In yesterday’s post, I reviewed the fact that beginning with WTO Trade Policy Reviews in October 2021, the WTO press releases on the reviews were not including information that has historically been included, importantly the full Secretariat Report and the Government Report of the Member going through the review. See October 20, 2021: WTO reduces transparency of Trade Policy Reviews — what is the possible justification?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/20/wto-reduces-transparency-of-trade-policy-reviews-what-is-the-possible-justification/. The structure of the press releases was also changed, and the press releases no longer refer to the minutes or the written questions and answers which prior to October had been noted as likely to be released in about six weeks and to which links to the releases had been added once the documents were released.
Yesterday afternoon and evening, I received word from folks at the WTO that there was no intention to reduce the transparency of TPR events, and they were reviewing what might have happened in the Korea and China reviews. Last evening, I was informed that the problem had been discovered and corrected. The posted press releases for the Korea and China reviews were updated to include links to the full reports of both the Secretariat and the Government being reviewed. See WTO press release, Trade Policy Review: China, 20 and 22 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp515_e.htm (adding links to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, CHINA, 15 September 2021, WT/TPR/S/415 (209 pages) and to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY CHINA, 15 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/415 (27 pages)); WTO press release, Trade Policy Review: Republic of Korea, 13 and 15 October 2021,https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp514_e.htm (adding links to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, 8 September 2021,WT/TPR/S/414 (229 pages) and to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY REPUBLIC OF KOREA, 8 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/414 (15 pages)).
The corrections made by the WTO Secretariat are obviously appreciated by the public who follows WTO activities. It is welcome news that the problem on TPR documents was inadvertent and not intentional. WTO Members have over the last 25 years taken many actions which have significantly reduced transparency in a range of areas which I have reviewed in prior posts. See, e.g., November 12, 2019: The Continued Problem of Inconsistent Transparency at the World Trade Organization, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/12/the-continued-problem-of-inconsistent-transparency-at-the-world-trade-organization/. The Secretariat, of course, becomes captive to those actions with the result that many Secretariat generated documents (e.g., compilation of proposals) that used to be public are often not today. Thus, the public should be concerned about reduced transparency at the WTO and flag problems where identified.
On the Trade Policy Review press releases, the Secretariat should also note that the language of the press releases for Korea and China remain modified from prior releases in that there is no indication as to when minutes or written questions and answers will be available. I assume based on the communications from WTO personnel, that both the minutes and written questions and answers will be released as well in a few months. If not, then my concerns from yesterday on reduced transparency would remain. While such documents trail the release of the full reports, they are critical documents as well to understand concerns with any Member’s trade policies. Historically, the Secretariat would update the press release so that those following reviews could easily find the minutes and written questions and answers when released by simply looking at the press release. I would encourage the Secretariat to see that such information is added back into notices going forward and, if not done immediately for Korea and China, added at the latest when the documents are released.