenges through a close, transatlantic partnership that embraces and reflects U.S. and EU jointly-held values, which can be supported in part through the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council. Ambassador Tai and Minister Landsbergis both noted that the United States and the EU, as democratic market economies, share a number of core values and principles that we need to defend internationally.

“Ambassador Tai and Minister Landsbergis agreed to stay in regular communication to strengthen the U.S. – EU and U.S. – Lithuanian economic relationship and to continue to address the PRC’s economic coercion.”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:

“The foreign minister and I also discussed China. Germany and the United States agree on the importance of transatlantic coordination on China because it poses a significant challenge to our shared values; to the laws, rules, and agreements that foster stability, prosperity, and freedom worldwide. We also agreed that together, we will continue to build, across the board, an affirmative vision for the future because fundamentally, this is about what we’re for together, not what we’re against.

“Having said that, we have immediate concern about the Government of China’s attempts to bully Lithuania, a country of fewer than three million people. China is pushing European and American companies to stop building products with components made in Lithuania or risk losing access to the Chinese market, all because Lithuania chose to expand their cooperation with Taiwan.

“Here again, this isn’t just about Lithuania, but about how every country in the world should be able to determine its own foreign policy free from this kind of coercion. And the United States will work with our allies and partners, including Germany, to stand up against intimidation like this from China by strengthening our economic resilience, diversifying our supply chains, and countering all forms of economic blackmail. And we’ll continue to stand together against flagrant human rights abuses by the Government of China and advocating for universal human rights around the world.”

China responded to the U.S. statements of support for Lithuania viewing such support as an effort to create a wedge between China and Taiwan. See, e.g., NPR, China lashes out at U.S. for supporting Lithuania in feud with Beijing over Taiwan, January 6, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/01/06/1070856065/china-lashes-out-at-us-for-supporting-lithuania-in-feud-with-beijing-over-taiwan.

China’s actions undermine integrity of WTO system and promote retaliation

While many WTO Members may take actions that are inconsistent with WTO obligations over time, the WTO is premised on Members’ commitment to compliance, transparency to permit trading partners to understand and, where appropriate, challenge Member policies, laws, regulations, practices and actions. While non-trade issues are relevant in most/all bilateral relationships, the WTO is premised on Members not taking trade actions that are inconsistent with WTO obligations for political reasons.

China’s practice of taking punitive actions against trading partners where it disagrees with actions taken by such trading partners, hiding the fact and denying the existence of such actions, intimidating companies invested in China or exporting to China and misusing WTO trade defense tools and standards as a means of retaliation is clearly contrary to a rules based approach to trade embodied by the WTO.

Uncorrected, such actions encourage large trading partners to consider unilateral retaliation options as is happening now in the European Union. See Politico, France eyes quick anti-China action to bail out Lithuania in trade war, January 6, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/france-china-measures-lithuania-new-trade-weapons/ (“France wants the EU to punch back quickly to stop China holding the bloc hostage in a snowballing trade conflict over Lithuania.” “The EU has plans to roll out a new trade weapon called an ‘anti-coercion instrument’ to retaliate in precisely these kinds of cases but that fresh legislation could take years to fully enter into force and Paris is signaling that action over Lithuania would be needed well before that. When asked whether Paris would push for EU action to resist Beijing before the anti-coercion instrument is ready, a senior French government official on Thursday told POLITICO: ‘Yes. We will take measures very quickly.'”).

Presumably, like minded Members (e.g., U.S., EU, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others) will be looking at what types of WTO reforms would have a better chance of minimizing the type of bullying and economic coercion being practiced by China. The real question is whether such reforms can be adopted and whether they could be effective. Any such reforms are years away in a best case situation. Until then, one should expect continued flouting of WTO rules by China when it finds such actions politically attractive.

The Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations — the recent USTR Report

The Russian Federation became the 156th Member of the WTO on August 22, 2012. Since the accession of the Russian Federation, eight other countries have acceded, the last on July 29, 2016 with 23 additional countries in the queue at the WTO. Like other WTO Members, the Russian Federation goes through periodic Trade Policy Reviews (“TPR”) as part of the WTO’s effort to ensure transparency in Member policies and to permit Members to raise questions on policies and practices of each other. The first TPR for the Russian Federation was conducted in 2016. See TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 24 August 2016, WT/TPR/S/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY
RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 24 August 2016, WT/TPR/G/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION Revision, 6 December 2016, WT/TPR/S/345/Rev.1; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, 25 November 2016, WT/TPR/M/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, Addendum (written questions and replies), 19 December 2016, WT/TPR/M/345/Add.1; TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 28 AND 30 SEPTEMBER 2016, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp445_crc_e.htm.

The second TPR was conducted in 2021 with the two day meeting with Members happening on October 27 and 29, 2021. See TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 22 September 2021, WT/TPR/S/416; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 22 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/416; TRADE POLICY REVIEW MECHANISM, COMMUNICATION FROM THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE TRADE POLICY REVIEW BODY, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Arrangements for Review Meeting, 6 October 2021, WT/TPR/466; TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 27 and 29 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp516_crc_e.htm; EU Statement at the Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, 27 October 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/106279/eu-statement-trade-policy-review-russian-federation-27-october-2021_en; Statement by H.E. Ambassador LI Chenggang at the 2nd Trade Policy Review of Russia, http://wto.mofcom.gov.cn/article/meetingsandstatements/202111/20211103214021.shtml.

While the Russian Federation is not an important trading partner of the United States, because of the geopolitical relationship for the last many decades, the U.S. Congress has required an annual report on the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations since Russia’s accession in 2012. The ninth such report was released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on December 21, 2021. See USTR Press Release, USTR Announces 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 21, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/december/ustr-announces-2021-report-implementation-and-enforcement-russias-wto-commitments; United States Trade Representative, 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 2021, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/WTO/2021%20Report%20on%20Russia’s%20WTO%20Compliance.pdf.

Today’s post reviews some of the USTR findings but starts with some background information on the Russian Federation and a look at the recent Trade Policy Review for the country.

Background information on the Russian Federation

The CIA World Factbook provides a lot of information on countries. The entry for the Russian Federation was last updated on December 17, 2021. See CIA, World Factbook, Russia, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/russia/. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Russian Federation:

o is the largest country by land area (and roughly 1.8 times as large as the USA);

o has borders with fourteen countries (Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland and Ukraine);

o has a coastline of 3,653 km;

o has the ninth largest population in the world (142,320,790 as of July 2021 est.);

o had a negative population growth rate in 2021 (-0.2%, placing it 207th on population growth);

o has a low birth rate (9.71 births per 1000 population, or 193rd in the world)

o has a high literacy rate (99.7% of those 15 years of age or older);

o had relatively low GDP growth in 2017-2019 (1.34% – 2.54%) or 160th in the world

o has low public debt (15.5% of GDP in 2017);

o has large foreign exchange reserves and gold (6th largest);

o is the world’s second largest producer and exporter of crude oil;

o is the world’s 3rd largest producer of refined petroleum products and 2nd largest exporter;

o is the world’s 2nd largest natural gas producer and largest exporter.

The CIA World Factbook has a great deal more information but the above are some examples of data on the Russian Federation.

Despite the Russian Federation’s high levels of education and abundant natural resources, the country in 2022 is rated by the World Bank as only an upper middle-income country (2020 GNI per capita of between $4,096 and $12,695). See World Bank Country and Lending Groups, Country Classification, July 1, 2021, https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups. Russia in 2020 had a per capita GNI in current U.S. dollars of $10,690 which ranked the Russian Federation 74th. See World Bank, GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$) – Russian Federation, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=RU

Because so much of the economy is driven by the gas and oil sectors, increasing prices for both in 2021 led to strong growth in GDP in the Russian Federation, although growth is expected to moderate in 2022 and 2023. See World Bank, Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation Build, Says World Bank Report, December 1, 2021,https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/12/01/amidst-strong-economic-rebound-in-russia-risks-stemming-from-covid-19-and-inflation-build-says-world-bank-report.

The World Trade Organization provides useful information on each Member in various publications including its annual Trade Profiles. The 2021 publication shows that in 2020, the Russian Federation accounted for 1.89% of world merchandise exports and 1.35% of world merchandise imports. Total Russian Federation exports were $332.227 billion and its total imports were $240.380 billion. Its five largest export markets were the European Union (41.3%), China (13.4%), Belarus (5.1%), Turkey (5%) and the Republic of Korea (3.8%). The Russian Federation’s five largest trading partners for imports into the Russian Federation were the European Union (34.2%), China (21.9%), Belarus (5.5%), the United States (5.4%) and Japan (3.6%).

As noted, fuels and mining products are the largest exports — 59.1% of total Russian exports in 2020 with petoleum oils (crude and refined) accounting for$189.176 billion (49.49%). Coal ($15.987 billion) and natural gas ($9.501 billion) are the next largest export products.

The Russian Federation accounts for a smaller shares of the export trade in commercial services — 0.95% of global exports and a slightly larger share of imports of commercial services, 1.38%. The European Union accounts for the largest share of commercial service exports from the Russian Federation (35.9%) and 47.5% of the Russian Federation’s imports of commercial services. The U.S. accounts for 6.5% of Russia’s exports of commercial services and 4% of imports of such services into the Russian Federation. China is the third largest importer of Russian commercial services (6.2% of Russia’s exports) and 3.7% of Russia’s imports.

See World Trade Organization Trade Profiles 2021 at 298-299, October 2021,https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/trade_profiles21_e.pdf.

WTO Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation in 2021

While the minutes to the 2021 TPR of the Russian Federation and the written questions and replies are not yet available, the Secretariat review along with the Russian Federation write-up are available as is the concluding statement of the chairman of the review on the Russian Federation. Both the EU and China’s statements on October 27 at the review are also available.

For brevity, the Chair’s concluding comments and the statement of the European Union (as the largest trading partner for the Russian Federation) are copied below. Both follow norms for the WTO by identifying areas where the Member being reviewed has made contributions to the system and then follows with particular concerns of some other Members. First the concluding remarks by the Chairperson on 29 October 2021. TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 27 and 29 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp516_crc_e.htm

“Concluding remarks by the Chairperson

“The second Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation has allowed us to better understand and discuss recent developments regarding trade, economic, and investment policies in the Russian Federation. 57 delegations took the floor, which demonstrates the importance Members attach to the review of the policies and practices of the Russian Federation. 1,017 advance written questions were submitted by Members, with additional questions submitted during and following the first day of our meeting.

“I would like to thank the delegation of the Russian Federation, headed by Ms Ekaterina MAYOROVA, Director of the Department of Trade Negotiations, Ministry of Economic Development, for their constructive participation in this exercise.

“I would like to express my gratitude to our discussant, His Excellency Ambassador Didier CHAMBOVEY of Switzerland, for his insightful remarks touching on macroeconomic and other developments, remaining trade and trade-related challenges, and the role the TPRM can play in overcoming these.

“I would like to thank the delegations that took the floor for their valuable contributions to this Review. Members commended the Russian Federation for its stable and resilient economic performance since the previous Review in 2016, including measures taken to stabilize the banking sector. They particularly stressed the effective macroeconomic and monetary policies undertaken, and the demonstrated resilience to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to volatile energy markets. Some Members commented on policies aimed at diversifying the economy and addressing structural impediments to economic growth.

“Members also positively noted a number of policy reforms undertaken by the Russian Federation affecting, among others, trade facilitation, import tariffs and export duties, competition policy, protection of IPRs, and supporting MSMEs. Regarding trade facilitation, Members highlighted reforms to improve customs procedures and requirements in areas such as risk management, automation, electronic documents, and reducing clearance times.

“While Members appreciated the overall reduction in MFN tariffs, they nevertheless encouraged the Russian Federation to further simplify the tariff structure. Members expressed the hope that the Russian Federation would continue to deepen the reforms and to ensure that any new policies, regulations, and reforms would be in line with its WTO commitments.

“Many Members stressed the Russian Federation’s strong involvement in, and support of, the multilateral trading system. They highlighted the constructive engagement of the Russian Federation in the discussions around WTO reform, preparations for MC12, fisheries subsidies negotiations, the four Joint Statement Initiatives, and trade and gender.

“Regarding the JSI on Services Domestic Regulations, some Members encouraged the Russian Federation to swiftly submit its draft schedule of commitments. Members also encouraged the Russian Federation to complete its process of accession to the Agreement on Government Procurement in the near future.

“Members expressed their desire for the Russian Federation to continue its leadership role at the WTO. In this regard, they welcomed the stated commitment by the Russian Federation to the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core.

“Some Members also commended the Russian Federation for its support to developing countries, for example, through the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. In this regard, Members also emphasized the importance of trade preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences.

“Import substitution, localization policies, and local content requirements, especially in the context of public procurement, were issues raised by many Members. They were particularly interested in the impact such policies can have on trade, FDI, productivity, and the integration of the Russian Federation into global value chains. Members encouraged the Russian Federation to review such policies in light of WTO principles and the process of its accession to the Agreement on Government Procurement. For some Members, these policies were representative of a broader set of policies that they perceived as discriminatory and reducing predictability, transparency, and competition.

“Members commended the Russian Federation for the reforms undertaken to improve the business and investment environment, for example, the introduction of a “regulatory guillotine” mechanism, and the establishment of key conditions for electronic commerce. Members also expressed concerns regarding the remaining challenges in this area.

“Thus, in addition to the recent increase in restrictions on FDI, Members identified several factors as potentially having a negative effect on the conditions of doing business in the Russian Federation. These include governance and other rule-of-law issues, the dominant position of the State in key sectors of the economy and the lack of transparency regarding state-owned enterprises, the existence of a high degree of concentration in certain sectors, and the use of various subsidies in favour of domestic firms. Concerns were voiced in relation to developments in specific services sectors, including financial services and maritime transport.

“While many Members expressed appreciation for the numerous notifications submitted, they nevertheless encouraged the Russian Federation to further improve the timeliness and completeness of its notification record, mentioning in particular notifications related to state trading enterprises, licensing procedures, agriculture, and technical regulations applied at the national level.

“Sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical regulations have also received much attention in this Review. Thus, for example, several Members raised issues regarding inspection procedures for meat imports and the ‘Track and Trace’ regime. Some Members expressed concerns regarding the application of measures that they consider were not based on international standards, unsupported by scientific evidence, and without adequate transparency. Some Members stressed the need for more clarity regarding the relationship between EAEU rules and rules applied at the national level.

“Other issues of interest for some Members included the introduction of export bans on agricultural and wood products, the imposition of temporary export restrictions and the increased use of export tariff rate quotas since the beginning of the pandemic, and measures relating to transit.

“This Trade Policy Review was characterized by open and constructive discussions around the Russian Federation’s trade and trade-related policies. As highlighted by the Russian Head of Delegation, the discussant, and many Members, the TPRM represents an opportunity to improve policies going forward.

“I therefore hope that the authorities will find the questions, comments, and experiences shared during this Review useful in their efforts to review and design their policies. Members look forward to receiving the answers to outstanding questions from the Russian Federation within one month, at which point the Review will be successfully concluded.”

A number of the concerns raised were also raised in the 2016 review, indicating limited if any improvement on important issues (e.g., import substitution, localization policies, and local content requirements). Others reflect actions by the Russian Federation following the start of the pandemic (“the introduction of export bans on agricultural and wood products, the imposition of temporary export restrictions and the increased use of export tariff rate quotas since the beginning of the pandemic, and measures relating to transit.”).

The European Union raised many of these same issues in its statement at the TPR meeting on October 27, 2021. As the largest trading partner of the Russian Federation, the concerns raised likely reflect the broadest understanding of problems with the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations. EU Statement at the Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, 27 October 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/106279/eu-statement-trade-policy-review-russian-federation-27-october-2021_en

“Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

“The EU welcomes this second Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, almost a decade since itsaccession to the WTO. We welcome the delegation of Russia, led by Ms. Ekaterina Mayorova (Director of theDepartment of trade negotiations, Ministry of Economic Development) and thank the Discussant, Ambassadorof Switzerland H.E. Didier Chambovey, for his remarks.

“The EU is the main trade partner of the Russian Federation, both for goods and for services, and its main source of foreign direct investment, with some 75% of total inward FDI. Bilateral trade in 2020 represented some 4.8%of EU foreign trade in goods, down from 6% at the time of the previous TPR.

“Back in 2016, at its first Trade Policy Review, the EU had emphasized that Russia’s WTO accession represented an opportunity for its modernisation. A chance to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on raw materials and commodities, but equally to adjust its judicial and legal framework to bring in a more dynamic and responsive market. The European Union continues to hold that belief.

“Over the last few years, Russia’s efforts to play a constructive role in various areas in the WTO have not gone unnoticed – be it in its involvement in the Joint Statement Initiatives, or in its general support to achieve a meaningful MC12 including through its openness towards WTO reform in order for the organization to remain strong and credible. The EU looks forward in making progress in the different Joint Statement Initiatives, and in particular concluding the Domestic Regulation JSI in the margins of MC12. We hope that Russia will be in the position to submit their schedule of specific commitments as soon as possible, noting that the schedules of all participants are an essential component for a successful conclusion of this negotiation.

“However, the Russian Federation needs to redouble its commitment to the WTO. Today, we regret to
note that since its accession the Russian authorities have expanded, rather than reduced, the scope of its import substitution policy without any realistic furthering their pretended aim of localisation. This not only has a negative effect on trade with the EU but is done in most cases to the direct detriment of Russian consumers.

“In addition, the arguments used by the Russian authorities to justify protectionist policies namely that they are a direct consequence of the sanctions of individual economies on the Russian Federation – are questionable in our view. These Russian policies started immediately after Russia’s WTO accession and predate the political tensions that Russia highlights.

“Some of the specific questions tabled by the EU better explain the underlying concerns that we have. Allow me to highlight some:

“Several questions target the contradiction between the aspiration of the Russian Federation to become a member of the Government Procurement Agreement, and the reality of its practice. The ability of foreign bidders to participate in government procurement has been obstructed or effectively denied through
a growing body of regulations granting advantages to domestic products via price preferences, quotas, or exclusion of foreign goods and services.

“A large part of the Russian state’s presence in the economy – up to 20% of Russian GDP — corresponds to state-owned enterprises providing products and services in a commercial context. Despite the applicable WTO rules in this area, the Russian Federation has introduced such a growing body of restrictions as to make the participation of foreign bidders in tenders uneconomic, or a practical impossibility.

“As to export restrictions – under the rationale of preventing illegal logging and supporting domestic forest-based industries – the Russian Federation has announced a ban on the export of unprocessed wood from 2022. It remains unclear how the Russian Federation intends to reconcile these measures
with the schedule of its concessions, which include export tariff-rate quotas in some of the categories of wood covered by the announced ban.

“One primary mission of the WTO is to facilitate transparency. For this, a reliable notification practice is
imperative. The Russian Federation’s performance in this area leaves much to be desired. For example,
Russian Federation notifications in the area of technical barriers to trade have concerned only
Eurasian Economic Union-level measures. A number of Russian Federation national measures falling within the scope of the TBT Agreement entered into force without any notification whatsoever to the WTO, including those regarding the wines and spirits sector. Not a single measure adopted at the national level has been notified to the WTO.

“The same can be said about the exclusive rights in the area of foreign trade granted to certain entities
in the Russian Federation including, for example, for the export of natural gas. The Russian Federation
has failed, since its accession, to notify a single state-trading enterprise to the WTO. At the same time, around 50% of the EU’s imports from the Russian Federation are sold by a single export monopoly of natural gas. Let me also remark that, beyond its non-notification, this fact sits uneasily with the overall principles of the WTO, and in our view also with the long-term interests of Russia.

“To conclude, the EU welcomes the Russian Federation’s commitment in its report to an open, non-discriminatory and transparent multilateral trading system, and for a reform aimed at preserving the WTO’s role in maintaining and developing new trade rules. We commend this as a good foundation for the necessary efforts that Russia should undertake to abide by the spirit and the letter of its WTO commitments, and to build a more open, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment.

“Thank you.”

USTR’s 9th Report to Congress on the Russian Federation’s Compliance with WTO obligations

USTR Katherine Tai’s press release on the latest USTR report on the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations summarizes concerns that the U.S. has more than nine years after the Russian Federation became a WTO Member.

“USTR Announces 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments

“December 21, 2021

“WASHINGTON – The Office of the United States Trade Representative today released its ‘2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Commitments.’

“‘This Report provides an overview of Russia’s continued departure from the guiding principles of the World Trade Organization, such as non-discriminatory practices, more open trade, predictability, transparency, and fair competition,’ said Ambassador Katherine Tai. ‘Failure to follow WTO norms, rules, and commitments puts American workers and businesses at an economic disadvantage and prevents them from competing on a level playing field. USTR will continue to work with like-minded partners and use the tools of the WTO to hold Russia accountable for its behavior in the multilateral trading system.’

“The Report highlights areas in which USTR has raised concerns about Russia’s compliance with its WTO
commitments, including:

“‘Russia continues to adopt and implement localization measures to provide preferential treatment to both domestically produced goods and services.’

“‘In the agriculture sector, Russia maintains non-science-based import restrictions and refuses to recognize other countries’ guarantees on exporting facilities.’

“‘Russia’s import substitution strategies for the IT sector, such as the ‘Digital Economy of the Russian Federation,’ also raise additional national treatment and import substitution concerns.’

“‘As economies around the world were forced to retract and retrench in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Russia exacerbated those trends by extending its control over the Russian economy and tightening restrictions on trade.’

“Background

“This report was prepared pursuant to section 201 of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-208), which requires the U.S. Trade Representative to submit a report to the Committee on Finance of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives describing the commitments that Russia made upon entering the World Trade Organization on August 12, 2012, and assessing the extent to which Russia has implemented those commitments after 9 years of WTO membership.”

The USTR report is 62 pages in length and reviews an array of areas where the Russian Federation undertook commitments on acceding to the WTO and provides the USTR evaluation of whether there has been implementation to date. See 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 2021, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/WTO/2021%20Report%20on%20Russia’s%20WTO%20Compliance.pdf. The table of contents (pages i-ii) reviews the topics reviewed and is copied below.

Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments
Contents
I. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
II. Executive Summary ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2
III. Russia and the Customs Union/Eurasian Economic Union ………………………………… . 5
IV. Russia in the World Trade Organization ………………………………………………………………. 6
V. Import Regulation ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
A. Tariffs and Border Fees ………………………………………………………………………………………. 7
B. Customs Fees…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 9
C. Customs Valuation …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 9
D. Trade Facilitation …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10
E. Trading Rights …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11
F. Quantitative Restrictions …………………………………………………………………………………… 12
G. Import Licensing ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 13
H. Trade Remedies ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 15
VI. Export Regulation ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 16
VII. Agriculture …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 18
A. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures …………………………………………………………………. 18
B. Domestic Supports and Export Subsidies ……………………………………………………………. 24
VIII. Internal Policies Affecting Trade ……………………………………………………………………….. 26
A. Non-Discrimination ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26
B. Industrial Policy, Including Subsidies …………………………………………………………………. 29
C. State-Owned, -Controlled, and -Trading Enterprises …………………………………………….. 31
D. Pricing Policies ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 33
E. Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessments ……………………………. 34
F. Government Procurement ………………………………………………………………………………….. 37
IX. Services ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 39
A. Financial Services ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 40
B. Telecommunications ………………………………………………………………………………………… 41
C. Computer and Related Services …………………………………………………………………………. 41
D. Distribution Services ………………………………………………………………………………………… 43
E. Audio-Visual and Media Services ………………………………………………………………………. 43
X. Intellectual Property Rights ………………………………………………………………………………….. 44
A. Legal Framework …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 44
B. Enforcement ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 47
XI. Investment ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 50
A. Trade-Related Investment Measures …………………………………………………………………… 50
B. Special Economic Zones …………………………………………………………………………………… 53
XII. Rule of Law………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 53
A. Eurasian Economic Union …………………………………………………………………………………. 53
B. Transparency …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 54
C. Judicial Review ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 56
XIII. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 57

A portion of the Executive Summary section reveals U.S. concerns with Russia’s implementation of obligations. The excerpt (from pages 3-5) is copied below.

” Over the past year, Russia has continued its trajectory of an economy moving away from the guiding principles of the WTO: non-discrimination, freer trade, predictability, transparency, and fair competition. Rather, Russia maintains restrictive at-the-border measures, institutes behind-the-border measures to inhibit trade, and implements an industrial policy seemingly driven by the guiding principles of import substitution and forced localization.

“Russia maintains tariffs ranging from 25 percent to 40 percent on various industrial products imported from the United States in retaliation against tariffs imposed on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum articles under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended. Russia also maintains a near complete ban on imports of agricultural goods from the United States and other WTO Members. Russia also continues to apply quantitative restrictions or outright bans on certain agricultural exports.

“In addition to these border measures, Russia maintains various behind-the-border measures that interrupt the smooth flow of global trade, such as outmoded import licensing requirements and a mandatory labeling regime. In 2021, Russia introduced yet another regime to monitor products, a traceability regime, that requires tracking consignments of goods (as opposed to individual goods subject to the mandatory labeling regime) through the chain of commerce in Russia. In the agriculture sector, Russia maintains non-science-based import restrictions and refuses to recognize other countries’ guarantees on exporting facilities.

“Compounding these at-the-border and behind-the-border restrictions, Russia continues to adopt and implement localization measures to provide preferential treatment to both domestically produced goods and services. In response, the United States, often working with other WTO Members, has raised concerns about Russia’s import substitution plans, subsidies (including those contingent on use of domestic over imported content), preferential taxes, preferential pricing mandates, prohibitions on purchasing imported goods and services, and domestic purchasing requirements, among others.

“The United States has also continued to raise concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency, manifested, for example, in its refusal to notify a single state trading enterprise and its delay (or complete refusal) to provide written answers to questions about its import substitution policies. The United States, joined by other WTO Members, will continue to remind Russia of its transparency obligations.

“The United States has urged Russia to meet its commitments with regard to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. In particular, the United States has reviewed Russia’s implementation of WTO commitments on data exclusivity, pharmaceutical patent protection, and collective management organizations. Moreover, Russia’s record on enforcement remains weak.

“Since early 2014, the U.S. Government has curtailed its bilateral engagement with Russia in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, limiting USTR’s ability to raise directly with Russia our concerns about the trajectory of its trade policies. The sequestration resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic further limited engagement with Russian officials. Nevertheless, the interagency team of Russia specialists in the U.S. Government continued to monitor and evaluate Russia’s trade and investment policies and practices, and where and when possible, USTR continues to raise concerns in WTO meetings and on the margins of committee and council meetings to hold Russia accountable for its actions. As it has to date, if the United States finds that Russia’s actions appear to be inconsistent with its WTO commitments. The United States will investigate and use all appropriate means to resolve the matter and keep Russia’s markets open to U.S. exports.”

The Russian Federation’s reaction to U.S. report

The Russian Federation has rejected U.S. claims of non-implementation and calls attention to sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the U.S. and EU. See Tass Russian News Agency, ‘Beyond absurdity’: Diplomat slams US claims about Russia’s import substitution, December 24, 2021, https://tass.com/economy/1380631.

The Road Forward

Most of the concerns raised by the United States in its latest report on the Russian Federation’s implementation of WTO commitments mirror concerns that have been raised by the European Union and presumably others in the latest TPR of the Russian Federation. Moreover, some of the concerns have persisted since the Russian Federation first joined the WTO in 2012 as reflected in the first TPR from 2016 and earlier USTR reports to Congress on the Russian Federation’s implementation of WTO commitments. It is unclear whether the Russian Federation has any intention of addressing these longstanding and more current concerns.

The Chairman of the TPR for the Russian Federation in his concluding remarks and the EU Ambassador in his statement during the TPR highlighted areas where the Russian Federation has made positive contributions to the WTO such as in the fisheries negotiations and a number of the Joint Statement Initiatives and in supporting WTO reform. Thus, the Russian Federation has the potential to make some meaningful contributions in the areas where it is contributing. Such contributions will hopefully continue in 2022.

While Russia is treated as a market economy by the U.S. and the EU in trade remedy cases, the reality is that a large portion of Russia’s economy remains state owned or state directed. Such state ownership and direction are fundamentally at odds with the multilateral trading system and the concept of a level playing field. WTO reform is likely critical to address distortions caused by state ownership and control. While the Russian Federation is supportive of reform, it is unlikely to support meaningful reform on the state-owned/directed sector.

In addition, the many behind the border restrictions reviewed above simply contribute to the lack of meaningful access to the market of the Russian Federation for many WTO Members and have led to the size of the Russian Federation’s trade surplus. There does not appear any likelihood that the Russian Federation will meaningfully address these issues.

Perhaps the biggest unknown in 2022 is whether potential actions by the Russian Federation vis-a-vis one of its neighbors (Ukraine) will be implemented. The U.S., EU and others will certainly impose expanded sanctions against the Russian Federation if there is further encroachment by the Russian Federation into Ukraine. A souring of political relations would also likely cause a broader fallout for the trading system.

Whether the Russian Federation will be a meaningful contributor to supporting the global trading system is solely in the hands of the Russian Federation. 2022 is likely to be a year where the Russian Federation has some positive contributions but fails to address the longstanding concerns.

COVID-19 and vaccine equity — outlook for 2022

In prior posts, I have written extensively on the issue of vaccine equity. In my view with the large ramp up of global production and increased production in multiple country locations, the key to equitable distribution going forward lies in improved fulfillment of contractual commitments, increased donations, and greatly increased efforts at improving the ability of low income and lower middle-income countries (as categorized by the World Bank) to handle increased vaccine supplies and other goods.

The U.S., EU and others have stepped up donations and made large commitments for donations in 2022. India, which was supposed to be a major source of vaccines for COVAX in 2021, has in recent months started to export vaccines again.

While the flow of vaccines and other medical goods has been significantly behind goal to low income and lower middle income countries in 2021, in recent months, the challenge has been helping those countries get people vaccinated with the increased supplies that are becoming available.

The WHO has issued emergency use authorization for more vaccines. The multilateral organizations — World Bank, IMF, WTO and WHO — have been working hard to coordinate developments among the organizations. There is agreement on working to achieve 70% vaccination of populations around the world by July 2022.

Data on global vaccinations compiled by Bloomberg as of December 30, 2021 (a.m.) reflect more than 9.11 billion vaccine doses having been administered globally to date — 118 shots for every 100 people worldwide. See Bloomberg, More than 9.11 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated December 30, 2021 at 6:37 AM EST, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. However, vaccination rates vary enormously with very low rates in many low income and some lower middle income countries. So 70% global vaccination targets should be achievable if challenges in 2022 remain similar to those faced in 2021 recognizing the many advances.

However, the omicron variant is sweeping the world with large increases in infections, though the early analysis suggests infections are resulting in less severe cases. In the United States, new infections were close to 500,000 on December 29 alone – an incredible increase in cases in the last several weeks. The same is happening in many European countries (for example, France recorded its first 200,000 infection day this week).

The new variant and the renewed restrictions being imposed by many countries complicate the picture for 2022. With larger numbers of infections, governments are evaluating how to keep economies functioning and what restrictions the public will accept after the long period of disruption during the last two years.

Early studies indicate that boosters can significantly improve the effectiveness of existing MRNA vaccines against the new variant. Of course, boosters for people will reduce the volume of vaccines that can be shipped to countries with low levels of vaccination.

Some countries are imposing vaccine mandates and limiting activities of those who refuse to get vaccinated. The hit to the global economy from renewed restrictions particularly for hard hit sectors like travel and entertainment is unknown at present.

As increasing numbers of people are quarantined after being infected or being in contact with such individuals, governments, hospitals and companies struggle to cover operating needs. Will this cause supply chain problems for vaccines and other medical goods and supplies?

So how well vaccine equity will develop in 2022 will depend on a number of unknowns: will the omicron variant result in production setbacks in the coming months, reducing the volume of vaccines that get produced? Will a number of the existing vaccines prove to be ineffective against the omicron variant? If so, how quickly can other vaccines be ramped up including all needed inputs? What implications are there for medical infrastructure in the countries with low current vaccination rates if different vaccines are needed than those presently available and readily usable in the countries?

The heads of the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organization and World Health Organization released a joint statement on December 17, 2021. See WTO Press Release, International organizations discuss how to improve access to COVID vaccines, countermeasures, 22 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_22dec21_e.htm. The joint statement identifies what the four organizations perceive as doable actions to improve vaccine equity.

Seventh Meeting of the Multilateral Leaders Task Force, December 17, 2021:
“’From Vaccines to Vaccinations’
“Joint Statement

“The heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization, and World Trade Organization held high-level consultations with Gavi and UNICEF on December 17, 2021 aimed at increasing the use of COVID-19 vaccines and other critical medical countermeasures in low-income (LIC) and lower middle-income (LMIC) countries and supporting countries to be better prepared, resourced, and ready to roll out vaccines.

“We agreed on the urgency to accelerate vaccinations in LICs, where under 5% of the population is fully vaccinated, as well as in LMICs, where around 30% of the population is fully vaccinated. We agreed to work with countries to support and strengthen their national vaccination goals consistent with the global target to vaccinate 70% of the populations in all countries by mid-2022. The emergence of the Omicron variant underscores the vital need for fair and broad access to vaccines as well as testing, sequencing, and treatments to end the pandemic.

“Addressing vaccine inequity, particularly in LICs, requires increasing the supplies of vaccines to COVAX and AVAT, encouraging LICs and LMICs to purchase additional vaccine doses, and enhancing country readiness to deploy vaccines. Furthermore, to facilitate trade flows to support the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines and other COVID tools, export restrictions must be rolled back and trade-facilitating measures must be put in place. Fully funding the ACT-A Accelerator’s Financing Framework would play an important role in narrowing these gaps and reaching the global target.

“Some LICs and LMICs are facing serious challenges in vaccine deployment. Constraints related to storage, cold chain capacity, and trained vaccinators are exacerbated in some cases by doses arriving with short shelf lives and without adequate lead time and shortages in ancillary supplies (such as syringes, safety boxes, and dilutants), with challenges to plan and finance vaccination campaigns in a timely manner. As in wealthier countries, vaccine hesitancy is also an issue in some LICs and LMICs.

“To address such challenges, we call on governments that have already achieved high coverage to:

“o fulfill their donation pledges as quickly as possible to accelerate near-term deliveries to COVAX;

“o release manufacturers from contracts and options and implement delivery swaps, so they can prioritize supply to COVAX, AVAT, and low-coverage countries.”

We urge governments that have yet to achieve high vaccination coverage to:

“o contract additional doses immediately through AVAT, COVAX, or bilaterally;

“o establish in-country surge capacity to increase the rate of vaccine utilization as supplies increase; and

“o coordinate between health and finance authorities for making increased use of multilateral development banks’ resources that are readily available for both vaccine purchase and deployment.

“We call for better coordination among vaccine manufacturers, dose donating countries, COVAX, AVAT, and other partners to improve visibility on vaccine supply schedules and quality of supply for LICs and LMICs, to support country-level planning and preparedness for turning vaccines into vaccinations. Visibility on schedules along with adequate lead times and shelf lives of vaccines are critical for both equitable distribution as well as for recipient countries and their partners to prepare for in-country deployment. 

“Growing volumes of COVID-19 vaccines are forecast to arrive in LICs and LMICs in the coming months. Close coordination amongst all stakeholders will be crucial to help provide countries with the assistance and necessary resources to increase their capacity to administer those doses. In this regard, we welcome the recent appointment by UNICEF and WHO, in partnership with Gavi, of the Global Lead Coordinator for COVID Vaccine Country Readiness and Delivery, who will play an important key role in strengthening in-country vaccine deployment.”

The actions called for by the four organizations are reasonable and likely doable assuming existing vaccines are what is needed to address the current variants. However, I have raised in the past the desirability of understanding what has permitted some low income and lower middle-income countries to achieve significant vaccinations while some upper middle-income and high income countries are not achieving adequate levels of vaccination.

For example, Rwanda is one of 27 low income countries in the 2022 World Bank grouping. Yet Rwanda has achieved 99.3 vaccinations per 100 people as of data in the December 30 Bloomberg analysis. What actions permitted Rwanda to dramatically exceed the performance of other low income countries?

Similarly, amongst lower middle-income countries, many have achieved good vaccination rates in 2021. For example, Cambodia has achieved 183.9 vaccinations per 100 people, Mongolia 161.9/100 people, Bhutan 155/100 people, Sri Lanka 153.7/100 people, Vietnam 153.6/100 people, El Salvador 148/100 people, Morocco 141.2/100 people, Iran 139.6/100 people, nine other countries more than 100/100 people (Samoa, Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, India, Belize, Cape Verde, Indonesia and the Philippines) and four more who provided more than 80 vaccinations/100 people (Honduras, Timor-Leste, Bolivia and Laos). Why did so many lower middle-income countries achieve such levels of vaccinations versus other countries in the group?

In upper middle-income countries, Gabon has only gotten 27.2 vaccinations/100 people. A number of other countries in this group are similarly well below 80/100 people (a proxy for 40% vaccination of the population) — Namibia at 29.9; Equitorial Guinea at 33.3; Iraq at 36.2; Libya at 40.5; Jamaica at 44; Bosnia and Herzegovina at 47.1; South Africa at 47.5; Bulgaria at 53; and eight others (Armenia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Moldova, Georgia and Grenada). Shouldn’t the international organizations be focused on all countries that are far below vaccination targets? What caused these countries to have such poor vaccination rates?

The Bahamas is the only high income country with a vaccination rate of less than 80/100 people (78.8) but there are other high income countries or islands with low rates of vaccination compared to other high income countries.

If the world is to achieve vaccine equity during 2022, all countries need to participate in achieving acceptable levels of vaccination. If problems differ among countries as to impediments to greater vaccinations, those problems need to be identified and addressed as well.

My compilation of data from the Bloomberg vaccine tracker of December 30 and an identification of which countries are classified in which income group by the World Bank is attached.

Dec.-30-2021-vaccines-per-100-people.xlsx

WTO Dispute Settlement — What the Recently Adopted Panel Report on United States – Antidumping and Countervailing Duties on Ripe Olives from Spain says about the existing dispute settlement system and about needed WTO reforms

On November 19, 2021, the WTO panel hearing the dispute brought by the European Union against the United States on trade remedies imposed on ripe olives from Spain released publicly its report. See UNITED STATES – ANTI-DUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTIES ON RIPE OLIVES FROM SPAIN, WT/DS577/R (19 November 2021). The panel made some findings in the countervailing duty investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce adverse to the U.S. determinations including finding a statutory provision contrary to the WTO obligations in the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement “as such”. The panel also disagreed with the EU on various aspects of its challenges to the U.S. countervailing duty investigation and disagreed on all claims of WTO violations from the U.S. International Trade Commission final injury determination in both the antidumping and countervailing duty investigations.

At the Dispute Settlement Body (“DSB”) meeting on December 20, 2021, the United States did not oppose adoption of the panel report despite reservations on parts of the decision. While the EU and U.S. statements at the DSB meeting paint different pictures of the relevance and/or importance of the panel report, U.S. acceptance of the report moves the dispute to the phase where the U.S. considers how it will bring itself into compliance with its WTO obligations. It is another case where the “losing” party has not opted to file an appeal into the void (i.e., where the Appellate Body is not functioning because of lack of AB members). It is another example of the U.S. and EU looking for ways to resolve bilateral disputes to permit greater focus on reform needs at the WTO. Indeed, the U.S. and EU agreed to delay the release of the panel report for several months — time while other bilateral matters were being handled. Adoption of the report by the U.S. also avoids the EU acting contrary to its WTO obligations by retaliating against a WTO Member who takes an appeal vs. pursuing other resolution.

The panel report raises some challenging issues for WTO Members if trade remedies are to be available to all industries in fact. That said, the analysis in the report is largely well reasoned and well articulated.

Statement of Parties at the DSB meeting of December 20, 2021

At the DSB meeting on December 20th, consideration of the panel report on olives was the seventh agenda item. See Airgram, WTO/AIR/DSB/113 10 DECEMBER 2021, SUBJECT: DISPUTE SETTLEMENT BODY.

The WTO press release on the WTO DSB meeting had the following discussion of the olive dispute panel report.

“United States — Anti-dumping and countervailing duties on ripeolives from Spain

“The European Union thanked the panel for its work in this dispute. The panel report circulated on 19 November (https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/577r_e.htm) substantially upheld the EU’s claims and largely confirmed that in the anti-subsidy duties imposed by the US on ripe olives from Spain, the US acted inconsistently with the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM), the EU said. The panel found that the US did not comply with its obligation in the determination of “de jure” specificity of the subsidy and in the calculation of the subsidy benefit for one specific EU company. It also found that Section 771B of the US Tariff Act of 1930, which presumes that the entire benefit of a subsidy provided in respect of a raw agricultural product passes through to the downstream processed agricultural product, is ‘as such’ inconsistent with the ASCM. The EU said it expects the US will promptly and fully implement the panel’s findings.

“The United States said that while it was disappointed in certain respects, it welcomed the panel’s findings on key issues in the dispute. The panel rightly rejected many of the numerous claims brought by the EU regarding the anti-dumping and countervailing duties at issue, including key EU claims relating to injury and so-called “decoupled” payments.

“The United States said it appreciated the panel’s rejection of all eight claims concerning the US International Trade Commission’s injury determination and that, contrary to certain comments, the panel rejected the EU position that so-called “decoupled” agricultural payments cannot be subject to countervailable duties. In particular, the panel did not find that the EU Common Agricultural Policy programs at issue were outside the scope of the ASCM. Although disappointed with some of the panel’s findings, the US has decided to allow the report to be adopted in light of all the circumstances, including the overall quality of the panel report and the US desire to work with the EU to resolve this dispute, the US said.

“Canada highlighted the panel’s important finding that an investigating authority must establish the existence and extent of indirect subsidization, taking into account all relevant factors, in order to impose countervailing duties.

“The DSB took note of the statements made and adopted the panel report.”

WTO Press Release, WTO panels to review Russian procurement measures, Dominican duties, 20 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dsb_20dec21_e.htm.

The WTO Press Release contained the entirety of the prepared EU statement on the dispute. See EU Statements at Regular Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting, 20 December 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/109169/eu-statements-regular-dispute-settlement-body-dsb-meeting-20-december-2021_en. The U.S. statement was longer and is presented below in its entirety.

“7. UNITED STATES – ANTI-DUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTIES ON RIPE OLIVES FROM SPAIN

“”A. REPORT OF THE PANEL (WT/DS577/R AND WT/DS577/R/ADD.1)

“• The United States thanks the Panel, and the Secretariat staff assisting it, for their work in this dispute. We acknowledge the Panel’s thorough review of the legal arguments put forward by the parties, and while we are disappointed in certain respects, we welcome the Panel’s findings on key issues in this dispute.

“• The EU brought numerous claims regarding antidumping and countervailing duties on ripe olives from Spain, as well as one statutory provision. The Panel rightly rejected many of those claims, including key EU claims relating to injury and so-called “decoupled” payments.

“• First, the United States appreciates the Panel’s rejection of all eight claims concerning the U.S. International Trade Commission’s injury determination.

“• For example, the Panel agreed with the United States that nothing in Articles 15.1 and 15.2 of the SCM Agreement or Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the Antidumping Agreement prohibits an investigating authority from paying particular attention to one segment of the domestic industry in its injury analysis. And as a factual matter, the USITC did not exclude certain segments of the domestic industry in its analysis.

“• Furthermore, the USITC properly considered whether there was a significant increase in the volume of subsidized and dumped imports, and was not required to make a finding of absolute or relative volume increase, pursuant to Article 15.2 of the SCM Agreement or Article 3.2 of the Antidumping Agreement.

“• The Panel also agreed that the USITC considered all of the relevant economic factors having a bearing on the state of the entire domestic industry, established a causal link between subject imports and injury to the domestic industry, and accounted for any injury caused by factors other than subject imports as part of its non-attribution analysis.

“• Accordingly, the EU failed to make out its claims under Articles 15.1, 15.2, 15.4, and 15.5 of the SCM Agreement and Articles 3.1, 3.2, 3.4, and 3.5 of the Antidumping Agreement. We are gratified that the Panel agreed, and rejected all of the EU’s injury claims. (See, e.g., para. 7.319.)

“• Second, we welcome the Panel’s narrow findings with respect to specificity. While we disagree that the U.S. Department of Commerce erred in certain aspects of its factual evaluation, the Panel correctly rejected the EU’s broader challenge regarding the proper interpretation of Article 2 of the SCM Agreement.

“• Contrary to certain comments, including in press reports, the Panel has rejected the EU position that so-called ‘decoupled’ agricultural payments cannot be subject to countervailable duties:

“o In particular, and contrary to certain characterizations of these findings, the Panel did not find that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) programs at issue were outside the scope of the SCM Agreement.

“o To the contrary, the Panel rejected the EU’s arguments that the legal design of the CAP – in particular, ‘decoupling’ subsidies from current production or basing them on an earlier reference program – means the subsidies conferred cannot be countervailed. (See, e.g., paras. 7.30-7.33, 7.37-7.39, 7.51-7.52, 7.85, and 7.124.)

“o In doing so, the Panel similarly rejected the EU argument that decoupled ‘Green Box’ subsidies under the Agreement on Agriculture are not actionable under the SCM Agreement. The Panel found that Article 2.1(a) does not prescribe particular facts or factors that may or may not be taken into account by an investigating authority, or any particular methodology or analytical approach in evaluating that information.

“• Thus, on these two core issues in this panel proceeding, injury and countervailing so-called ‘decoupled’ payments, the Panel disagreed with the very premise of the EU’s claims.

“• We are disappointed with other of the Panel’s findings, however, and in particular its findings on a U.S. statute related to the calculation of subsidies for certain processed agricultural products.

“• By enacting Section 771B, the U.S. Congress sought to eliminate the possibility that ‘a foreign nation could avoid U.S. countervailing duty on an agricultural product merely by doing some minor processing of the agricultural product before it is exported to the United States’.1 The United States is evaluating the Panel’s findings with a view to ensure that countervailing duties account for the economic realities of trade in raw agricultural products and processed downstream products.

“• Mr. Chairman, although the United States is disappointed with certain of the Panel’s findings, on balance, we have decided to permit the report to be adopted today. We take this step in light of all the circumstances, including the overall quality of the Panel report and our desire to work with the European Union to resolve this dispute.

“• We thank Members for their attention to this statement.

“1 See 133 Congressional Record S8814 (Exhibit USA-9) at S8815. See also Issues and Decision Memo for Final Determination C-469-818 (Exhibit EU-2), p. 23.”

Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body Geneva, December 20, 2021, pages 9-10, https://uploads.mwp.mprod.getusinfo.com/uploads/sites/25/2021/12/Dec20.DSB_.Stmt_.as_.deliv_.fin_.pdf

Panel conclusion

Because of the number and complexity of issues explored in the panel report, the panel’s conclusion is a good basis for understanding the extent of the EU “win” and US “loss”.

“8 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION

“8.1. For the reasons set forth in this Report, the Panel concludes as follows:

“a. With respect to the European Union’s claims regarding the USDOC’s de jure specificity determination:

“i. the European Union has demonstrated that the USDOC’s 29 May 2020 Remand Redetermination as it relates to the USDOC’s original findings of de jure specificity is a measure or is part of the measure that is before the Panel in this dispute;

“ii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USDOC acted inconsistently with Articles 2.1 and 2.1(a) of the SCM Agreement merely because the USDOC based its findings of de jure specificity in the ripe olives countervailing duty investigation on the rules in the relevant subsidy programmes governing the calculation of the amounts of subsidies available to eligible enterprises;

“iii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article 2.1(a) of the SCM Agreement because the USDOC’s determination of de jure specificity was dependent upon how certain alleged features of past subsidy programmes no longer in force were relied upon and integrated into the BPS programme;

“iv. the European Union has not demonstrated that, as a matter of fact, the USDOC found that the BPS/GP and SPS subsidies were de jure specific to olive growers as a result of being coupled or tied to olive production;

“v. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Articles 2.1, 2.1(a), and 2.4 of the SCM Agreement because:

“(1) the USDOC did not properly examine and account for the rules governing the allocation and valuation of BPS entitlements with respect to new farmers, farmers holding entitlements transferred under the SPS programme, and farmers no longer growing olives;

“(2) the USDOC relied upon erroneous factual findings with respect to function and role of the so called “regional rate” to support its determination of de jure specificity; and

“(3) the USDOC did not properly examine and account for the rules governing the allocation and valuation of SPS entitlements with respect to farmers with SPS entitlements obtained via transfer, and farmers holding COMOF programme-based entitlements no longer producing olives.

“For the reasons set out in (v)(1)-(3), the USDOC’s determination of de jure specificity was not based on a reasoned and adequate explanation of why access to the BPS and SPS subsidies was explicitly limited to olive growers, within the meaning of Articles 2.1 and 2.1(a) of the SCM Agreement, and was not clearly substantiated on the basis of positive evidence, as required by Article 2.4 of the SCM Agreement;

“vi. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article 2.4 of the SCM Agreement to the extent that the USDOC’s determinations of de jure specificity with respect to the SPS and BPS/GP subsidies relied upon an erroneous factual finding concerning the calculation of assistance under the COMOF programme832;

“vii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USDOC acted inconsistently with Articles 2.1, 2.1(a), and 2.4 of the SCM Agreement because, contrary to the European Union’s assertions:

“(1) the USDOC’s rejection of the arguments concerning the application of the convergence factor under the BPS programme was supported by record evidence, and to this extent, reasonably and adequately explained and based on clearly substantiated positive evidence;

“(2) the totality of the USDOC’s discussion of the rules governing the calculation of SPS payments reveals that the USDOC correctly understood that SPS payments were made to farmers and that Spain did not implement the SPS programme on a regional basis; and

“(3) the lack of a formal specificity finding under US law does not undermine the USDOC’s determinations of de jure specificity with respect to the SPS, BPS, and GP programmes, given the absence of any suggestion on the part of the European Union that the COMOF programme subsidies were not de jure specific, and in the light of the fact that the USDOC considered it had made sufficient factual findings to satisfy itself that those subsidies would be de jure specific under its domestic legislation, had it been required to make such a determination.

“viii. given our findings at paragraphs 8.1.a.v and vi, the Panel declines to make further findings under Articles 1.2, 2.1, 2.1(a), 2.1(b), and 2.4 of the SCM Agreement.

“b. With respect to the European Union’s claims in relation to Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930 and its application in the ripe olives countervailing duty investigation:

“i. Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930 is as such inconsistent with Article VI:3 of the GATT 1994 and Article 10 of the SCM Agreement because it requires the USDOC to presume that the entire benefit of a subsidy provided in respect of a raw agricultural input product passes through to the downstream processed agricultural product, based on a consideration of only two factual circumstances, without leaving open the possibility of taking into account any other factors that may be relevant to the determination of whether there is any pass-through and, if so, its degree;

“ii. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article VI:3 of the GATT 1994 and Article 10 of the SCM Agreement regarding its application of Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the Spanish ripe olives countervailing duty investigation because it failed to establish the existence and extent of indirect subsidization taking into account all relevant facts and circumstances; and

“iii. given our findings at paragraphs 8.1.b.i and ii, the Panel declines to make further findings under Articles 19.1, 19.3, 19.4, and 32.1 of the SCM Agreement, either with respect to Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930 as such or the USDOC’s application of Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the Spanish ripe olives countervailing duty investigation.

“c. With respect to the European Union’s claims regarding the USITC’s Injury Determination:

“i. with respect to the United States’ request for a preliminary ruling, the United States has not demonstrated that the European Union’s claims under Article 15.4 of the SCM Agreement and Article 3.4 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement are not properly before the Panel;

“ii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.1 and 15.2 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, by failing to undertake an analysis of the volume of ripe olives from Spain based on an objective examination of positive evidence;

“iii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.1 and 15.2 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, by failing to consider a “volume effect” within the meaning of Article 15.2 of the SCM Agreement and Article 3.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement;

“iv. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.1 and 15.2 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, by failing to undertake an analysis of the price effects of ripe olives from Spain that was based on an objective examination of positive evidence;

“v. given our findings at paragraphs c.ii-iv, the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.4 and 15.5 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.4 and 3.5 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, as a consequence of alleged violations concerning the USITC’s volume analysis and price effects analysis;

“vi. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.1 and 15.4 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.1 and 3.4 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, by failing to undertake an analysis of the consequent impact of ripe olives from Spain on the domestic industry that was based on an objective examination of positive evidence;

“vii. given our findings at paragraph c.vi, the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Article 15.5 of the SCM Agreement, and Article 3.5 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, as a consequence of alleged violations concerning the USITC’s impact analysis; and

“viii. the European Union has not demonstrated that the USITC acted inconsistently with Articles 15.1 and 15.5 of the SCM Agreement, and Articles 3.1 and 3.5 of the Anti-Dumping Agreement, by failing to undertake a causation analysis that was based on an objective examination of positive evidence.

“d. With respect to the European Union’s claims concerning Aceitunas Guadalquivir’s final subsidy margin and countervailing duty rate calculation:

“i. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article VI:3 of the GATT 1994 because, by relying on the volume of Aceitunas Guadalquivir’s raw olive purchases reported in its response to the initial 4 August 2017 questionnaire to determine Aceitunas Guadalquivir’s final subsidy margin and countervailing duty rate, the USDOC did not ensure, and take the necessary steps to ascertain as accurately as possible the amount of subsidization bestowed on the investigated products;

“ii. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article VI:3 of the GATT 1994 because the USDOC relied upon the margin of subsidization incorrectly determined for Aceitunas Guadalquivir in its determination of the ‘all others’ rate of countervailing duties imposed on exporters of ripe olives that were not individually investigated;

“iii. given our findings at paragraphs 8.1.d.i and ii, the Panel declines to make further findings that the same USDOC actions are also inconsistent with Articles 10, 19.1, 19.3, 19.4 and 32.1 of the SCM Agreement;

“iv. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article 12.1 of the SCM Agreement because the USDOC failed to notify the respondents that the USDOC required information regarding the volume of purchases of raw olives processed into ripe olives; and

“v. the USDOC acted inconsistently with Article 12.8 of the SCM Agreement because the USDOC failed to inform interested parties before the final determination that the volume of purchases of raw olives processed into ripe olives was an ‘essential fact under consideration’.

“8.2. Under Article 3.8 of the DSU, in cases where there is an infringement of the obligations assumed under a covered agreement, the action is considered prima facie to constitute a case of nullification or impairment. We conclude that, to the extent that the measures at issue are inconsistent with the GATT 1994, the SCM Agreement and Anti-Dumping Agreement, they have nullified or impaired benefits accruing to the European Union under that agreement.

“8.3. Pursuant to Article 19.1 of the DSU, we recommend that the United States bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the GATT 1994, the SCM Agreement, and the Anti-Dumping Agreement.

“832 See para. 7.127(d) above.”

Comments on the Panel Report

With the dispute settlement system likely to be without an agreed solution to the reforms needed and role of a second tier review (“appeal”) for the next several years, the panel report and the response thereto shows that Members can find solutions to disputes even if there is only the panel process, depending on the quality of the panel report and the goodwill of the parties. This is not surprising as most disputes in the GATT system resulted in eventual adoption by the parties. While many Members, including the U.S. and the EU and China, have filed appeals into the void, resolution of disputes is achievable even in these unusual circumstances.

While many of the panel findings of U.S. violations of existing obligations are arguably addressable by the U.S. without statutory or regulatory change, absent from the panel’s analysis is the practical ability of investigating governments to seek and of investigated companies and their governments to provide ever increasing quantities of information in the 12-18 month time frame of investigations. This is particularly true in most agricultural cases and processed agricultural cases where the number of producers can be in the thousands, tens of thousands or more.

In the United States, all industries are supposed to be able to avail themselves of statutory tools to address injurious dumping or subsidization. For many agricultural producers, there can be issues of seasonality that should be addressable in cases so that relief if warranted only addresses products entering during the relevant season.

But the same concern applies if options under U.S. law or the WTO agreements require gathering information from huge numbers of producers and/or processors. For example, in the olive case, there is the open question of whether benefits to farmers raising olives are larger than to other producers, whether there is a concentrated group receiving large funds, etc. Gathering information on benefits received under different programs from hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of agricultural producers would provide factual information to confirm whether there is de facto specificity even if further refined analysis would be unclear on whether there is de jure specificity. No country sends questionnaires to such large numbers of producers and analyzing such data would presumably be impractical in the statutory time frame available to investigators.

Thus, the panel report puts into focus whether trade defense agreements like the countervailing duty law are available in fact to all industries or just to more concentrated industries. This is an issue that should concern trade officials and obviously is important to industries. A cornerstone right under the GATT and now WTO has been the right to seek redress from injurious dumped or subsidized imports. That right cannot be limited to a subset of industries without causing loss of support in a number of Members where such rights are important.

The same concern exists with regard to the panel finding “as such” inconsistency in Section 771B of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended. 19 U.S.C. 1677-2. The panel report is probably at its weakest in its conclusion that the two factors listed under the statute are not a reasonable basis to find a pass through in processed agricultural cases or at least that it can be in many situations. That should have eliminated the as such claim. That would have left the EU’s as applied claim. The U.S. concern as articulated by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Congress is a real one. The WTO SCMA and U.S. law should not permit evasion of the countervailing duty law because of minor processing of agricultural products. Common sense approaches such as that adopted in 771B are important to ensure all industries can pursue relief when needed. Subsidization of upstream agricultural products will almost always result in excess production which will depress prices resulting in artificial advantages to downstream processors that are unaffiliated. That common sense understanding of reality in agricultural market was not accepted by the panel. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the U.S. chooses to address this finding.

All of the above strongly suggests that WTO Members need to examine the needs of the trade defense agreements to be sure all industries facing injurious dumping or subsidization can seek relief, and that the agreements are administrable in fact without impossible factual data gathering requirements.

Forced labor and trade — U.S. Congress passes legislation to address China’s treatment of Uyghurs

In prior posts I have reviewed how concerns over perceived human rights abuses (particularly forced labor) have trade implications. See, e.g., April 27, 2021:  WTO and forced labor in cotton — Commentary by Amb. Dennis Shea, former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/27/wto-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-commentary-by-amb-dennis-shea-former-deputy-u-s-trade-representative/; March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/; January 25, 2021:  Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021:  Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/.

There have been a number of reports generated by various groups over the years on the depth of the human rights problems in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the treatment of ethnic minorities — particularly the Uyghurs. See, e.g., Australian Strategic Policy Institute and International Cyber Policy Centre, Uyghurs for sale, ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang (authors Vicky Xiuzhong Xu with Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro, Nathan Ruser), Policy Brief Report No. 26/2020, https://ad-aspi.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/2021-10/Uyghurs%20for%20sale%2020OCT21.pdf?VersionId=zlRFV8AtLg1ITtRpzBm7ZcfnHKm6Z0Ys.

The U.S. State Department releases an annual report on Human Rights issues in other countries, including China. The 2020 report on China contains the following excerpts relevant to the human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Region and the question of forced labor.

“CHINA 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT

“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“* * *

“Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

“Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other members of predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only ‘re-education’ training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy; pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members, and censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; forced labor and trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

“* * *

“Section 7. Workers’ Rights

“* * *

“b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

“The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law provides a range of penalties depending on the circumstances, including imprisonment, criminal detention, administrative blacklisting, and fines. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law was not effectively enforced.

“The PRC used state-sponsored forced labor in detention camps, prisons, and factories in and outside Xinjiang.

“There is evidence of forced labor exacted by the use of force, threats of detention or other abusive practices against workers laboring in the camps, large industrial parks, and residential locations in Xinjiang. There are also reports of individuals ‘graduating’ from ‘vocational training centers’ and then being compelled to work at nearby facilities or sent to factories in other parts of China.

“China’s State Council issued a white paper on employment and labor rights in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on September 17, 2020, in which it acknowledged that the Chinese Government has provided ‘vocational training’ to an average of 1.29 million workers in Xinjiang every year from 2014 to 2019.

“Xinjiang government documents indicate the existence of a large-scale PRC government plan, known as the ‘mutual pairing assistance’ program, where 19 cities and provinces, mostly in eastern China, have established factories in Xinjiang. There is significant risk that these factories are using camp labor and other exploitative labor practices.

“Persons detained in internment camps in Xinjiang (see section 6) were subjected to forced labor. The detainees worked in factories producing garments, hair accessories, and electronics and in agricultural production, notably picking and processing cotton and tomatoes. In March an Australian Strategic Policy
report stated the PRC government transferred Uyghur and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang to technology, clothing, and automotive factories across the country; conditions for many transferred workers strongly suggested forced labor. A New York Times investigation published on April 15 stated some Chinese companies used forced labor to produce personal protective equipment. In December a Center for Global Policy report detailed the PRC’s coercive labor training and transfer schemes that led to forced labor of nearly half a million people in the Xinjiang cotton harvest.

“A December 2020 Jamestown report used evidence from public and nonpublic Chinese government and academic sources indicating that labor transfers of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to other regions and other provinces are part of a state-run scheme to forcibly uproot them, assimilate them, and reduce their population. Using Chinese government documents, the report estimates that up to 1.6 million transferred laborers are estimated to be at risk of being subjected to forced labor as a result of the government policy that intends to ‘displace’ populations deemed ‘problematic’ by the government.

“Chinese-flagged fishing vessels subjected workers from other countries to forced labor. On August 26, an Indonesian social media outlet posted a video of three Indonesian fisherman pleading for rescue from a PRC-flagged fishing vessel. The fishermen claimed they were subjected to physical violence, forced to work 20-hour days, and not paid for their work.

“Although in 2013 the NPC officially abolished the re-education through labor system, an arbitrary system of administrative detention without judicial review, numerous media outlets and NGOs reported forced labor continued in prisons as well as drug rehabilitation facilities where individuals continued to be detained without judicial process. An August, Epoch Times article stated prison labor was used in apparel, artificial flowers, and cosmetic production in Shenyang, Liaoning. There were reports of forced labor in other provinces in the production of items such as bricks, coal, and electronics.

“Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.”

U.S. Department of State, CHINA 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT, pages 1, 78, 81-82 (March 2021 updated in November), https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/china/.

U.S. law for more than 90 years has banned the importation of goods made with forced labor. The problem of forced labor is not limited to China and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in recent years has taken action to deny entry to imports from a number of countries of goods suspected of being made with forced labor. See, e.g., Testimony of Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, JD, Executive Director, Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, Before the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, The Global Challenge of Forced Labor in Supply Chains: Strengthening Enforcement and Protecting Workers, Wednesday July 21, 2021, https://waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/democrats.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/documents/Witness%203%20Jennifer%20Rosenbaum%20Testimony.pdf (citing various USCBP Withhold Release Orders under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 on products from Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkmenistan, Malaysia as well as China).

With the broader concern about the perceived extreme human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and reports of dozens of multinationals apparently “benefitting” from forced labor of Uyghurs, Congress held hearings in 2021 and in December passed legislation directed at improving the enforcement of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 including creating a presumption of use of forced labor for products coming from Xinjiang Province. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act heads to Biden’s desk, December 16, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act-heads-biden%E2%80%99s-desk.

The U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement on December 16th about the legislation going to the President.

“This bill represents our country’s commitment to protecting human dignity and leading the fight against forced labor. We have a moral and economic imperative to eliminate this practice from our global supply chains, including those that run through Xinjiang, China, and exploit Uyghurs and other ethnic
and religious minorities.

“This fall in London, the G7 trade ministers released a Joint Statement affirming our belief that there is no place for forced labor in a rules-based multilateral trading system. By passing this bill with strong, bipartisan support, the United States can set an example for the world to follow.

“I am grateful to Congress for its leadership and look forward to continuing this necessary work with our trading partners and allies to ensure every worker is treated with respect and dignity – no matter where they live.”

USTR Press Release, STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR KATHERINE TAI ON THE PASSAGE OF THE UYGHUR FORCED LABOR PREVENTION ACT, December 16, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/december/statement-ambassador-katherine-tai-passage-uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act.

The bill as passed by the House and Senate is enclosed below. It is expected that President Biden will sign the legislation in the coming days.

uyghur-forced-labor-compromise

The legislation consists of six sections. The first is a statement of policy including the strengthening the porhibition against importation of goods made with forced labor, leading international efforts to end forced labor, coordinating with Canada and Mexico implementation of Art. 23.6 of the USMCA prohibiting the importation of goods manufactured with forced labor, working to end human trafficking, regarding the prevention of atrocities as in the U.S. national interest, and addressing gross violations of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through diplomatic channels, multilateral institutions, by using all authorities available to the U.S. government including visa and financial sanctions, export restrictions and import controls.

Section 2 details a strategy to enforce Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (prohibiting the importation of goods made through forced labor in Xinjiang). There will be opportunity for public comments, a public hearing and development of a strategy by the Formed Labor Enforcement Task force (established by Sec. 741 of the USMCA Implementation Act) in consultation with the Department of Commerce and the Director of National Intelligence. The strategy will include elements that assess the risk of importing prohibited goods from Xinjiang and procedures to be implemented to reduce the risks, a factual description of various practices in China on forced labor including a list of entities using forced labor or working with the government on forced labor, a list of products made with such labor, a list of entities that exported such goods to the U.S., information on third parties using such goods, a list of high-priority sector (including at a minimum cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon) and other matters including additional resources needed by USCBP to enforce the law and guidance to importers. Within 180 days of enactment of the legislation, the strategy report shall be submitted to the appropriate Congressional Committees. The strategy will be updated annually.

Section 3 creates a rebuttable presumption that imports of goods mined, produced or manufactured in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is produced with forced labor. There are exceptions but CBP needs to submit a report to appropriate Congressional Committees within 30 days after determining an exception applies. The section takes effect 180 days after enactment of the legislation.

Section 4 deals with having a diplomatic strategy to address forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Secretary of State will submit a strategy within 90 days to the appropriate Congressional Committees including plans to enhance bilateral and multilateral coordination among other matters.

Section 5 deals with sanctions relating to forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The President is to identify any official of China’s Government who is determined to be responsible for serious human rights abuses in connection with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and shall impose sanctions on such individuals.

Section 6 sunsets Sections 3-5 eight years after enactment or when the President determines the Chinese Government has ended the human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is earlier.

Comments

Historically, human rights issues have not been viewed through a trade lense. Many human rights abuses are not easily addressed through trade and may have marginal trade effects. That is not true of the issue of forced labor which affects the costs of goods and services where such labor is involved either in an end product or service or in an upstream product or service.

The United States under the Biden Administration is working to address some of the trade distortions flowing from forced labor as can be seen in the ongoing Fisheries Subsidies negotiations. The human rights issues reportedly flowing from treatment of Uyghur and other minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have caused concerns in many countries. Treasury, Commerce, Customs and Border Protection are all taking actions to address trade distortions caused by forced labor whether from China or elsewhere. The legislation sent to the President last week (that will likely be signed by President Biden by the end of the year) is an important step in raising awareness and trying to address the underlying situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

While China is reacting negatively and now has legislative tools to take retaliation (regardless of WTO inconsistency), the U.S. and other countries have to address the human rights problems flagged in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and ensure that trade distortions from forced labor are neutralized.

20 Years of China’s Membership in the WTO — a brief critique

On December 11, 2001, China became the 143rd Member of the WTO. There is little doubt that China has benefitted from Membership, and that global trade has been heavily influenced by China’s rapid growth. There have been numerous programs marking the milestone of 20 years including yesterday’s (December 10) high level forum at the WTO and a joint program by the Washington International Trade Association and the Asia Society Policy Institute on December 9.

A WTO press release reviews the High-Level Forum event and summarizes views of the major participants. See WTO Press Release, High-Level Forum marks 20 years of China’s WTO membership, 10 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/acc_10dec21_e.htm. The full statement of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was made available as well. See Remarks by DG Okonjo-Iweala, 20 Years of China’s WTO Membership: Integration & Development — High-level Opening session (virtual), 10 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno19_e.htm. The DG’s statement lays out many of the positive developments for China from membership and notes the belief of some other WTO Members that China can and needs to do more, a position commented on by former DG Pascal Lamy and by former USTR negotiator Wendy Cutler. A portion of DG Okonjo-Iweala’s statement is copied below.

“For the WTO, welcoming China marked a significant step towards becoming a truly ‘world’ organization. Over a fifth of the world population — 1.3 billion producers and consumers — gained full entry into the multilateral trading system.

“For other WTO members, China’s accession meant the promise of more predictable and mutually beneficial trading relations with a large and fast-growing economy.

“Accession to the WTO is never easy, and China’s accession process was particularly demanding. China requested to resume its status as a contracting party to the GATT in 1986 — 15 years before its eventual accession to the WTO. Over that time, China and its partners together:

“Convened 38 Working Party meetings;

“Reached 44 bilateral market access agreements, the terms of which went on to be multilateralized; and

“Produced over 750 pages of legal text that spell out China’s WTO commitments.  

“The reforms China was asked to make could not have been easy at the time, requiring difficult changes by Chinese policymakers and within the Chinese economy. But looking back, China’s determination to pursue WTO membership as the cornerstone of its economic liberalization strategy has been fully vindicated.

“China has become the textbook case for how global trade integration can drive growth and development. The country’s economic rise has lifted millions out of poverty, not only within China but also in China’s trading partners across the developing world.

“In 2001, China’s GDP was $1.3 trillion. By 2020, it had reached $14.7 trillion. This is really an astonishing improvement. China’s economy has performed well through the pandemic, and the IMF expects Chinese output to grow by 8% in 2021 and by 5.6% in 2022. China is now by some margin the world’s largest manufacturing producer and exporter.

“People in China have seen dramatic increases in living standards. Per capita incomes, in purchasing power terms, have risen from around US$3,400 in 2000 to US$16,200 today in 2020. Extreme poverty has all but been eliminated.

“China is a major destination for foreign direct investment, and has become a significant source of outward investment itself . The stock of FDI in China has risen 10-fold – from about 200 billion US dollars in the year 2000 to close to 2 trillion US dollars in 2020. Meanwhile, China’s stock of outward FDI has soared to 2.3 trillion US dollars, 84 times higher than at the time of its accession.”

The December 9th virtual event hosted by WITA and ASPI had interviews with former USTR Charlene Barshevsky and Minister Long Yongtu (former Vice Minister and Chief Negotiator for China’s Accession). There were also remarks by Amb. Xiangchen Zhang one of the current Deputy Director-Generals and a past Permanent Representative of China to the WTO. There was also a panel of experts from various organizations, many of whom served at USTR at one time or another. The link for the video of the event can be found in WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Volume 250, December 10, 2021. See https://www.wita.org/event-videos/china-wto-20-years/. Based on the deep concerns within the United States on dealing with a host of ongoing systemic problems with China, one of the questions addressed by the panelists and by Amb. Barshevsky was whether it was a misstake for the United States to support China’s accession to the WTO in 2001. Most U.S. speakers supported China’s accession although various concerns were expressed.

A brief critique

Neither event explored to any extent challenges posed by China’s accession or ongoing economic system and behavior. This is perhaps not surprising at the WTO where the event was more celebratory in nature even if cautions were raised by non-Chinese speakers.

But the WITA/ASPI virtual event also tended to overlook many of the core problems. Amb. Barshevsky provided a misleading choice the U.S. and others had back in 2001. The choices were not limited to accession or no accession as suggested by Amb. Barshevsky. The third option that could have been pursued would have been consistent with accessions for most other countries — continue negotiations until China’s system was basically consistent with WTO requirements.

Specifically, For most countries seeking accession, the process goes on until existing Members are comfortable that the acceding Member’s economic and legal system is largely consistent with WTO norms. This was not true of the decision to let China into the WTO in 2001. A longer accession process could have ensured that the reforms needed were in fact undertaken and implemented.

While China had undertaken many reforms prior to accession, there were so many remaining issues needing to be addressed that a variety of special rules were imposed on China to permit Members to monitor China’s progress in the necessary massive remaining reforms and limit damage to other Members while the reforms took place. While most protocols of accession are a few pages at most, China’s protocol (including Annexes) was 102 pages. See ACCESSION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, Decision of 10 November 2001, WT/L/432. China greatly resented the China-specific provisions that were included in the Protocol (the annual trade policy review for the first eight years and a final one at year ten; the special safeguard provisions and the articles dealing with special rules while China’s economy remained state-controlled). China worked to block implementation of the “discriminatory” provisions and largely refused to permit the annual trade policy reviews to be conducted as they should have been and discouraged trading partners from pursuing special safeguard cases.

The core issue for the U.S. and others with China was whether China would adopt the far reaching reforms that would be needed to have China’s economy operate on market principles. While China had made some changes prior to joining and made others after joining, the core issue troubling many WTO Members in 2021 is the massive distortions that occur in a wide range of industries through state involvement, control and direction. As former Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff has raised on a number of occasions, the multilateral trading system requires convergence of economic systems not coexistence. See October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/; November 10, 2020:  The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/. Ensuring convergence would have been possible during the accession process if continued. It is nearly impossible after accession where a Member refuses to pursue that path as is the case with China.

The same could be said for problems with transparency of subsidy regimes, problems with human rights issues affecting trade, the proliferation of products subject to export taxes, forced technology transfer and many more topics of ongoing concern to U.S., EU and other businesses. See, e.g., March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/. Monitoring progress prior to accession could have significantly reduced the problems that have plagued Members for the last twenty years.

And there are, of course, other troubling issues of China’s participation in the WTO, such as their use of threats, coercion and punitive conduct towards countries who make statements or take positions with which China disagrees. The problems Australia has faced from China on a wide range of products is but one example. See, e.g., December 22, 2020:  China’s trade war with Australia – unwarranted and at odds with China’s portrayal of itself as a strong supporter of the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/22/chinas-trade-war-with-australia-unwarranted-and-at-odds-with-chinas-portrayal-of-itself-as-a-strong-supporter-of-the-wto/. Similarly, their use of retaliation without WTO authorization is another serious problem in their actions and undermines the international rule of law.

So bottom line, China has been a Member of the WTO for 20 years and has benefitted enormously from its membership. But its different economic system and failures on a host of transparency and other obligations and its willingness to abuse other Members through threats, coercion and unauthorized retaliation are major reasons the WTO is in trouble. China’s behavior is also causing many historic supporters of liberalized trade to rethink options.

As the world marks the 20th anniversary of China’s joining the WTO, it is important to understand just how far from the objective of accession on terms that would ensure a level playing field reality has proven to be. Without a change in approach by China, the road forward for the multilateral trading system is uncertain at best.

Conclusion of Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation — a win for the WTO and services trade

For an organization seeking to regain relevance and facing continued delays in holding its 12th Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel from increased COVID-19 cases, the conclusion of the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on Services Domestic Regulation through the issuance of a declaration on December 2 was an important accomplishment. Sixty-seven WTO Members agreed to a reference paper and a process for amending services schedules for the participants over the next months with benefits accruing to all WTO Members and with transition periods for developing and least developed countries. See Declaration on the Conclusion of Negotiations on Services Domestic Regulation, 2 Deember 2021,WT/L/1129 (includes Annex 1, Reference Paper on Services Domestic Regulation, 26 November 2021, INF/SDR/2 and Annex 2S, Schedules of Specific Commitments, 2 December 2021, INF/SDR/3/Rev.1). The 67 WTO Members participating the JSI reportedly account for 90% of services trade. The 67 countries are Albania, Argentina, Australia, Kingdom of Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, European Union (and member states), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

According to the WTO press release on the completion of negotiations, the aim of the JSI was “slashing administrative costs and creating a more transparent operating environment for service providers hoping to do business in foreign markets.” WTO Press Release, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, 2 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm.

It is the first agreement at the WTO barring discrimination between men and women. WT/L/1129 at 10 (Annex I, para. 22(d), development of measures — “such measures do not discriminate between men and women.”).

The WTO and OECD released a short paper looking at the benefits to global services trade through a successful conclusion to the JSI on services domestic regulation. The study estimated that savings to service providers and their customers would be around $150 billion/year. See World Trade Organization and OECD, Services Domestic Regulation in the WTO: Cutting Red Tape, Slashing Trade Costs and Facilitating Services Trade, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_26nov21_e.pdf. The four “key messages” in the study (page 1) are copied below.

“Key messages

“• Improving business climate: At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the Joint Initiative on Services
Domestic Regulation will conclude negotiations on a set of good regulatory practices with a focus on procedural aspects of licensing and authorization procedures for services suppliers. By enhancing the transparency, efficiency, and predictability of regulatory systems, the disciplines on services domestic regulation that the Joint Initiative has negotiated will address the practical challenges that affect the ability of businesses and suppliers to operate.

“• Facilitating services trade: Building on efforts to identify and disseminate good regulatory practice, an
increasing number of “new generation” trade agreements have moved beyond the removal of quantitative restrictions and discriminatory measures to include a comprehensive set of disciplines largely equivalent to those developed by the Joint Initiative. At the same time, economies at all levels of income have also implemented reforms with a view to making their regulatory environment more trade facilitative for services businesses.

“• Lowering trade costs and generating broader trade benefits: Through the full implementation of the
disciplines on services domestic regulation, economies can lower trade costs and reap substantial trade
benefits: annual trade cost savings could be in the range of USD 150 billion, with important gains in financial services, business services, communications and transport services. Moreover, a positive correlation between the implementation of services domestic regulation measures and services trade by all four modes of supply, as well as a more active engagement of economies in global value chains, hints to even broader economic benefits.

“• Widespread gains beyond participants: Exporters from all WTO members will benefit from the improved regulatory conditions when they trade with participants of the Joint Initiative. However, significantly larger benefits will accrue to WTO members that are implementing the disciplines themselves in their internal regulatory frameworks.”

The study provides a summary of improved disciplines the 67 WTO Members have identified in the reference paper. The improved disciplines are grouped under transparency, legal certainty and predictability, regulatory quality and facilitation. See id at 2.

While the estimated savings once fully implemented is small in comparison to global services trade ($150 billion of 2019 estimated trade of $6.1 trillion (2.6%)(UNCTAD, 2020 Handbook of Statistics, page 33, data for 2019, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/tdstat45_en.pdf) as noted in the WTO press release, it is the first update of WTO rules on services in more than a quarter century. The negotiations had three co-chairs — Costa Rica, Australia and the European Union. Part of the EU’s statement by Ambassador Aguiar Machado from the December 2 meeting and announcement of the declaration is provided below. See Services Domestic Regulation Joint Initiative Meeting to conclude the negotiations (co-hosted by Costa Rica, the European Union and Australia), 2 December 2021, Geneva, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/brazil/108266/services-domestic-regulation-joint-initiative-meeting-conclude-negotiations-co-hosted-costa_en.

“Today, we are following up on a joint commitment we collectively took two years ago in Paris to finalize the negotiations that had started with the Joint Statement of Buenos Aires in 2017. Since then, several new Members have joined the group and a tremendous amount of work has been done by our negotiators under the valued Chairmanship of Costa Rica. In particular, warm welcome to the Philippines and Bahrain who joined our negotiations most recently.

“We are here today to conclude our negotiations in this JSI and on the Reference Paper with domestic regulation disciplines. This step will allow us to commence our respective domestic procedures required for the certification of our improved schedules of commitments, which will give legal effect to the negotiated disciplines.

“The work on services domestic regulation is of critical importance. It is the first WTO deliverable in the area of trade in services since a very long time. Our additional commitments for domestic regulation will benefit all other WTO Members by giving them the reassurance that we will apply good regulatory and administrative practices also to their service suppliers. 

“Good regulatory practices are crucial for the well-functioning of today’s economy. I believe that the clear rules on transparency and authorisation in the area of services – that were agreed as part of this initiative – will facilitate trade in services significantly. Especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises who do not have the same resources and experience to cope with complex processes as their larger competitors.

“The services sector has been hit hard by the pandemic – as other parts of our economy. The adoption and implementation of the disciplines of the reference paper will reduce trade costs for service suppliers substantially and thus help the sector in its recovery. It is a sector where women entrepreneurs often play an important role. The reference paper recognises this role by ensuring non-discrimination between men and women in authorisation processes. This is the first rule of this kind in the WTO.

“Delivering on the WTO services agenda is a long overdue objective we all have. Since Buenos Aires, we have collectively developed a pragmatic approach to negotiations. We have allowed groups of interested Members to advance negotiations on some important issues – through open, inclusive and transparent processes.

“Today, we prove that this plurilateral approach can lead to tangible results. This demonstrates that the Joint Initiative model is a viable one. A large and diverse group of WTO Members can work together towards a common objective, overcome their differences, show flexibility and agree on tangible results that are important for businesses and consumers.

“I believe that this Joint Initiative can be a source of inspiration for work in other areas, allowing interested Members to move ahead while ensuring that the outcome, in its substance and its form, remains supportive of and strengthens the multilateral trading system.”

Since the collapse of the Doha Development talks in 2008, the reality has been that most progress on trade talks have taken place in bilateral, and plurilateral settings. The sole meaningful exception was the completion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement which hopefully will be supplemented by a completion to the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations in the near future. Stating at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial, many WTO Members have started Joint Statement Initiatives to seek progress on important issues facing the trading system.

As noted in earlier posts, India and South Africa (WTO Members who are not participating in any of the Joint Statement Initiatives) have raised objections to the use of JSIs to update rules claiming such approaches are inconsistent with existing WTO requirements. See, e.g., November 17, 2021:  The role of plurilaterals in the WTO’s future, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/17/the-role-of-plurilaterals-in-the-wtos-future/.

The view of the participants in the services domestic regulation JSI is that existing WTO provisions permit the updating of service schedules by Members. The reference paper will apply to those who have participated or who later accept the reference paper. New obligations taken on by the 67 Members are applied by them on an MFN basis to all WTO trading partners.

The Declaration on Services Domestic Regulation and actions to implement it will be an early test of whether the WTO can proceed to update rules through open plurilaterals. While one can expect continued objections from India and South Africa, the path to renewed relevancy for the WTO will almost certainly run through finding room for open plurilaterals.

Postponement of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, continued efforts to increase vaccinations

With the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in Africa last week, a designation by the World Health Organization that the new variant (“Omicron”) was a “variant of concern”, surging infections in Europe, and reintroduced travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for visitors from certain countries, it was not surprising that the WTO Members decided to postpone the 12th Ministerial Conference which had been set to start on November 30 in Geneva. See World Health Organization, Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern, 26 November 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern; WTO News Release, General Council decides to postpone MC12 indefinitely, 26 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/mc12_26nov21_e.htm.

The spate of new travel restrictions ranged from restrictions on countries in southern Africa where early cases had been identified or where transborder movement was likely, to blanket blockage of entry of foreign travelers from any country (e.g., Israel, Japan and Morocco). Countries from Australia to Canada to various countries in Europe including the United Kingdom as well as Israel, Hong Kong and some countries in Africa have confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant. See, e.g., New York Times, Tracking Omicron and Other Coronavirus Variants, updated November 29, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/health/coronavirus-variant-tracker.html (” So far it has been detected in South Africa and Botswana, as well as in travelers to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Hong Kong.”). Government official in South Africa called the restriction unwarranted. See, e.g., BBC, Covid: US joins EU in restricting flights from southern Africa over new coronavirus variant, 27 November 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-59427770 (“South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans against the country were ‘unjustified’.”). Many pointed to the continued inequitable access of vaccines in Africa as the cause of the development of a new variant. See, e.g., The Guardian, Larry Elliott, The Omicron variant reveals the true global danger of ‘vaccine apartheid’, 28 November 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/nov/28/the-omicron-variant-reveals-the-true-global-danger-of-vaccine-apartheid.

The WHO on November 29, 2021 is reported to have indicated that the Omicron variant poses a “very high” risk. See, e.g., New York Times, The W.H.O. says Omicron poses a ‘very high’ risk globally as questions about the variant remain. November 29, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/29/world/omicron-variant-covid#the-who-says-omicron-poses-a-very-high-risk-globally (“The World Health Organization warned on Monday that global risks posed by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus were ‘very high,’ as countries around the world rushed to defend against its spread with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.”). One can expect continued international efforts to limit the spread of the Omicron variant until greater information is known on the variant and whether it reduces the effectiveness of existing vaccines.

With the postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference, there will likely be a slowdown in fact in negotiations by WTO Members on topics such as the fisheries subsidies agreement, an outcome on trade and health including any resolution of the proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing agriculture negotiations, various Joint Statement Initiatives (a number of which appear completed already), actions on climate change, an agenda for discussing WTO reform, etc. While the Director-General and the Chair of the General Council have urged continued work and WTO Members have indicated a desire to continue to work to reduce differences, it is hard to imagine that any existing momentum doesn’t get lost at least until Members are approaching the date of the rescheduled Ministerial (which has not yet been announced). See, e.g., WTO News Release, General Council decides to postpone MC12 indefinitely, 26 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/mc12_26nov21_e.htm (“WTO members were unanimous in their support of the recommendations from the Director-General and the General Council Chair, and they pledged to continue working to narrow their differences on key topics like the WTO’s response to the pandemic and the negotiations to draft rules slashing harmful fisheries subsidies. The Director-General and Amb. Castillo urged delegations to maintain the negotiating momentum that had been established in recent weeks. ‘This does not mean that negotiations should stop. On the contrary, delegations in Geneva should be fully empowered to close as many gaps as possible. This new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with,’ the DG said.”).

Much government attention will return to expanding production and distribution of vaccines to countries with low vaccination rates while governments and the WHO seek answers to the questions surrounding the Omicron variant — is it more easily transmissible? Is it more severe in its consequences to those who become infected? How effective are existing vaccines in protecting people from the new variant? And many developed countries will continue to push booster shots to those who are already vaccinated in light of the declining efficacy after six months for the main vaccines used in Europe and the U.S.

In prior posts, I have reviewed some of the challenges in understanding vaccine equity in light of different levels of vaccination in countries of similar economic development. See, e.g., November 23, 2021:  WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides useful information in analyzing vaccine equity, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/23/wto-imf-covid-19-vaccine-trade-tracker-provides-useful-information-in-analyzing-vaccine-equity/; November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. Many actions have been taken which are increasing the volume of vaccines available around the world, including adding capacity for at least fill and finish in Africa and other parts of the world. Greater efforts at donations and filling contracts with COVAX are happening and will increase in 2022.

Interestingly, on November 29, 2021, there was a joint statement from the African Union, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CEPI, GAVI, UNICEF and the WHO on one aspect of getting vaccines to low income countries and others — donations from other countries. See Joint Statement on Dose Donations of COVID-19 Vaccines to African Countries, 29 November 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/29-11-2021-joint-statement-on-dose-donations-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-african-countries. While donations to date have been a small part of total vaccine doses available throughout the world, there are a series of challenges to ensuring donations provide the maximum benefit going forward. See UNICEF, COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard, visited November 29, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (8.856 billion total doses delivered to countries and territories around the world, including 4.535 billion through bilateral/multilateral agreements; 163.3 million from donations; 560.1 million through COVAX and 3.574 billion unknown (but appearl largely from internal production for particular countries). The UNICEF data also looks at donations more granularly and the data are significantly larger than the summary data above (701.8 million donated doses of which 381.3 million are facilitated doses and 470.5 million are delivered doses).

The Joint Statement is copied below because of the importance of donated doses for low income countries in 2022.

“Building on lessons learned from our collective experience with dose donations over the past several months, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and COVAX wish to draw the attention of the international community to the situation of donations of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, and other COVAX participating economies, particularly those supported by the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).

“AVAT and COVAX complement each other’s efforts to support African countries to meet their immunisation targets, recognising the global goal of immunising 70% of the African population. Dose donations have been an important source of supply while other sources are stepping up, but the quality of donations needs to improve.

“AVAT and COVAX are focused on accelerating access to and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. Together we are rapidly expanding supply to the continent, and providing countries with the support to be able to utilise the doses they receive. To date, over 90 million donated doses have been delivered to the continent via COVAX and AVAT and millions more via bilateral arrangements.

“However, the majority of the donations to-date have been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives. This has made it extremely challenging for countries to plan vaccination campaigns and increase absorptive capacity. To achieve higher coverage rates across the continent, and for donations to be a sustainable source of supply that can complement supply from AVAT and COVAX purchase agreements, this trend must change.

“Countries need predictable and reliable supply. Having to plan at short notice and ensure uptake of doses with short shelf lives exponentially magnifies the logistical burden on health systems that are already stretched. Furthermore, ad hoc supply of this kind utilises capacity – human resources, infrastructure, cold chain – that could be directed towards long-term successful and sustainable rollout. It also dramatically increases the risks of expiry once doses with already short shelf-lives arrive in country, which may have long-term repercussions for vaccine confidence.

“Donations to COVAX, AVAT, and African countries must be made in a way that allows countries to effectively mobilise domestic resources in support of rollout and enables long-term planning to increase coverage rates. We call on the international community, particularly donors and manufacturers, to commit to this effort by adhering to the following standards, beginning from 1 January 2022:

Quantity and predictability: Donor countries should endeavour to release donated doses in large volumes and in a predictable manner, to reduce transaction costs. We acknowledge and welcome the progress being made in this area, but note that the frequency of exceptions to this approach places increased burden on countries, AVAT and COVAX.

Earmarking: These doses should be unearmarked for greatest effectiveness and to support long-term planning. Earmarking makes it far more difficult to allocate supply based on equity, and to account for specific countries’ absorptive capacity. It also increases the risk that short shelf-life donations utilise countries’ cold chain capacity – capacity that is then unavailable when AVAT or COVAX are allocating doses with longer shelf lives under their own purchase agreements.

Shelf life: As a default, donated doses should have a minimum of 10 weeks shelf life when they arrive in-country, with limited exceptions only where recipient countries indicate willingness and ability to absorb doses with shorter shelf lives.

Early notice: Recipient countries need to be made aware of the availability of donated doses not less than 4 weeks before their tentative arrival in-country.

Response times: All stakeholders should seek to provide rapid response on essential information. This includes essential supply information from manufacturers (total volumes available for donation, shelf life, manufacturing site), confirmation of donation offer from donors, and acceptance/refusal of allocations from countries. Last minute information can further complicate processes, increasing transaction costs, reducing available shelf life and increasing risk of expiry.

Ancillaries: The majority of donations to-date do not include the necessary vaccination supplies such as syringes and diluent, nor do they cover freight costs –  meaning these have to be sourced separately – leading to additional costs, complexity and delay. Donated doses should be accompanied with all essential ancillaries to ensure rapid allocation and absorption.

“AVAT, Africa CDC and COVAX remain committed to collaborate with donor countries, vaccine manufacturers and partners on ensuring these standards are upheld, as we continue to work together towards achieving Africa’s vaccination goals.”

The challenge of improving global vaccination rates is complicated. Supply is certainly a major issue. But countries who receive vaccines may also have problems ramping up administration of doses to their populations. While Africa has many low income countries (as classified by the World Bank), it also has countries at higher levels of income. For example, South Africa is an upper-middle income country according to the World Bank criteria but has a very low vaccination rate for an upper-middle income country. A recent New York Times article reviews that there have been significant increases in supplies to South Africa recently such that it has five months of doses on hand but is having trouble getting shots to people in need quickly enough. See New York Times, South Africa, where Omicron was detected, is an outlier on the least vaccinated continent. November 28, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/28/world/covid-omicron-variant-news (“South Africa has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent: Just under one-quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated, and the government said it has over five months’ worth of doses in its stores. But they are not being administered fast enough. Vaccinations in South Africa are running at about half the target rate, officials said last week. To prevent vaccines from expiring, the government has even deferred some deliveries scheduled for early next year.”).

Thus, as the world reacts to the discovery of a new variant and struggles to understand its implications, the WTO will struggle ahead in the hope of narrowing differences ahead of a further delayed Ministerial Conference, and the world will continue to pursue improved vaccine equity while dealing with increased uncertainty flowing from the Omicron variant.

The answer to the issue of vaccine equity is complex and, at least for the COVID-19 pandemic, not really dependent on a temporary waiver of TRIPs obligations for vaccines which would have no meaningful effect on supply availability through at least 2022. Production has been ramped up in many countries. The volumes available in 2022 should permit meeting the global objective of getting 70% of the world’s people vaccinated by next fall. But challenges remain in terms of internal capacities in many poorer countries to get their populations vaccinated, as well as misinformation on vaccines, the large level of vaccine hesitancy in developed countries and in developing countries, and the rise of new variants and what effect on existing vaccines they will have. Cooperation is needed in addressing all aspects of the issue. Time will tell whether improved cooperation is likely as we close out 2021 and start 2022.

WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides useful information in analyzing vaccine equity

On November 22, 2021, the WTO and IMF announced and released their COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker. See WTO News Release, WTO, IMF launch Vaccine Trade Tracker, 22 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_22nov21_e.htm. While the data on access to vaccines is not as granular as the UNICEF COVID Vaccine Dashboard, the new tracker provides data under six topics: summary, exports (options being by producing economy or by supply arrangement type), imports (options being by income group or by continent), total supply (options being by producing economy or by vaccine type), supply to continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America) and vaccination status (options being by income group and by continent). Data in the initial release are through October 31, 2021. Income groups are the World Bank’s groupings — Low income, lower-middle income, upper middle income and high income.

In recent posts I have noted that much of the discussion on vaccine equity focuses on access and affordability but doesn’t necessarily help understand widely different outcomes for countries or territories that are at the same stage of economic development. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. The WTO-IMF Tracker doesn’t include the identification of countries/territories within income groups but rather reports on the entire grouping. The World Bank’s 2020 listing is the most recent. See World Bank, GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$), https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD; November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/.

Of the listed producing countries involved in exports of COVID-19 vaccines all are WTO Members. The EU, USA, Japan and Republic of Korea are listed as high income countries by the World Bank though Korea has treated itself as a developing country at the WTO. China, the Russian Federation and South Africa are included as upper middle income countries by the World Bank based on per capita GNI, though both China and South Africa claim developing country status at the WTO. India is listed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank and claims developing country status at the WTO. There is a small amount of exports from other countries not broken out by individual country n the WTO-IMF tracker.

On total supply (“Total supply contains both exported and domestically delivered doses), China is the largest producing country with a total supply of 4.0811 billion doses of which 1.3294 billion doses have been exported. The European Union is the second largest producer with a total supply of 1.7077 billion doses producers of which 876.5 million have been exported. India is the third largest producers with total supply of 1.3608 billion doses of which just 66.0 million doses have been exported. The United States is fourth with total supply of 941.1 million doses and exports of 300.8 million doses. Others have much smaller total supplies and exports.

The vast majority of exports have been through bilateral deals (77.5%). The second largest source of exports has been doses contracted via COVAX (8.1%). Because of several major problems COVAX experienced from suppliers — the largest being the shut down of exports from India for much of 2021 — COVAX has been unable to supply the large volume of vaccine doses in 2021 to low income and lower middle income countries that had been planned on. The third largest source of exports was donations via COVAX (7.5%), followed by direct donations from producing countries to receiving countries (6.1%) and supply via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (“AVAT”)(0.8%).

The vaccination status data (item six in the Tracker) is helpful in identifying regions with the greatest needs as well as the breakout by World Bank income level. However, because of the lack of granularity to the individual country or territory, the data don’t help understand the large differences between members in the same continent or in the same income grouping.

By continent, all continents except Africa have received more than 50 courses of doses per 100 people (with North America the highest at 81.4 and Europe at 76.2). Africa was just 11.2 courses per 100 people. All but Africa have more than 50% of the population with at least one dose administered. Africa was just 8.7%. And all but Africa have more than 40% of the population fully vaccinated. Africa was only 5.8%. Thus, there is a need to expand availability of vaccine doses to most African countries

When vaccination status is examined by income level, high income and upper middle income countries and territories have much larger vaccination rates than lower middle income and low income. On courses of vaccines per 100 people, high income countries were at 89.5, upper middle income countries averaged 74.8, lower middle income countries were at just 34.8 and low income countries were at just 7.0. Similar discrepancies exist on percent with at least one dose administered and percent fully vaccinated. The inability of COVAX to receive the volumes of doses contracted for in 2021 and the slowness of donations for richer countries are certainly core reasons for the differences in doses for lower middle income and low income countries.

Yet there are major discrepancies among countries or territories in the same continent or same income grouping. I identified a few in yesterday’s post. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. For example, Morocco is classified as a lower middle income country by the WTO but had the highest level of administered vaccines/100 people in Africa (136.5 (assumed to be 68.25 courses of doses/100 people)) while South Africa, classified as an upper middle income country had a rate of administered vaccine doses less than 1/3 that of Morocco (41.4 (assumed to be 20.7 courses of doses/100 people). Similarly, two low income countries as classified by the World Bank have drastically different administered doses despite nearly identical per capita GNIs and both being countries in Africa. Specifically, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people.

Conclusion

The WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides very useful information, although much is at a continent or income group level. It appears likely that the tracker will be updated only monthly. If not being considered, the designers of the new tracker should provide a link to a data base that provides the type of data shown in the aggregate for each country or territory. Such data would permit a better understanding of differences within continents and within income groups and potentially improve the ability to improve vaccine equity moving forward. It is also possible to update the tracker more frequently than once a month, though some charts, etc. are fine with monthly updates. .

Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

An area of focus the last two years at the WTO has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included various statements from Members, monitoring by the Secretariat of export and import actions either impeding or expediting the flow of medical goods and services, and various proposals for actions to address the pandemic or for future preparation. The proposal for a waiver from various TRIPS obligations from India and South Africa (and now supported by a range of countries) is one proposal. A number of countries (Ottawa Group) have put forward a proposal for a trade and health initiative to permit a more rapid response by WTO Members in the future. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN,
KENYA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND, 24 November 2020, WT/GC/223; November 27, 2020:  The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. The WTO Director-General and the Members have engaged in a number of meetings with other multilateral organizations and the private sector exploring options for expanding production of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding distribution to countries in need.

Amb. David Walker of New Zealand has been tasked to work with Members to see if a declaration on trade and health can be agreed to at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on November 30.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, provided his thoughts on likely outcomes at the 12th Ministerial during a WITA virtual event on November 18th and opined that a declaration on trade and health was likely only if there was some resolution of the waiver proposal for vaccines. See PIIE, Alan Wm. Wolff, Defining Success for MC12, 18 November 2021, Presented at WITA, slides 5, 7, 10-11. Slide 10 is presented below.

I have written before on the challenges of the waiver of TRIPs obligations proposal put forward by India and South Africa. See, e.g., November 2, 2020:  India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

The EU and some others have not agreed to a waiver but have focused on making compulsory licensing more effective. See, e.g., DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION ON THE TRIPS AGREEMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PANDEMIC, COMMUNICATION FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION TO THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS, 18 June 2021, IP/C/W/681.

Thus, the outcome on trade and health heading into the Ministerial is uncertain. See WTO News Release, Members to continue discussion on a common COVID-19 IP response up until MC12, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_18nov21_e.htm.

A driver behind the waiver proposal has been the limited availability of vaccines to least developed and some developing countries. Vaccine equity is the shorthand term for the concerns about availability and affordability of vaccines for all people. While the issue of availability and access is complicated and beyond just WTO competence, the world’s vaccine manufacturers have ramped up capacity and production, governments have belatedly gotten involved in expanding donations and some of the major bottlenecks to getting vaccines to COVAX in 2021 appear to be resolved going forward, though many LDCs and developing countries will not get large volumes of vaccines until 2022.

The pandemic and the challenges of ramping up production and ensuring access to all people has been the subject of dozens of my prior posts. See, e.g., October 12, 2021: See WTO Information Notes on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Potential Bottlenecks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/12/wto-information-notes-on-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-potential-bottlenecks/; September 27, 2021:  Global efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution — an all hands on deck effort being led by the U.S. and EU with active support of many governments and others, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/27/global-efforts-to-expand-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-distribution-an-all-hands-on-deck-effort-being-led-by-the-u-s-and-eu-with-active-support-of-many-governments-and-others/; May 6, 2021:  COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/06/covid-19-vaccines-role-of-wto-and-developments-at-may-5-6-2021-general-council-on-trips-waiver/.

Prior to 2021, global capacity for all vaccines was estimated at 5 billion doses/year. In 2021, COVID-19 vaccine production alone will be around 10 billion doses. As of November 20, 2021, UNICEF’s COVID Vaccine Market Dashboard shows 8.624 billion doses delivered to countries and territories of which COVAX deliveries were 524 million (and 565 million delivered or cleared for shipment). https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (visited on November 20, 2021).

Administration of vaccine doses to populations has been less than doses delivered. Data from Blomberg’s COVID Vaccine Tracker as of November 19, 2021 9:34 a.m., shows 7.63 billion doses administered. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (visited November 20, 2021). From the Vaccine Tracker data, there are a large number of countries or territories (95) that have administered 100 or more doses to every 100 people in the country. As major vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna need two shots, and as some countries have started supplying boosters, data are not necessarily comparable across countries in terms of percentage of people vaccinated. But the doses administered per 100 people is a reasonable measure of equitable distribution. A review of the data do show large differences in administration of doses. However, which countries or territories have administered large numbers of doses/100 people is not tied to a country or territory having vaccine production capacity, nor is it tied to level of income in the country or territory.

For example, the top ten countries or territories for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Bloomberg report were:

Gibraltar, 279.2 doses/100 people

Cuba, 244.2 doses/100 people

Chile, 207.5 doses/100 people

Maldives, 204.8 doses/100 people

UAE, 201.6 doses/100 people

Bahrain, 191.7 doses/100 people

Uruguay, 190.7 doses/100 people

Malta, 185.9 doses/100 people

Cayman Islands, 183.7 doses/100 people

Seychelles, 182.7 doses/100 people

China ranked 16th at 172.1 doses/100 people; the United States ranked 66th at 134.0/100 people; EU members were generally greater than 100 doses/100 people but had several member states below that (Bulgaria at 45.4 doses/100 people; Romania at 73.0 doses/100 people) and had an overall average of 138.7. Morocco had the most doses/100 people for a country from Africa — 136.5.

Twenty-eight countries or territories have administered between 75 and 99.4 doses/100 people (including India at 84.6 doses/100 people); twenty-three countries or territories have administered between 50 and 73 doses/100 people (including Rwanda at 65.2 doses/100 people and Botswana at 52.8 doses/100 people); twenty-two countries or territories have administered between 25 and 47.1 doses/100 people (including South Africa at 41.4 doses/100 people); thirty-three countries or territories have administered between 0.2 and 18.7 doses/100 people.

Obviously, there are a large number of countries (including some developed countries) where vaccines administered are far too limited. For many developing and LDC countries with low numbers of doses administered, the failure of supplies to be delivered to COVAX for shipment is certainly a significant cause. India’s need to keep vaccine doses at home was a major cause of the shortfall to COVAX in 2021, but not the only reason.

Belatedly larger volumes of vaccine doses are making it to those in greatest need. The increases flow from a combination of increased production volumes globally, India resuming exports, increases in donations from a number of countries and more. For example, the UNICEF data on deliveries shows that there have been some significant increases in doses available to the countries or territories with very low doses administered levels. For example, Nigeria shows only 4.6 doses/100 people administered in the Bloomberg vaccine tracker data. The UNICEF vaccine market dashboard shows roughly three times the number of doses delivered to Nigeria as are reported administered (29.689 million vs. 9.254 million). Benin has 1.968 million doses delivered and just 0.347 million administered (2.9/100 people). It is also true for countries receiving doses from COVAX with higher existing doses administered. For example, Zimbabwe which had 42.3 doses administered per 100 people in the Bloomberg data showed nearly twice as many doses delivered in the UNICEF data as had been administered (11.322 million doses delivered vs. 6.31 million doses administered).

What the two reports suggest is that while vaccine equity is a real issue, the causes of the very different experiences of different countries or territories in the same general area are complex and not easily or completely understood by the current discussion. For example, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people. Similarly, Morocco had a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,980 and COVID vaccines administered of 136.5/100 people. In comparison, South Africa with a much higher per capita GNI in 2020 ($5,410) had COVID vaccines administered at less than 1/3rd the rate of Morocco – 41.4 vs.136.5/100 people. Nigeria, with a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,000 had administered only 4.6 COVID vaccines/100 people.

Thus, those working on improving vaccine equity need to identify and address the other causes besides vaccine production and availability through COVAX in the coming months.

I paste below the data from the Bloomberg COVID Vaccine Tracker ranked in descending order of COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of November 19, 2021.

Countryvaccines

Will there be another extension of the WTO Moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce — expanding global trade or creating additional barriers

WTO Members have engaged for years in debate over the wisdom of extending the temporary moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce. Each Ministerial Conference has resulted in Members agreeing to an extension of the moratorium until the next Ministerial Conference along with an extension of a moratorium on non-violation TRIPs disputes. While Members have agreed to a draft extension of the moratorium on non-violation TRIPs disputes for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial, there is no agreement as yet on extending the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce. See WTO News Release, Members agree on recommendation to extend moratorium on IP “non-violation” cases, 5 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_05nov21a_e.htm; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, India, South Africa question WTO e-commerce moratorium ahead of MC12, November 9, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/india-south-africa-question-wto-e-commerce-moratorium-ahead-mc12.

In recent years, India and South Africa have cited to information from UNCTAD to support their concern that the moratorium is costing developing countries tax revenues as well as their concern that the moratorium is limited to transmission and not content and doesn’t apply to services. See WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, THE MORATORIUM ON CUSTOMS DUTIES ON ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS: NEED FOR CLARITY ON ITS SCOPE AND IMPACT, 8 November 2021, WT/GC/W/833 (communication from India and South Africa); WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, THE E-COMMERCE MORATORIUM: SCOPE AND IMPACT, Communication from India and South Africa, 11 March 2020, WT/GC/W/798; UNCTAD, RISING PRODUCT DIGITALISATION AND LOSING TRADE COMPETITIVENESS, 2017, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/gdsecidc2017d3_en.pdf; UNCTAD Research Paper No. 29, UNCTAD/SER.RP/2019/1, Rashmi Banga, Growing Trade in Electronic Transmissions: Implications for the South, February 2019, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/ser-rp-2019d1_en.pdf.

Some of the concerns expressed by India and South Africa and their rebuttal of OECD and other papers which look at upside benefits from the moratorium are captured in the following excerpt from the recent submission (WT/GC?W/833, pages 2-3).

2.2 Tariff Revenue Loss

“2.4. In our previous submission, WT/GC/W/798, we highlighted that based on the identification of a small number of digitizable goods in five areas, namely, printed matter, music and video downloads, software and video games, UNCTAD estimated a loss in tariff revenue of more than US$10 billion per annum globally because of the moratorium, 95% of which is borne by
developing countries.

“2.5. These submissions attempt to make the revenue foregone on account of the e-commerce moratorium seem insignificant by showcasing this revenue loss in terms of its share in customs revenue and total government revenue. However, even compared in this manner, it is evident that the percentage of government revenue lost for developing countries is higher than that for the
developed countries. The percentage of customs revenue lost for developing countries is 4.35% while that for the developed countries is a mere 0.24%. It is evident that the cost of the moratorium is almost completely borne by the developing countries for extending duty free quota free market access, largely for the developed countries.

“2.6. These submissions conclude that the amount of physical trade replaced by 3D printing is expected to be limited. UNCTAD (2019) provides a deeper analysis on the status of 3D printing though. It indicates that while 3D printing is currently at a nascent stage in developing countries, its market has grown annually by 22% in the period 2014-2018 and it is estimated that if investment
in 3D printing is doubled, it could potentially replace almost 40% of cross-border physical global trade by 20407. Such a growth is expected to significantly increase the potential tariff revenue loss.

2.3 Impact on SMEs and Digital Industrialization

“2.7. Interestingly, when assessing the total trade of electronic transmissions, these submissions consider only digitizable goods and conclude that these remain modest but when estimating the impact of the moratorium on exports, especially of SMEs, these submissions considers the extended scope of the moratorium by including services8 and find the impact to be huge. Defining the scope of the moratorium is therefore important in order to estimate its impact.

“2.8. These submissions state that the use of 3D printing is growing slowly since the opportunities for mass production and economies of scale are limited and the inputs, materials and time required for 3D printing further constrain its use for manufacturing complex items. In this context, it is highlighted that with recent technological advances, namely high-speed sintering, mass production is becoming possible with 3D printers, where mass-producing up to 100,000 (smaller) components
in a day will be possible at a speed which is 100 times faster9. According to D’Aveni (2015)10, the advent of additive manufacturing in the US hearing aid industry meant that, in less than 500 days, 100% of the industry was transformed and not one company stuck to the traditional mode of manufacturing.

“2.9. These submissions do not reflect the impact that new technologies such as 3D printing can have on domestic industries especially MSMEs in developing countries. As outlined before, while 3D printing is currently at a nascent stage in developing countries, its market is expected to grow at a rapid pace. The most affected sectors could include sectors such as textiles and clothing, footwear, auto-components, toys, mechanical appliances, and hand tools, etc. which generate large scale employment for low skilled workers and are sectors in which most MSMEs operate. This could have a catastrophic effect on the ability of developing countries to protect their nascent domestic industries including MSMEs11.

“2.10. If, ‘customs duties on electronic transmissions’ cover not only digitised and digitizable goods but also digitally transmitted services, as asserted by a couple of institutions recently, then the negative impact of continuing with the moratorium on developing countries would be even greater. Effectively, this implies that the economy of the future (the digital economy) is totally liberalised. History has shown that trade policies are integral to successful economies’ development trajectory and are critical in advancing industrial policy.

“7 UNCTAD Research Paper No 47 (2020).
“8 UNCTAD Research Paper No 58 (2021).
“9 Ibid.
“10 Richard D’Aveni, ‘The 3-D Printing Revolution’ (2015) Harvard Business Review
https://hbr.org/2015/05/the-3-d-printing-revolution accessed 1 June 2021.
“11 UNCTAD Research Paper No 58 (2021).”

There are many WTO Members who support the continuation of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce, and there have been studies by the OECD taking a position opposite that of UNCTAD. See, e.g., WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE BROADENING AND DEEPENING THE DISCUSSIONS ON THE MORATORIUM ON IMPOSING CUSTOMS DUTIES ON ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS, Communication from Australia; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Hong Kong, China;
Iceland; Republic of Korea; New Zealand; Norway; Singapore; Switzerland; Thailand and Uruguay, 29 June 2020, WT/GC/W/799/Rev.1; Andrenelli, A. and J. López González (2019-11-13), “Electronic transmissions and international trade – shedding new light on the moratorium debate”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 233, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/57b50a4b-en. An excerpt from the submission of various WTO Members in WT/GC/W/799/Rev.1 is presented below characterizing some of the OECD analysis (pages 2-3).

“3 AN INSIGHTFUL WELFARE ANALYSIS OF ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS

“3.1. Members have been referring to many different estimates in past discussions on this matter, which did not take into consideration the benefits associated with relevant reductions of trade costs, potential gains in productivity and increased consumer welfare. The welfare analysis in the study provides a clear illustration of what is induced by the absence of duties on electronic transmissions in terms of both revenue loss and the welfare surplus for consumers. Taking into consideration consumer welfare would bring depth to the discussion and could help move them forward.

“3.2. The welfare analysis outlines that the reduction in production and transportation costs associated with digital deliveries, as well as the removal of the tariff, can lead to a reduction in price. In consequence, the increase in demand leads to a rise in imports and an increase in consumer surplus, part of which is associated with redistribution from the domestic producer and part of which is from government revenue to the consumer. The study is unambiguous: the overall impact to the economy is ‘positive and large’.

“3.3. The study finds that the imposition of equivalent duties on electronic transmissions could negate those positive effects by increasing the price of the digital delivery, which shifts some of the consumer welfare back to the domestic producers and the government. Governments and producers would recover some of the revenue foregone but the amount recovered would depend on the elasticity of demand. The study also highlights that this would occur at the expense of consumer surplus. The positive welfare impact would decrease as the price of the digital product increases. Consequently, by introducing equivalent duties on electronic transmissions, governments would create a “deadweight loss” to the economy. The overall benefits associated with digitization
(i.e. lower trade costs) would be reduced and weaker economies would miss an opportunity to overcome their trade cost disadvantages.

“4 THE APPLICATION OF INTERNAL NON-DISCRIMINATORY TAXES AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO TARIFFS

“4.1. The study not only provides important elements regarding who bears the burden of tariffs, but also regarding the potential alternative sources of government revenue which would be better suited to the digital economy. The study notes that tariffs increase the price of a product to the domestic consumer. The extent to which the domestic price increases is dependent on the tariff pass-through, which ranges from full pass-through to none. If there is no pass-through, then the foreign company fully absorbs the tariff through reduced revenue. If there is full pass-through, then the domestic price increases in proportion to the tariff. Recent work quoted by the study notes that quasi complete-pass tends to be the most common – that is, foreign companies fully pass-on the price increase to domestic consumers. Moreover, recent work conveyed in the study has also demonstrated that tariff increases, in the medium-term, negatively affect domestic output and productivity, employment and lead to higher inequality and real exchange rate appreciation.

“4.2. The study highlights other means for governments to generate revenue. The use of consumption taxes, such as value added taxes (VAT) or goods and services taxes (GST) could represent a better alternative. Examples of VAT/GST applied to digital services and intangibles are provided and point out that internal non-discriminatory taxes provide a broader tax base, and thus more stable. According to the study, evidence indicates developing countries that adopt indirect taxes such as VAT experience 40 to 50% less tax revenue instability than countries that do not use indirect taxes. The OECD study suggests that consumption taxes are a feasible alternative to customs duties for generating revenue.

“4.3. In this respect, it should be noted that the OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines have been adopted by the G20 leaders and endorsed by more than 100 jurisdictions and organisations. Furthermore, the OECD has produced a report on best practices to implement international VAT/GST collection schemes.2

“2 Mechanisms for the Effective Collection of VAT/GST, OECD, 2017 http://www.oecd.org/tax/consumption/mechanisms-for-the-effective-collection-of-vat-gst.htm.”

A recent report by Prof. Simon J. Evenett

On November 12, 2021, Prof. Simon Evenett (founder of the St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity Through Trade) released a paper looking at the question, “Is the WTO Moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce depriving developing countries of much needed revenue?”. The abstract for the paper states –

Abstract  This note vitiates assertions by UNCTAD staff that developing countries have lost significant government revenues as products previously delivered physically are supplied digitally. Taking for the sake of argument UNCTAD’s revenue loss estimates, this note shows that they represent small shares of tax revenues from sources other than customs duties. Forgone revenues would have financed less than 5 days of government spending in the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan African nations. Moreover, domestic tax takes needed only to grow marginally faster to offset UNCTAD’s estimates of forgone customs duties. Low per-capita income status is not a barrier to successful national tax reform, calling in question the relevance of public finance objections to participation in multilateral trade initiatives to integrate economies.”

 The paper from Prof. Evenett is embedded below.

S.-Evenett_-WTO-Moratorium-12-Nov-2021_-finalised

Conclusion

There are obviously large differences in view on the costs and benefits of a moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce between India and South Africa on the one hand (and others supporting their view) and the group of WTO Members supporting the continuation of the moratorium.

A problem with the UNCTAD studies and papers is the definition of developing countries used. As is clear from the 2017 UNCTAD report, the largest cross border e-commerce sales for any country by far is China with 40% of such sales in 2015 (UNCTAD, Rising Product Digitalisation and Losing Trade Competitiveness, 2017 at 12) and largest customs revenue loss from the moratorium (id at 16). China should not be viewed as a developing country as reviewed in a recent post. See November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/. Moreover, China is not understood to be opposing the continuation of the moratorium.

The UNCTAD report also lists as developing countries a number which clearly aren’t classified as such or that shouldn’t be, including — Saudi Arabia, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Romania, Russian Federation, Iceland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Norway, Thailand, Turkey, Portugal (see id, Table 2, Net Exports of Developing Countries of ET Products, pages 13-14; November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/).

While WTO Members should be concerned about the digital divide that exists for some Members, the answer to addressing the divide is not to erect barriers to e-commerce. Rather Members should focus on technical assistance and other actions to help least developed countries and some developing countries who are behind develop the infrastructure and technical skills to actively participate in e-commerce.

Extending the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce is one more hurdle in front of WTO Members as they get ready for the 12th Ministerial Conference which starts in 12 days.

The role of plurilaterals in the WTO’s future

As the WTO is less than two weeks from the start of its 12th Ministerial Conference, an important question for the WTO Membership is whether or not the WTO will incorporate results from plurilaterals started at and after the 11th Ministerial (the so-called Joint Statement Initiatives) into the WTO or will rather limit the role of plurilaterals and effectively further reduce the relevance of the WTO going forward.

As reviewed in prior posts, India and South Africa have challenged the role of plurilaterals where WTO requirements are not followed to make it part of the WTO acquis. See, e.g., February 20, 2021:  Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/. The paper from India and South Africa, THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, 19 February 2021, WT/GC/W/819 and one revision (WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1) was the subject of discussions at the March 1-2 and 4, 2021 General Council meeting and has been raised in subsequent General Council meetings as well. See GENERAL COUNCIL, MINUTES OF MEETING HELD IN VIRTUAL FORMAT ON 1-2 AND 4 MARCH 2021, WT/GC/M/190 (23 April 2021), pages 65-78; GENERAL COUNCIL, 7-8 October 2021 PROPOSED AGENDA, WT/GC/W/828 (5 October 2021), agenda item 11 (PAPER TITLED “THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES” BY INDIA, SOUTH AFRICA AND NAMIBIA (WT/GC/W/819/REV.1)). Neither India nor South Africa are participating in any of the Joint Statement Initiatives (“JSIs”) at the present time.

Below are some excerpts from the March 2021 General Council meeting which lays out the views of a few of the WTO Members on the topic. The excerpts start with the views of India and South Africa as the sponsors of the paper and then follows with the reaction of a number of Members who support the JSI process. Many more Members expressed views. The controversy basically revolves around whether WTO Members will pursue initiatives among those with an interest with all Members being able to monitor, participate and join when desired or be limited by a system which has proven largely unable to address new issues in a timely manner.

India (pages 65-67 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.2. The representative of India recalled that India and South Africa had submitted the paper in document WT/GC/W/819 dated 19 February 2021 on the “The Legal Status of ‘Joint Statement Initiatives’ and their Negotiated Outcomes”. As a co-sponsor, India was not questioning the right of Members to meet and discuss any issue. However, when such discussions turned into negotiations
and their outcomes were to be brought into the WTO, the fundamental rules of the WTO should be followed. The WTO had been established as a forum concerning multilateral trade relations in matters dealt with under the agreements in the Annexes to the Marrakesh Agreement and for further negotiations among its Members concerning their multilateral trade relations and to provide a framework for the implementation of results of such negotiations.

“10.3. The Marrakesh Agreement defined ‘Plurilateral Agreements’ as the agreements and associated legal instruments that were included in Annex 4 to the Agreement. The Ministerial Conference, upon the request of the Members party to a trade agreement, decided exclusively by consensus to add that agreement to the said Annex 4. Procedures for amending rules were enshrined in Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement. On the other hand, the GATT and GATS contained specific provisions for modifications of Schedules containing specific commitments of Members.

“10.4. Amendments or additions to the rules were governed by multilateral consensus based decision-making or voting – right from the outset when a new proposal for an amendment was made. On the other hand, negotiations on modifications or improvements to Schedules could arise either as the outcomes of consensual multilateral negotiations pursuant to Article XXVIII of GATT or Article XXI of GATS or be reached through a bilateral request and offer process or as a result of a dispute. In fact, even changes to Schedules could not be made unilaterally as other Members had the right to protect the existing balance of rights and obligations.

“10.5. The GATS read in concert with the Marrakesh Agreement provided for different rules and procedures for amendment of rules and modification of schedules. While the GATS rules were governed by the GATS Part II, “General Obligations and Disciplines”, Part III of the GATS contained provisions concerning Members individual “Specific Commitments” pertaining to distinctly identified services sectors which were inscribed in Members’ Schedules. In case of conflict in interpretation, Article XVI.3 of the Marrakesh Agreement provided that in the event of a conflict between a provision of the Marrakesh Agreement and a provision of any of the Multilateral Trade Agreements, the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement should prevail.

“10.6. Each of the JSIs was likely to pose different legal challenges to the existing WTO rules and mandates given the differences in the nature and scope of issues covered under each of those initiatives. However, any attempt to bring in the negotiated outcomes of the JSIs into the WTO by appending them to Members’ Schedules, even on MFN basis, following modification of Schedules
procedures, bypassing multilateral consensus would be contrary to the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement.”10.7. Any attempt to introduce new rules, resulting from JSI negotiations, into the WTO without fulfilling the requirements of Articles IX and X of the Marrakesh Agreement would be detrimental to the functioning of the rules-based multilateral trading system. Among others, it would erode the integrity of the rules-based multilateral trading system, create a precedent for any group of Members to bring any issue into the WTO without the required mandate. bypass the collective oversight of Members for bringing in any new rules or amendments to existing rules in the WTO, usurp limited WTO resources available for multilateral negotiations, result in Members disregarding existing multilateral mandates arrived at through consensus in favour of matters without multilateral mandates, lead to the marginalization or exclusion of issues which were difficult but which remained critical for the multilateral trading system such as agriculture and development thereby undermining balance in agenda setting, negotiating processes and outcomes and fragment the multilateral trading system and undermine the multilateral character of the WTO.

“10.8. The document listed various options to move ahead. As per the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement, for bringing in their negotiated outcomes in the WTO, the JSI Members could seek consensus among the whole WTO Membership, followed by acceptance by the required proportion of Members according to Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement. Alternatively, they could get the new agreements included in Annex 4 following Article X.9 of the Marrakesh Agreement. They also had option to pursue agreements outside the WTO Framework, as had been envisaged in the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) or as had been done in multiple bilateral or plurilateral FTAs or RTAs. The proponents of a “flexible multilateral trading system” could even seek amendment to Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement following procedures enshrined therein to provide for such an approach.

“10.9. Through the paper WT/GC/W/819, India and South Africa reiterated that basic fundamental principles and rules of the rules-based multilateral trading system as enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement should be followed by all Members including the participants of various JSIs. Negating the decisions of past Ministerial Conferences by decisions taken by a group of Ministers on the sidelines of a Ministerial Conference or the side-lines of any other event would be detrimental to the existence of the rules-based multilateral trading system under the WTO.”

South Africa (pages 67-68 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.10. The representative of South Africa said that the WTO had been established as a forum concerning multilateral trade relations. South Africa’s interest in submitting the paper was to remind Members of the legal architecture that governed the functioning of the WTO which was critical to preserve its multilateral character. The pandemic was a sharp reminder of the importance of global cooperation in dealing with global challenges. The challenges facing humanity were not limited to
the pandemic but included rising inequality both within and between countries, poverty and food insecurity, among others. Those necessitated that Members avoided measures that undermined or fragmented the trading system.

“10.11. Any group of Members could discuss any issue informally. However, when discussions turned into negotiations, and their outcomes were sought to be formalized into the WTO framework, it could only be done in accordance with the rules of procedure for amendments as well as decision-making as set out in the Marrakesh Agreement. The plurilaterals were provided for in the Marrakesh Agreement and were included in Annex 4 to the Agreement – and there were specific rules to be followed to integrate those into the WTO framework. It was however important to note that the Ministerial Conference, upon the request of the Members party to a trade agreement, decided exclusively by consensus to add that agreement to the said Annex 4.

“10.12. The provisions in the Marrakesh Agreement had been carefully negotiated and were a result of the experience acquired in the GATT which had been characterized especially after the Tokyo Round by agreement on a number of plurilateral codes. There had been recognition that those plurilateral codes had created a fragmented system of rules. In respect of some Contracting Parties,
the GATT rules had been applicable, while in respect of the rest, both the GATT rules and the rules of plurilateral codes had been applicable. That created considerable complexity in determining what obligations had been applicable in respect of which Contracting Party.

“10.13. The Preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement clearly articulated Members’ vision for the WTO and it was to develop an integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system. Article II.1 stated that “The WTO shall provide the common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations among its Members.” Article III.2 stated that “The WTO shall provide the forum for negotiations among its Members concerning their multilateral trade relations”. It provided for consensus-based decision-making as enshrined in Articles III.2, IX, X and also X.9 as well as procedures for the amendments of rules as articulated in Article X.

“10.14. The Marrakesh Agreement did not make provision for the so-called open plurilaterals and flexible multilateralism. Therefore, any suggestion that when offered on MFN basis, no consensus was required for bringing new rules into the WTO was legally inconsistent with the fundamental principles and procedures of the Marrakesh Agreement. Importantly, new rules could not be brought into the WTO through amendment of Members’ Schedules. It had also been suggested that the Telecommunications Reference Paper justified why the consensus principle could be bypassed. However, as part of the package of the Uruguay Round outcome, there had been a multilateral consensus and a formal mandate for the negotiations, including agreement on inscribing outcomes into Schedules without an amendment procedure.

“10.15. There were systemic and developmental implications inherent in plurilaterals especially if they attempted to subvert established rules and foundational principles of the Marrakesh Agreement. They risked eroding the integrity of the rules-based multilateral trading system, creating a precedent for any group of Members to bring any issue into the WTO without the required consensus, including disregard of existing multilateral mandates, marginalizing issues which were difficult but yet critical
for the multilateral trading system such as agriculture and development thereby undermining balance in agenda setting, negotiating processes and outcomes, fragmenting the system and undermining the multilateral character of the WTO which Members had sought to resolve by creating the WTO following the GATT experience.

“10.16. The legal framework of the WTO provided clear options for Members who were part of JSIs as outlined in the paper. South Africa was therefore calling on Members to respect the rules which continued to underpin the functioning of the WTO.

Australia (page 69 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.24. The representative of Australia noted Members’ commitment to improving the effectiveness of the WTO’s rulemaking function. Australia was a participant in all the current JSI negotiations under way and strongly supported that important work at the WTO. Plurilateral initiatives were neither novel nor revolutionary in the multilateral trading system. They had always been a part of the WTO architecture had constituted the predominant form of rulemaking in the multilateral trading system for decades. WTO-consistent plurilateral trade agreements with wide participation played an important role in complementing global liberalization efforts. The current JSIs had the potential to deliver vital outcomes that strengthened the WTO’s rulemaking function and its health more generally. More than 110 Members were participating in one or more of the current JSI negotiations – demonstrating the wide acknowledgement from across the Membership that that was a legitimate and useful form of rulemaking. They had and continued to be inclusive, open and transparent.

“10.25. Australia did not agree with the legal analysis in India and South Africa’s paper. For instance, the suggestion that Members could not improve their GATT or GATS Schedules without consensus agreement was not accurate. Members could always incorporate improvements to their Schedules whether unilaterally or as a group of Members. That was the legal architecture which participants had agreed to use in the services domestic regulation JSI. Australia had full confidence in the WTO consistency of that approach. In the case of the e-commerce JSI, its participants were still exploring the legal structure options they could best use to incorporate eventual outcomes into the WTO legal framework but were confident that those pathways could be found. Australia encouraged all Members to participate in or at least keep an open mind on those plurilateral discussions to pursue
outcomes that modernized and enhanced WTO rules for the whole Membership.”

Costa Rica (pages 69-70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.26. The representative of Costa Rica was focused on ensuring that the WTO operated within the legal framework agreed by the Members. Costa Rica would reject any attempt to force Members to abide by new obligations without their consent. Costa Rica was a participant in the Joint Statement Initiatives on Electronic Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development, MSMEs and Services Domestic Regulation. The reason for that was simple. Costa Rica was recognizing the need to adapt to the trade policy challenges of the 21st century. But that did not mean that any Member who chose to remain outside those discussions would be forced to adhere to any new obligations.

“10.27. Costa Rica focused its remarks that day on the negotiations on services domestic regulation as that was the initiative that it had the pleasure of coordinating. Those negotiations and the outcome they would produce were firmly within the rules of the WTO. 59 proponents of services domestic regulation had established the initiative at the end of 2017 after they had to accept with
great regret that no further progress had been possible in the Working Party on Domestic Regulation. Each and every proposal submitted had been rejected in its entirety by South Africa and other Members. Proponents of domestic regulation had no choice but to accept that position.

“10.28. Since that time, work on the subject had so far advanced in the Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation. To the extent that participants considered it to be a viable prospect for an outcome to be delivered that year, Costa Rica clarified that the outcome would consist of a set of disciplines on licensing, qualification and standards which would bind only participating
Members but would benefit services suppliers from all Members who traded with the participating Members which currently represented more than 70% of world services trade.

“10.29. The outcome that was envisaged would be incorporated into participating Members’ GATS schedules of specific commitments. In substance, it covered precisely those types of measures that were listed in the GATS as areas for additional commitments, namely, qualification standards and licensing matters That was important because the paper introduced by India and South Africa suggested that the disciplines developed by the initiative constituted some form of not further specified rules which did not fit under the architecture of services schedules. That was quite untrue. Rather, the disciplines constituted improvements of participating Members’ existing commitments.

“10.30. Participating Members would give legal effect to the outcome by inscribing the disciplines as additional commitments in the respective GATS schedules. That would not be done by seeking to add a new agreement to the WTO architecture but by applying well established multilateral WTO procedures to improve Members’ schedules of specific commitments. Concerns about the work of the JSI had been raised already at the end of 2019. At that time, India had argued that some of the disciplines could be of a GATS minus nature and the GATS Article VI.4 mandate could be affected by the work of the initiative. As the Coordinator of the initiative, Costa Rica had had the pleasure of discussing those concerns with India in more detail and to report back to the group. While participants in the initiative did not agree that the disciplines in question could be understood to undercut existing GATS obligations, they agreed wholeheartedly with India that the disciplines should not be understood to weaken any provision contained in the GATS.

“10.31. Indeed, participants had recently incorporated in the negotiating text language expressing clearly that the disciplines should not be constructed to diminish any obligations under the GATS. The GATS Article VI.4 mandate to develop any necessary domestic regulation disciplines was not, would not and could not be affected by the fact that Members participating in the JSI would undertake additional commitments on domestic regulation. Costa Rica was therefore disappointed to see that India currently appeared to question the right of any WTO Member to improve its services commitments. The JSI on Services Domestic Regulation remained open and transparent and all Members were welcome to join the meetings and to constructively engage ensuring that the outcome benefited service suppliers across the world and included as many Members as possible.”

Chinese Taipei (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.32. The representative of Chinese Taipei noted that the plurilateral approach had contributed to global trade in the past. The ITA was an example. Certain limited use of the plurilateral approach could support and supplement the multilateral trading system by facilitating international trade. The discussions under JSIs had given the WTO new momentum which was necessary and healthy for the multilateral system. It was an unavoidable trend that more and more trade issues were emerging that urgently needed Members to establish new disciplines for them. It was highly important to update WTO rules and to make the WTO a living organization and not be left behind by the world.

“10.33. Through Joint Statement Initiatives, Members had developed a creative way to address the trend so that the WTO’s legislative function could be improved for it to maintain its relevancy given new developments in the world – with Members still maintaining the flexibility not to opt in. Chinese Taipei called on Members to jointly think about how plurilateral agreements could be integrated into the multilateral trading system while considering Members’ needs for their respective development stages and maintaining the existing rights and obligations of non-participating Members.”

Colombia (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.34. The representative of Colombia believed that that was an important discussion for the future of the organization as those initiatives covered the interests of many Members to move forward on crucial issues in global trade relations. Colombia appreciated the interest the Director-General had expressed on JSIs. That was a necessary step for the strengthening of the WTO. Colombia was happy to see how the path that had begun with previous processes such as the ITA was currently joined by many Members who were involved in the JSIs – an important space to resolve pending priorities.

“10.35. Such perspective had led Colombia to actively and formally participate in the JSIs on ecommerce, investment facilitation for development, services domestic regulation, MSMEs and trade and gender. Colombia also expressed its interest in other nascent initiatives which would likewise have an important impact on the WTO’s future as a driver of development for Members. With regard to the document being reviewed that day, Colombia did not share the legal analysis that the paper had set out but remained ready to continue that discussion in the appropriate forum. Colombia reiterated its commitment to the JSIs and its support for any work that could be done in that area.”

Mexico (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.36. The representative of Mexico said that JSIs provided an excellent opportunity to furnish the WTO with tools that would allow it to face the current challenges in global trade. Members were in a situation where some of them believed that they were still not in a position to fully integrate themselves into the work under way. The JSI participants had never foreclosed the possibility for more Members to join those initiatives when they deemed it appropriate to do so nor did those initiatives diminish the rights and obligations of non-participating Members. Rather, the JSIs offered a possibility to move forward and help the WTO become more relevant by promoting trade as a vehicle for development. Mexico had been a strong proponent of the JSIs as the work had taken place openly, inclusively and transparently with voluntary participation at its core.”

Russian Federation (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.37. The representative of the Russian Federation found the paper by India and South Africa upsetting. There was no doubt that Members should respect the right of any of them to express its attitude towards current developments within the multilateral legal system and to point out issues which it could see as contradictory to the system’s rules. The paper was however not about that but
dealt with the issue of whether the WTO should move forward and regain its relevancy amid the changing global economic environment or should it be further bogged down by disagreements among Members and lack of consensus eventually turning into an archaic and useless institution.

“10.38. The multilateral outcomes at MC11 had clearly been quite poor. The decision to promote and accelerate fisheries subsidies negotiations – the only multilateral and negotiation-related result achieved in Buenos Aires – was evidently not enough to chart a way forward for the WTO. The JSIs in which Russia was proud to participate in had been considered globally as a signal of Members’ ability and readiness to explore possible formats to move ahead. The progress achieved in all JSIs since then demonstrated the effectiveness of that approach. For example, the JSI on Services Domestic Regulation was an attempt to deliver on a long standing commitment of all Members to develop the respective disciplines as set out in GATS Article VI.4.

“10.39. As for the incorporation of new plurilateral initiatives into the WTO Agreements, Russia agreed with suggestion of India and South Africa that it should be done in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement. However, the final goal of the JSIs was not to create a set of isolated rules among like-minded Members but rather to update the multilateral legal
system as a whole. That was why the JSIs remained open to all Members at any stage.

“10.40. The most disappointing fact about the submission was that while attacking JSIs, it did not provide any way forward essentially keeping the WTO to languish in the current limbo. No Member had taken the position to leave behind the core WTO mandated issues like agriculture or ‘horizontal’ S&DT. However, if the needs of the businesses and the people worldwide including in developing countries required Members to agree on adequate and up-to-date rules on other important issues, they had no right to keep those requests as hostages of their inability to reach progress on all fronts.”

Japan (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.41. The representative of Japan appreciated the Joint Statement Initiatives as an essential framework to allow the WTO to address in a flexible and realistic manner the changing global economic needs of the 21st century. The JSIs responded to calls from a broad range of stakeholders by discussing key economic issues and would contribute to updating the WTO rulebook and to
ensuring the relevance of the WTO in today’s world. Without the JSIs, the WTO risked becoming less relevant and even losing its raison d’être as a cornerstone of the multilateral trading system. The JSI meetings were organized in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.

“10.42. While taking into account the convenience of respective Members including the size of their delegations in organizing the process, the fact that many of them were participating in the JSIs and actively engaging in negotiations in a creative and innovative way clearly showed the JSI’s importance. A number of achievements made in the GATT and the WTO had initially been taken up
or discussed in plurilateral initiatives which were later merged in the system. Japan believed that the JSIs were consistent with the WTO and had high hopes that they would be a key part of the MC12 outcomes. Japan would continue to work with other Members to deliver substantial outcomes in the JSIs as a positive achievement of the WTO.”

Republic of Korea (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.43. The representative of the Republic of Korea, as a staunch supporter of the multilateral trading system, was disappointed to see the WTO in limbo in particular its failure to function as a forum for multilateral trade negotiations in response to the diverse needs and interests of Members. Upon such impasse and trade liberalization shifting weight to regional agreements outside the WTO, plurilateral negotiations could be a meaningful stepping-stone for multilateral agreement. It also served as a test pad for pioneering new trade rules as demonstrated by the GPA and the ITA. The JSIs which were held parallel with multilateral negotiations were essential to maintain the WTO’s relevance in the changing trade environment. Those negotiations were responsive to the demands of diverse stakeholders which would help rebuild trust in the multilateral trading system. Korea
therefore expressed its concern on the communication submitted by India and South Africa which raised questions on the concerted endeavours for revitalizing the WTO’s negotiating function.”

United States (pages 71-72 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.44. The representative of the United States believed that plurilateral negotiations at the WTO could be a useful means to advance issues of interest to Members and to keep the WTO relevant. It did not view plurilateral negotiations and outcomes as undermining multilateral ones. In fact, plurilateral initiatives could foster new ideas and approaches and build momentum toward
multilateral outcomes. The various rigid positions expressed in the paper would seem to foreclose Members’ ability to pursue creative and flexible approaches at the WTO to the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Possible JSI outcomes at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

The WTO is hoping that the 12th Ministerial Conference will finally deliver a fisheries subsidies agreement after 20 years of negotiations. It would be a multilateral agreement and only the second such agreement (the other being Trade Facilitation) concluded since the creation of the WTO in 1995. There are hopes for collective action on trade and health and some other issues. But many of the likely deliverables will involve Joint Statement Initiatives. Hence the position of India and South Africa may muddy the outlook for whether such initiatives when concluded will be incorporated into the WTO acquis.

Press accounts of a recent Chatham House event noted the view of the European Union that the WTO needs to be able to bring these initiatives into the WTO. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Weyand: WTO reform should include easier’ path for plurilateral deals, November 15, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/weyand-wto-reform-should-include-easier-path-plurilateral-deals (“World Trade Organization members need an ‘easier’ way to integrate plurilateral agreements into the organization’s rulebook, European Commission Director-General for Trade Sabine Weyand said on Friday, calling for the idea to be a part of broader WTO reform discussions.”). The EU, like most other WTO Members, has been an active participant in various JSIs.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, presented views in Singapore earlier this week on the subject of the role of plurilaterals in the WTO. See Peterson Institute for International Economics, Alan Wm. Wolff, Plurilateral Agreements and the Future of the WTO, November 16, 2021, Remarks delivered at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, https://www.piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/plurilateral-agreements-and-future-wto. His speech is worth reading in its entirety. A few excerpts are provided below and highlight the critical importance of plurilaterals going forward. Whether plurilaterals are within the WTO or outside will basically determine whether the WTO can maintain relevance in the future.

“Plurilateral agreements have become and will remain the primary path forward for improving the conditions for international trade.

“Insofar as the future health of the multilateral trading system is concerned, there are three alternatives:

“(1) coalitions of the like-minded will be able to conclude open plurilateral agreements within the WTO,

“(2) forward-leaning agreements are negotiated outside the WTO but become templates for the multilateral rules, or

“(3) the WTO becomes increasingly irrelevant to new global challenges and there is a consequent fragmentation of the world trading system.”

After reviewing the JSIs and other initiatives on climate change, trade and health and other matters, Amb. Wolff notes that

“Global problems need global solutions.

“The only practical way forward for the WTO is through open plurilateral agreements. Otherwise, Members who are looking for solutions will view the WTO as being increasingly irrelevant. The WTO to thrive needs to become more flexible.

“Notionally, various subjects can be negotiated on their own, in disparate venues, each unrelated to the other, without full transparency, without interested countries having a say. That is a recipe for global incoherence. It is the opposite of what is needed.

“Where trade is a vitally important aspect of meeting a global challenge – such as a pandemic or climate change, there is no clear alternative venue for addressing fully countries’ needs. The WTO must be pressed into service.

“It is time for the WTO’s Members to take the next step and embrace the open plurilateral agreements being negotiated now and those that are going to be launched to meet their needs for the 21st century.”

The 12th Ministerial Conference is the opportunity for WTO Members to embrace the future or commit the WTO to reduced relevancy. By early December, we should understand the likely direction of the WTO.

The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO

In prior posts I have reviewed efforts by the United States and others to have the WTO membership modify who is entitled to special and differential treatment in light of the rapid changes in economic capabilities of a number of countries who have classified themselves as “developing” countries at the WTO under the self-designation approach that has characterized the GATT and now the WTO. See, e.g., December 14, 2020:  WTO December 14th Heads of Delegation meeting – parting comments of U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/14/wto-december-14th-heads-of-delegation-meeting-parting-comments-of-u-s-ambassador-dennis-shea/; August 13, 2020 [updated August 27]:  The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  eligibility for special and differential treatment/self selection as a developing country, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/13/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-eligibility-for-special-and-differential-treatment-self-selection-as-a-developing-country/; February 15, 2020: The U.S. Modifies the List of Developing and Least Developed Countries Under U.S. Countervailing Duty Law, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/15/the-u-s-modifies-the-list-of-developing-and-least-developed-countries-under-u-s-countervailing-duty-law/; December 28, 2019: WTO Reform – Will Limits on Who Enjoys Special and Differential Treatment Be Achieved?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/12/28/wto-reform-will-limits-on-who-enjoys-special-and-differential-treatment-be-achieved/.

The issue is one of importance because of the concern that many Members who have economically advanced to be fully internationally competitive or internationally competitive in significant areas of goods or services are not opening their markets to a level commensurate with their actual stage of development. A number of Members have indicated that they will not seek Special and Differential treatment in new agreements while maintaining rights under existing ones. The U.S., the EU and others have sought a more factual basis for any entitlement to differential treatment.

On November 10, 2021, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (“CTD”) See WTO News Release, “Development issues should be at the heart of work at the WTO“— DG Okonjo-Iweala, 10 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/devel_10nov21_e.htm. The press release starts with an overview of the importance of development in the overall WTO mission,

“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the key role that trade plays in economic development during a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) on 10 November. She stressed that development is a priority for the WTO and that the CTD plays an important role in addressing the development dimension in the multilateral trading system.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the work of the WTO is important for developing and least  developed countries (LDCs),  hence, it is critical for the WTO to deliver on issues of importance to them. Trade is a significant driver for economic growth and poverty reduction and ultimately for development, she added.”

The press release later has a statement that “The Secretariat presented the findings of its latest report concerning the participation of developing economies in global trade.” The latest report is PARTICIPATION OF DEVELOPING ECONOMIES IN THE GLOBAL TRADING SYSTEM, NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT, 28 October 2021, WT/COMTD/W/262.

The problem with the note from the Secretariat and the functioning of the Committee on Trade and Development and other aspects of the WTO work is that developing countries in the note is treated as all Members so designating themselves and hence provides little useful information on the role of countries in actual need of assistance. Data in the note is skewed by information on developing Asia — an area that includes China, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). On pages 8-9 of the Secretariat note, the major “developing” country traders are reviewed. The top 15 developing country exporters in 2020 were Chins (34.0%), Republic of Korea (6.7%), Mexico (5.5%), Singapore (4.8%), Chinese Taipei (4.6%), United Arab Emirates (4.2%), Viet Nam (3.7%), India (3.6%), Malaysia (3.1%), Thailand (3.0%), Brazil (2.8%), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2.3%), Turkey (2.2%), Indonesia (2.1%), South Africa (1.1%), other (16.4%). The top 15 importer developing countries included all of the top exporters with the exception of South Africa (Hong Kong, China was the 15th largest importer).

The World Bank provides Gross National Income per capita for most countries/territories (China blocks provision of data for Chinese Taipei). The latest data are for 2020 and include the following ranges for the four categories of World Bank countries:

Low income countries, less than $1,048/capita GNI

lower middle-income economies, $1,048-4,095/capita GNI

upper middle-income economies, $4,096-12,695/capita GNI

high income economies, $12,696 or more/capita GNI.

China in 2020 had a per capita GNI of $10,610; Singapore had a 2020 per capita GNI of $54,920; Republic of Korea had a 2020 per capita GNI of $32,860; Chinese Taipei had a per capita GDP in 2021 of $33,402; Mexico had a 2020 per capita GNI of 8,480; the United Arab Republic had a 2019 per capita GNI of $43,470; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $21,930; Hong Kong, China, had a 2020 per capita GNI of $48,630; Thailand had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,050; Malaysia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $11,230; Turkey had a 2020 per capita GNI of $9,030; Brazil had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,850.

See New World Bank country classifications by income level: 2021-2022, July 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/new-world-bank-country-classifications-income-level-2021-2022; World Bank Country and Lending Groups, ← Country Classification, https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups; GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$) – China, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=CN (lists all countries); Wikipedia, Economy of Taiwan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Taiwan.

There is obviously no justification in high income economies receiving special and differential treatment as though they are developing countries in fact. Thus, data for Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be in the developing country data base. Similarly, China and Malaysia with per capita GNIs above $10,000 and purchasing power parity gross national income per capita (2019) above the minimum high income economy threshold ($16,790 for China; $28,830 for Malaysia) shouldn’t be eligible for special and differential treatment as a general rule. Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and Mexico while below $10,000 per capita GNI in 2020 have 2019 per capita purchasing power parity GNI higher than the high income economy threshold ($14,890 for Brazil; $26,840 for Mexico; $18,570 for Thailand; $27,660). There is no apparent logic in having these countries have automatic rights to special and differential treatment.

The Secretariat, of course, cannot change the classification of Members. But the lack of a rational standard for determining appropriateness of receiving special and differential treatment undermines the functioning of the WTO and permits countries who have succeeded at rapid economic development from assuming full obligations of WTO membership. The problem also results in statistical reports that are largely meaningless.

In a consensus based system like the WTO, the road to rationality will be long at best with many WTO Members who should have accepted full obligations by now continuing to hide behind the self-selection process to claim lesser obligations.

The APEC 2021 Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement — portion relevant to WTO 12th Ministerial Meeting

The APEC 2021 Ministerial meeting was held remotely on November 8-9 and resulted in a joint statement which included ambitions of APECs 21 members for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference which starts in Geneva at the end of November (November 30-December 3). New Zealand has chaired APEC in 2021. Because the APEC countries include members accounting for 38% of the world’s population, 62% of the world’s GDP and 48% of global trade in 2020 and includes both the United States and China among the 21 territories, what APEC members support for the upcoming WTO ministerial may offer a glimpse of what may be possible in Geneva in the coming weeks. The APEC Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement and a publication on APEC in Numbers can be found here. See 2021 APEC Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement, Wellington, New Zealand, 09 November 2021, https://www.apec.org/meeting-papers/annual-ministerial-meetings/2021/2021-apec-ministerial-meeting; APEC in Charts 2021, https://www.apec.org/docs/default-source/publications/2021/11/apec-in-charts-2021/221_psu_apec-in-charts-2021.pdf?sfvrsn=50537c36_2. APEC members include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, and Viet Nam.

While the Declaration contains coverage of a number of issues, it has a separate section on the World Trade Organization (pages 4-5, paras. 17-22). The six paragraphs from the Joint Statement are copied below.

“World Trade Organization

“17. APEC takes pride in its long history of active support for the rules-based multilateral trading system (MTS), with the WTO at its core. The MTS has been a catalyst for our region’s extraordinary growth and we will work together to improve it. We seek a responsive, relevant, and revitalised WTO. We must support the WTO and its membership to modernise trade rules for the twenty-first century. Together, we will engage constructively and cooperate to ensure the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) is a success and delivers concrete results.

“18. As a priority for MC12, we see an opportunity for the WTO to demonstrate that the MTS can continue to help address the human catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate recovery. We call for pragmatic and effective ministerial outcomes that makes it easier to respond swiftly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate the recovery. Our priorities include supporting the facilitation of manufacturing, distribution, and supply chains of essential medical goods, including vaccines. We will work proactively and urgently in Geneva to support text-based discussions, including on a temporary waiver of certain intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.

“19. We reiterate our determination to negotiate effective disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies in line with SDG 14.6, and call for agreement to a comprehensive and meaningful outcome by MC12 in a few weeks’ time.

“20. Despite its importance for ensuring global food security and sustainable economic development, agriculture is one of the most protected sectors in global trade. We recognise the need for a meaningful outcome on agriculture at MC12, reflecting our collective interests and sensitivities, with a view towards achieving substantial progressive reductions in support and protection, as envisaged in the continuation of the reform process provided in Article 20 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture and existing mandates.

“21. We recognise the positive role that existing plurilateral negotiations and discussions are playing in progressing outcomes. APEC member participants in the relevant Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs) call for conclusion of negotiations on services domestic regulation by MC12; and substantial progress by MC12 in the JSIs on e-commerce; micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; and investment facilitation for development. We take note of the efforts by the APEC economies who endorsed the Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment to deliver an ambitious outcome at MC12 that supports the advancement of trade and gender equality.

“22, We continued our frank and constructive discussions regarding improvement to the WTO’s monitoring, negotiating and dispute settlement functions. We continue to support the ongoing and necessary reform work to improve the WTO’s functioning, including the importance of making progress on enhancing transparency to support its monitoring and negotiating functions. We will work together at the WTO and with the wider WTO membership to advance the proper functioning of the WTO’s negotiation and dispute settlement functions, which require addressing longstanding issues. We urge WTO members to seek a shared understanding of the types of reform needed.”

The Joint Statement has some specific items where outcomes are pursued — conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, some outcomes in the Joint Statement Initiatives (services domestic regulation should be completed; micro, small and medium-sized enterprises is completed; progress on others). As reviewed in yesterday’s post, WTO Members still have a challenging road to achieve a completed fisheries subsidies agreement at the 12th Ministerial. See November 9, 2021:  WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations — a second revised text from November 8 holds out hope for a deal by MC12; how realistic is the hope?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/09/wto-fisheries-subsidies-negotiations-a-second-revised-text-from-november-8-holds-out-hope-for-a-deal-by-mc12-how-realistic-is-the-hope/. Moreover, India, South Africa and others are raising objections to having any plurilaterals being negotiated included in the WTO which will complicate what comes out of the 12th Ministerial Conference (as opposed to encouraging Members to pursue plurilaterals outside of the WTO). See February 20, 2021:  Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/; September 18, 2021: The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Late November – early December 2021 — the struggle for relevance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/18/the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference-in-late-november-early-december-2021-the-struggle-for-relevance/.

The Joint Statement also seeks “pragmatic and effective” outcomes in the health and trade space to address responding to the COVID pandemic. Specifics are lacking although there is support to expanding production and access to vaccines and other medical goods. While supporting text based negotiations in the area, including on a possible temporary waiver of some TRIPS provisions on COVID vaccines, the lack of greater specificity reflects differences in positions of APEC members.

Similarly, while supporting WTO reform in all three areas of WTO activity (monitoring, negotiating and dispute settlement), APEC members have significantly different views on what is needed in these areas. Hence only general language is included in the Joint Statement.

In a prior post, I have opined that recent actions by the U.S. and EU to find ways around the civil aircaraft and steel and aluminum frictions suggests that the U.S. may agree to the start of a process to review the dispute settlement system issues raised by it as part of the 12th Ministerial (a high EU priority) and that the U.S. and EU could coalesce around an outcome acceptable to both in the TRIPS waiver dispute. See November 2, 2021:  What does the U.S.-EU Agreement on steel and aluminum imply for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/02/what-does-the-u-s-eu-agreement-on-steel-and-aluminum-imply-for-the-upcoming-12th-wto-ministerial-conference/.

China has opposed greater transparency obligations and has tied reform of industrial subsidies to looking at agricultural subsidies as well. A recent post of mine reviews the need for better information on subsidies. See October 30, 2021:  WTO reform — distortions to market access and the need for better information, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/30/wto-reform-distortions-to-market-access-and-the-need-for-better-information/. Despite differences of view on some issues among major Members, it is not out of the question that a reform program will cover an examination of all three functions going forward.

On agriculture, there is a shared view for a need for results at the WTO 12th Ministerial and reflects on the fact that Article 20 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture calls for periodic rounds of liberalization. However, the language of the Joint Statement doesn’t specify the areas where agreement is possible by the 12th Ministerial, reflecting different views among APEC members.

Nothing in the APEC Joint Statement addressed what, if anything should be agreed at the 12th WTO Ministerial on the climate crisis and what role trade can play in addressing the crisis. This omission is unfortunate but likely reflects large differences in views within APEC members on the topic. As I reviewed in a recent post, much more is needed but unlikely to come from the WTO and its members. See November 4, 2021:  The WTO and the environment — will the 2020s be different in terms of trade policies that are environmentally supportive?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/04/the-wto-and-the-environment-will-the-2020s-be-different-in-terms-of-trade-policies-that-are-environmentally-supportive/.

Conclusion

The APEC 2021 Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement, being released three weeks before the start of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference is a positive statement of support for the multilateral trading system. Coming from a group of WTO Members accounting for nearly 50% of global trade, it is a useful guide for topics these countries and territories will be pursuing in Geneva. Other group statements have been released as well as individual country or group objectives. But even within the APEC group of countries, large differences exist on outcomes of interest. With the exception of a possible conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations and conclusions on several Joint Statement Initiatives, there may be only limited positive outcomes. There may be some limited agreement on the broad topic of health and trade and some agreement on topics for future negotiation. There may also be at least some provisions in a declaration dealing with the climate crisis and the important role trade can play in addressing the crisis.

Such a limited set of outcomes will likely be viewed as a success for an organization hamstrung by Members with no common vision for the role of the organization, with large differences in development levels, a cumbersome governance system and growing divergence on whether the organization can support global trade where market rules are not the required framework. More is needed for a truly relevant WTO and for a sustainable global trading system. The world is unlikely to achieve meaningful reform at the WTO in the coming decade. Progress, if any, will likely be slow and piecemeal.

WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations — a second revised text from November 8 holds out hope for a deal by MC12; how realistic is the hope?

After twenty years of negotiations on fisheries subsidies, WTO Members are just weeks away from another “hard” deadline for concluding the talks — the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference being held in Geneva November 30-December 3. On November 8, the Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules released a second revision to the draft text of a fisheries subsidies agreement along with a detailed explanatory note on the changes made from the first revision and the road ahead. See Negotiating Group on Rules – Fisheries Subsidies, Revised Draft Text, 8 November 2021, TN/RL/W/276/Rev. 2 and Fisheries Subsidies, Revised Draft Text, Chair’s Explanatory Note Accompanying TN/RL/W276/Rev.2, 8 November 2021, TN/RL/W/26/Rev.2/Add.1.

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, the Chair of the negotiations, gave a summary of next steps in his conclusion. Paragraph 148 provides the challenge ahead:

“148. Regarding next steps, where we need to go from here is simple: we have to genuinely negotiate. We have only three weeks left until MC12 and only two weeks before we need to send something to Ministers through the General Council. Our objective before then is to collectively evolve this draft text ideally into a completely clean text, or at least as clean as possible with only
one or two issues left for our Ministers to decide. As I communicated to you in my e-mail of 4 November, and as has been the plan since we resumed our work following the summer break, we now will need to meet very frequently – essentially every day – starting tomorrow, to review everything together clause-by-clause.”

The WTO Members have a lot at stake in terms of whether an agreement can finally be achieved. In the WTO press release about the release of the revised text, the importance of getting to the finish line is alluded to by the Director-General. The agreement is in fulfilment of one of the UN Sustainable Development Goal subitems, 14.6, although the WTO already missed the completion date of 2020. See WTO News, Revised fisheries subsidies text kicks off intensified negotiations ahead of MC12, 8 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_08nov21_e.htm.

“The Director-General told members she has been engaging with political leaders, including at the highest levels, to get their support for a successful conclusion to the 21-year-long negotiations.

“‘The eyes of the world are really on us,’ she said. ‘Time is short and I believe that this text reflects a very important step toward a final outcome. I really see a significant rebalancing of the provisions, including those pertaining to special and differential treatment, while, at the same time, maintaining the level of ambition.’

“Members are scheduled to hold daily meetings on the basis of the latest draft text, with the goal of providing ministers a clean draft before MC12.

“Under the mandate from the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in 2017 and the UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, negotiators have been given the task of securing agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.”

A review of the revised draft and the Chair’s explanatory text show a large number of issues where strong differences remain, many provisions still in brackets, some alternative texts provided and other challenges all of which need to be largely resolved within two weeks. See, e.g., Art. 3.3, alternatives for type of proof and process needed for a finding that a vessel or operator has engaged in “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”; Art. 3.8, period that developing countries can provide subsidies and distance from shore for the fishing activities; Art. 4.4, similar bracketed provisions for subsidies for developing countries regarding overfished stocks; Art. 5.1(i), prohibited subsidies contingent upon or tied to fishing and related activities beyond the subsidizing Member’s jurisdiction; Art. 5.3, alternatives for disciplines on subsidies to vessels not flying the flag of the subsidizing Member; Art. 5.4, exceptions for developing countries including duration of exception and area from shore to which it applies; Art. 6.2, exceptions for LDC Members; Article 7, technical assistance and capacity building; Art. 8.2(b), whether to include notification requirements by Members of “any vessels and operators for which the Member has information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labour, along with relevant information to the extent possible”; Art. 8.5, notification requirements of any regional fisheries management organization or arrangement (RFMO/A); Art. 9.1, institutional arrangements; Art. 9 and 10 (dispute settlement) more broadly; Art. 11.1 and 11.5 from final provisions.

The detailed description from the Chair of the changes made and major differences that remain confirms that the effort to get to a final agreement will be daunting. The Chair’s proposed path forward includes using several Friends of the Chair to help address a range of open issues. But it also includes daily meetings including in different configurations and the inclusion of officials from capital remotely.

Challenges facing Members include some of the broader reform issues raised by the U.S. and others. Various special and differential treatment provisions (“S&D provisions) apply to “developing countries” as well as LDCs. “Developing Country is a matter of self-selection, meaning many WTO Members claim such status despite not needing S&D to be competitive. The U.S., EU and others have raised concerns with the need to refocus S&D on those actually needing assistance. Are the qualifiers on the S&D provisions sufficient to see that major subsidizers like China and others are not eligible to avoid disciplines? Similarly, can the effort of some “developing countries” to seek S&D for decades possibly make sense if the Agreement is to achieve sustainability of wild caught fish and if there are few restrictions on who is a developing country?

The U.S. has had deep concerns about the use of forced labor on fishing vessels. See The Use of Forced Labor on Fishing Vessels, Submission of the United States, 27 May 2021, TN/RL/GEN/205. The revised draft text agreement contains only one of three proposed modifications to the draft text proposed by the U.S. to better address concerns about forced labor, and that provision (Art. 8.2(b)) is opposed by some Members, presumably those whose fleets are known or suspected of using forced labor. More broadly, will a final text result in meaningful reforms on fisheries subsidies or be so compromised that the agreement offers at best partial disciplines.

With the world watching and with the opportunity to restore at least partially the relevance of the WTO as a forum for trade negotiations, WTO Members have two weeks to get a near finished text agreed, with less than two weeks after that for Members to agree to a meaningful final text to ensure a successful 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. Let’s hope that the WTO Membership can rise to the occasion.

The WTO and the environment — will the 2020s be different in terms of trade policies that are environmentally supportive?

With the world rapidly approaching the point of no return on rising temperatures, can an organization like the WTO characterized by negotiating paralysis play a meaningful role in seeing that trade rules support sustainable growth and a livable planet in a timely manner?. Recent history would suggest the answer is no or at least not in a timely manner.

Fisheries subsidies negotiations have dragged on for more than two decades, suggesting that even if a robust trade and environment work program is agreed to at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, the chances of meaningful progress in the current decade are modest at best.

The negotiations for an environmental goods agreement amongst 17 countries and groups accounting for 90% of trade in environmental goods which began in 2014 was essentially discontinued in 2016 despite the obvious global benefit from tariff reductions on the trade in goods that can improve the environment. While many have urged the restart of the talks, it is unclear whether talks will restart and how quickly they could conclude.

There are no ongoing negotiations to address the need to reduce the carbon footprint of industry and agriculture despite some 69 countries having adopted some form of carbon price and the impending start of carbon border adjustment measures (“CBAMs”) by some WTO Members. A global agreement on a carbon price is aspirational at this point without negotiations agreed to or started. Countries working to reduce carbon emissions are concerned about “leakage” of production and jobs to countries with low standards ensuring that there will be CBAMs imposed by some. Some WTO Members are threatening retaliation if such measures are adopted. So the 2020s will likely be a period of conflict among WTO Members on the topic instead of being a period of time in which the WTO and its Members are able to make a critical contribution to controlling the global warming crisis.

Efforts at plurilateral agreements (so-called Joint Statement Initiatives or JSIs) which include some in the environmental area (e.g., marine plastics pollution) are not certain to become part of the WTO, facing opposition from India and South Africa and others.

So recent history does not shout out that the WTO will play an important role in addressing the existential threat flowing from global warming.

This is not to say that the WTO Director-General isn’t advocating for trade to play its role in addressing the problems. Moreover, the Secretariat is attempting to generate information on the role trade can play in addressing global warming through a series of information notes. See, e.g., WTO news, DG Okonjo-Iweala highlights trade’s role in ambitious and just climate action at COP26, 2 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_02nov21_e.htm; WTO news, WTO issues information briefs on trade, climate, related issues with COP26 talks underway, 3 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21_e.htm. The press release reviewing DG Ngozi’s statement is copied below.

“Trade can and must make a contribution to a comprehensive climate action agenda, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared in her engagements with world leaders and stakeholders at the United Nations COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, highlighting the need for ambitious yet fair commitments that ensure a green transition that is just and inclusive to all economies.

“The Director-General highlighted trade and the WTO’s role in a wide breadth of approaches to climate action in her panels and bilateral meetings, covering carbon emission reductions, the conservation of forests as critical carbon sinks, climate adaptation, and finance.

“On carbon reduction and pricing, she championed a coordinated approach at the high-level event organized by Canada and the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, saying: ‘Let’s move towards a global carbon price. We have a great deal of fragmentation and we are hearing increasingly from businesses that they are finding regulations difficult to navigate and sometimes it results in higher prices for consumers and others. We also have members who are afraid this measure is somehow disguised protectionism which will prevent them from selling products abroad. Their issues need to be respected as we develop these systems.’

“’The WTO provides a forum where we can initiate this dialogue and involve developing and least-developed countries in the conversation. Leaders should task the International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Bank and the WTO to work together and come up with a global approach,’ she said.

“Halting deforestation and establishing sustainable markets for agriculture must also be part of the comprehensive trade and climate agenda, she said at a session of the World Leaders Summit on Forests and Land Use, organized by the United Kingdom, host of COP26, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. WTO members have already notified an increasing number of policies relating to forestry management (514 measures from 2009 to 2019) as well as sustainable agriculture management (over 1,200 measures). However, more action is needed, such as reforming subsidies that create perverse incentives for market actors to deplete natural resources, the Director-General said.

“At the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Summit, moreover, the Director-General said: ‘Adaptation for Africa must be a priority for the international community. This region contributes the least to emissions but suffers the most. Climate finance for Africa to meet adaptation costs must be ramped up.’

“’We also need to put in place trade policies to cushion against and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. Trade is part of the solution,’ she said, noting the need for trade to ensure food security in the face of climate threats, provide access to adaptation technologies, and create synergies in Aid for Trade and climate finance.

“The Director-General will also underline the importance of support for developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) at the 3 November event organized by the United Kingdom on mobilizing climate finance.”

The five information papers released from the Secretariat on November 3, 2021 are:

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°1, MAPPING PAPER: TRADE POLICIES ADOPTED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-1_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°2, CLIMATE CHANGE IN REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-2_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°3, TRADE RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF A RISING BURDEN OF NATURAL DISASTERS, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-3_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°4, CARBON CONTENT OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-4_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°5, AFRICA UNDER A CHANGING CLIMATE: THE ROLE OF TRADE IN BUILDING RESILIENT ADAPTATION IN AGRICULTURE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-5_e.pdf.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, in comments to the Harvard JFK School last week, identified a third required outcome of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (besides a statement on trade and health and the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations) to be —

“3. A clear pledge to deal with trade and climate, and other environmental issues (marine plastics pollution, fossil fuels, etc. – this last, probably unspecified).

“• The effort is likely to take the form of an open plurilateral negotiation, a joint statement initiative. This is now a path more often chosen, as agreement among 164 disparate sovereigns is becoming close to impossible to achieve.”

See Defining Success for MC12, Notes for remarks of Alan Wm. Wolff, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Harvard JFK School, 29 October 2021, https://www.piie.com/sites/default/files/documents/wolff-2021-10-29.pdf (page 3).

While the start of a JSI on trade and climate is the most that can be hoped for at the Ministerial, even if achieved, the question will be can progress be made quickly enough to affect global warming. The fact that the scope of any such negotiations is uncertain strongly supports the view that efforts at the WTO on a plurilateral or multilateral basis will be too limited and too late to make a difference.

This will likely mean any meaningful movement will be implemented by individual Members or potentially small groups and probably occur outside of the WTO. In the absence of global or plurilateral agreements, actions by individual Members will be needed but almost certainly not enough.

Let’s hope that the above analysis proves too pessimistic. For our children and grandchildren, a lot depends on a global robust response to global warming in many policy areas, including trade.