Posts By Terence P. Stewart

UPDATE: WTO Trade Policy Review Press Releases Corrected to Include Full Secretariat and Government Reports in reviews of the Republic of Korea and China

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.

WTO reduces transparency of Trade Policy Reviews — what is the possible justification?

Through September 2021, when a country went through a Trade Policy Review, a large amount of material was made available to the public at the time of the TPR meeting with additional information (minutes, questions and answers, corrections to Secretariat report and/or government report) released a number of months later. The WTO press releases at the time of the TPR meeting were similar. The one for Singapore from 22 and 24 September 2021 is typical.

As can be seen from the press release, the public could access the full report of the Secretariat, the full report of the Government of Singapore, the concluding comments of the Chairperson as well as an Executive Summary of the Secretariat report at the time of the two day meeting to review the reports. Moreover, minutes from the meeting were available to the public typically about six weeks after the meeting as were the written questions and written answers.

Beginning in October, the press release has been modified and far less information is made available immediately to the public. There have been two TPRs so far in October, the Republic of Korea (13 and 15 October) and China (20 and 22 October). A TPR of the Russian Federation is scheduled for next week.

The WTO press release for the Republic of Korea is copied below. The current one for China is similar.

All that is made available to the public at the time of the meeting is a short executive summary of the Secretariat report and the concluding remarks of the Chairperson. No reference is made to how to access the full report of the Secretariat or the Government (here Republic of Korea), nor is there an indication as to when minutes or written questions and written answers will be available.

There is nothing on the WTO webpage which describes why so little information is being provided beginning this month on new Trade Policy Reviews. For the public, the drastic reduction in transparency makes the WTO operations even less understandable.

If the WTO will be releasing all of the documents it has historically but with significant time delays on all documents, what is the justification? For 25 years, TPRs have been conducted with the type of information released that gave the public a good understanding of the Secretariat’s and the government’s review of its trade policy. That understanding has been timely, consistent with the meeting and supplemented within several months with minutes and the written questions and answers.

If the WTO is not intending on releasing all of the documents it has historically released, what is the possible justification?

China, which is going through a Trade Policy Review this week, also went through a TPR in 2018. In 2018, the Secretariat Report released to the public at the time of the TPR meeting was 193 pages (along with a summary of 6 pages). See WT/TPR/S/375. China’s Report on its trade policy was 23 pages. See WT/TPR/G/375. These documents are dated 6 June 2018. A revision to the Secretariat Report is dated 14 September 2018 and was also 193 pages ( WT/TPR/S/375/Rev.1). The Concluding remarks by the Chairperson are contained in a separate press release from the WTO at the time of the TPR meeting but linked from the main notice of the TPR. See WTO news, Trade Policy Review: China, 11 and 13 July 2018, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp475_e.htm linking to the concluding remarks of the Chairperson at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp475_crc_e.htm. The minutes of the meeting are contained in WT/TPR/M/375, 21 November 20218 and are 98 pages in length with statements from 66 Members (two on behalf of larger groups). The written questions and answers are contained in WT/TPR/M/375/Add.1, dated 1 February 2019 and being 729 pages in length. The WTO Members who submitted questions (including follow-up questions) are shown on pages 2-3 of the document.

Because the current TPR on China (20 and 22 October) does not provide either of the full reports (Secretariat and Government) and because there is no indication of when minutes or written questions and answers will be available, there is certainly delayed access and potentially denial of access of the same type of information on China (or any other country) that was been released in the past. This should be viewed as unacceptable by the WTO Secretariat and WTO Members and certainly should be so viewed by the public.

Conclusion

What is available to the public from a Trade Policy Review is critical for an understanding of concerns raised by WTO Members about any other Member’s trade policy as well as the level and openness of the response from the Member being reviewed. The Secretariat’s report is an important factual analysis of developments in the Member being reviewed. The recent curtailment of access to the full Secretariat Report and the full Government Report greatly harms transparency and the ability of the public to understand developments within WTO Members in a timely manner. Should the WTO cease to release any of the information heretofore available to the public in current and future TPRs, the WTO will be further damaging the public’s perception of the WTO and will be further retreating from openness and transparency towards the public..

What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not

On October 14, 2021, Amb. Alan Wolff (former Deputy Director General of the WTO, former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and now Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economic Policy) spoke to the PIIE-CF40 Young Economist Forum on the topic “China in the World Trade System, The Role of China in WTO Reform”. Amb. Wolff’s paper provides an interesting overview of the many areas where China could provide positive leadership at the WTO to achieve meaningful reform. The paper also identifies what China has identified as its priorities for reform, most of which cut against positive leadership. His paper can be found here. Ala Wm. Wolff, China in the World Trading System, The Role of China in WTO Reform, October 14, 2021, https://www.piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/china-world-trading-system.

Amb. Wolff, when he was Deputy Director General at the WTO made points on the need for reform, key values of the WTO, some of which to be continued would require China to make some important adjustments to its economic system. See 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/. As DDG, Amb. Wolff spoke often on the future of the WTO, reforms needed, and more. He has continued that since leaving the WTO. See, e.g., 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/.

Among the values of the WTO identified by Amb. Wolff while serving as DDG were two that remain critical in the continued relevance of the WTO:

The primacy of market forces — Commercial considerations are to determine competitive outcomes.

Convergence —The WTO is not simply about coexistence; differences among members affecting trade which deviate from the principles governing the WTO, its core values, are to be progressively overcome.”

These two issues are among the areas where Amb. Wolff identifies the opportunity for China to take an active role in ensuring WTO relevance and WTO reform. But there are many areas where China could be active in a positive maner.

Many of the suggested areas for Chinese action are straight forward. For example, China is not a member of the Pharmaceutical Agreement but is now a very important producer and trader of pharmaceutical products. Joining would be an important step. Similarly, Amb. Wolff urges China to participate in updating the Information Technology Agreement to include medical equipment and eliminate duties on such equipment.

On the negotiating function, Amb. Wolff states,

“There are a number of important opportunities for Chinese leadership in negotiations.

“A positive substantive outcome is necessary in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, which it is hoped will be concluded shortly. China has by far the world’s largest long distance fishing fleet. China’s full and active participation is essential to attaining this objective.

“Another marine issue in which China is prominent is its co-sponsoring with Fiji of an environmental initiative targeting the problem of plastic waste in the oceans. This is a praiseworthy endeavor in which all should join.

“China should also take a lead in re-starting and concluding an Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA).” (pages 10-11).

On the Joint Statement Initiatives, China has the ability to determine the level of ambition in the e-commerce negotiations on issues like privacy, cross border data flow and forced localization of servers. It also is involved in JSIs on Investment Facilitation for Development and on Domestic Regulation of Service. Amb. Wolff notes that China will need to take a position on whether JSIs become part of the WTO acquis or not –

“Any results from the JSIs will add to the world trade rule book and constitute reform. It remains to be seen how valuable these agreements will be, and it is not yet clear how they will be incorporated into the WTO acquis. Either the WTO will be a venue for the negotiation of these crucial open plurilaterals or it will not, and China will have to make a choice as to its position on
the subject. Open plurilateral agreements are essential to the future health of the international trading system.” (page 12)

On WTO reform, both in terms of new rules and restoring the dispute settlement system, Amb. Wolff notes that the two areas will be intertwined and will require addressing “industrial subsidies, state intervention in the economy and technology transfer.” China views these issues defensively which will not help restore the system.

“As a major economy and important stakeholder in the multilateral trading system, China has a pivotal role to play which it should approach positively and constructively – rather than defensively, engaging actively in deliberations on reform. There is a choice between seeing areas of emerging rules as targeting or threatening China’s practices or, more fruitfully, seeing how they can serve the trading system more broadly. Either the WTO will be the venue for setting the rules of engagement or it will be done regionally, bilaterally or unilaterally. It should be in China’s interest to seek resolutions where it has a seat at the table.” (page 13)

On transparency, China will play an important role in whether the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference requires greater transparency and whether Members requires the Secretariat to “independently and aggressively report on all measures affecting trade flow, those that impede trade and those that facilitate it.” (page 14)

Amb. Wolff then addresses several sensitive issues: self-designation of developing country, “market-oriented policies” (what the U.S. would term China’s non-market economy). Amb. Wolff views the self-designation issue as less important for China since China “states that it will accept obligations commensurate with its capacity.” (page 14)

On the question of “market oriented policies,” Amb. Wolff has a long section.

“More serious than the rhetorical issue of whether China is or is not a developing country is the heated discussion over ‘market-oriented policies’. The Riyadh Initiative for the Future of the WTO reached a highly interesting outcome in its November 2020 G20 meeting. The Saudi chair reported that all members agreed to the following list as part of the principles of the WTO under the heading of ‘Rule of Law’:

“o Transparency

“o Non-discrimination

“o Inclusiveness

“o Fair competition

“o Market openness

“o Resistance to protectionism

“o Reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements, acknowledging that agreements provide for differential and more favorable treatment for developing economies, including special attention to the particular situation of least developed countries

“The Saudi chair reported that Members could not reach agreement that ‘market-oriented policies’ is a principle of the WTO.

“China defends the role of the state in its economy. However, whether it should be as sensitive as it is to the adoption of this principle is questionable. China already committed in the Working Party Report accompanying its Protocol of Accession that its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) would behave in effect in a market-oriented manner:

“‘44. In light of the role that state-owned and state-invested enterprises played in China’s economy, some members of the Working Party expressed concerns about the continuing governmental influence and guidance of the decisions and activities of such enterprises relating to the purchase and sale of goods and services. Such purchases and sales should be based solely on commercial considerations, without any governmental influence or application of discriminatory measures. . . …

“‘46. The representative of China further confirmed that China would ensure that all state-owned and state-invested enterprises would make purchases and sales based solely on commercial considerations, e.g., price, quality, marketability and availability, and that the enterprises of other WTO Members would have an adequate opportunity to compete for sales to and purchases from these enterprises on non-discriminatory terms and conditions. In addition, the Government of China would not influence, directly or indirectly, commercial decisions on the part of state-owned or state-invested enterprises, including on the quantity, value or country of origin of any goods purchased or sold, except in a manner consistent with the WTO Agreement. The Working Party took note of these commitments.

“This commitment already applies to government influence over private or quasi-private enterprises as well, foreign or domestic, where the role of the state is even less overt, because any government intervention that favors national goods, services, or IP, or treats one foreign supplier less favorably than another, violates fundamental and binding WTO non-discrimination rules: National Treatment and the Most-Favored Nation Principle. The hurdle is often not the legal principle involved but adducing proof of the influence.

“China’s Accession Protocol itself, providing other Members with additional flexibilities to restrict imports from China, indicates a belief of the negotiators for China’s entry into the WTO that there would be continuing progress toward China allowing market forces to determine competitive outcomes in its market, to determine investment, and to avoid artificially supporting
its exports.

The golden rule of the multilateral trading system is that competitive outcomes should be determined by market forces and not state intervention. Without this rule, the system cannot function as intended. As the world’s largest exporting country, China should recognize that this fundamental principle is in its commercial interest. Its enterprises require access to markets around the world. That market forces are to determine competitive outcomes is the basis for the WTO and the GATT before it. Were this precept not accepted and applied, there would no effective alternative but to adopt additional interface mechanisms, far beyond the transitional antidumping and safeguard flexibilities applied to China in the first 12-15 years of its WTO membership under the terms of its accession.” (pages 15-16)(Emphasis added)

Amb. Wolff flags climate change and how WTO Members chose to deal with it as a possible third major area of disagreement, focusing on carbon border adjustment measures.

Amb. Wolff then looks at what the WTO would look like if China’s proposals for reform were adopted. See page 17-19. While some of the proposals are noncontroversial, China argues for self-designation of developing country status, right to have as much state involvement in the economy without WTO scrutiny as a Member wishes, selective reductions in agricultural subsides (US and EU but not China or India), no disciplines on industrial subsidies among others which clearly are contrary to what Amb. Wolff has identified as the necessary course for maintaining WTO relevance.

The paper identifies a series of statements on “What can and should be anticipated going forward with respect to WTO reform, including China’s role in it?” (page 21; nine statements). The list identifies both what needs to be done and what is likely if such actions are not achieved.

“1) Despite the valuable everyday work of the WTO — from standards notifications, assisting developing countries with a wide variety of challenges posed by trade, to trade policy reviews that are among the most civilized interactions of sovereign nations in accepting scrutiny of their policies — absent negotiation of new agreements the WTO will continue to lose credibility. In particular the WTO Members must act to allow their organization to rise to the trade challenges of pandemics and climate change and conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations. China is central to making the WTO responsive to current challenges.

“2) China is active in JSIs. It should press for open plurilaterals to become a regular and accepted feature of the WTO system.

“3) There will be no restoration of an appellate function for dispute settlement without dealing with issues surrounding China’s trade practices. This will of necessity include addressing substantive rules, and not just how the appellate and panel functions are managed. It will be a difficult negotiation.

“4) The WTO must adopt and implement an explicit rule that market-forces will determine competitive outcomes. China is already pledged to this. This prospective fight can be avoided because it is unnecessary and because it cannot be won by China.7 But then China would have to have its economy be consistent with any resulting new rules that might be constructed. China is not the only economy with state involvement, although it is more pervasive and has more global systemic relevance than is true for any other country. For the sake of the future of the WTO, for the multilateral trading system, this challenge, however daunting, must be met for the WTO to survive as an effective system of rules for global trade.

“5) China, the U.S. and the EU each need to recognize the essential value of the WTO and invest in it accordingly. (This goes for India, South Africa, and others as well.)


“6) De-globalization, were it more than a correction for overly lean and extended supply lines, is not in the interests of any of the WTO Members, least of all, China. It is, avoidable. Re-balancing too far inward, over-emphasizing near-shoring, will hurt all
economies, disproportionately for the largest trading WTO Members. Some shortening of supply lines as a hedge against disruptions can be expected but will be limited by the need to avoid unnecessary costs.

“7) International agreements function on trust. It is up to the Members with the largest trade to increase the level of trust in the system. Trust is not created by stipulating it; it must be earned by experience. To say that there is a trust deficit between the two
largest trading nations would be a gross understatement. Within the WTO, it is time to consider how they can engage in putting into place confidence-building measures.

“8) If the WTO is not able to function, regional agreements will be where serious trade negotiations take place. This will be against the interests of all, including the big three.

“9) China needs to become an effective champion in the cause of preserving and enlarging the scope and effectiveness of the WTO. A major objective of China’s national interest must remain integration into, not retreat from, the world economy.
This can only be achieved through investing in the multilateral trading system. “

“7 Two distinguished academics, Mavroidis and Sapir, have written that the WTO Members must reinforce the
WTO’s fundamentals, which means market-based trade. They say that China must evolve its system to be
compatible. There is little belief in academia that this will occur. It does not seem to be the direction of change in
China at present.” (pages 21-23)(Emphasis added)

Amb. Wolff adds “A cautionary note” several paragraphs of which are copied below

“The life span of any trade agreement, including the WTO acquis, depends on the underlying evolution of the commerce of the parties toward greater openness. If there is stasis, or retreat from openness, then the duration of the agreement will be short.

The WTO is about convergence not coexistence. That is why transition periods exist to deal with differences rather than permanent exclusions. The rules emerging from a process of ‘WTO reform’ will either trend toward reinforcing convergence or increasing the use of interface mechanisms, the safeguards against governmental measures that distort the market. There is no middle ground if the WTO is to be effective. What we do not know is how long the multilateral trading system can endure if convergence is not going to take place.” (page 24)(Emphasis added)

Comments and Conclusion

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.

G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement of October 12 and Amb. Tai’s comments on the WTO from October 14 — the ongoing divide among major Members makes a meaningful WTO MC12 less likely

In prior posts, I have reviewed the challenges facing the WTO as it approaches the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva at the end of November, beginning of December. See, e.g., 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/; 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/; May 10, 2021:  World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/10/world-trade-organization-possible-deliverables-for-the-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-november-30-december-3-2021/.

The G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement of October 12, 2021

WTO Reform

While the vast majority of WTO Members profess an interest in a successful MC12 beginning in late November, the reality is that success means very different things to different Members. The G20 countries have repeatedly called for a successful MC12, but this week’s meeting in Sorento Italy and resulting Ministerial statement on trade and investment shows limited actual convergence on what should be achieved at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference. See G20 TRADE AND INVESTMENT MINISTERIAL MEETING – OCTOBER 12, 2021, G20 MINISTERIAL STATEMENT ON TRADE AND INVESTMENT, https://www.g20.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/G20-TIMM-statement-PDF.pdf.

Paragraph 6 of the G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial statement reiterates support for a successful MC12.

“We commit to a successful and productive WTO 12th Ministerial Conference as an important opportunity to advance WTO reform to revitalise the organisation. We commit to active engagement in this work to provide the political momentum necessary for progress.”

Yet the statement is short on specific areas of reform other than improving rule making and dispute settlement — areas where there has been no meaningful forward movement ahead of MC 12 and where there are major divisions among G20 countries.

Trade and Health

On the topic of “trade and health” there is support among G20 countries for equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and personal protective equipment, and G20 countries are making belated contributions to increased supplies to the most vulnerable. However, with the exception of export restraints where there is language recognizing the right of countries to take actions in limited circumstances, the divisions amongst the G20 make specifics on WTO issues merely aspirational.

“10. We will work actively and constructively with all WTO members in the lead up to the 12th Ministerial Conference and beyond to enhance the capacity of the multilateral trading system to increase our pandemic and disaster preparedness and resilience by adopting a multifaceted response. Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, contributions to international efforts to expand production and delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and essential medical goods, diversifying manufacturing
locations and fostering equitable distribution, trade facilitation measures, export restrictions, encouraging regulatory compatibility, are among the areas where our constructive engagement in the WTO, notably in the TRIPS Council, the Council for
Trade in Goods, the Council for Trade in Services, and other relevant bodies and processes, can enhance global public health efforts.”

While there may be language in an MC12 declaration and a work program for the future, there will not likely be any meaningful results announced at MC12.

Services and Investments


Embarrassingly for the WTO, Members, efforts to develop multilateral rules for digital trade and e-commerce continue to be far from concluded. This has led to the Joint Statement Initiative (“JSI”) on E-Commerce and other JSIs being launched at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in 2017 amongst a subset of WTO Members but open to all. Two of the other JSIs are Investment Facilitation for Development and Services Domestic Regulation. The JSI on Services Domestic Regulation has reportedly reached an agreement that will be presented at MC12. However, within the G20, there are some countries who oppose bringing JSIs into the WTO — most notably, India and South Africa. See WTO News, Participants in domestic regulation talks conclude text negotiations, on track for MC12 deal, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/serv_27sep21_e.htm; THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, submission from India, Namibia and South Africa, 30 April 2021, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1. This difference of views is reflected in the G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement.

“14. G20 participants in the Joint Statement Initiatives on E-Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development and Services Domestic Regulation encourage and support the active participation of all WTO members in the initiatives and look
forward to meaningful progress in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial conference. Concerns have been expressed on rule-making by some G20 members that are not part of the JSIs.”

Government Support and Level Playing Field

The section of the Ministerial Statement looking at government support and level playing field issues recognizes that there are “structural problems in some sectors, such as excess capacities” which cause problems and note that “Many G20 members affirm the need to strengthen international rules on industrial subsidies and welcome ongoing international efforts to improve trade rules affecting agriculture.” As is clear “many of us” means a number of G20 countries don’t agree. Industrial subsidy rule improvement is intended to address the distortions caused by China’s programs (and of others). Agriculture market access and agricultural subsidies and transparency are also issues where there is a significant division among G20 countries.

Trade and Environmental Sustainability

The challenges to the world from a warming climate are existential. The Ministerial Statement contains useful language of a general nature in terms of the importance of addressing environmental issues and that “trade and environmental policies should be mutually supportive”. The G20 support reaching a conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations even though there have been recent actions by some G20 countries — again, India and South Africa — to weaken disciplines on “developing” countries which threaten the achievement of a meaningful agreement 20 years after negotiations commenced.

MSMEs

Micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises are a critical part of most countries economies and make up a larger share of business in lower income countries. While the Ministerial Statement addresses MSMEs importance and need for additional assistance, there is no mention of the Joint Statement Initiative on MSMEs among some WTO Members and the fact that an agreement is ready for presentation at MC12 with the agreement being open to all. See WTO News, Working group on small business finalises MC12 draft declaration, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/msmes_28sep21_e.htm. India and South Africa and others have raised the same objection to the MSME JSI as they have to the others.

Conclusion on G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement

The deep divisions within the WTO membership are reflected as well among the G20 countries with China, India, South Africa and others having much different priorities that the historic leadership of the GATT/WTO including the U.S., EU, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and others. It is the lack of a common purpose and agreement on basic principles that has largely paralyzed the negotiating function at the WTO. The disappointing G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement reflects that same lack of common purpose and agreement on basic principles.

USTR Katherine Tai’s October 14, 2021 Prepared Remarks on the WTO

The U.S. Trade Representative traveled to Geneva after the G20 Trade and Investment Ministers meeting in Italy and spoke on the WTO at an event hosted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies’ Geneva Trade Platform on October 14. Ambassador Tai’s prepared statement is available on the USTR webpage and is reproduced below. See USTR,Ambassador Katherine Tai’s Remarks As Prepared for Delivery on the World Trade Organization, October 14, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/speeches-and-remarks/2021/october/ambassador-katherine-tais-remarks-prepared-delivery-world-trade-organization.

” Good afternoon.  Thank you to Dmitry and Richard, the Geneva Trade Platform, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies for hosting me today and putting together this event.

“It is a pleasure to be back in Geneva.  I have looked forward to making this trip since becoming the United States Trade Representative in March, and I am grateful to be here with all of you today.  

“I spent a lot of time in this city earlier in my career representing the United States Government with pride before the World Trade Organization.  

“I appreciate the importance of the institution.  And I respect the dedicated professionals representing the 164 members, as well as the WTO’s institutional staff working on behalf of the membership.  I also want to thank Director-General Dr. Ngozi for leading this organization through a difficult and challenging year. 

“Let me begin by affirming the United States’ continued commitment to the WTO.  

“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade – and the WTO – can be a force for good that encourages a race to the top and addresses global challenges as they arise.  

“The Marrakesh Declaration and Agreement, on which the WTO is founded, begins with the recognition that trade should raise living standards, ensure full employment, pursue sustainable development, and protect and preserve the environment. 

“We believe that refocusing on these goals can help bring shared prosperity to all.

“For some time, there has been a growing sense that the conversations in places like Geneva are not grounded in the lived experiences of working people.  For years, we have seen protests outside WTO ministerial conferences about issues like workers’ rights, job loss, environmental degradation, and climate change as tensions around globalization have increased. 

“We all know that trade is essential to a functioning global economy.  But we must ask ourselves: how do we improve trade rules to protect our planet and address widening inequality and increasing economic insecurity?

“Today, I want to discuss the United States’ vision for how we can work together to make the WTO relevant to the needs of regular people.

“We have an opportunity at the upcoming 12th ministerial conference – or MC12 – to demonstrate exactly that.

“Throughout the pandemic, the WTO rules have kept global trade flowing and fostered transparency on measures taken by countries to respond to the crisis.  But many time-sensitive issues still require our attention.  We can use the upcoming ministerial to deliver results on achievable outcomes.

“The pandemic has placed tremendous strain on peoples’ health and livelihoods around the world.  The WTO can show that it is capable of effectively addressing a global challenge like COVID-19, and helping the world build back better. 
  
“There are several trade and health proposals that should be able to achieve consensus in the next month and a half.  

“I announced in May that the United States supports text-based discussions on a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.  The TRIPS Council discussions have not been easy, and Members are still divided on this issue.  The discussions make certain governments and stakeholders uncomfortable.  But we must confront our discomfort if we are going to prove that, during a pandemic, it is not business as usual in Geneva.  

“The United States is also working on a draft ministerial decision aimed at strengthening resiliency and preparedness through trade facilitation.  Our proposal would improve the sharing of information, experiences, and lessons learned from COVID-19 responses to help border agencies respond in future crises.  

“It is important that our work on trade and health does not end at MC12.  This pandemic will not be over in December, and it will not be the last public health crisis we encounter.  In the next six weeks, we also have an opportunity to conclude the two-decades-long fisheries subsidies negotiations and show that the WTO can promote sustainable development.  

“We want to continue working with Members to bridge existing gaps in the negotiations.  

“To this end, the United States is sharing options to respond to developing countries’ request for flexibilities.  We believe that any agreement must establish effective disciplines that promote sustainability.  

“It must also address the prevalence of forced labor on fishing vessels.  We call on all Members to support these goals.

“I recognize that discussing these complex issues during a pandemic is hard.  Despite this challenge, we can reach meaningful outcomes and set ourselves up for candid and productive long-term conversations on reforming the WTO.

“As I mentioned earlier, the reality of the institution today does not match the ambition of its goals.  Every trade minister I’ve heard from has expressed the view that the WTO needs reform.  

“The Organization has rightfully been accused of existing in a ‘bubble,’ insulated from reality and slow to recognize global developments.  That must change.

“We are used to talking to each other, a lot.  We need to start actually listening to each other.

“We also must include new voices, find new approaches to problems, and move past the old paradigms we have been using for the last 25 years.  

“We need to look beyond simple dichotomies like liberalization vs. protectionism or developed vs. developing.  Let’s create shared solutions that increase economic security.

“By working together and engaging differently, the WTO can be an organization that empowers workers, protects the environment, and promotes equitable development. 

“Our reform efforts can start with the monitoring function.  In committees, Members deliberate issues and monitor compliance with the agreements.  This important work is a unique and underappreciated asset of the WTO. 

“Increasingly, however, Members are not responding meaningfully to concerns with their trade measures.  The root of this problem is a lack of political will.  But committee procedures can be updated to improve monitoring work.  

“At MC12, Ministers can direct each committee to review and improve its rules. 

“It is also essential to bring vitality back to the WTO’s negotiating function.  We have not concluded a fully multilateral trade agreement since 2013.

“A key stumbling block is doubt that negotiations lead to rules that benefit or apply to everyone. But we know that negotiations only succeed when there is real give and take.

“We can successfully reform the negotiating pillar if we create a more flexible WTO, change the way we approach problems collectively, improve transparency and inclusiveness, and restore the deliberative function of the organization.

“Over the past quarter century, WTO members have discovered that they can get around the hard part of diplomacy and negotiation by securing new rules through litigation.    

“Dispute settlement was never intended to supplant negotiations.  The reform of these two core WTO functions is intimately linked.  

“The objective of the dispute settlement system is to facilitate mutually agreed solutions between Members.  Over time, ‘dispute settlement’ has become synonymous with litigation – litigation that is prolonged, expensive, and contentious.  

“Consider the history of this system.  

“It started as a quasi-diplomatic, quasi-legal proceeding for presenting arguments over differing interpretations of WTO rules.  A typical panel or Appellate Body report in the early days was 20 or 30 pages.  Twenty years later, reports for some of the largest cases have exceeded 1,000 pages.  They symbolize what the system has become: unwieldy and bureaucratic. 

“The United States is familiar with large and bitterly fought WTO cases.  Earlier this year, we negotiated frameworks with the European Union and the United Kingdom to settle the Large Civil Aircraft cases that started in 2004.  

“We invoked and exhausted every procedure available.  And along the way, we created strains and pressures that distorted the development of the dispute settlement system.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we can now ask: is a system that requires 16 years to find a solution ‘fully functioning?’

“This process is so complicated and expensive that it is out of reach for many – perhaps the majority – of Members. 

“Reforming dispute settlement is not about restoring the Appellate Body for its own sake, or going back to the way it used to be.  

“It is about revitalizing the agency of Members to secure acceptable resolutions.

“A functioning dispute settlement system, however structured, would provide confidence that the system is fair.  Members would be more motivated to negotiate new rules.

“Let’s not prejudge what a reformed system would look like. While we have already started working with some members, I want to hear from others about how we can move forward.

“Reforming the three pillars of the WTO requires a commitment to transparency.  Strengthening transparency will improve our ability to monitor compliance, to negotiate rules, and to resolve our disputes. 

“I began these remarks with an affirmation of commitment.  I’d like to conclude with an affirmation of optimism.

“I am optimistic that we can and will take advantage of this moment of reflection.

“In reading over the Marrakesh Agreement’s opening lines, I was struck by the founding Members’ resolve to develop ‘a more viable and durable multilateral trading system.’  

“These words are just as relevant today as they were then. We still need to work together to achieve a more viable and durable multilateral trading system.

“It is easy to get distracted by the areas where we may not see eye to eye.  But in conversations with my counterparts, I hear many more areas of agreement than disagreement.  

“We all recognize the importance of the WTO, and we all want it to succeed. 

“We understand the value of a forum where we can propose ideas to improve multilateral trade rules.  We should harness these efforts to promote a fairer, more inclusive global economy.  

“WTO Members are capable of forging consensus on difficult, complicated issues. It’s never been easy, but we’ve done it before.  And we can do it again.  

“Thank you.”

Comments on USTR Tai’s statement on the WTO

The Biden Administration has been supportive of multilateral institutions, and that support is relfected in Amb. Tai’s comments. At the same time, the U.S. has believed that a small package of deliverables is achievable for MC12 with hopefully a work program for the serious reform that is needed also being agreed to at MC12. Amb. Tai’s comments reflect both optimism and a limited set of deliverables being sought.

The Fisheries Subsidies negotiations has made limited progress on a range of important issues. The U.S. is attempting to find answers to problems raised by others while still achieving a meaningful outcome. With the limited time remaining, this suggests either a less robust agreement or movement by others to a higher level of ambition or to no agreement being finalized. Addressing forced labor in fishing and more broadly should be important to all WTO Members, was raised by the U.S. (and is important to Democratic leadership in the Congress) but is opposed by some, including China. If the U.S. continues to pursue the addition of this issue to the fisheries subsidies text,

On greater transparency, Members agreeing to have Committees review their procedures to improve the monitoring function are important steps that could be taken to improve Member confidence in actions of trading partners and affect negotiations and dispute settlement as well. Even such seemingly simple steps, however, may not move forward as at least one major country — China — has as one of its negotiating priorities not changing transparency obligations.

Revitalizing the negotiating function and restoring a dispute settlement system are longer term efforts, with the U.S. vision on dispute settlement (focus on what dispute settlement is doing vs. ensuring a two stage process) far apart from that of the EU and many other Members.

And, of course, the U.S. is supportive of some form of outcome on addressing the pandemic and trade and health moving forward. Whether there will be outcomes in this area are dependent more on flexibility by others as the U.S. has been looking for solutions that will meet the pandemic needs and prepare for the future.

Conclusion

With very limited time until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference begins at the end of November, it is hard to see an ambitious outcome emerging from the efforts of WTO Members. The G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement from October 12 reflects the divisions amongst the major WTO Members. Amb. Tai’s statement yesterday in Geneva while positive on the WTO and its important role tees up a relatively limited outcome as likely for MC 12. Even Amb. Tai’s more realistic set of expectations are likely to be challenging to achieve.

WTO Information Notes on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Potential Bottlenecks

On October 8, 2021, the WTO released the latest in a series of Information Notes pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first one is entitled “COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Tariffs on Vaccine Inputs”. The purpose of the information note was to examine public information to see if import tariffs in any of the 27 major vaccine manufacturing countries could pose challenges or create “choke” points in vaccine production. The second Information Note is entitled “Indicative List of Trade-Related Bottlenecks and Trade-Facilitating Measures on Critical Products to Combat COVID-19” and is an update on an earlier version released 20 July 2020. Both Information Notes are linked to a WTO press release from 8 October. See WTO news, WTO issues papers on vaccine inputs tariffs and bottlenecks on critical COVID-19 products, 8 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_08oct21_e.htm

The second Information Note is the more important of the two papers as it identifies a range of challenges to the expedited movement of vaccines and inputs. However, the first paper is interesting in terms of identifying tariffs on critical materials in major producing countries. However, as the paper acknowledges, the analysis has its limitations.

” 2. TECHNICAL DETAILS
“The MFN applied tariffs were based on the dataset used for World Tariff Profiles 2021, and 2020
imports were based on the TDM dataset3. Even if the national tariff line data (i.e. eight-digit tariff
line codes) were available, beyond the standard HS six-digit level there is no uniformity of codes
across national tariff nomenclatures. Thus, even if only a portion of the HS six-digit code pertains to
the COVID-19 vaccine input, the data used in the analysis both for tariffs and imports were the
six-digit MFN tariff average and the total six-digit imports from the world. Preferential tariffs were
not taken into consideration and thus intra-EU imports, imports from partners of free trade
agreements (FTAs) or any other preferential imports were treated as if MFN tariffs were levied.
Furthermore, there was definitely an over-estimation of the import value of the inputs, since
identification of the national breakdown pertaining to the actual product used in vaccine
manufacturing cannot be easily done. Sometimes even within the most detailed national tariff line
(or specific product) code available (eight digits or longer), the product coverage does not
necessarily refer only to the specific vaccine input and includes non-vaccine-related inputs. While
tariff estimates can be arguably good enough,4 the same cannot be said of the estimated imports
value.” (footnotes omitted)

Certainly for the EU, U.S. and some others, many of the potentially dutiable imports will have been duty free from FTAs or other preferential partners. But the Information is nonetheless useful in flagging general categories of products important to vaccine production that have bound tariffs at 5% or greater. While neither the U.S. nor Japan have any such categories, many other vaccine producing countries have one, several or many product categories where bound tariffs are 5% or higher. Table 4 of the Information Note provides a useful summary of the findings made.

Table 2 of the Information Note presents a summary of the weighted average MFN tariff rate by country.
Thus, from a bound tariff perspective, some countries, particularly developing countries are assessing ordinary customs duties on materials needed for the production of COVIDE-19 vaccines at relatively high rates that at a minimum increase costs, making it more expensive to provide vaccines to the domestic population or export populations.

A detailed review of each of the 27 countries is provided in the WTO’s Vaccine Production and Tariffs on Vaccine Inputs which is attached to the first Information Note.

The second note is the more interesting as it reflects issues and suggestions from various stakeholders on how to expand production and access to vaccines, therapeutics and medical devices needed to combat COVID-19. The introduction to the Information note provides useful background.

“1. INTRODUCTION
“This information note seeks to facilitate access to information on possible trade-related bottlenecks and trade-facilitating measures on critical products to combat COVID-19, including inputs used in vaccine manufacturing, vaccine distribution and approval, therapeutics and pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and medical devices. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all specific trade measures, nor does it make any judgement on the effect or significance of the reported bottlenecks, nor on the desirability of implementing any of the suggestions on trade-facilitating measures.3

“The indicative list is based on issues identified and suggestions made by stakeholders at various events and consultations convened by the WTO, as well as with vaccine manufacturers in the context of meetings organized by the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19,4 which includes the heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WTO.5 This revision includes information as of 4 October 2021. Entries under each subheading are presented in no particular order. One common theme that emerges is that essential goods and inputs need to flow efficiently and expeditiously to support the rapid scaling up of COVID-19 production capacity worldwide. As manufacturers scale up production and establish new sites in different countries, the production network is not only becoming larger but also increasingly complex and international. The delay of a single component may significantly slow down or even bring vaccine manufacturing to a halt, so it follows that inputs need to flow expeditiously, and each node within the supply chain network needs to operate seamlessly with the others.” (footnotes omitted)

There are a large number of potential trade-related bottlenecks including export restrictions (13 WTO Members are reported to have one or more), such restrictions as applied by manufacturers to “fill and finish” sites, effect of such restrictions on clinical trials, high applied tariffs, customs administration challenges (no green channels for expedited clearance, limited hours of customs operation, treatment of non-commercial samples sent for testing ad quality control, import barriers/delays on manufacturing equipment), challenges in completing consular transactions.

There are also many bottlenecks identified from vaccine regulatory approval including when looking at WHO Emergency Use Listing, requirements for application/registration and authorization, inspection, release, post-approval changes, donations, EUA and regular approval, scaling up production and other issues.

The paper also identifies bottlenecks in the distribution of finished vaccines and immunization supplies, bottlenecks in trade in pharmaceuticals, bottlenecks in trade in diagnostics and other medical devices.

All in all, a daunting list of challenges the vast majority of which involve the importing country and the complexity of systems for approval of medical goods and vaccines.

The last four pages of the Information Note then identify “possible trade-facilitating measures” that could be taken to improve movement of goods. Because the information note is providing a summary of proposals put forward by stakeholders and is not an agreed set of steps by WTO Members, the note states that “no judgement is made on the desirability of implementing any of these suggestions.” Page 7. That said, many of the suggestions relate to streamlining import operations, e.g., through implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, seeing that customs operates 24 hours/7 days a week, exemptions from export restrictions, harmonization of regulatory approaches and many more.

Conclusion

The Information Notes developed by the WTO provide useful information either from public sources, such as the bound tariff rates of COVID-19 vaccine input materials or summaries of information gathered from stakeholders at events looking at how to ramp up production and distribution of vaccines. It is clear that the challenges for all WTO Members in addressing the global pandemic are many and not easily addressed. The Information Notes provide a data base that can be used by WTO Members to see that the current pandemic is fully addressed in fact in the coming months, and that Members consider ways to prepare for a better outcome to future pandemics.

The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system

On October 7, the WTO General Council held the first of two days of its fall meeting at the WTO (combination in person/virtual) with a typical agenda including many elements of what has been under negotiation for possible outcomes at the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva starting November 29. See WTO General Council 7-8 October 2021, Proposed Agenda (5 October 2021), WT/GC/W/828. The WTO press release from yesterday, is entitled “General Council chair briefs members on work towards MC12 outcome document”. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/gc_07oct21_e.htm. Obviously further discussion of the agenda items before the General Council will occur today.

However, with the exception of progress on several Joint Statement Initiatives separately reported (e.g., MSMEs and Services Domestic Regulation), the WTO Members are struggling to find results in a host of areas, including concluding fisheries subsidy negotiations that have dragged on for 20 years, agriculture negotiations, response to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce, WTO reform and more. See, e.g., WTO News, Working group on small business finalises MC12 draft declaration, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/msmes_28sep21_e.htm; WTO News, Participants in domestic regulation talks conclude text negotiations, on track for MC12 deal, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/serv_27sep21_e.htm; JOINT INITIATIVE ON SERVICES DOMESTIC REGULATION, REFERENCE PAPER ON SERVICES DOMESTIC REGULATION, NOTE BY THE CHAIRPERSON, 27 September 2021, INF/SDR/1; Financial Times, WTO clambers towards an unambitious summit,30 September 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/50109953-45e8-4e01-8d2a-d543aa821a6e; Bloomberg, Okonjo-Iweala Grows Frustrated With WTO Inertia, Floats Quitting, September 30, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-30/okonjo-iweala-grows-frustrated-with-wto-inertia-floats-quitting.

The October 7 WTO news on the General Council’s Chairman’s report doesn’t show significant progress on the few items addressed in the news release.

“The chair of the General Council, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, briefed WTO members on 7 October regarding his consultations on a possible outcome document for trade ministers to adopt at the WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12). He encouraged delegations to continue to work towards producing a draft document by the end of October.

“‘Work towards a possible MC12 outcome document is a member-led process,’ the chair declared. ‘As always, it is the members that decide what goes into any agreed outcome document.’

“Ambassador Castillo has been assisting WTO members in his capacity as General Council chair with work on the first part of the outcome document, which would cover: (i) the context in which MC12 takes place; (ii) broader political messages; and (iii) guidance from ministers on additional elements members may agree on.

“Work has taken place in a small group format broadly representative of the membership and comprising all group coordinators and several other delegations, he noted. Transparency is being ensured through group coordinators who keep their members up to date on the ongoing discussions and feed their views and suggestions back into the process, as well as through the chair’s regular reports at informal General Council meetings.

“The chair said that, based on the preliminary exchanges in the small group, members believe the first part of the outcome document should take into account both the external and internal environments in which MC12 is taking place, namely the pandemic, the changed trading landscape, and the systemic/internal challenges that the WTO is facing. 

“Members have also expressed views that ‘political messages’ should note the need for greater solidarity and collaboration amongst members, the role of international trade and the WTO in global economic recovery, a reaffirmation of the principles enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement, and the needs and interests of developing country members, in particular the least developed members.

“The chair has followed members’ guidance in drafting possible language for an outcome document, focusing on the broader messages where possible convergence could be detected. The small group had a useful and constructive first exchange on the draft language earlier this week and work will continue in the coming days and weeks, he noted.

“* * *

“Ambassador Castillo also briefed on his consultations with members regarding the WTO’s Work Programme on Electronic Commerce as well as the possible continuation of the e-commerce moratorium. Since 1998, WTO members have periodically renewed the moratorium at each Ministerial Conference and have continued addressing e-commerce related issues in the Goods Council, the Services Council, the TRIPS Council and the Committee on Trade and Development as part of the e-commerce work programme.

“The chair said he highlighted in the consultations the need to intensify work towards a possible draft decision for the consideration of ministers at MC12. He noted that, despite the well-known differences in members’ positions, many continue to attach importance to e-commerce and that the pandemic had highlighted e-commerce opportunities as well as its challenges, both of which should continue to be discussed within the WTO.

“Delegations generally reiterated their views with respect to the moratorium and the Work Programme in the consultations, he said. On the moratorium, proponents considered its extension a priority for MC12 and reiterated its role in providing a stable and predictable trading environment. On the other hand, some delegations said that it would be difficult for them to agree to an extension of the moratorium without clarifying its scope and implications. 

“On the Work Programme, Ambassador Castillo said, no delegation opposed its continuation, although some indicated that they could not accept a decision to continue its work without at least an extension of the moratorium.

“Following the chair’s intervention, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand provided his report on his consultations within the Facilitator-led Multilateral Process on the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Ambassador Walker said a large number of delegations in the consultations he undertook as facilitator attached high priority to a meaningful outcome at MC12 on the use of export restrictions and prohibitions in the context of the pandemic, with discussions underscoring the importance of keeping markets open.

“He also said many delegations believe an outcome on trade and health at MC12 should address both the WTO’s response to the current pandemic as well as future crises. To this end, a framework to guide the WTO’s work post-MC12 on how to make the multilateral trading system more resilient and better prepared for such crises was proposed. Such a framework could build on lessons learned from the current pandemic and set out guidelines and best practices for more coordinated responses in the future.

“Ambassador Walker said he will be continuing his consultations in the coming weeks and will continue to report on this process through open-ended and formal meetings as well as formally to the General Council.”

Separately Chairman Castillo’s report on Agenda Item 2 (implementation of the Bali, Nairobi and Buenos Aires Outcomes) was released and can be found at JOB/GC/272 (8 October 2021) but shows little progress on the items covered therein. The report of Amb. David Walker (summarized in the news release) was not released publicly although is identified in “recent documents” on the WTO webpage. See General Council – Agenda item 5.C : WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic – Report by the Facilitator, H.E. Dr. David Walker (New Zealand) – 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/273. The same is true of other reports from Chairman Castillo and the Director General. See General Council – Agenda item 5.A : Preparations for the Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference – MC12 outcome document – Report by the chair – Thursday, 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/274; General Council – Agenda item 5b : Work programme on electronic commerce – Report by the Chair – Thursday, 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/275; General Council – Agenda item 1 : Report by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee and report by the Director-General – Friday, 8 October 2021, JOB/GC/276.

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.

The challenges posed by India and South Africa can be seen in the fisheries subsidy negotiations where they are seeking a huge hole in the agreement’s obligations for developing countries with a duration of 25 years, by their opposition to Members moving forward within the WTO on a plurilateral basis (the Joint Statement Initiatives) where any agreements are open to others to join, from their pursuit of an overly broad waiver request from TRIPs obligations for some undetermined period to address the pandemic, and their recent request for the WTO to examine vaccine passports required by countries to permit the resumption of travel. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, India, others propose new exceptions in fisheries talks, September 24, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/india-others-propose-new-exceptions-fisheries-talks; THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND
THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES (submission of India, Namibia and South Africa), 30 April 2021, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1; WAIVER FROM CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR THE PREVENTION, CONTAINMENT AND TREATMENT OF COVID-19, 25 May 2021, IP/C/W/669/Rev.1; The Economic Times, Covid passport, vaccine discrimination new trade barriers: India to WTO, October 7, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/covid-passport-vaccine-discrimination-new-trade-barriers-india-to-wto/articleshow/86849838.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.; Financial Times, WTO clambers towards an unambitious summit, 30 September 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/50109953-45e8-4e01-8d2a-d543aa821a6e (“Okonjo-Iweala convened an ad hoc virtual ministerial in July to try for progress on fisheries subsidies, a move she herself admitted was unusual. It was a gamble that did not really come off. India (often with South Africa in a supporting role) has now established a role in the WTO objecting to more or less everything. In the fisheries subsidy talks it has demanded massive loopholes that are politically a total non-starter. There’s talk around the WTO of Okonjo-Iweala going to India to make a direct appeal to Narendra Modi. But the Indian prime minister has resisted all entreaties and openings to do serious trade liberalisation so far, including passing up the chance to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Asian mega-deal.”).

WTO reform, which is recognized as important to achieve by most Members, is not an agreed set of measures with the U.S., EU, Japan and others seeking reforms to industrial subsidies and to state-owned and state-invested enterprises to address problems faced from China and others. China to date does not agree. Many countries also seek greater transparency and completeness in notifications, particularly on subsidies. There has been only limited progress to date, and those not providing complete notifications presumably oppose the proposal (e.g., China). The U.S., EU and others also want to make objective criteria determinative of which Members are entitled to special and differential treatment, something opposed by some “developing countries” who have self-selected the designation. Many countries want a return of a two-tier dispute settlement system, something that won’t happen against U.S. opposition absent serious reform and restrictions on the second tier, as such restrictions which currently exist in the Dispute Settlement Understanding have been ignored by the Appellate Body and not addressed by Members.

Thus, the WTO is struggling to demonstrate continued relevance. The WTO rules that exist were negotiated during 1986-1993 with limited updates despite the extraordinary changes to trade, technology and make-up of important trading nations.

How far away the WTO Members are from embracing an agenda that meets the needs of business, labor and civil society can be seen from the views put forward by the business community and reviewed at the recent public forum. The International Chamber of Commerce and B20 Italy presented views on what the business community needs from the WTO moving forward. See WTO News, Business groups highlight need for WTO reform, MC12 outcomes, 29 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/bus_30sep21_e.htm; ICC, Global Business Priorities for the WTO, September 2021, https://iccwbo.org/content/uploads/sites/3/2021/09/icc-document-wto-policy-paper.pdf. While the paper on the Global Business Priorities doesn’t reflect priorities of labor or civil society, it is an interesting list in terms of what is needed at least by much of the business community for the WTO to reclaim relevancy and address needs of 21st century business. The 27 specific recommendations are listed below grouped under the broad topics shown:

“WTO Reform

“1. Agree on a coherent holistic vision for WTO reform

“2. Put market access back on the agenda

“3. Agree on a path forward to improving the negotiation function

“4. Adopt a new evidence-based approach to Special and Differential Treatment

“5. Agree on a path forward for reforming the dispute settlement system

“6. Promote full compliance with and improvements to the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and
Countervailing Measures (SCM)

“7. Improve the Secretariat’s capacity to monitor trade policy developments

“8. Create a crisis management protocol for future crises

“9. Create a business advisory council and a civil society council

“Trade and Health

“10. Ensure trade policies facilitate vaccine manufacturing and distribution

“11. Creation of a Health Market Information System

“12. Adopt cooperative ways to speed up vaccine production

“13. Adopt and go beyond the Trade and Health Initiative

“Trade and environmental sustainability

“14. Finalise the fisheries subsidies negotiations

“15. Agree to a formal roadmap to address specific issues on trade and environmental
sustainability

“16. Develop a package of recommendations on trade and the circular economy

“17. Deal with carbon leakage in a multilateral way

“Trade and the digital economy

“18. Accelerate the e-commerce negotiations

“19. Develop market access provisions for the digital economy

“20. Make permanent the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions

“21. Create an enabling legal environment for paperless trade

“22. Finalise negotiations for the JSI on Services Domestic Regulation

“Trade and inclusivity

“23. Identify new areas for rulemaking based on best practice from bilateral and regional trade
agreements

“24. Adopt the full package of recommendations of the MSME group

“25. Commit not to impose export restrictions on humanitarian aid

“26. Adopt a declaration with concrete and measurable proposals to advance trade and
women’s economic empowerment

“27. Launch discussions on the negative impact of illicit trade.”

Many of the recommendations made by the ICC and B20 Italy have been identified by one or more Members in the past, many are the subject of proposals, and a few are the subject of active negotiations. Some recommendations may be inconsistent with objectives of civil society (e.g., addressing vaccine equity through waving TRIPs obligations), and few deal with concerns of labor. Some are actively opposed by particular Members. However, the priorities reflect the hope and needs of the business community that Member governments find a path back for the WTO to regain relevancy and permit a more flexible structure to address changing needs on a more timely basis.

The next two months will reveal whether WTO Members can start the process of forward movement and improved relevancy. It seems unlikely that meaningful progress will be made on many fronts, but there is still time if there is a collective will.

The Indo-Pacific region — increased interest in the CPTPP by major trading nations; implications for international trade; U.S. policy towards China

The Trans-Pacific Partnership was originally pursued by the United States to improve trade relations with many countries in the Pacific region and as a counter to rising Chinese influence. See, e.g., New York Times, U.S. Allies See Trans-Pacific Partnership as a Check on China, October 5, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/world/asia/trans-pacific-partnership-china-australia.html.

After President Trump withdrew the United States from the Agreement at the beginning of his term in 2017, Japan pushed to conclude the agreement among the remaining eleven countries. The revised agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific
Partnership, was signed in Santiago, Chile on 8 March 2018 and took effect 30 December 2018, with 8 of the eleven countries who signed now having ratified — Mexico, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Vietnam and Peru. That leaves Brunei, Chile and Malaysia as signatories who have yet to ratify the agreement.

With Brexit completed, the United Kingdom was the first non-CPTPP country to apply for membership. Its application filed on 1 February 2021 was accepted on 2 June 2021 with the first negotiations held on 28 September 2021. See Government of Canada, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – Joint Ministerial Statement on the occasion of the Fourth Commission Meeting, 2 June 2021, https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cptpp-ptpgp/cptpp_meeting_four-ptpgp_declaration_quatre.aspx?lang=eng; Government of the United Kingdom, UK kickstarts talks to join £9 trillion global trade bloc, 28 September 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-kickstarts-talks-to-join-9-trillion-global-trade-bloc. The U.K.’s application is also an extension of the range of countries potentially eligible for membership since the U.K. is not a Pacific bordering country.

In September, both China and Taiwan applied for membership. See, e.g., Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China, China officially applies to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), September 18, 2021, http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/newsrelease/significantnews/202109/20210903201113.shtml; Nikkei Asia, Taiwan submits bid to join CPTPP trade pact, September 23, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Trade/Taiwan-submits-bid-to-join-CPTPP-trade-pact; Wall Street Journal, China Seeks to Join Pacific Trade Pact After U.S. Forms New Security Alliance, September 16, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-seeks-to-join-pacific-trade-pact-after-u-s-forms-new-security-alliance-11631813201 .

China’s application, while facing hurdles because of challenges to complying with provisions on state owned enterprises, data flows and other issues, is also a major challenge to efforts of the U.S. to have a more important role in the Indo-Pacific region. Because China would more than double the size of the CPTPP if admitted and because of heightened tensions in the Indo-Pacific area in recent years, there has been a great deal written on China’s application.

Some articles have argued for CPTPP countries rejecting China’s application or the likely failure of China to join for substantive reasons. See CNBC, China will likely fail in its CPTPP bid — but it’s a ‘smart’ move against the U.S., say analysts, September 27, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/27/analysts-on-chinas-bid-to-join-cptpp-strategic-competition-with-us.html (“Beijing needs the approval from all 11 CPTPP signatories to join CPTPP, and it may not succeed given its strained relationships with some member countries, said analysts.”); Bloomberg, Editorial Board, CPTPP Trade Block Shouldn’t Welcome China, September 22, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-09-22/cptpp-trade-bloc-shouldn-t-welcome-china.

Others have noted the multiyear effort by China to study the TPP and resulting CPTPP and ongoing efforts to gain support from individual CPTPP members for their application. See Nikkei Asia, Analysis: China’s TPP bid follows carefully scripted 300-day plan, Beijing’s move aims to thwart possible U.S. return to pact, pressure Taiwan, September 23, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/China-up-close/Analysis-China-s-TPP-bid-follows-carefully-scripted-300-day-plan; Brookings, China moves to join the CPTPP, but don’t expect a fast pass, September 23, 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/23/china-moves-to-join-the-cptpp-but-dont-expect-a-fast-pass/; Foreign Policy, Wendy Cutler, China Wants to Join the Trade Pact Once Designed to Counter It, September 21, 2021, https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/09/21/china-cptpp-trade-agreement/.

Others have focused on the importance of the U.S. reengaging economically in the region or risking losing to China. For example, Wendy Cutler, a former USTR lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the Executive Vice President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and has urged the last and current Administrations to stay economically engaged in Asia. See ASPI, Report, Reengaging the Asia-Pacific on Trade: A TPP Roadmap for the Next U.S. Administration, September 2020, https://asiasociety.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/A%20TPP%20Roadmap%20for%20the%20Next%20U.S.%20Administration.pdf. See also Nikkei Asia, Comment, Why U.S. membership in CPTPP makes more sense than ever, Washington risks being locked out and ceding Indo-Pacific influence to China, September 24, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Comment/Why-U.S.-membership-in-CPTPP-makes-more-sense-than-ever; PIIE, Jeffrey Schott, China’s CPTPP bid puts Biden on the spot, September 23, 2021, https://www.piie.com/blogs/trade-and-investment-policy-watch/chinas-cptpp-bid-puts-biden-spot; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Citing China’s CPTPP bid, Carper and Cornyn urge U.S.
trade leadership, September 20, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/citing-china%E2%80%99s-cptpp-bid-carper-and-cornyn-urge-us-trade-leadership; Wall Street Journal, Opinion/Comment by Tim Groser, The U.S. Has a Way Back on Pacific Trade, And if Washington doesn’t take it, the Indo-Pacific would likely become China’s for the taking, September 29, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-tpp-china-japan-indo-pacific-trade-influence-11632931688. New Zealand’s Former Trade and Environment Minister Tim Groser’s piece is particularly interesting and is copied below.

“It was February 2017 and President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress. I was on the floor of the U.S. House as a guest of a pro-trade Republican congressman. As the president announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I was thinking about a conversation I’d had with a particularly astute Asian ambassador. He’d suggested to me that if a book on the decline of American influence in Asia and the Indo-Pacific were ever written—and he hoped it never would be—its first chapter would be an account of the withdrawal of the U.S. from TPP.

“Largely because of Japan’s courageous decision to proceed without the U.S., TPP survived. With some changes to a few of its provisions and a new moniker—Comprehensive and Progressive TPP, or CPTPP—it went ahead. Nothing would have been possible if Japan, by far the dominant remaining economy in the agreement, had decided differently.

“China’s decision this month to apply for CPTPP membership should be a sharp reminder to Republicans and Democrats alike that if the U.S. is serious about competing with China in the Indo-Pacific it must confront a central reality: Having withdrawn from the TPP, the U.S. doesn’t yet have a trade strategy to back up its military posture in the region. China is the principal trading partner of many countries in the Indo-Pacific. The size of China’s economy, as well as its military and geostrategic ambition, means that Beijing will be at the center of the debate over every regional and global issue in the 21st century, from climate change to trade. Its ability to influence the outcomes of those issues will be determined by the degree—and effectiveness—of U.S.

“We don’t yet know where the new policy script that the Chinese Communist Party is now writing will lead the world’s second-largest economy. When Deng Xiaoping 40 years ago shifted China toward growth and an open economy with his slogan ‘to be rich is glorious,’ it was the beginning of the largest poverty-reduction program in human history. Hundreds of millions of Chinese were lifted out of destitution, and huge opportunities opened up for China’s trading partners. Things have been moving backward lately, in the direction of greater centralization and state control. One could even mount an elegant argument that China itself needs balance from the full engagement of the U.S. in the region.

“The Chinese people have benefited enormously, not from ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, but from Beijing’s positive engagement with the U.S.-designed liberal economic architecture. China’s future choices and trade strategies will be fundamentally different if they aren’t constrained by a muscular and successful U.S. economic strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

“Intriguingly, the U.S. is putting in place the elements of regional re-engagement. No foreign policy (or trade policy) is politically sustainable without a solid domestic constituency behind it. Trade has long been a tortured issue in American politics, particularly for Democrats, because economic change creates anxiety for the middle class. When people are under severe economic pressure, trade is always a potential scapegoat.

“In September 2020, the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace published a white paper titled ‘Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.’ Among the authors was Jake Sullivan, now President Biden’s national security adviser. The White House approach to assuaging traditional Democratic fears of trade-induced economic change seems clear: Shore up domestic policy before moving forward aggressively on any trade deals.

“The recent establishment of the Aukus security arrangement among the U.S., the U.K. and Australia can leave no doubt that the Biden administration views the Indo-Pacific as the most important theater of strategic competition with China. Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, has made clear that U.S. strategy in the region must extend beyond a military plan to protect American allies from China’s expansionist ambitions. It needs an economic component.

“In my view, the U.S. is unlikely to rectify the mistake of leaving TPP by asking to join CPTPP. Mr. Biden has said he would oppose joining the original deal without a renegotiation. That alone would make it difficult for the U.S. to waltz back in. But it’s also true that the strategic environment has evolved. Large parts of TPP, such as its provisions on trade and the environment, remain relevant, but the past five years have sharpened the policy world’s understanding of such key issues as digital trade and state-owned enterprises. Plus, there is a new kid on the TPP block: the U.K. The world’s sixth-largest economy, a major intelligence and defense partner of the U.S., wants to join the club. The U.K.’s post-Brexit desire to expand its horizons beyond geographical Europe was the political subtext of the trade deal announced this summer between London and Canberra.

“Whatever next year’s congressional elections bring, active foreign-policy engagement always requires the involvement of both American political parties. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, updating the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed easily with bipartisan support during the Trump administration. If the U.S. recommits to TPP, it should be rechristened the Indo-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement. A new name might make it an easier sell politically.

“The regional stakes were high even before China’s aggressive move on Hong Kong, its saber-rattling in Taiwan, and its ramped-up trade war with Australia. We now need to hear American leaders on both sides of the aisle talking about re-engaging in the region, not only on the political and military levels, but on the trade and economic architecture that will shape economic relations over the next decade and beyond. Only then will my friend the astute Asian ambassador be able to rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the decline of American influence in the Indo-Pacific is a book that will never be written.

Mr. Groser served as New Zealand’s trade minister (2008–15) and ambassador to the U.S. (2016–18).

The interest in the CPTPP will be heightened for other countries who are not members or who are already considering joining CPTPP and will be the subject of programs to explore the politics and business implications. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Eyes on Asia: Thailand re-evaluates CPTPP, Peru brings pact into force, September 22, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/trade/eyes-asia-thailand-re-evaluates-cptpp-peru-brings-pact-force; Business Korea, South Korea Planning to Join CPTPP, January 12, 2021, http://www.businesskorea.co.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=58283; Nikkei Asia, Philippines explores joining TPP to expand free trade network, April 2, 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Trade/Philippines-explores-joining-TPP-to-expand-free-trade-network; The Global Business Dialogue, Inc., CPTPP: PEFORMANCE, PROMISE AND OUTLOOK, October 5 and 7, 2021, https://www.gbdinc.org/.

Likely U.S. Trade Approach Short Term

Despite the groups calling for the U.S. to reengage with the CPTPP countries and the obvious growing importance of the CPTPP for Indo-Pacific trade relations, most analysts believe the United States will not seek to either renegotiate the CPTPP or to join the CPTPP as it is in the near future. While the U.S. has free trade agreements with many of the CPTPP countries (Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore, Peru and Chile), with the exception of Canada and Mexico who are party to the USMCA, other FTAs are older and not as comprehensive or addressing all the issues as the CPTPP.

The United States under the Trump Administration and now under the Biden Administration has sought selective trade improvements with some Indo-Pacific countries, including Japan (Phase I deal under the Trump Administration), resolution of 301 disputes on currency and lumber with Vietnam (resolution by the Biden Administration) and bilateral activity with other Asian countries including India, Japan and Australia as members of the Quad. See, e.g., White House Briefing Room, U.S.-India Joint Leaders’ Statement: A Partnership for Global Good, September 24, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/24/u-s-india-joint-leaders-statement-a-partnership-for-global-good/; White House Briefing Room, Joint Statement from Quad Leaders, September 24, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/24/joint-statement-from-quad-leaders/; White House Briefing Room, Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use, September 24, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/24/quad-principles-on-technology-design-development-governance-and-use/. These types of initiatives include trade related elements such as supply chain resiliency in areas like semiconductors and pharmaceuticals and other medical products needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic as well as on technical barriers to trade issues flowing from technology developments. And, of course, the U.S. engages with other countries in the region even if there are no specific trade negotiations. See, e.g., USTR, Readout Of Ambassador Katherine Tai’s Meeting with ASEAN Economic Ministers, September 14, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/september/readout-ambassador-katherine-tais-meeting-asean-economic-ministers.

But these efforts to date don’t ensure U.S. access to many of these markets on the best possible terms for some products and services or ensure the highest standards of the agreements going forward.

China may or may not be accepted into the CPTPP now that it has applied or may decide that the requirements won’t work for its vision of its economy. While the U.S. is seeking cooperation from trading partners at the WTO and in various alliances to deal with some of the major challenges posed by China’s failure to convert its economy to a market economy and to address some of the coercion and failures to comply with bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral commitments, a strong trade agenda and participating in the rule development within important regional groupings would obviously improve the likelihood of improved balance in international trade relations.

That said, the Biden Administration has been reviewing its trade relationship with China, looking to develop a whole of government approach to China.

USTR’s October 4, 2021 articulation of U.S. approach to trade with China

USTR had signaled last week that Amb. Tai would be making a major speech today. The speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was at 10 a.m. (ET) this morning. See Office of the United States Trade Representative, Remarks As Prepared for Delivery of Ambassador Katherine Tai Outlining the Biden-Harris Administration’s “New Approach to the U.S.-China Trade Relationship,” October 4, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/october/remarks-prepared-delivery-ambassador-katherine-tai-outlining-biden-harris-administrations-new. The Administration also released a fact sheet on the Administration’s policy. See Office of the United States Trade Representative, Fact Sheet: The Biden-Harris Administration’s New Approach to the U.S. – China Trade Relationship, October 4, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/october/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administrations-new-approach-us-china-trade-relationship. The fact sheet lists four “initial steps” the U.S. is taking. Those steps as described in the fact sheet are reproduced below.

“Today, we are announcing the initial steps we will take to re-align our trade policies towards the PRC around OUR priorities: 

“•    First, we will discuss with China its performance under the Phase One Agreement. China made commitments that do benefit certain American industries, including agriculture that we must enforce.  President Biden will continue to promote our economic interests – and build confidence for American industry.

•    Second, while pursuing Phase One enforcement, we will restart our domestic tariff exclusions process to mitigate the effects of certain Section 301 tariffs that have not generated any strategic benefits and raised costs on Americans. We will ensure current Section 301 tariffs align appropriately with our economic priorities like boosting American workers’ wages and job opportunities, securing the resilience of critical supply chains, sustaining our technological edge, and protecting our national security interests. 

“•    Third, we continue to have serious concerns with the PRC that were not addressed in the Phase One deal, specifically related to its state-centered and non-market trade practices including Beijing’s non-market policies and practices that distort competition by propping up state-owned enterprises, limiting market access, and other coercive and predatory practices in trade and technology. 

“Even as we work to enforce the terms of Phase One, we will raise our broader concerns with Beijing’s non-market policies and practices like abuse of state-owned enterprises, anti-competitive behavior and subsidies, the theft of American intellectual property directly and in coordination with our allies and partners. We will defend American economic interests using the full range of tools we have and by developing new tools as needed. 

“•    And lastly, we know that we cannot do it alone. We will continue consulting and coordinating with allies and partners who share our strong interest in ensuring that the terms of competition are fair, work collectively to set the rules of the road for trade and technology in the 21st century, and strengthen the global market for our workers and businesses. 

“This work with our allies and partners is already bearing fruit, as evidenced by efforts at the G7, the US-EU Summit, the Quad, the OECD, and the TTC. The Boeing-Airbus deal struck in June of this year is just one example of how this commitment to work with our allies creates more opportunity to sell American products. We will accelerate this progress and look forward to continuing the conversations with our likeminded allies and partners about the impact the PRC’s non-market practices have on them, and how we can work together to find solutions.”

China’s Phase 1 commitments have been met is some areas but widely missed in terms of expanded purchases, particularly on manufactured goods and energy. China’s performance on agricultural goods has been significantly better and close to commitments. There are also large volumes of U.S. exports that are not covered by the Phase I Agreement where China has sharply reduced purchases in 202-2021 despite China’s economic performance. See PIIE, US-China phase one tracker: China’s purchases of US goods, As of August 2021, September 27, 2021, https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/us-china-phase-one-tracker-chinas-purchases-us-goods. Thus, it will be interesting to see if outreach to China on the need for ramped up improvements will have any effect in fact.

American businesses have long complained about the tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of imports from China that resulted from the 301 investigation on China’s IP and other practices. Businesses viewed USTR’s exclusion process as an ineffective system for seeking exclusions and felt the process ended up penalizing U.S. companies. Congress has applied pressure on the Biden Administration (as it did on the Trump Administration) to restart and improve the exclusion process. Former USTR Lighthizer criticized some of the legislative efforts to weaken Section 301, require a revised exclusion process and renew certain tariff waiver programs that he viewed as significantly advantaging China. See New York Times, Opinion/Guest Essay (Robert Lighthizer), America Shouldn’t Compete Against China With One Arm Tied Behind Its Back, July 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/27/opinion/us-china-trade-tariffs.html. While the Biden team identifies actions which could reduce the loss of effectiveness of the 301 tariffs on China, time will tell how well step two of the new approach works in fact.

Press reports indicate that the U.S. will be raising the host of trade problems not addressed in the Phase I Agreement with China but will not be engaged in a Phase II Agreement negotiation. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, U.S. to renew China talks, restart tariff product exclusions, October 4, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/us-renew-china-talks-restart-tariff-product-exclusions (“But the administration is not looking to negotiate a phase-two deal, senior administration officials told reporters on Sunday. ‘We’ll focus on phase-one engagement, we will raise concerns on industrial policies, but we are not seeking a phase-two negotiation,’ one said.”).

That said, the U.S. has been pursuing reforms at the WTO on industrial subsidies and other matters along with some major trading partners (e.g., Japan and the EU on industrial subsidies). While reforms are not likely at the WTO any time soon on industrial subsidies, the U.S. is attempting to apply pressure in a number of fora on China’s policies. Thus, the U.S. is actively pursuing alliances to achieve reforms in China’s policies and distortive practices.

In short, today’s announced trade policy to address China appears to be less confrontational than the actions of the Trump Administration while maintaining for the time being the tariffs that were added following the 301 investigation in 2017-2018. While working to get better compliance with the Phase I Agreement is a positive, many provisions were adopted by China based on prior Administration statements. It will be important to know if these granular provisions once adopted have actually been implemented and whether U.S. trade has benefitted as a result. While the purchase commitments other than agriculture have been widely missed (including some commitments by sectors with heavy state ownership, such as energy), there are specific commitments for 17 goods categories only for 2020 and 2021 and some language about continued growth in the future, it is not clear how aggressive the U.S. will be in pursuing compliance in the last three months of 2021 and moving forward. The same is true in services where the pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to declines in U.S. services exports and the dismal performance compared to commitments. It is also not clear if the U.S. will address the sharp contraction of U.S. exports of products not covered by the Phase I purchase commitments. Such contractions in a period of economic growth by China seem likely driven by Chinese action whether formal or informal to reduce U.S. exports regardless of China’s overall growth.

The serious problems China’s economic model and policies are causing the U.S. and other market economies will be difficult to correct simply through discussions. The Biden’s Administration’s focus on domestic policies and reinvesting in infrastructure, R&D and workers is certainly long overdue (if Congress passes funding), The Biden Administration clearly needs China engaged to address the climate crisis and a number of other global issues. This reality may have contributed to the level of action envisioned on trade relations with China. But today’s announced trade policy towards China seems uninspired and unlikely to make a significant difference in rebalancing trade relations.

Coupled with U.S. reluctance to identify a trade policy agenda that can be used with trading partners to generate new agreements and revise existing agreements, the U.S. approach to China raises the specter of a lost opportunity. Let’s hope that concern proves incorrect.

The WTO Dispute Settlement System — What Member Comments on the Recent Panel Decision in United States – Safeguard Measure on Import on Crystaline Silicon Photovoltaic Products Say about the Need for Reform

Last week, I wrote on the September 2 panel report pertaining to China’s challenge of the U.S. safeguard action on imports of crystaline silicon photovoltaic products. See September 20, 2021: The WTO panel report on the U.S. safeguard case on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Products — a well reasoned report but exemplifying the challenges that China’s non-market economy and policies pose to global trade, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/20/the-wto-panel-report-on-the-u-s-safeguard-case-on-crystalline-silicon-photovoltaic-products-a-well-reasoned-report-but-exemplifying-the-challenges-that-chinas-non-market-economy-and-policies-pos/.

China filed an appeal on September 16, 2021 (WT/DS562/12), becoming the 21st “current notified appeal” (the fifth in 2021, following five in 2020, following eight in 2019 and three in 2018 that have not be heard or completed in light of the lack of a quorum for the Appellate Body). See WTO, Appellate Body, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/appellate_body_e.htm (Current notified appeals).

Earlier this week, the WTO posted a note on the Dispute Settlement Body meeting held on September 27, 2021 in which the panel report and China’s appeal were on the agenda. See WTO News, Panels established to review steel duties in China, food import measures in Panama, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dsb_27sep21_e.htm. The summary of the meeting on the panel report is copied below and shows sharp difference of opinion between China and the United States with some comments recorded by the EU and Canada.

“Statement by China regarding the panel report in the dispute “US — safeguard measure on imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic products” (DS562)

“China sharply criticized the dispute panel ruling in DS562, which was circulated on 2 September and which China appealed on 16 September. China said it is deeply concerned with the systematically harmful findings made by the panel, the first time that a complainant’s case against a safeguard measure has been rejected in its entirety.  The panel report severely deviated from all these jurisprudences and substantially lowered the threshold of imposing safeguard measures, China said. It added that the dangerous signal sent by the panel will lead to the abuse of safeguard measures and thus seriously undermine the rules-based multilateral trading system.

“China went on to detail what it said were the serious legal errors contained in the ruling, including a gross misreading of legal requirements for imposing safeguard matters as well as a major misunderstanding of a panel’s proper role in examining trade remedy investigations.  China said safeguards are extraordinary measures for extraordinary situations and cannot be used as a convenient tool for rescuing a domestic industry in bad shape because of its own business decisions and injuries caused by other factors.

“The United States said China should focus on what matters.  First, it matters that the WTO panel found the US safeguard to be consistent with WTO rules.  The US welcomes those findings but said the win came at a very high cost, namely the crushing of a thriving US industry by China’s massive non-market excess capacity.  This dispute demonstrates that WTO rules do not effectively constrain China’s damaging non-market behaviour.  Second, it matters that China once again sought to use the WTO dispute settlement system as a vehicle to create new rules that would limit a member’s ability to defend itself from China’s non-market practices. The panel rightly rejected every single one of China’s arguments. 

“The US said it was disappointed that China has decided to appeal the panel report despite overwhelming evidence of the damaging effects of China’s non-market practices.  The safeguard measure serves to support the US domestic industry’s efforts to adjust to import competition after global excess solar cell and module capacity pushed the industry to the brink of extinction, mainly as a result of excess capacity fueled by China’s non-market practices which are in direct contradiction to its WTO commitments.

“China responded that its appeal was not intended to delay the adoption of the dispute report or create new rules but to ensure the interpretation of the WTO rules in a fair and reasonable manner and ensure respect for past jurisprudence.

“The EU said the case was yet another example of the grave consequences stemming from the continued blockage of Appellate Body appointments since 2017, which frustrates members’ ability to exercise their rights under WTO dispute settlement procedures.  Canada added that finding a solution to the Appellate Body impasse is of the highest importance.”

The full statements of China, the United States and the EU are available from their respective WTO Mission websites. See Statements by China at the DSB Meeting on 27 September 2021, http://wto.mofcom.gov.cn/article/meetingsandstatements/202109/20210903204327.shtml; Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, Geneva, September 27, 2021, https://uploads.mwp.mprod.getusinfo.com/uploads/sites/25/2021/09/Sept27.DSB_.Stmt_.as_.deliv_.fin_.public.pdf; EU Statements at Regular Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting, 27 September 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/104751/eu-statements-regular-dispute-settlement-body-dsb-meeting-27-september-2021_en.

In reading the summary of the proceeding and the full prepared statements of China, the U.S. and the EU, it is clear that the U.S. concern about how the WTO Members have let the dispute settlement system degenerate to the extent it has is a matter of significance and essentially ignored by most Members.

For example, GATT Articles VI, XVI and XIX and the Uruguay Round Agreements on those articles are not exceptions to WTO obligations but rather important WTO rights for all WTO Members. WTO Members are assumed to implement their rights and obligations according to their commitments. So how strange is it that the U.S. safeguard action on imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic products is the first safeguard decision challenged that has been upheld.

Yet, China’s arguments and concerns with the panel report basically flow from the ability of any Member to pursue a safeguard action. Indeed, China’s desired interpretations of the agreements and Article XIX would ensure WTO Members would basically be unable to use safeguard actions. Consider China’s statement on Sept. 27, “In the past 26 years of the WTO, all of the safeguard measures challenged prior to this case had been found to violate the WTO rules. However, the panel report of DS562 has severely deviated from all these jurisprudences and substantially lowered the threshold of imposing safeguard measures. The erroneous and dangerous signal sent by this panel report to WTO members will lead to the abuse of safeguard measures and thus seriously undermine the rules-based multilateral trading system.” So the correct outcome is for all uses of the safeguard system to be found as violations of WTO obligations?

Equally interesting is the EU’s statement at the meeting. “The EU intervened as third party in this case and looks forward to commenting further at the appellate stage when the proceedings resume. In the meantime, as it is uncertain when appellate proceedings will resume, the EU notes with interest certain aspects of the approach which this panel has taken to the interpretation and application of the WTO disciplines on multilateral safeguards in this case.

“The present panel report would appear to be the first completely successful defence of a multilateral safeguard measure (subject to the pending appeal proceedings).

“Hence, the EU considers that the report of this panel and its approach to the WTO rules on multilateral safeguards deserve close attention.”

One can only respond to the EU, “Really?”

The Appellate Body has been viewed by many Members as having imposed obligations that Members had not agreed to, including in the interpretation of the Safeguard Agreement and GATT Article XIX. Yet safeguard actions are an integral part of WTO Member rights. It is not the role of panels or the Appellate to substitute their views for that of the administrators. Nor is it the role of the panels or the Appellate Body to adopt constructions of the agreements which render them nugatory in fact.

The panel, chaired by a former Chair of the Rules Negotiating Group, addressed the dispute as every panel should address trade remedy cases. Why would the outcome reached by the panel be surprising? The United States has had safeguard laws on the books for many years, has extensive experience in conducting such investigations by the U.S. International Trade Commission, and was active in the creation of the Safeguard Agreement and in Article XIX. Indeed, much of the language in the Agreement mirrors U.S. law.

So the focus of China and the implications of the statements by the EU are that dispute settlement reform for these important Members will not address the underlying concerns of the United States about overreach, about panel and AB reports not creating precedents or for the WTO membership to go back to the fundamental purpose of dispute settlement which is not for the panels or Appellate Body to create rights or obligations.

The U.S. statement also reveals the challenges the WTO is facing by having members like China whose economic systems are not market based and the urgent need for broader reforms or for countries like China to in fact become market economies.

“STATEMENT BY CHINA REGARDING THE PANEL REPORT IN THE DISPUTE: ‘UNITED STATES – SAFEGUARD MEASURE ON IMPORTS OF CRYSTALLINE SILICON PHOTOVOLTAIC PRODUCTS’ (DS562)

“• China as a WTO Member has the right to bring a matter to the attention of the DSB. Why China should want to highlight for Members that China is the first complaining party ever to lose a WTO challenge to a safeguard action – or the second, if we count China’s own previous loss in its challenge to the China-specific tires safeguard – is a matter for Beijing alone to consider.

“• But in bringing this matter forward, China should focus on what matters. First, it matters that the WTO panel found the U.S. safeguard to be consistent with WTO rules. We welcome those findings – but cannot pass without mentioning the very high cost of this victory. A thriving U.S. industry was essentially crushed by China’s massive non-market excess capacity – and this formed the factual basis for the U.S. safeguard action. So while we welcome the panel report findings, this dispute demonstrates, perversely, that WTO rules do not effectively constrain China’s damaging non-market behavior.

“• Second, it matters that China, once again, sought to use the WTO dispute settlement system as a vehicle to create new rules that would limit a Member’s ability to defend itself from China’s non-market practices. The United States has expressed grave concerns with Appellate Body interpretations that go well beyond the terms of WTO safeguards rules. But in this dispute, China sought to go even beyond those erroneous interpretations. China encouraged the panel to read Article XIX of the GATT 1994 and the Agreement on Safeguards as creating a procedural minefield with no realistic path for Members seeking to use a safeguard measure for its intended purpose. The Panel rightly rejected every single one of China’s misplaced arguments.

“• China tries to depict the uniform failure of its arguments as evidence that the Panel must have been wrong or that the Panel committed certain missteps. But the Panel’s thorough evaluation demonstrates that it is China that committed fundamental errors in its approach to this case. In particular, China attempted to read the relevant WTO safeguard provisions in a way that is inconsistent with the text of the covered agreements, and in a way that no competent authorities or no Member could ever meet in practice. That, and not some malfeasance by the Panel, is why China lost this dispute.

“• It was China’s burden to establish a prima facie case that the U.S. solar safeguard measure is inconsistent with one of the enumerated provisions of the GATT 1994 or the Agreement on Safeguards. The Panel held China to that burden. It addressed each of China’s arguments, and explained why China failed to discharge that burden in each instance. We will focus on just a few of those rejected arguments in our statement today.

“• Before the panel, China conceded that the U.S. competent authorities correctly found that the domestic industry was suffering from serious injury. That is beyond dispute, as numerous U.S. producers exited the industry, and remaining producers suffered profitability losses and declining investment. China conceded that imports were increasing from multiple sources, or that import prices were decreasing over the course of the period covered by the investigation. This is exactly the situation that GATT 1994 Article XIX and the Safeguards Agreement were designed to address. And, after a massive investigation with multiple parties and thousands of pages of evidence and arguments, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) found that increased imports caused serious injury.

“• In its challenge, China instead sought to avoid the logical implication of these facts by attacking the competent authorities. It asked the Panel to essentially conduct a new investigation and issue a new determination, uncritically accepting the views of Chinese producers and rejecting out of hand any contrary evidence and argument. The Panel correctly rejected this view of its role. In line with the terms of the Safeguards Agreement, it evaluated the report of the competent authorities and whether the report provided findings and reasoned conclusions in support of the ultimate determination. The Panel properly declined to make new findings or a new determination.

“• The Panel also correctly focused on the substance of the USITC’s findings, and rejected China’s efforts to portray Article XIX of GATT 1994 and the Safeguards Agreement as mandating formulaic cookie-cutter approaches to the analysis. You can see a good example of this correct approach in the Panel’s handling of whether the United States showed that increased imports were a result of U.S. tariff concessions. There was no dispute that the U.S. bound rate on CSPV solar products was zero, or that the binding prevented the United States from raising tariffs in response to the documented surge in imports. China nonetheless argued that the United States failed to satisfy the obligation because the USITC did not couch its findings in the exact words used in Article XIX. The Panel correctly focused on substance over form, finding that:
“he USITC identified the United States’ domestic tariff treatment of CSPV products when it observed that CSPV products covered by the safeguard measure “are provided for in subheading 8541.40.60 of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule [and] have been free of duty under the general duty rate since at least 1987”. Although we recognize that this statement does not explicitly establish that such tariff treatment was required under the United States’ WTO obligations, we consider that the supplemental report appropriately demonstrates that this was the implication of the USITC’s statement.1

“1 US – Safeguard Measure on PV Products, para. 7.53.

“• That is exactly what a Panel should do in evaluating a safeguard measure. It should examine the totality of the competent authorities’ findings, and not fasten on quibbles over phrasing as excuses to reject their conclusions.

“• The United States is disappointed that China has now decided to press onward by appealing the Panel report in spite of overwhelming evidence of the damaging effects of China’s non-market practices, instead of focusing its energy on changing those practices that are harming workers and businesses worldwide. Indeed, it is important to recall why the United States imposed the solar safeguard in the first place. The safeguard measure serves to support our domestic industry’s efforts to adjust to import competition, after global excess solar cell and module capacity pushed our industry to the brink of extinction. Chinese producers in China and around the world are largely responsible for this excess capacity, fueled by China’s non-market practices, which are in direct contradiction to the commitments China made when it joined this organization in 2001. Meanwhile, China’s solar industry has attempted to undercut U.S. antidumping and countervailing measures on imports from China for years by shifting operations to other countries.

“• The United States will not stand idly by while China continues trying to undermine the solar safeguard measure and to continue harming U.S. solar producers and indeed market-oriented solar producers worldwide.”

Conclusion

If one needed an example of the challenges to forward movement at the WTO on dispute settlement reform, one need only look at the responses by three major players to the recent panel report on the U.S. safeguard action on imports of crystaline silicon photovoltaic products. Despite a well reasoned panel report upholding the U.S. action on surging imports that clearly devastated a domestic industry, one major Member cries foul for the panel not accepting extreme interpretations that would effectively eliminate the practical ability of Members to use safeguard actions. A second Member seems to focus on consistency with past decisions and interpretations regardless of concerns about overreach or the lack of precedents in the WTO dispute settlement system or the reasonableness of the panel report. The third Member takes the opposite position and reviews concerns about overreach, the failure of one Member to bring its economic system into conformity with market economy requirements of WTO membership, and notes the fundamental correctness of the panel’s upholding of the U.S. action.

It is hard to imagine the United States agreeing to removing its blockage of Appellate Body appointments in an environment in which major Members continue to pursue a path to undermine the purpose of dispute settlement, to ignore the need to correct the overreach problems of the past, and fail to recognize the role of dispute settlement which is not to create rights and obligations.

U.S. Department of Commerce commences a national security investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, on NdFeB permanent magnet imports

On September 24, 2021, the Biden Administration initiated its first Section 232 national security investigation. See U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce Announces Section 232 Investigation into the Effect of Imports of Neodymium Magnets on U.S. National Security, September 24, 2021, https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2021/09/us-department-commerce-announces-section-232-investigation-effect. As stated in the press release:

“Interested parties are invited to submit written comments, data, analyses, or other information to BIS by November 12, 2021. This is the first Section 232 investigation initiated under Secretary Raimondo’s leadership, and is consistent with a recommendation by the White House in the Biden-Harris Administration’s 100-day supply chain reviews to evaluate whether to initiate this investigation.

“Critical national security systems rely on NdFeB permanent magnets, including fighter aircraft and missile guidance systems. In addition, NdFeB permanent magnets are essential components of critical infrastructure, including electric vehicles and wind turbines. The magnets are also used in computer hard drives, audio equipment, and MRI devices.

“If the Secretary finds that NdFeB permanent magnets are being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security, the Secretary shall advise the President in her report on the findings of the investigation. By law, the Secretary of Commerce has 270 days from initiation, until June 18, 2022, to present the Department’s findings and recommendations to the President.

“U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo released the following statement: ‘The Department of Commerce is committed to securing our supply chains to protect our national security, economic security, and technological leadership. Consistent with President Biden’s directive to strengthen our supply chains and encourage investments to shore up our domestic production, the Department initiated a Section 232 investigation on imports of NdFeB permanent magnets to determine whether U.S. reliance on imports for this critical product is a threat to our national security.’”

Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security published in the Federal Register on September 27, 2021 the formal request for public comments. See U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security, Notice of Request for Public Comments on Section 232 National Security Investigation of Imports of
Neodymium-Iron-Boron (NdFeB) Permanent Magnets, 86 Fed. Reg. 53,277-278 (September 27, 2021). The notice contained eight questions that the Department was particularly interested in getting comments on from the public:

“The Department is particularly interested in comments and information directed to the criteria listed in § 705.4 of the NSIBR as they affect national security, including the following:

“(i) Quantity of or other circumstances related to the importation of NdFeB permanent magnets;

“(ii) Domestic production and productive capacity needed for NdFeB permanent magnets to meet projected national defense requirements;

“(iii) Existing and anticipated availability of human resources, products, raw materials, production
equipment, and facilities to produce NdFeB permanent magnets;

“(iv) Growth requirements of the NdFeB permanent magnets industry to meet national defense requirements and/or requirements for supplies and services necessary to assure such growth including investment, exploration, and development;

“(v) The impact of foreign competition on the economic welfare of the domestic NdFeB permanent magnets industry;

“(vi) The displacement of any domestic NdFeB permanent magnets production causing substantial unemployment, decrease in the revenues of government, loss of investment or specialized skills and productive capacity, or other serious effects;

“(vii) Relevant factors that are causing or will cause a weakening of our national economy; and

“(viii) Any other relevant factors, including the use and importance of NdFeB permanent magnets in critical infrastructure sectors identified in Presidential Policy Directive 21 (Feb. 12, 2013) (for a listing of those 16 sectors see https://www.dhs.gov/cisa/critical-infrastructure-sectors).”

86 Fed. Reg. at 53,278.

The 100 day supply chain review referenced in the Commerce press release was released in June 2021. See White House, BUILDING RESILIENT SUPPLY CHAINS, REVITALIZING AMERICAN MANUFACTURING, AND FOSTERING BROAD-BASED GROWTH, 100-Day Reviews under Executive Order 14017 (June 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/100-day-supply-chain-review-report.pdf. Discussion of the challenges relating to NdFeB permanent magnets is taken up in the Review of Critical Minerals and Materials by the Department of Defense (pages 151-204 (see pages 156-57, 160, 165-66, 170-171, 174, 177, 183, 189-92)).

But the White House Report (and the various sources cited therein) follows many years of articles and reports looking at the potential national security and economic security risks from dependence on certain minerals, materials and downstream products incorporating the same from limited foreign suppliers.

The challenge for the U.S. with NdFeB permanent magnets is that supply of both the rare earth mineral and the processed product and down stream product are dominated by China with projected demand growth far outstripping likely existing supplies. See, e.g., Physics Today, US government acts to reduce dependence on China for rare-earth magnets, February 1, 2021, https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.4675 (“Driven by an expected surge in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), wind turbines, and other applications requiring permanent magnets, consumption of many rare-earth (RE) elements is expected to outstrip the global supply within a decade. Coupled with an almost total US dependence on China for separated REs and the magnets made from them, the impending shortage has prompted the US government to subsidize and stimulate domestic RE mining, metal-making, and magnet manufacturing.”)(contains a detailed review of U.S. efforts to expand options for procuring neodymium and magnets made with neodymium).

WTO issues

Many of our larger trading partners have challenged the U.S. 232 investigations on steel and aluminum and resulting import relief imposed by former President Trump. While the U.S. position has been that GATT Art. XXI does not permit WTO panel review of actions taken for national security reasons, prior panels looking at the issue have felt authorized to reach the merits. Decisions by panels in the various challenges to steel and aluminum 232 actions are expected possibly by the end of 2021. See United States — Certain Measures on Steel and Aluminium Products, WT/DS544/11 (9 February 2021)(“the Panel now expects to issue its final report to the parties no earlier than the second half of 2021.”)(identical extensions noticed in cases by India (WT/DS547), EU (WT/DS548), Norway (WT/DS552), Russian Federation (WT/DS554), Switzerland (WT/DS556), Turkey (WT/DS564).

As the report to the President from Commerce is likely to be presented in June 2022 (statutory time limit is 270 days after initiation), the Administration will have time to consider how, if at all, it will respond to any WTO panel decisions in the steel and aluminum cases and whether it will appeal any such panel decisions (likely if adverse). If the panels do not limit their reports to indicating national security actions are not reviewable, it is unlikely that Commerce will address issues of concern to the panel if potentially relevant in the U.S. investigation of NdFeB permanent magnets. But that could occur.

However, the U.S. interest in resolving the Appellate Body situation will likely be affected by whether national security policy decisions are accepted as nonreviewable by trading partners and the WTO’s dispute settlement system.


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.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present unprecedented challenges to global health and the global economy. With some 230 million infections globally and some 4.7 million deaths reported globally to date and with likely actual numbers a multiple of what has been reported, governments around the world have taken strong measures to control the spread of COVID-19, and there have been efforts to improve the equitable access to vaccines and other medical treatments and personal protective equipment for all peoples. The economic costs flowing from the pandemic to countries have been considerable, with many poorer countries experiencing loss of progress made over recent decades in terms of poverty levels, income, educational opportunities, trade and more.

While the pharmaceutical industry has responded impressively and will likely produce more than twice the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021 compared to all vaccines produced in 2020, access to vaccines has not been as equitable as desired or needed to end the pandemic. The lack of equitable access flows from a number of factors including some production challenges, early acquisition of large quantities of vaccines by wealthier countries, export restraints imposed by some countries, failure of Indian producers (who had been identified as a major source of vaccines for distribution through COVAX to low- and middle-income countries) to honor export contracts during 2021 in light of COVID challenges within India and others.

Vaccine distribution does not match population distribution but also doesn’t correspond to level of infections or deaths in most countries. When inequitable access is flagged by organizations or the media, it is based on population. But where some countries or regions are suffering greater levels of infections or deaths from the pandemic than others, one could argue that equitable access could also be measured by comparing to level of infections or deaths.

Bloomberg in a recent COVID-19 Tracker reports that the least wealthy 52 countries have received 3.6% of the vaccinations while having 20.5% of the global population. Bloomberg, More than 6.1 Billion Shots Given; Covid-19 Tracker, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (September 25, 2021). Obviously such low levels of vaccination for poor countries present pressing challenges. Fortunately, to date, infections and deaths have been much higher in higher income countries than in many low- and middle-income countries, so there is less of a mismatch with access to vaccines if measured by reference to infections or deaths. Some of the lower numbers for low- and middle-income countries may be due to reporting challenges in some of these countries, but the picture needs to be looked at from multiple angles to understand whether and the extent of equitable distribution challenges facing the world and individual countries. Let’s look at a few countries to understand the complexity of the analysis.

China, which has a population of 1.439 billion people in 2020 (18.45% of global totals) had administered 2.194 billion doses of COVID-19 according to the Bloomberg September 25, 2021 Tracker (35.98% of global doses distributed) yet has reported only 107,981 cases of infections since December 2019 (just 0.04% of global cases) and just 4,849 deaths (just 0.1% of global deaths). See ECDC, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 37, updated 23 September 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. Thus, China, while being the first country to report cases, has been successful in limiting the case spread both before and after the development of vaccines. Which highlights the question, where there are global shortages of vaccines, is the correct analysis vaccine doses as a share of global population or the short-term need based on infections or deaths? If China distribution of doses reflected its share of population, it would have administered 1.125 billion does, meaning an extra 1.069 billion doses could have been redirected to other countries in need. If done on the basis of the number of infections, China would have administered 2.44 million doses, meaning 2.192 billion doses could have been redirected to other countries in need. If done on the basis of the number of deaths, it would have administered 6.1 million doses to date, meaning 2.188 billion doses could have been redirected to other countries. Under any analysis, China is a major cause of inequitable access to vaccines through late September and that is regardless of doses sold or given to trading partners by China.

India had a population in 2020 of 1.38 billion people (17.69% of the global population). According to the recent Bloomberg Tracker, India has administered 850.372 million doses (13.94% of global doses). India, which has had a serious outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the summer, has recorded 33,478,419 cases of infection (14.59% of global cases) and 445,133 deaths (9.47% of global deaths). Press accounts have indicated that the case and death counts in India are likely significantly understated. However, equitable access to vaccines if based on population or based on percent of global infections as reported by India would show India needing additional doses (an additional 228.718 million based on population; an additional 39.618 million based on percent of global infections). Based on percent of global deaths, India arguably has consumed 272.702 million more doses than death percentage would warrant (if deaths were substantially higher, obviously the answer would differ). Thus, India is almost certainly a country that has been in need of larger volumes of COVID-19 vaccines than it has obtained and explains the country’s decision to halt exports of COVID-19 vaccines for many months this year.

The United States had a population in 2020 of 331 million people (4.24% of global population. It has administered 388.567 million doses of vaccine (6.37% of global doses administered). As a major developed country, one would have expected the United States to have gotten control of the pandemic early or at least to have been able to get the pandemic under control within the United States after vaccines were approved for emergency use authoriztaion. However, the U.S. has recorded 42.288 million cases of infection (18.43% of global cases) (and has recorded 676,075 deaths (9.67% of global deaths) — the most of any nation. Moreover, while the early roll out of vaccines sharply reduced infections, hospitalizations and deaths a few months ago, the large percentage of adults who remain unvaccinated, the opposition of many to basic public health requirements (e.g., mask wearing in many situations) and failure to get vaccinated has resulted in the U.S. having a very large outbreak in the last month or so with the spread of the delta variant — a wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths of the unvaccinated. If the number of doses administered matched the U.S. share of global population, the U.S. would have administered 129.93 million fewer doses. However, if based on percent of infections or deaths, the U.S. should have administered far more doses — 735.66 million more based on infections and 201.3 million based on deaths — although such numbers would be capped by the number needed for full vaccination.

The above analysis is not to say vaccine equity of access and distribution isn’t important. Rather the analysis is meant to stress the complexity of the analysis, particularly for countries that have suffered large rates of infection and death.

Recent efforts to improve the equitable access to and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical materials

A great deal of effort has gone into establishing entities to facilitate equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, COVAX is described on the GAVI webpage as follows (https://www.gavi.org/covax-facility):

“COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator

“The ACT Accelerator is a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

“COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.”

COVAX had hoped to get at least 2 billion doses to countries participating (including 92 low- and middle income countries who would get vaccine doses at no- or low-cost) in 2021. As of September 22, 2021, COVAX had distributed over 301 million doses in 142 countries. https://www.gavi.org/covax-vaccine-roll-out. This is out of the 6.1 billion doses administered globally. Recent projections suggest COVAX will get at least 500 million fewer doses in 2021 than originally expected, though higher volumes could happen under certain circumstances. See World Health Organization, Joint COVAX Statement on Supply Forecast for 2021 and early 2022, 8 September 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/08-09-2021-joint-covax-statement-on-supply-forecast-for-2021-and-early-2022 (“According to its latest Supply Forecast, COVAX expects to have access to 1.425 billion doses of vaccine in 2021, in the most likely scenario and in the absence of urgent action by producers and high-coverage countries to prioritize COVAX.”).

Amidst a constant drumbeat from the WHO that no one is safe until all are safe and that the 2021 distribution to date has left many countries behind, most countries have agreed for the need for greater equitable distribution going forward. Some countries (India, South Africa and others) have called for waiving intellectual property rights at the WTO on vaccines and other medical goods needed to address the pandemic. Some organizations and countries have argued for the need for development of local production capabilities in low income countries. The WTO has monitored export restrictions imposed and tracked the level and elimination of such restrictions as well as market liberalization efforts. Events have been held to gather information on production bottlenecks, efforts of pharmaceutical companies to expand production around the world and countries have been urged to release surplus doses and give up their place in line with pharmaceutical companies to permit larger volumes to be shipped earlier to low- and middle-income countries.

In recent months both the U.S. and the EU have been working to facilitate these efforts and recently announced joint actions. See A U.S.-EU Agenda for Beating the Global Pandemic Vaccinating the World, Saving Lives Now, and Building Back Better Health Security, September 22, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/22/a-u-s-eu-agenda-for-beating-the-global-pandemic-vaccinating-the-world-saving-lives-now-and-building-back-better-health-security/.

“Vaccination is the most effective response to the COVID pandemic. The United States and the EU are technological leaders in advanced vaccine platforms, given decades of investments in research and development.

“It is vital that we aggressively pursue an agenda to vaccinate the world.  Coordinated U.S. and EU leadership will help expand supply, deliver in a more coordinated and efficient manner, and manage constraints to supply chains. This will showcase the force of a Transatlantic partnership in facilitating global vaccination while enabling more progress by multilateral and regional initiatives.

“Building on the outcome of the May 2021 G20 Global Health Summit, the G7 and U.S.-EU Summits in June, and on the upcoming G20 Summit, U.S. and the EU will expand cooperation for global action toward vaccinating the world, saving lives now, and building better health security.  

Pillar I: A Joint EU/US Vaccine Sharing Commitment: the United States and the EU will share doses globally to enhance vaccination rates, with a priority on sharing through COVAX and improving vaccination rates urgently in low and lower-middle income countries.  The United States is donating over 1.1 billion doses, and the EU will donate over 500 million doses. This is in addition to the doses we have financed through COVAX.

We call for nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness. They will place a premium on predictable and effective dose-sharing to maximize sustainability and minimize waste.

Pillar II: A Joint EU/US Commitment to Vaccine Readiness: the United States and the EU will both support and coordinate with relevant organizations for vaccine delivery, cold chain, logistics, and immunization programs to translate doses in vials into shots in arms. They will share lessons learned from dose sharing, including delivery via COVAX, and promote equitable distribution of vaccines.

Pillar III: A Joint EU/US partnership on bolstering global vaccine supply and therapeutics: the EU and the United States will leverage their newly launched Joint COVID-19 Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce to support vaccine and therapeutic manufacturing and distribution and overcome supply chain challenges. Collaborative efforts, outlined below, will include monitoring global supply chains, assessing global demand against the supply of ingredients and production materials, and identifying and addressing in real time bottlenecks and other disruptive factors for global vaccine and therapeutics production, as well as coordinating potential solutions and initiatives to boost global production of vaccines, critical inputs, and ancillary supplies.

Pillar IVA Joint EU/US Proposal to achieve Global Health Security.  The United States and the EU will support the establishment of a Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) by the end of 2021 and will support its sustainable capitalization.  The EU and United States will also support global pandemic surveillance, including the concept of a global pandemic radar. The EU and the United States, through the European Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority, and the Department of Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, respectively, will cooperate in line with our G7 commitment to expedite the development of new vaccines and make recommendations on enhancing the world’s capacity to deliver these vaccines in real time. 

We call on partners to join in establishing and financing the FIF to support to prepare countries for COVID-19 and future biological threats.

Pillar V: A Joint EU/US/Partners Roadmap for regional vaccine production. The EU and the United States will coordinate investments in regional manufacturing capacity with low and lower-middle income countries, as well as targeted efforts to enhance capacity for medical countermeasures under the Build Back Better World infrastructure and the newly established Global Gateway partnership. The EU and the United States will align efforts to bolster local vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa and forge ahead on discussions on expanding the production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and ensure their equitable access.

We call on partners to join in supporting coordinated investments to expand global and regional manufacturing, including for mRNA, viral vector, and/or protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines.

See also United States–European Commission Joint Statement: Launch of the joint COVID-19 Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce, September 22, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/22/united-stateseuropean-commission-joint-statement/.

The announced joint efforts of the U.S. and the EU occurred at the same time as the U.S. hosted another event with governments, multilateral organizations and the private sector to find solutions to the COVID pandemic. The event was held on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York last week. See White House Briefing Room, Global COVID-⁠19 Summit: Ending the Pandemic and Building Back Better, September 24, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/24/global-covid-19-summit-ending-the-pandemic-and-building-back-better/. The write-up is copied below.

“On September 22, 2021, President Biden convened a virtual Global COVID-19 Summit focused on ending the pandemic and building better health security to prevent and prepare for future biological threats.

“The President called on the world to collectively end the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible, with every country, partner, and organization doing its part, aligning around shared goals and targets, and holding each other to account. At the same time, all countries need the capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats, including future pandemics.  The Summit introduced ambitious targets in three critical areas for ending this pandemic and preventing and preparing for the next: Vaccinate the WorldSave Lives Now; and Build Back Better.

“President Biden hosted the virtual Global COVID Summit: Ending the Pandemic and Building Back Better, which included participation by representatives from more than 100 governments and other partners and more than 100 leaders from international organizations, the private sector, the philanthropic sector, civil society, academia, and other stakeholders. These are listed below.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed over 4.5 million lives and continues to ravage communities and economies around the world.  President Biden called on Summit participants to not only do more, but to do enough to end the pandemic and build back better.

“President Biden was also joined at the Summit by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, Department of Health and Human Services Director of the Office of Global Affairs Loyce Pace, and State Department Coordinator for the Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security Gayle Smith. The full list of participants is available below.

“Throughout the Summit, leaders of countries and organizations underscored the importance of coalescing around shared targets to align commitments with outcomes, as all parties worked together to: Vaccinate the World, Save Lives Now, and Build Back Better Global Health Security over the months ahead. Reaching these targets will require leadership, ambition, boldness, collaboration, transparency, and new commitments.

“In advance of and during the Summit, many countries and stakeholders announced their intention to donate vaccines and financial support to critical vaccine readiness activities to ensure shots get into arms around the world.   Leaders broadly aligned around the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the global population in every country by UNGA 2022 and expressed shared urgency to do more, to act now, to enhance accountability, and to monitor progress.  To advance this effort, President Biden called for another Heads of State-level Summit in the first quarter of 2022, and Secretary Blinken committed to convene Foreign Ministers in 2021.  Countries made new commitments to share doses and/or double or triple previous pledges for vaccines, delivery, oxygen and testing support, and health security.

“Participants from around the world and across sectors, listed below, brought commitments to the Summit – further details will be available over the coming days.  While the event was not a pledging conference, participants’ combined commitments exceeded 850 million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses and major new commitments for vaccine readiness, oxygen, testing, health systems, and health security financing.

“A list of new commitments announced by the United States at or around the Summit can be found in this Fact Sheet.

“A link to the common targets released by the United States during the Summit for tracking and accountability can be found here.

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Session 1.      Calling the World to Account and Vaccinating the World

“President Biden chaired the opening session of the Summit, which was focused on the need for all countries, organizations, and stakeholders to do more to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all people, everywhere.  He was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  Participants echoed President Biden’s call to align around common targets, more urgently track progress, and support one another in fulfilling commitments.  World leaders embraced the World Health Organization goal of fully vaccinating at least 70 percent of the population in every country and income category with quality, safe, and effective vaccines by UNGA 2022, and leaders called for more urgent and equitable distribution of vaccine doses.

President Biden announced bold new commitments from the United States to supply an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine that will all be shipped by this time next year, bringing the U.S. total commitment of donated vaccines to over 1.1 billion.

“He also announced that the United States is stepping up efforts to get shots into arms and boost global manufacturing.  He encouraged countries to join the United States in upholding a set of principles to ensure we can fulfill our collective global commitments for equitable global distribution of safe and effective WHO Emergency Use Listed-authorized COVID-19 vaccines.  Those principles include committing to donate, rather than sell, doses to low- and lower-middle income countries with no political strings attached; to support COVAX as the main mechanism for sharing WHO-authorized vaccines; to fight vaccine disinformation; to exercise transparency; to build public trust; and to work toward common goals and targets to measure progress and to hold ourselves and each accountable.  The President acknowledged efforts through the Quad partnership to help produce at least 1 billion vaccine doses in India to boost the global vaccine supply by the end of 2022, as well as U.S. financing to help strengthen manufacturing in South Africa and produce more than 500 million J&J doses in Africa for Africa by next year.

“President Biden also emphasized the vital logistical challenge of getting those vaccines into the arms of people, and he called on all participants to significantly step up investments in this area.  He announced a commitment of an additional $370 million to support global vaccine readiness and delivery, and he committed more than $380 million in assistance for Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, to provide political risk insurance to facilitate shipment of vaccines to nine countries across three continents.  In addition, he called on countries, vaccine manufacturers, and other partners to expand global and regional vaccine manufacturing capacity and enhance transparency to make vaccine production and distribution more predictable and coordinated.  He emphasized the United States is working with partner nations and manufacturer to increase their capability to produce and make safe and highly effective vaccines in their own countries.

The President also underscored the importance of saving lives now, and noted the United States is providing nearly $1.4 billion to reduce COVID-19 deaths and mitigate transmission through bulk oxygen support, expanded testing, strengthening healthcare systems and more.

“Finally, President Biden emphasized U.S. support for the establishment of a global health security financing mechanism to prepare for the next pandemic, which Vice President Harris detailed later in the Summit.  He closed the meeting by calling on leaders to set targets that require us to aim high, follow through on our commitments, and hold each other accountable to end the pandemic and advance health security for all.

“Finally, President Biden called for a whole of society response, with an ask for the private sector, country governments, philanthropies, and civil society to take up the U.S. call to action to solve core challenges toward ending the pandemic and building back better – including making vaccinations available to everyone, everywhere; solving the oxygen crisis; financing health security, and more. Representatives from businesses, foundations, and civil society joined global leaders at the Summit. Some of those leaders announced coalitions to combine funds, expertise, and capacity to help realize specific challenges within each of the goals, for example addressing the global oxygen crisis, closing the testing gap, and ensuring vaccines are delivered and administered.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global vaccination plan to at least double vaccine production and ensure 2.3 billion doses are equitably distributed through COVAX to reach 40 percent of people in all countries by the end of this year, and 70 percent in the first half of 2022 as WHO recommends. He framed global vaccination not as philanthropy but as self-interest for all parties, emphasizing the need for low and lower-middle income countries (LMICs) to have the resources and technology to manufacture their own vaccines. He also called for better resourced and stronger global health security architecture. The United Nations will continue to support vaccine rollout in countries and communities that are hardest to reach.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom-Ghebreyesus emphasized the importance of multilateralism in addressing the disparity in vaccine access between high- and low-income countries. He praised the new U.S. vaccine commitment and called on countries to work with companies to swap places with other countries in vaccine queues, for countries to fulfill dose share pledges immediately, and for sharing the intellectual property necessary to facilitate manufacturing around the world. He observed that we owe it to those who lost their lives to build better governance, financing, systems, and tools to ensure global health security. He called on leaders to support the vaccination of at least 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 percent by mid-2022.  He also called on those who control existing vaccine supplies to ensure that 2 billion doses are provided rapidly to LMICs in order to begin meeting these targets, as the Secretary General highlighted.

Republic of South Africa’s President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the risks of not reaching the vaccination targets set out in the Summit, and discussed how the pandemic exacerbates the global vaccine gap and the ways it undermines global health security. He also affirmed the importance of enabling countries to do their own vaccine manufacturing and procurement, and called on WTO member states to approve the TRIPS waiver proposal from South Africa, India, and other co-sponsors. He shared the African Union’s impactful work in hosting the first mRNA tech transfer on the African continent, then called for a sustainable plan to support LMICs through technology and finance to meet vaccine targets. He also supported the establishment of a global health security financial intermediary fund for pandemic preparedness, a Global Health Threats Council, and Secretary-General Guterres’ proposal for a global vaccination plan.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the pandemic as one of the most pressing societal challenges we have ever faced. To help address this challenge, she announced a new European Union partnership with the United States to help vaccinate the world with a joint objective of a 70 percent global vaccination rate by UNGA 2022.  The EU-U.S. global vaccination partnership seeks to expand supply and improve delivery while managing constraints to supply chains.  This partnership will seek to boost vaccine production in LMICs and coordinate investments to build regional manufacturing. The EU is investing more than €1 billion with partners in Africa and the pharmaceutical sector to bring mRNA technology to the continent beginning with hubs in South Africa, and Senegal, and Rwanda.  She reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to share more than 500 million doses by the middle of next year, and the  EU commitment that every second dose of vaccine produced in Europe is shipped abroad (to date, 800 million doses).  President von der Leyen also committed that the EU will work with the United States and within the G20 to establish a global health security FIF to help build a healthy and secure future.

Republic of Indonesia President Joko Widodo called for the strengthening of theglobal health architecture and for a new mechanism to mobilize resources. He articulated the need for LMICs to be part of the solution, by enhancing capacity to manufacture of vaccines, medicines, and supplies. He appealed for an end to vaccine nationalism, and said Indonesia as G20 chair next year will focus on strengthening the global health security architecture and preparing for future challenges.  

World Trade Organization Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted the urgency of preventing more people from dying in poor countries due to lack of access to lifesaving vaccines and other medical countermeasures.  She emphasized the risk of the pandemic to economic recovery, if slow vaccination progress allows the emergence of even more dangerous variants, saying, “Either we converge downwards by allowing the virus to drag all of us back down, or we converge upwards by vaccinating the world.”  She noted the centrality of trade in this effort, and she provided the example of the Pfizer- BioNTech and Moderna vaccines requiring inputs from nineteen countries.  She reiterated the importance of the WTO’s work to reduce export restrictions, address supply bottlenecks, and smooth regulatory obstacles.  She called on industry to donate doses and swap contracts so that COVAX and less advantaged countries can move up in the queue and receive supplies for distribution.  She urged leaders to find pragmatic compromises on intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, and she underscored the need for cooperative action to ensure a stable, predictable and fair multilateral trading system.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated Canada’s commitment to being a trusted partner, and emphasized the target of equitably vaccinating 70 percent of the world by next September and both to protect the world’s population and ensure economic recovery.  He called for a focus on vaccine readiness and delivery, and to increase the production and supply of shots. He outlined Canada’s contributions of more than $2.5 billion, including investing to share tens of millions of doses with the rest of the world and support the ACT Accelerator and COVAX.  He referenced Canada’s interest in developing domestic vaccine production capacity, which would help Canada to help the world.  He expressed support for working through the WTO to resolve intellectual property issues and also called for strengthened global health security infrastructure over the long term by investing in shared health institutions and strengthening global cooperation.

“Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Chief Executive Officer Dr. Seth Berkley outlined COVAX’s leadership of the most complex, global vaccine deployment in history, which has – to date — shipped more than 300 million doses to 142 economies.  He also said by the end of the year, COVAX seeks to deliver enough doses to protect about 40 percent of the adult population in the 92 lower income countries.  800 million doses have already been committed through COVAX, with 119 million received and delivered. He called leaders’ attention to serious obstacles and unacceptable inequalities in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and he thanked President Biden for the new U.S. commitment to donate of 500 million additional doses of Pfizer vaccine, as well as embraced the ambitious summit goal of vaccinating the world and accelerating vaccination in lower income countries.  He urged leaders to provide more doses, remove export restrictions, leverage innovative financing and contingency funding to support surge manufacturing capacity, give up their place in production queues to COVAX where possible, and for vaccine manufacturers to commit to greater transparency on orders and delivery timelines, and asked them to waive requirements for indemnification for the humanitarian buffer. 

President Biden and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield closed the session by thanking participants and reiterating the goal of ending the pandemic, which will require ambitious, coordinated global action.  President Biden noted we should set targets that require us to aim high, follow through on our commitments, and hold each other accountable in order to end this pandemic for everyone, everywhere.  He concluded by noting this won’t be our last meeting. 

Session I.      Video Interventions

  • King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (video)
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Republic of India (video)
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Republic of Germany (video)
  • Bill Gates,  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (video)

Session 2.     Saving Lives Now

USAID Administrator Samantha Power chaired the session, which was focused on ensuring equal access to the testing, therapeutics, and personal protective equipment that help prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19.  She pointed out that even as the world focuses on the goal of achieving 70 percent vaccination, we must – at the same time – come together to ensure countries have the PPE to keep health workers safe, supply oxygen to treat people with COVID, and close the testing gap.  She announced an intention to commit $50 million to increase access to oxygen in countries around the world, and that USAID would work to build a multi-sectoral coalition to coordinate global investment in oxygen access.

Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Rajiv Shah moderated the session.  In his framing remarks, he reinforced the importance of the Save Lives Now agenda to helping communities and economies reopen safely amidst the pandemic.  He highlighted the Rockefeller Foundation’s investment of $1 billion for pandemic response, recovery, and prevention, and announced a group of 18 diagnostic companies that are convening with the help of the Foundation to commit to expanding COVID-19 testing around the world.

Vietnam’s President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc noted the toll the pandemic has taken on ASEAN members and expressed support for the goals set out by President Biden, including the creation of a global health security fund and increased vaccine production in developing countries. He emphasized the importance of early detection and public health measures, as well as treatment and large-scale vaccination, in responding to and ending the pandemic.  President Phúc noted the need to improve global cooperation and take a systemic approach, including transforming health systems and industries that produce pharmaceuticals and supplies, particularly in developing countries. He noted that Vietnam donated $500,000 to COVAX and will continue to contribute, and that Vietnam and fellow ASEAN countries have used $10.5 million from a joint COVID-19 Response Fund to purchase vaccines.

Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr. Carissa Etienne emphasized that COVID-19 has particularly highlighted inequities in the Americas, and explained the path to recovery will only be through an equitable approach, with a focus on resilient, high-quality health systems for all.  She discussed the challenges faced by people living in poverty in following public health measures, and the particular burdens on those in the informal economy, indigenous communities, Afro descendent populations and migrants. Dr. Etienne spoke about PAHO’s delivery of 33 million COVID tests and more than $14 million worth of PPE to countries, and announced that, along with WHO, PAHO had identified two countries to initiate a mRNA vaccine manufacturing hub in the Americas.

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria Executive Director Peter Sands endorsed the Save Lives Now targets, noting that while vaccines are the most potent weapon against COVID-19, ending the pandemic will require stepped-up support to LMICS for testing, treatment, and PPE, as well as critical infection prevention and control.  He noted that the Global Fund, which is the largest provider of grants to LMICS for non-vaccine COVID response, has already approved more than $3.6 billion to over 100 countries, including $478 million for oxygen equipment and supplies, $815 million for diagnostics, and $745 million for PPE.  However, at a time when we must scale up these responses, Sands said that current funding will be exhausted by the end of the month, and urged increased investment in this critical response mechanism.

“Skoll Foundation CEO Don Gips discussed the role of philanthropy in taking risks, supporting civil society, testing out solutions that government can adopt, and connecting civil society and government– all important components of an all-society response to COVID-19.  He announced that Skoll Foundation founder Jeff Skoll has prioritized ending the pandemic and will build on the Foundation’s previous $100 million commitment with an additional $100 million to support Summit objectives, with a focus on saving lives now – particularly oxygen – and building strong health and preparedness systems for the future as a global public good. Part of their investment will support Build Health International, which will increase medical oxygen supplies in Africa.  Mr. Gips emphasized the importance of alignment and coordination around a global plan to end the pandemic, saying that the success of global COVID-19 response will be an indication of our ability to tackle other complex, interconnected global problems.

Mastercard Foundation President and CEO Reeta Roy emphasized that achieving global health security requires bold and simultaneous action on all fronts.  She also highlighted that we are all interconnected, and that there is no global health security without regional health security.  She noted that African leaders have mobilized a collective response to the pandemic, and that the next step is to manufacture vaccines on the continent. Ms. Roy focused on African public health institutions, and expressed support for the Africa CDC’s efforts to achieve sustainable public health, detailing the Foundation’s $1.3 billion partnership with Africa CDC to purchase vaccines for 50 million people; equipping health care workers, encouraging vaccine acceptance, and increasing genomic sequencing; developing the workforce to manufacture vaccines in Africa; and strengthening the Africa CDC.  She appealed to funders to support existing public health institutions.

Amref Health Africa CEO Dr. Githinji Gitahi reminded attendees of the way COVID-19 affects individual people, including those lacking oxygen treatment and health workers who lack PPE.  He pointed out that the toll of COVID-19 is much larger than what has been officially counted, due to the number of people in underserved areas dying at home without treatment. He noted that saving lives now requires making connections between the global mechanisms with resources and people in affected communities and includes strengthening health systems to respond at the local level, with a focus on community ownership and accountability. He emphasized the importance of grant funding rather than loans and stressed the need to invest quickly in local systems and existing mechanisms.

Moderator Dr. Shah asked each panelist to comment briefly on the single most important thing needed to ensure we save lives now, equitably.  Dr. Etienne replied with an emphasis on adequate tools to predict, prevent, and protect against COVID, as well as expanding regional vaccine production.  Mr. Sands advised to “act now; act big.”  Mr. Gips advocated for a coordinated global plan with real political commitment.  Ms. Roy advocated for including everyone at the table to ensure an equitable response, including those hardest hit: “We act in our self-interest when we act together.” Mr.D Gitahi advised that rich countries take a step back from the vaccine queue to allow COVAX to access more, and that we strengthen existing mechanisms before building new ones.

Administrator Power closed the session by noting that we have the ability to ramp up testing, improve availability of PPE, and develop sufficient oxygen capacity to treat those in need.  She advised that today’s Summit should be the start of a more coordinated effort to save lives that would be lost without our support.

Session II.    Video Interventions

  • Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide Japan (video)
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand (video)
  • Tom Hart, ONE Campaign (video)
  • Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Sweden (video)
  • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh (video)

Session 3.     Building Back Better Global Health Security

Vice President Kamala Harris chaired the session, which was focused on building back better global health security to mitigate future biological threats and pandemics.  She pointed out that nations need greater capacity now, and the world as a whole must be ready before, not after, the next pandemic.  Vice President Harris issued a clear call to action to establish a global health security financial intermediary fund (FIF) to bring together new resources for pandemic preparedness, with an initial goal of reaching $10 billion in seed funding for country and corporations.  She announced that the United States is prepared to contribute at least $250 million to help seed the FIF. Those funds will combat this pandemic while helping prevent the next, with an additional $850 million requested from the U.S. Congress.  She also called for greater political leadership and accountability, calling for the establishment of a Global Health Threats Council to monitor progress and sound the alarm to prevent future pandemics. 

Loyce Pace, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Global Affairs Director, moderated the panel with an emphasis on urgency and equity of the global response.

Prime Minister Solberg of Norway reiterated Vice President Harris’ perspective that we were not sufficiently prepared, and that we must transform ad-hoc solutions for the future.  She also called for predictable health security financing, a future health security fund, and burden-sharing as an approach to funding for it.  She stressed the importance of assistance beyond official development assistance, emphasized health security as a global public good, and stressed the need to strengthen WHO financing in parallel.  She also strongly supported achieving global early warning networks to detect and respond to outbreaks early, research and development on vaccines, tests and treatment, with accessible technologies to all and regional production capacity, with universal equitable access.  She emphasized that Norway stands ready to do its part.

Prime Minister Gaston Alphonso Browne, Antigua and Barbuda, Chair of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) stated that CARICOM governments are committed to the 70% global vaccination target by September 2022, including in their own governments.  He discussed his resolve to strengthen the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and called for international partnership.  In discussing the goal of building back better, Prime Minister Browne reiterated that recovering from economic effects will be protracted because economic progress has been reversed.  He discussed the importance of global public goods and the need to build health infrastructure, and stressed that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Republic of Singapore and Co-chair of the G20 High Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response focused on the need for substantially more investments in pandemic preparedness.  He spoke of collective investments in areas such as global networks of surveillance and early warning, health security and public health capacities at national and regional level, and vaccines and critical medical supplies. He called for urgent establishment of a new multilateral Fund of $10 billion per year, less than 0.02 percent of most national GDPs, which could catalyze public, private, and philanthropic sources, besides domestic investments within nations.  He also stressed the importance of an inclusive G20-Plus Board for governance, comprising health and finance ministers, and the leaders of the WHO and the other key multilateral institutions.  He ended by noting, “It will be both morally indefensible and financially myopic to defer these investments or wait for the next pandemic to overwhelm us.”

“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) called on the UN General Assembly to hold a Special Session to approve a political declaration on the reforms required for pandemic preparedness and response, including to establish a Global Health Threats Council led by Heads of State and Government, representative of the world’s regions, and focused on both accountability and political leadership.  She noted the IPPPR’s call for an International Pandemic Financing Facility to mobilize $10 billion per year and disbursements of up to $100 billion for biological crises, and commended the United States’ call for a FIF with seed contribution.  She expressed concerns about the severe inequality in vaccine availability and access (50-80 per cent of wealthy populations, with only 5 per cent in poorer countries), commended efforts to redistribute surplus vaccines to the 92 low-and middle-income countries, as well as technology transfers and voluntary licensing agreements for vaccine manufacturers. Finally, she called for adequate financing to the WHO, support for community health workers as a hallmark of the COVID19 response, and the burden COVID-19 has placed on women and girls. “It is clear that the current international system failed to protect us all from this catastrophic pandemic—and it is not fit to prevent another.” 

Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for a “reset” button” on architecture for global health security, recognizing that this starts at the national, then regional, then global levels.  Reflecting on urgent needs, Dr. Nkengasong pointed to the need for scaling up the workforce and frontline health workers – in order to be better prepared for the next pandemic.  He discussed the need for all countries to house their own Centers for Disease Control that can serve as an emergency operation center, strengthen laboratory systems, and train the workforce.  With regards to lessons learned from this pandemic, Dr. Nkengasong raised regional manufacturing and the gap between African manufacturing and African consumption of vaccines.  Finally he called for innovative financing at the global and regional level, and that funding needs predictability, sustainability, and rapid access.

“Chief Executive Officer Marcel Arsenault, PAX sapiens, One Earth Future Foundation, stated that COVID-19 was our “dress rehearsal” for a far more devastating pandemic.  He reiterated that an effective plan and implementation will require the whole of global society to join together.  In that regard, he spoke to the role of philanthropies can play since they operate by more flexible rules than government, including their capacity for long term commitments.  He announced a new $200 million commitment to help future pandemics, to partner with other donors and global institutions to build a better global system.  Mr. Arsenault also committed to convene other donors and experts to finance pandemic preparedness and explore creative financing mechanisms outside of transitional development assistance. He also applauded the call by Vice President Harris to establish a FIF.

“Director Pace closed the session by highlighting the importance of global action toward “predictable, sustainable financing” allocated equitably to the most urgent needs and rooted in regional or local community perspectives. She emphasized the opportunity to mobilize public and private sector funds through multisector collaboration, and stressed the value of high-level political engagement and oversight.

Session III.   Video Interventions

  • President Moon Jae-in, Republic of Korea (video)
  • Carolyn Reynolds, Pandemic Action Network (video)
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia (video)
  • Dr. Roopa Dhatt, Women in Global Health (video)
  • Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Spain  (video)
  • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh (video)

“Session 4.   Closing of Summit

Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security Gayle Smith moderated the panel and focused on creating momentum, checking our progress, and constantly doing more.  She asked G20 President Prime Minister Draghi to share a preview of the G20 Summit and areas in need of additional support.

Secretary Blinken announced called on leaders to end the pandemic rather than just “doing better,” and announced his intent to personally convene foreign ministers before the end of the year to follow up with commitments made at the Summit, as well as the G20.  He reiterated President Biden’s call for heads of state to reconvene on this issue in the first quarter of 2022.  He also called for a multilateral leaders task force made up of experts from inside and outside the government to transparently and rigorously evaluate progress in the run-up to the G20 and at regular intervals thereafter. 

“He stressed the target of vaccinating at least 70% of the population of every country, in every major income category, by UNGA 2022 and called on leaders to set ambitious targets with timelines that are openly tracked for progress and with accountability.  He reiterated the United States’ willingness to lead, President Biden’s commitment to supply an additional 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and his commitment to work with global vaccine manufacturers to expand global and regional manufacturing for mRNA, viral vector, and protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines, as well as pledged to enhance transparency for the data on production and projections for dose manufacturing.

“He also called on leaders to accelerate efforts to get more shots into arms, to reduce morbidity and mortality from the virus, to expand access to oxygen, testing, and more, building on historic support for Gavi and the Global Fund, aid to countries and communities through USAID and the CDC, Treasury Secretary Yellen’s call to action on Special Drawing Rights, and U.S. support for a waiver of intellectual property protections in the WTO TRIPS Agreement for COVID-19 vaccines in service of ending this pandemic.  Finally, he recognized community and healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, noting that the people are what’s critical to winning the fight against COVID-19.  ‘It comes down to us.  What we do in this critical moment, in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead.’ 

Prime Minister Mario Draghi of the Italian Republic addressed the Summit and announced a new commitment that will triple Italy’s existing dose donation pledge by providing 30 million additional doses by the end of the year.  These are in addition to the 15 million doses pledged for donation, largely through COVAX, during the G20 Global Health Summit of which nearly half have been distributed to date.  He called on leaders, as they work to end this pandemic, to also improve preparation for future pandemics, including by expanding the production capacity of vaccines and other medical tools worldwide – especially in the most vulnerable countries.  He welcomed the U.S. proposal to establish a FIF for health security and stressed that it is fully complementary with the G20 proposal for a Global Health and Finance Board.  He recalled the G20 Health Summit Rome Declaration and progress achieved since that time, including more than 2.5 million fully vaccinated worldwide. However, he stressed the grave inequalities in vaccine availability and emphasized the ACT-Accelerator and COVAX as the most effective ways to deliver and build capacity to administer.  He asked countries to stand by existing pledges and make more generous ones and gave support to the EU plan to develop regional manufacturing hubs in Africa, and the U.S.-EU global vaccination partnership that launched this week. Finally, he committed that the G20 Summit will build on the outcomes from today’s summit.

Ms. Zipporah Iregi of the National Nurses Association of Kenya called on leaders to support healthcare workers and include them in decision-making.  She thanked leaders for committing to these targets to save lives, vaccinate people, and build back better.  She also provided insight for leaders into the plight of healthcare workers serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.  She recounted staying home at the beginning of the pandemic, watching peers explore other careers. She urged leaders to support healthcare workers and help them to be prepared for the next crisis.  She welcomed the U.S. announcement of additional vaccine sharing.  She expressed concerns about impending shortages of healthcare workers and called on leaders to support and recruit more healthcare workers, including ensuring they are paid on time and provided with personal protective equipment that is necessary to provide care. 

“Mr. Lwazi Mlaba a COVID-19 Survivor and Global Health and Global Fund Champion, provided final remarks for the Summit, sharing his personal journey with long COVID and advocating for urgency to strengthen community assistance and support investments to expand community healthcare workers. He noted that his survival depended on them.  He called for Universal Health Coverage and for global solidarity and leadership to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.  He ended by saying, powerfully, “We know what we need to do.  We know how we need to do it.  The time has come to actually do it. Invest now, invest big.  Let’s go now and do it.”

Summit Participants

More than 100 governments and other partners participated in the President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit on September 22, 2021.

Principality of Andorra; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentine Republic; Republic of Armenia; Commonwealth of Australia; Republic of Austria; Commonwealth of The Bahamas; Kingdom of Bahrain; People’s Republic of Bangladesh; Barbados; Kingdom of Belgium; Belize; Kingdom of Bhutan; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Republic of Botswana; Brunei Darussalam; Kingdom of Cambodia; Republic of Cameroon; Canada; Republic of Chile; Republic of Colombia; Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; Republic of Croatia; Czech Republic; Kingdom of Denmark; Commonwealth of Dominica; Arab Republic of Egypt; Republic of Estonia; Kingdom of Eswatini; Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; European Commission; Republic of Finland; Gabonese Republic; Georgia; Federal Republic of Germany; Republic of Ghana; Hellenic Republic (Greece); Grenada; Republic of Guatemala; Republic of Guinea-Bissau; Cooperative Republic of Guyana; Republic of Haiti; Republic of Iceland; Republic of India; Republic of Indonesia; Ireland; State of Israel; Italian Republic; Jamaica; Japan; Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Republic of Kazakhstan; Republic of Kenya; Republic of Kiribati; Republic of Korea; Republic of Kosovo; Kyrgyz Republic; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Republic of Latvia; State of Libya; Republic of Lithuania; Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; Republic of Malawi; Malaysia; Republic of Malta; Republic of Mauritius; Federated States of Micronesia; Republic of Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Kingdom of Morocco; Republic of Mozambique; Republic of Namibia; Nepal; Kingdom of the Netherlands; New Zealand; Federal Republic of Nigeria; Republic of North Macedonia; Kingdom of Norway; Sultanate of Oman; Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Republic of Palau; Palestinian Authority; Republic of Peru; Republic of the Philippines; Republic of Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Republic of Serbia; Republic of Sierra Leone; Republic of Singapore; Federal Republic of Somalia; Republic of South Africa; Kingdom of Spain; Sri Lanka; Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis; Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; St Vincent and Grenadines; Republic of the Sudan; Republic of Suriname; Kingdom of Sweden; Swiss Confederation; Taiwan; Kingdom of Thailand; Togolese Republic; Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Republic of Tunisia; Republic of Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; United Nations General Assembly (Republic of Maldives); Republic of Uzbekistan; Republic of Vanuatu; Socialist Republic of Vietnam; Republic of Yemen; Republic of Zambia; Zimbabwe

International Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, Private Sector, and Philanthropies

More than 100 International Organizations, non-governmental organizations, private sector, and philanthropies participated in the President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit on September 22, 2021.

“Abbott; Access Bio; AdvaMedDX; Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (AFRO); African Development Bank; African Union; Alphabet Inc.; American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico; American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa; American Clinical Laboratory Association; American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene; Amref Health Africa; American Public Health Association; Asian Development Bank; Association of Public Health Laboratories; Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Biotechnology Innovation Organization; Boston Consulting Group; CARE; Caribbean Public Health Agency; The Carter Center; CDC Foundation; Center for Supporting Community; Development Initiatives; Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; The Clinton Foundation; Clinton Health Access Initiative; CORE Group; COVID Collaborative; Danaher Corporation; Deloitte; Emory University; European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Friends of the Global Fight; The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Ginkgo Bioworks; Global Citizen; Global Communities; The Global Fund; Global Poverty Project; Global Health Council; Global Health Technologies Coalition; Health GAP; Hologic, Inc.; International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations; International Monetary Fund; InterAction; International Air Transport Association; International Atomic Energy Agency; International Civil Aviation Organization; International Committee of the Red Cross; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; International Maritime Organization ; International Organization for Migration; International Vaccine Institute; IntraHealth International; Johnson & Johnson; Jubilee; LEGO Foundation; JustActions; LumiraDx; Management Sciences for Health; Marked by COVID; Mastercard Foundation; Matahari Global Solutions; Mayo Clinic Laboratories; McKinsey & Company; Merck Group; MilliporeSigma; National Nurses Association of Kenya; NETWORK for Catholic Social Justice; Nuclear Threat Initiative; ONE Campaign; One Earth Future Foundation; Open Society Foundations; OraSure Technologies; Oxfam America; Pan American Health Organization; Pandefense Advisory; Pandemic Action Network; PATH; PerkinElmer; Pfizer Inc.; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Public Citizen; Public Health Foundation of India; QIAGEN; Roche; The Rockefeller Foundation; Sabin Vaccine Institute; SalivaDirect at the Yale School of Public Health; Save the Children; Schmidt Futures; Seed Global Health; The Skoll Foundation; Sustainable Energy for All; Thermo Fisher Scientific; United States Chamber of Commerce; United Nations Foundation; Unitaid; United Nations Children’s Fund; United Nations Environment Programme; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; United Parcel Service; The United States Global Leadership Coalition ; World Health Organization; Women in Global Health; World Bank Group; World Food Programme; WOTE Kenya; World Trade Organization.”

Conclusion

The damage from the COVID-19 pandemic is much worse than should have occurred had the world had a robust monitoring system and the global infrastructure to address the problem early on and cooperation among nations in the effort. Developed countries demonstrated a slowness of response. China was not forthcoming early on on developments in their country and has limited the ability of the world to understand the origins of the virus. Leadership in a number of countries downplayed the seriousness of the virus causing untold human suffering from runaway infections. Misinformation and misguided notions of personal choice have slowed the ability to take responsible action where public health care measures would have reduced the human damage and even the willingness to take a life saving vaccine. The world has been set back years or decades in its fight against poverty and other Sustainable Development Goals. While many countries are bouncing back economically and trade wise, it has often been with massive government infusions which reduced the economic collapse of particular economies but which are, of course, not sustainable and which were not available to most countries.

Despite the structures in place to facilitate a rapid development and equitable distribution of vaccines and other medical goods during a pandemic, a host of problems have reduced the success in the acquisition and distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries to date.

The efforts of the United States and the European Union and other countries in recent months are important and will help correct — albeit months late — the issue of equitable access to vaccines. The U.S. and EU push for donations of vaccine doses versus sales with strings attached, working through COVAX for distributions to low- and middle-income countries and the need to address a range of other issues going to reducing death rates around the world (oxygen, therapeutics, PPEs), helping expand vaccine production capacity in low- and middle-income countries, as well as preparing for the next pandemic so the world is better able to respond in a timely manner are all important aspects for ending this pandemic and ensuring a more capable global response in the future. How successful the efforts of the U.S. and EU are will depend on the depth of commitment from other countries, multilateral organizations and the private sector as well as their own ability to deliver and even expand on their own initiatives.

Last week was an important one for the global effort to terminate the pandemic. While the media didn’t pay a lot of attention, the efforts of the U.S. and the EU are critical to a successful conclusion to the health crisis.

Modifications to U.S. Commerce Department Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Regulations — important improvements on selected topics

On September 20, 2021, the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce published in the Federal Register “Regulations to Improve Administration and Enforcement of Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Laws”. 86 Fed. Reg. 52,300 – 52,384. The final regulations follow proposed regulations which were published in August 2020. See 85 Fed. Reg. 49,472 – 49,504 (August 13, 2020((proposed rule; request for comments).

Over the years, domestic producers and their workers have complained that antidumping and countervailing duty orders were rendered less effective through bogus new shipper reviews, through evasion by minor modifications to products and by circumvention. It was felt by domestic petitioners that Commerce practice inadvertently encouraged gaming of the system by having corrective action limited to some preliminary action by Commerce.

The Commerce Department similarly has found itself handling far more new shipper reviews than trading partners with many of the review requests proving bogus by the use of limited sales at artificially high prices to obtain reduced duty deposit rates. Similarly, Commerce is required by statute to determine the representativeness of those supporting petitions in 20-40 days but had no limits on when challenges could be filed in that time frame.

Congress passed legislation in 2015 intended to, inter alia, improve the administration and enforcement of U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws. See Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, Pub. L. 114-125, 130 Stat 122 (Title IV, Prevention of Evasion of Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Orders).

While the proposed regulatory changes were submitted during the Trump Administration, the changes adopted by the Biden Administration this week are largely the same and reflect the broad bipartisan support for the need to have effective enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws. See Inside U.S.. Trade’s World Trade Online, Former Commerce official: New AD/CVD rules fix loopholes, inefficiencies (September 21, 2021), https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/former-commerce-official-new-adcvd-rules-fix-loopholes-inefficiencies.

The August 13, 2020 proposal provides a succinct review of the purpose of the proposed changes (85 Fed. Reg. 49,472-473 (footnote omitted):

“The purpose of the regulatory changes proposed in this rulemaking is to strengthen the administration and enforcement of AD/CVD laws, make such administration and enforcement more efficient, and create new enforcement tools for Commerce to address circumvention and evasion of trade remedies. If adopted, these changes would equip Commerce to better fulfill the Congressional intent behind the AD/CVD laws—namely, to protect U.S. companies, workers, farmers, and ranchers from the injurious
effects of unfairly traded imports. In addition, if adopted, these changes would promote the Administration’s objective to enforce the AD/CVD laws rigorously, and to aggressively pursue parties that seek to skirt them. Moreover, the proposed regulations facilitate a stronger and more efficient administration of the AD and CVD laws in the context of Commerce’s proceedings. The proposed changes are summarized briefly here, and discussed further below:

“• Modify section 351.203 to provide for the establishment of a deadline by which parties may file comments on industry support. At present, comments on industry support may be filed up to and including the scheduled date of an initiation determination, leaving Commerce little or no time to consider fully such comments for purposes of determining whether the petition has sufficient industry support. Therefore, such modifications are necessary to enhance Commerce’s ability to consider and act upon such comments in a timely manner.

“• Revise numerous provisions to section 351.214 concerning new shipper reviews to address abuse of those procedures and ensure that the sales to be reviewed are, in fact, bona fide sales. These changes are necessary to conform the regulation to recent statutory changes and to ensure Commerce expends its limited resources on new shipper reviews only where warranted.

“• Revise numerous provisions to section 351.225 concerning scope inquiries by adopting new procedures to preserve resources, expedite deadlines, and remove unnecessary and burdensome notice and service
requirements. These revisions also clarify and codify the substantive basis for Commerce’s scope rulings pertaining to country of origin, scope language interpretation, and ‘mixed-media’ products, which incorporate subject merchandise in some form, in light of past practice and various court decisions. These revisions also ensure that AD/CVD duties are appropriately applied to products determined to be subject to the scope of the order.

“• Adopt new section 351.226 concerning circumvention inquiries, which largely mirrors the proposed
scope procedures. These provisions also clarify Commerce’s authority to self-initiate circumvention inquiries and apply circumvention determinations on a ‘country-wide’ basis.

“• Adopt new section 351.227 concerning ‘covered merchandise referrals’ from CBP under section 517 of
the Act, which largely mirror the proposed scope and circumvention procedures and allow Commerce
maximum flexibility to further develop its procedures and practice as it gains more experience in this new area of the law.

“• Adopt new section 351.228, which is specifically targeted at improving enforcement of AD and CVD orders and ensuring the effectiveness of those orders. Under new section 351.228, Commerce may determine to impose a certification requirement on an importer or another interested party to further
ensure that entries of merchandise subject to an AD/CVD order are appropriately classified as subject
merchandise.

“• Modify section 351.402 regarding importer certifications for the payment or reimbursement of AD/CVD duties on entries subject to AD orders to account for updated procedures.

“• Adopt necessary changes, consistent with certain substantive proposed rules discussed above, to two
procedural provisions: Section 351.103(d)(1) pertaining to letters of appearance and public service lists, and section 351.305(d) pertaining to importer filing requirements for access to business proprietary information in Commerce’s proceedings.”

While there are some modifications to the proposed regulations in the final rule released this week, the purpose and intent remains the same — make U.S. laws more effective and reduce the opportunities for gaming the process. Effective dates for changes made vary. Some changes take effect for petitions or requests filed on or after October 20, 2021(changes to 351.203, 351.214) or on that date for 351.228, 351.402(f)(2). November 4 is listed as the effective date for changes to 351.225, 351.103(d), 351.305(d), 351.226, 351.227 with a few modifications having other dates. See 86 Fed. Reg. 52,300 (“Applicability Dates”).

Comments

The changes made by the new or revised regulations are practical and should be important in many cases in reducing costs for all parties and hopefully in reducing the gaming and evasion that has plagued many orders over the years.

More can and should be done to streamline antidumping and countervailing duty proceedings to the benefit of the agency and all parties.

First, in administrative reviews, respondents who participated in an earlier phase of the proceeding should be required to provide the data in a manner consistent with Commerce’s earlier finding with regard to that company, with failure to do so a basis to go to facts available. Such an approach doesn’t eliminate the ability of respondents to provide alternative data and arguments for why such data should be used but would reduce the gaming that often occurs where respondents who have lost an issue, simply submit data not reflecting Commerce’s prior decision with the possibility that Commerce and parties don’t catch the failure.

In investigations and in reviews, there should be shorter time limits on submitting complete questionnaire responses with rejection of data submitted after those dates. Both Commerce and Petitioners go through a series of data reviews sometimes with complete revisions to data being submitted shortly before the preliminary determination which renders earlier review less relevant or irrelevant. This wastes resources for all parties and limits the ability of petitioners to flag issues of concern. The ability to submit major revisions to data sets over time also obviously encourages gaming of the process. The time for final data sets (or revisions) can be longer in investigations but should be short and unmovable in administrative reviews where all foreign producers are on notice that annual reviews can occur.

Third, Commerce needs to review and enforce requirements for public versions from respondents. Particularly on issues such as model match and adjustments to prices in the relevant markets or elements of cost, meaningful public versions can be critical for a petitioning industry to flag problems with the approach, elements, adjustments or comparisons proposed by respondents. While it is critical that Commerce control the selection process of criteria and model comparisons, failure to enforce public version requirements on a uniform basis has been a longstanding problem and can result in agency decisions that don’t reflect the best information that should be available.

Fourth, Commerce should develop a library of standard questionnaire forms that have been translated into as many of the languages of countries subject to investigation as possible. While requiring responses in English is necessary, there is no reason that the basic questionnaire form can’t be translated into a large number of languages to be of assistance to foreign companies served with a questionnaire. Having worked with U.S. companies engaged in trade remedy cases in foreign countries, it is obvious that corporate, sales, plant personnel could develop information more quickly if the basic questionnaire form was in the local language. The U.S. should raise the issue in the relevant WTO committees to obtain similar action among trading partners.

While there are many substantive issues as well, there is much that can and should be done to improve the effectiveness and administratively efficient operation of U.S. laws beyond this week’s important regulatory changes.

The WTO panel report on the U.S. safeguard case on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Products — a well reasoned report but exemplifying the challenges that China’s non-market economy and policies pose to global trade

While the WTO’s Appellate Body (“AB”) is not presently functioning because of a lack of AB members, the panel process continues to function with reports being issued, albeit long after the intended time frame of the Dispute Settlement Understanding and complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions on in-person meetings.

On September 2, 2021, a WTO panel released its report in United States — Safeguard Measure on Imports of Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Products. See WT/DS562/R. The dispute was one brought by China against the U.S. safeguard action on the solar products in question. See USITC, Inv. No. TA-201-75, Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells
(Whether or not Partially or Fully Assembled into Other Products), Publ. 4739 (Nov. 2017); Proclamation 9693 of
January 23, 2018 – To Facilitate Positive Adjustment to Competition from Imports of Certain Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells (Whether or Not Partially or Fully Assembled Into Other Products) and for Other Purposes” (83 Fed. Reg. 3541 (25 January 2018).

The safeguard action similarly followed a series of antidumping and countervailing duty actions against China and then China and Taiwan and reflected a huge influx of imports from multiple countries after these multiple trade remedy actions resulted in import relief, with many producers in these other countries being affiliated with operations of Chinese producers or being companies with Chinese operations.

China did not challenge the product definition or the existence of serious injury to the domestic industry but raised a series of challenges based on its views of what is required to demonstrate increased imports from unforeseen developments and WTO obligations/concessions, what is required for the requisite causal link between imports and the serious injury, what obligations the U.S. had to review all raised possible other causes of injury and demonstrate that such causes were not attributable to increased imports and what obligations investigating countries had to supply public summaries of information gathered in a timely manner. The panel laid out the findings requested by China in paragraph 3.1 of its report (WT/DS562/R at 14-15) :

“3.1. China requests the Panel to find that the safeguard measure imposed by the United States is inconsistent with the United States’ obligations under Article XIX:1(a) of the GATT 1994 and Articles 2.1, 3, and 4.2(b) of the Agreement on Safeguards.14 Specifically, China contends that the United States acted inconsistently with:

“a. Article XIX:1(a) of the GATT 1994 and Article 3.1 of the Agreement on Safeguards because the United States failed to establish, prior to the application of the measures, that the increases in imports were the result of “unforeseen developments” and were the “effect of obligations incurred” under the GATT 1994 by the United States15;

“b. Articles 2.1, 3.1, and 4.2(b) of the Agreement on Safeguards because the United States failed to establish the required “causal link” between the increased imports and the serious injury found to exist16;

“c. Articles 2.1, 3.1, and 4.2(b) of the Agreement on Safeguards because the United States failed to ensure that injury caused by other factors was not attributed to increased imports17; and

“d. Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the Agreement on Safeguards because the United States provided non-confidential summaries to interested parties with such delay that the parties were not provided with an adequate opportunity to exercise their right to present a defence, and because the actual public summaries were not sufficient so as to permit interested parties to reasonably present a defence.18

“14 China’s first written submission, para. 318; second written submission, para. 324.

“15 China’s panel request, pp. 2-3; first written submission, para. 293.

“16 China’s panel request, p. 2; first written submission, heading to section III(A).

“17 China’s panel request, p. 2; first written submission, heading to section III(B)(2).

“18 China’s panel request, p. 2; first written submission, para. 302.”

The panel report rejected each of the findings requested by the China.

Significance of the panel report

The WTO dispute settlement system has historically been a complainant’s forum with violations or non-compliance action found in roughly ninety percent of cases. A disproportionate number of cases have been brought against trade remedy cases. With the exception of a China-specific safeguard action by the U.S. on passenger vehicle and light truck tires, the Appellate Body had found problems with every safeguard case that was brought before it with a variety of constructions or interpretations that make use of the safeguard agreement extremely difficult if the AB’s views on requirements are correct.

While the panel in the recent report, followed the interpretations of Article XIX and the Safeguard Agreement articulated by the Appellate Body in some other cases, the panel limited its role to that envisioned in the DSU and did not substitute its views for those of the investigators where the record supported the findings made. This is as it should be and, some would argue, is a reason to leave the Appellate Body dormant until there has been major reform such that the Appellate Body has the limited role envisioned by the DSB and doesn’t routinely overturn panel findings as it has in the past.

China, just as it did in the China-specific safeguard case, raised arguments that exceeded the bounds of the text involved as the panel found in various areas including on public summaries. China also pushed for a focus on selected record information despite the voluminous information collected by the Commission. Such efforts by China were rejected by the panel.

Novel issues in the case included whether safeguard action could be taken where demand is growing rapidly and where the domestic industry has experienced some increases in capacity, production, shipments and employment. Because the U.S. industry incurred massive losses throughout the period and saw many companies go out of business or declare bankruptcy , lost substantial market share to imports and had falling prices led by falling import prices for products that producers, importers and purchasers all viewed as highly interchangeable, the U.S. International Trade Commission had found the industry seriously injured and that increased imports were a substantial cause of that injury. The panel rejected China’s arguments that some increases in the factual situation investigated meant that there was no causal link. China did not challenge that the U.S. industry was not seriously injured, and so any positive trends were not considered on the issue of whether the domestic industry was seriously injured.

The panel also looked at whether any supplemental report requested by USTR on the issue of unforeseen developments is part of the report that can be referred to understand if findings are supported by the record. The panel found that the supplemental report was part of the materials to be considered by the panel.

Larger reform issues that the panel report reveal

The United States, European Union, Japan and others have articulated reform needs at the WTO including the need to update industrial subsidy disciplines, address meaningfully state-owned and invested enterprises, reaffirm the centrality to the WTO of having all Members operate on market economy principles, and the need to stop the creation of massive global excess capacity through government policies and subsidies. While much of the focus has been on established industries — e.g., steel, aluminum, glass, cement — major problems obviously also exist in high growth sectors like solar and wind energy and are likely in many of the growth sectors of the future.

What the history of cases in the United States on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells (Whether or not Partially or Fully Assembled into Other Products) shows is that not only do rules need to be urgently updated to prohibit a range of subsidies and actions by governments and state-owned enterprises, but trade remedies need to be made more effective to give domestic industries the relief envisioned without the need for multiple rounds of cases under different agreements. In rapidly growing demand situations, losing five or six years of effective relief will mean the destruction of the domestic industry as it is unable to invest in expansion and R&D to remain competitive and, as a result rapidly declines in market relevance. This is what happened to the U.S. industry examined. If that destruction is from a range of actions that should be disciplined, the system is not functioning properly.

For all involved representing domestic industries and their workers in the U.S., EU and other markets, it is clear that way too often the system is not functioning properly. Despite the urgent need to improve the system, there is virtually no likelihood of the WTO system being made more effective this decade. Indeed, it will be surprising if there is any agreement at the 12th Ministerial to have work programs on any of the issues of importance reviewed above. Such failure to act will likely result in increased pressure to act unilaterally for those who are able or to simply abandon entire manufacturing sectors based on distortions that can’t be effectively addressed. The WTO and its Members must do better.

The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Late November – early December 2021 — the struggle for relevance

As the end of year 27 approaches since the WTO commenced operation, the struggle for relevance in a significantly changed world continues for the organization that is supposed to be the negotiating forum for international trade rules and for ensuring compliance with such rules. The current Director-General of the WTO has been working with Members to try to achieve positive results by the 12th Ministerial Conference scheduled to commence on November 29. The jury is out on whether WTO Members will be able to find sufficient common ground to permit a successful Ministerial.

While there has been broad agreement by WTO Members that reform is needed, there is no agreement as to what reform is needed as the 164 WTO Members have long since lost a common vision of the mission of the WTO. The lack of a common vision has been complicated by the rise of nonmarket economies like China and the abandonment of market principles by many either in sectors or more broadly.

A consensus system for decision making stifles rapid movement in addressing new challenges/opportunities and has permitted delay to characterize all aspects of the business undertaken at the WTO. For businesses, the WTO is not where pressing new issues get resolved or even addressed as a general matter.

Rules on electronic commerce are being pursued by a group of willing Members with questions and challenges presented by those not wishing strong rules to be pursued on a plurilateral basis. The same is true for other plurilateral initiatives of potential importance to updating the rule book.

The only multilateral negotiation ongoing, on fisheries subsidies, has dragged on for 20 years and remains mired in an effort by many to escape the disciplines being proposed to save marine life in the oceans.

Efforts from the Doha Development Agenda to continue reform and liberalization in agriculture have had some successes in terms of curbing export subsidies but has not been able to deliver significant liberalization through tariff reductions and have faced pressure from India and others to roll back the liberalization agreed to in the Uruguay Round through special rules on some topics. It is unclear that Members will actually find the desire to move agriculture forward by the 12th Ministerial.

The many trade challenges flowing from climate change are not yet central to the efforts of the organization but will increasingly occupy governments and companies and will complicate ensuring the relevance of the WTO moving forward.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to the operation of the WTO in terms of in person meetings and presented challenges and opportunities to have trade rules facilitate movement of medical goods versus compound trade problems flowing from efforts to control the pandemic, the effort by India, South Africa and others to get a broad based waiver to TRIPS obligations during the pandemic has generated little forward movement in terms of getting more vaccines to low- and middle-income countries while occupying a lot of band width in terms of Member energies at the WTO.

As is increasingly clear, while there have been production issues for some companies and while India’s need for vaccines in country led to its cutting off exports to COVAX and many countries, vaccine production in 2021 will exceed 10 billion doses (UNICEF’s COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard visited on September 15, 2021 showed 6.077 billion doses as having been distributed by that point with capacity to produce vaccines at 4.5 billion in the first half of 2021 and 8.6 billion in the second half of 2021). In late June 2021, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations presented information at a WTO event that COVID-19 vaccine production in 2021 would likely be 10-12 billion doses. Similarly, the CEO and Founder of Airfinity prepared estimates for the WTO which showed global production could reach 11.856 billion by the end of the year. See WTO News, COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Regulatory Transparency Technical Symposium, June 29, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/technical_symposium_2906_e.htm (talking points of Ms Laetitia Bigger, Vaccines Policy Director, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations and presentation of Mr Rasmus Bach Hansen, CEO and Founder, Airfinity.

Thus, the pressing issue for getting the world vaccinated is getting vaccine doses produced distributed to markets in need. That need has not and is not likely to be met through efforts at large scale waivers from TRIPS obligations which will not change the reality on the ground in 2021-2022.

The WTO along with the WHO, IMF and World Bank have held various events and issued joint statements seeking greater production, addressing production bottlenecks and getting expanded investments in areas of the world with limited supplies. Many governments and many manufacturers have provided some level of cooperation in expanding production and shipments to low- and middle-income countries. See, e,g,, International organizations, vaccine manufacturers agree to intensify cooperation to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, 16 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_16sep21_e.htm.

On dispute settlement, the two tier system embodied in the Dispute Settlement Understanding has unravelled as a range of important concerns raised by the United States over the last two decades have not been addressed meaningfully by WTO Members, leading to U.S. blockage of replacing Appellate Body members over recent years and the inability of the Appellate Body to consider appeals once the number of members declined below 3. While many WTO Members continue to seek a restart of the Appellate Body, it is clear that there will be no restart without serious reform. Such reform is unlikely to be achieved in the short term. The European Union which has been one of the challenges in terms of meaningful DSU reform has been making statements that they are now ready for fundamental reform. See, e.g., Financial Tribune, EU Calls for Urgent WTO Reforms, September 18, 2021 (“Dombrovskis said he was ready to consider a major shake-up of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, news outlets said.”), https://financialtribune.com/articles/international/110329/eu-calls-for-urgent-wto-reforms. So while the EU’s apparent changing view will be helpful, it is not clear if it will be sufficient to change the dynamics in Geneva.

Conclusion

There is a lot of work going on in Geneva with efforts to conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations and achieve some resolution on the TRIPS waiver issue by the Ministerial in late November. There has also been progress made in various plurilaterals but questions have been raised as to whether plurilaterals can occur within the WTO if there is not consensus to include. The reform proposals on issues like industrial and agricultural subsidies, state owned enterprises, eligiblity for special and differential treatment and many others will not be resolved by the Ministerial and will not likely be part of an agreed agenda going forward. Agriculture and dispute settlement will be unlikely to see significant (agriculture) or any (dispute settlement) movement by the Ministerial.

Thus, while the jury is out on whether the WTO will remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, the challenges the WTO faces are daunting and the odds don’t favor success in today’s environment. Being an optimist, I am hopeful that the above analysis will prove wrong and the 12th Ministerial will start the process of a more relevant WTO. Here’s hoping.

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This is my first post since May 17. I have been taking care of personal business the last four months and had included a note in the “About” page indicating my next post would be in September.

U.S. – EU efforts to resolve bilateral disputes and address underlying trade distortive practices

The Biden-Harris Administration has said from day one that a priority was to reach out to friends and allies to work together to address global challenges whether that be climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic or disruptive practices of some countries. Before the current U.S. Trade Representative was confirmed, the U.S. had agreed with the EU to suspend tariffs for four months each was imposing on the other following sixteen years of dispute settlement proceedings at the World Trade Organization on large civil aircraft to permit the parties to seek a negotiated solution. In statements before Congress and in press releases from USTR, it is clear that negotiations are underway with the intent of achieving a successful resolution by the July four-month deadline. See, e.g., Testimony of Ambassador Katherine C. Tai, United States Trade Representative, Senate Finance Committee Hearing on the President’s Trade Agenda, May 12, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/may/testimony-ambassador-katherine-tai-senate-finance-committee-hearing-presidents-trade-agenda-0 (“We are also working with the European Union and the United Kingdom to resolve the ongoing Boeing-Airbus dispute and are having constructive discussions to address the real problem of overcapacity in the steel and aluminum sectors coming primarily from China.  These talks will take time, but I believe a resolution is possible and worth pursuing.”)

The EU and the U.S. have also been imposing tariffs on each other following the U.S. Section 232 investigation on steel and aluminum with the U.S. imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum products from many countries, including the EU to address national security concerns and the EU imposing duties on a range of products on the theory that the U.S. action was in effect a safeguard measure and the EU could take such action automatically on products where there hadn’t been absolute volume increases to the U.S. with broader tariffs available to it after three years of U.S. tariffs if not removed by then. The EU is among the WTO Members who have challenged the U.S. 232 action, and the U.S. has challenged the tariffs applied by the EU and others as contrary to their WTO obligations. Panel reports in the disputes are expected to be released at the earliest in the second half of 2021. See United States – Certain Measures on Steel and Aluminum Products, WT/DS548/17, 8 February 2021; European Union – Additional Duties on Certain Products from the United States, WT/DS559/5, 16 December 2020

The U.S. and the EU released a joint statement today, May 17, 2021 indicating that they would jointly work on addressing the underlying excess capacity problem (caused largely by Chinese actions) with a goal of finding solutions by the end of 2021. During that time, the EU and U.S. agreed not to change the level of tariffs imposed on each other. See USTR press release, Joint United States-European Union Statement on Addressing Global Steel and Aluminum Excess Capacity, May 17, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/may/joint-united-states-european-union-statement-addressing-global-steel-and-aluminum-excess-capacity. The joint statement is copied below.

“United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, and European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis today announced the start of discussions to address global steel and aluminum excess capacity. During a virtual meeting last week, the leaders acknowledged the need for effective solutions that preserve our critical industries, and agreed to chart a path that ends the WTO disputes following the U.S. application of tariffs on imports from the EU under section 232.

“Ambassador Tai, Secretary Raimondo, and Executive Vice President Dombrovskis acknowledged the impact on their industries stemming from global excess capacity driven largely by third parties.  The distortions that result from this excess capacity pose a serious threat to the market-oriented EU and U.S. steel and aluminum industries and the workers in those industries.  They agreed that, as the United States and EU Member States are allies and partners, sharing similar national security interests as democratic, market economies, they can partner to promote high standards, address shared concerns, and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account.  

“They agreed to enter into discussions on the mutual resolution of concerns in this area that addresses steel and aluminum excess capacity and the deployment of effective solutions, including appropriate trade measures, to preserve our critical industries.  To ensure the most constructive environment for these joint efforts, they agreed to avoid changes on these issues that negatively affect bilateral trade.   They committed to engaging in these discussions expeditiously to find solutions before the end of the year that will demonstrate how the U.S. and EU can address excess capacity, ensure the long-term viability of our steel and aluminum industries, and strengthen our democratic alliance.”

One of the consequences of efforts to improve relations is the EU postponing raising tariffs on June 1, 2021. Both the EU and the United States are under internal pressures to either see the 232 tariffs eliminated (EU) or maintained (U.S.). While EC Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis had made a suggestion to suspend tariffs for six months as reported in the press back in April, the outcome of consultations seems to be to maintain but not modify existing tariff rates while the effort to find a resolution to the excess capacity problem is pursued. The problem is a creature largely of Chinese policies and subsidies to the steel and aluminum sectors. See Fastmarkets, EU retaliation may convince Biden to revise Section 232, April 14, 2021, https://www.fastmarkets.com/article/3984128/eu-retaliation-may-convince-biden-to-revise-section-232 (“There is some question, however, about whether the EU’s tariff increase will occur in June after EU trade chief, Valdis Dombrovskis, suggested than the bloc and the US suspend tariffs for six months.”); Financial Times, EU signals US trade detente by shelving planned tariffs increase, 17 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/603c83bc-0c0e-4bd9-9fb3-0f5ea5b264c0. Considering the efforts the United States has been making to reboot the transatlantic relationship, the action by the EU is a practical step that lets parties focus on the underlying concern versus dealing with the political fallout of increased retaliatory tariffs.

Finding a solution to the global excess capacity problem will be challenging. Both the U.S. and EU have attempted to achieve progress through the OECD with little to no meaningful progress. The U.S., EU and Japan have been engaged in trilateral discussions for the last 3 1/2 years following the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires about addressing industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfer and the creation of global excess capacity but have not yet reached out to the broader WTO membership for a road forward to addressing the trade distorting practices that define too much of international trade today. And, of course, the problem flows from the different economic system used by China and some other countries, an economic system not compatible with WTO norms and not addressed under existing WTO rules. While plurilateral negotiations seem possible, it is hard to imagine modified WTO rules since China can block consensus.

The Biden-Harris Administration has demonstrated to date that it would prefer to negotiate resolution of longstanding issues with allies if possible versus increasing tariffs or maintaining disputes. Both the U.S. and EU seem interested in recalibrating the transatlantic relationship. There is greater alignment on some major issues like climate change and ending the pandemic. Both parties want to see WTO reform, though there are undoubtedly areas of difference as well as areas of agreement. The U.S. and EU will need creativity and sustained good will to resolve the bilateral trade disputes where negotiations are underway or soon will be.

COVID-19 Vaccines — Bolivia seeks a compulsory license to produce a vaccine in a third country

Back in February of this year, Bolivia provided notice that it intended to use the special compulsory licensing system as an importing Member under the Amended TRIPS Agreement. See NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT, NOTIFICATION OF INTENTION TO USE THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM
AS AN IMPORTING MEMBER, IP/N/8/BOL/1, 19 February 2021.

On the 10th of May 2021, Bolivia filed a notice with the WTO seeking access to a COVID-19 vaccine through a compulsory license for production in a third country. The notice was posted on the WTO website on November 11 (IP/N/9/BOL/1) and the subject of a WTO news release on the 12th of May. See WTO, Bolivia outlines vaccine import needs in use of WTO flexibilities to tackle pandemic, 12 May 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_10may21_e.htm. Bolivia’s two notifications are embedded below.

8BOL1

9BOL1

A translation from Google Translate (with a few tweaks) of the May 10 notice is provided below.

NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT

NOTIFICATION OF THE NEED TO IMPORT PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS UNDER THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM

Member(s) who present the notification

Plurinational State of Bolivia

Necessary product(s)

An estimated 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. In particular, it is intended to import the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S, a replication adenovirus type 26 (AD26) vectorized vaccine incompetent that encodes a stabilized variant of protein S of the SARS-Cov-2. The Plurinational State of Bolivia reserves the right to import other vaccines.

Demonstration that the capabilities of manufacturing in the pharmaceutical sector are insufficient or nonexistant

[X] At the moment the Member does not have manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector.

[ ] The Member has found that its capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to meet the needs regarding the pharmaceutical product needed.

Information about how it has proved the lack of manufacturing capacities (enough) in the pharmaceutical sector

The Plurinational State of Bolivia has verified that it does not have the capacity to manufacture in the pharmaceutical sector vaccines against COVID-19 including the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S.

Is (are) the product(s) necessary (s) protected (s) by patent in the territory?

[ ] No.

[ ] Yes.

[X] To be determined. Insofar as they have been requested or granted patents for the necessary products, the Plurinational State of Bolivia intends to grant compulsory licenses, in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement.

Date of presentation of the notification

10 May 2021

The WTO news release is copied below.

“The government of Bolivia has formally notified the WTO of the country’s need to import COVID-19 vaccines, taking another step towards using flexibilities in WTO intellectual property rules as part of its pandemic response.

“Bolivia notified the WTO it needed to import 15 million doses of a vaccine under the legal system introduced in a
2017 amendment (https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/trip_23jan17_e.htm) to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). That amendment, which created Article 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement, provides an additional legal pathway for import-reliant countries to access affordable medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.

“Bolivia’s submission follows through on its February notification signalling that it intended to exercise the flexibilities under the amendment.

“Bolivia’s notification opens up the possibility of importing the needed vaccines from any one of around 50 WTO members (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm) that have put in place domestic laws providing for the production and export of medicines made under compulsory licence through this system.

“’This is an example of a WTO member seeking to make use of available tools under the TRIPS Agreement to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as members seek to expand the range of options through the TRIPS waiver proposal,’ said Antony Taubman, Director of the WTO’s Intellectual Property Division. ‘This step provides one practical component of what could be a wider process of countries signalling urgent and unmet needs and encouraging a combined, coordinated response by international partners.’

“The WTO Secretariat has been encouraged by members in the TRIPS Council to provide any necessary technical assistance to facilitate use of the system to import pharmaceutical products manufactured under compulsory licence.”

The intersection of intellectual property rights and public health has been a topic of great interest and intense feelings at the WTO since its inception and resulted in an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement to address the needs of developing and least developed countries without pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity for certain products during emergencies. As the WTO news release notes, through a long process starting in 2001 and ending with the adoption of Article 31bis to the TRIPS Agreement in 2017, special provisions were added that would permit importing developing or least developed countries to have pharmaceutical products produced under compulsory license in countries adopting procedures to comply with the modified agreement. Today the following countries are on the list of WTO Members willing to produce pharmaceutical products under compulsory license for importing countries where conditions are met:

Albania; Australia; Botswana; Canada; China; Croatia; Cuba; European Union; Hong Kong, China; India; Jordan; Kazakhstan; New Zealand; Norway; Oman; Philippines; Republic of Korea; Singapore; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Japan. See Intellectual Property: TRIPS and Health, Members’ laws implementing the ‘Paragraph 6’ system, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm.

The Amended TRIPS Agreement at Article 31bis and the Annex and Appendix which lay out requirements for utilization of the compulsory license provisions for importers are copied below. Like other compulsory licensing provisions, compensation to the patent holder is required by the exporter.

Article 31bis

1. The obligations of an exporting Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply with respect to the grant by it of a compulsory licence to the extent necessary for the purposes of production of a pharmaceutical product(s) and its export to an eligible importing Member(s) in accordance with the terms set out in paragraph 2 of the Annex to this Agreement.

2. Where a compulsory licence is granted by an exporting Member under the system set out in this Article and the Annex to this Agreement, adequate remuneration pursuant to Article 31(h) shall be paid in that Member taking into account the economic value to the importing Member of the use that has been authorized in the exporting Member. Where a compulsory licence is granted for the same products in the eligible importing Member, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(h) shall not apply in respect of those products for which remuneration in accordance with the first sentence of this paragraph is paid in the exporting Member.

3. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products: where a developing or least developed country WTO Member is a party to a regional trade agreement within the meaning of Article XXIV of the GATT 1994 and the Decision of 28 November 1979 on Differential and More Favourable Treatment Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries (L/4903), at least half of the current membership of which is made up of countries presently on the United Nations list of least developed countries, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply to the extent necessary to enable a pharmaceutical product produced or imported under a compulsory licence in that Member to be exported to the markets of those other developing or least developed country parties to the regional trade agreement that share the health problem in question. It is understood that this will not prejudice the territorial nature of the patent rights in question.

4. Members shall not challenge any measures taken in conformity with the provisions of this Article and the Annex to this Agreement under subparagraphs 1(b) and 1(c) of Article XXIII of GATT 1994.

5. This Article and the Annex to this Agreement are without prejudice to the rights, obligations and flexibilities that Members have under the provisions of this Agreement other than paragraphs (f) and (h) of Article 31, including those reaffirmed by the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2), and to their interpretation. They are also without prejudice to the extent to which pharmaceutical products produced under a compulsory licence can be exported under the provisions of Article 31(f).

ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

1. For the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex:

(a) “pharmaceutical product” means any patented product, or product manufactured through a patented process, of the pharmaceutical sector needed to address the public health problems as recognized in paragraph 1 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2). It is understood that active ingredients necessary for its manufacture and diagnostic kits needed for its use would be included(1);
  

(b) “eligible importing Member” means any least-developed country Member, and any other Member that has made a notification(2) to the Council for TRIPS of its intention to use the system set out in Article 31bis and this Annex (“system”) as an importer, it being understood that a Member may notify at any time that it will use the system in whole or in a limited way, for example only in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use. It is noted that some Members will not use the system as importing Members(3) and that some other Members have stated that, if they use the system, it would be in no more than situations of national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency;
  

(c) “exporting Member” means a Member using the system to produce pharmaceutical products for, and export them to, an eligible importing Member.

2. The terms referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 31bis are that:

(a) the eligible importing Member(s)(4) has made a notification(2)to the Council for TRIPS, that:
  

(i) specifies the names and expected quantities of the product(s) needed(5);
  

(ii) confirms that the eligible importing Member in question, other than a least developed country Member, has established that it has insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector for the product(s) in question in one of the ways set out in the Appendix to this Annex; and
  

(iii) confirms that, where a pharmaceutical product is patented in its territory, it has granted or intends to grant a compulsory licence in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of this Agreement and the provisions of this Annex(6);
  

(b) the compulsory licence issued by the exporting Member under the system shall contain the following conditions:
  

(i) only the amount necessary to meet the needs of the eligible importing Member(s) may be manufactured under the licence and the entirety of this production shall be exported to the Member(s) which has notified its needs to the Council for TRIPS;
  

(ii) products produced under the licence shall be clearly identified as being produced under the system through specific labelling or marking. Suppliers should distinguish such products through special packaging and/or special colouring/shaping of the products themselves, provided that such distinction is feasible and does not have a significant impact on price; and
  

(iii) before shipment begins, the licensee shall post on a website(7) the following information:
  

— the quantities being supplied to each destination as referred to in indent (i) above; and
  

— the distinguishing features of the product(s) referred to in indent (ii) above;
  

(c) the exporting Member shall notify(8) the Council for TRIPS of the grant of the licence, including the conditions attached to it.(9) The information provided shall include the name and address of the licensee, the product(s) for which the licence has been granted, the quantity(ies) for which it has been granted, the country(ies) to which the product(s) is (are) to be supplied and the duration of the licence. The notification shall also indicate the address of the website referred to in subparagraph (b)(iii) above.

3. In order to ensure that the products imported under the system are used for the public health purposes underlying their importation, eligible importing Members shall take reasonable measures within their means, proportionate to their administrative capacities and to the risk of trade diversion to prevent re-exportation of the products that have actually been imported into their territories under the system. In the event that an eligible importing Member that is a developing country Member or a least-developed country Member experiences difficulty in implementing this provision, developed country Members shall provide, on request and on mutually agreed terms and conditions, technical and financial cooperation in order to facilitate its implementation.

4. Members shall ensure the availability of effective legal means to prevent the importation into, and sale in, their territories of products produced under the system and diverted to their markets inconsistently with its provisions, using the means already required to be available under this Agreement. If any Member considers that such measures are proving insufficient for this purpose, the matter may be reviewed in the Council for TRIPS at the request of that Member.

5. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products, it is recognized that the development of systems providing for the grant of regional patents to be applicable in the Members described in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis should be promoted. To this end, developed country Members undertake to provide technical cooperation in accordance with Article 67 of this Agreement, including in conjunction with other relevant intergovernmental organizations.

6. Members recognize the desirability of promoting the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in order to overcome the problem faced by Members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector. To this end, eligible importing Members and exporting Members are encouraged to use the system in a way which would promote this objective. Members undertake to cooperate in paying special attention to the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in the work to be undertaken pursuant to Article 66.2 of this Agreement, paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and any other relevant work of the Council for TRIPS.

7. The Council for TRIPS shall review annually the functioning of the system with a view to ensuring its effective operation and shall annually report on its operation to the General Council.

APPENDIX TO THE ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

Assessment of Manufacturing Capacities in the Pharmaceutical Sector

Least-developed country Members are deemed to have insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector.

For other eligible importing Members insufficient or no manufacturing capacities for the product(s) in question may be established in either of the following ways:

(i) the Member in question has established that it has no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector;
  

or
  

(ii) where the Member has some manufacturing capacity in this sector, it has examined this capacity and found that, excluding any capacity owned or controlled by the patent owner, it is currently insufficient for the purposes of meeting its needs. When it is established that such capacity has become sufficient to meet the Member’s needs, the system shall no longer apply.


Notes:

  1.  This subparagraph is without prejudice to subparagraph 1(b). 
  2.  It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.  
  3.  Australia, Canada, the European Communities with, for the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex, its member States, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States.   
  4.  Joint notifications providing the information required under this subparagraph may be made by the regional organizations referred to in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis on behalf of eligible importing Members using the system that are parties to them, with the agreement of those parties.   
  5.  The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.   
  6.  This subparagraph is without prejudice to Article 66.1 of this Agreement.   
  7.  The licensee may use for this purpose its own website or, with the assistance of the WTO Secretariat, the page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.  
  8.  It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.   
  9.  The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.   

Comments

The COVID-19 vaccine challenge is an interesting one. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF have come together to have a process for both supporting development, procuring and distributing vaccines around the world including to 92 low- and middle-income countries at little or no cost. The COVAX facility is an effort supported by many governments and private sector supporters to improve the equitable access to vaccines. Thus, it is an effort to reduce the need for individual low- and middle-income countries to have to secure supplies on their own. As reviewed in prior posts, while COVAX has been shipping millions of doses to countries (as of May 12, 2021 over 59 million doses to 122 countries), it is far behind its anticipated shipments because of the current challenges in India with the cessation of exports from India in the last several months March to address internal needs. (reduction of some 90 million doses likely)

Bolivia is a recipient of vaccines from COVAX. See Gavi, COVAX vaccine roll-out BOLIVIA, https://www.gavi.org/covax-vaccine-roll-out/bolivia (information from the webpage on 14 May 2021 reports that “First doses received: 22 March 2021Doses received: 228,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine*; Doses allocated: 72,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine; 92,430 Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) vaccine.”).

While many countries have arranged for vaccine shipments outside of the COVAX facility process from one or more of the global producers, including some not yet approved by the WHO, and while production levels for many producers have been ramping up month to month and there are a number of additional companies likely to pursue authorization for vaccines in the coming months, access to vaccines is limited for many countries in the first and second quarters of 2021. See Bloomberg, More than 1.38 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 13, 2021 (6:18 p.m.), https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. There are four countries or areas with more than 100 million vaccination shots — China (354.3 million), United States (266.6 million), European Union (186.6 million) and India (179.2 million). There are seventeen countries with between 10 million and 56.4 million vaccination shots, 52 countries with more than 1 million and less than 10 million vaccination shots. There are 101 countries that have fewer than one million vaccination shots. Bolivia has administered 972,846 shots, enough for 4.2% of its population.

At the WTO, India and South Africa, now supported by a large number of other countries, have pursued a waiver from most TRIPS Agreement obligations for medical goods needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic largely on the basis that TRIPS Agreement flexibilities don’t work and the pandemic presents special urgency. Developed pharmaceutical producing countries have opposed a waiver as both unlikely to solve the need for more volume of vaccines and as unnecessary in light of TRIPS flexibilities. Last week the United States indicated it would support a waiver and agreed to engage in textual negotiations, though the position taken by the U.S. has not been supported by the European Union and possibly others.

So the Bolivian notification provides a real time opportunity to see if the flexibilities included in the Amended TRIPS Agreement can be used successfully to permit developing and least developed countries to access needed vaccines in a timely fashion. Coupled with expanded capacity and production and possibly additional licensing arrangements and additional approvals of new vaccines, a successful use of Art. 31bis of the Amended TRIPS Agreement may provide sufficient flexibility to address equity concerns at the WTO.

An update on COVID-19 data

Before closing, it is useful to review updated data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in yesterday’s COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 18, updated 12 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases and the data on weekly cases and deaths. The world in week 18 of 2021 saw the number of new recorded infections come down from the peak of the prior week as seen in the ECDC weekly update (chart copied below).

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 18 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 18 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.

This is true in total and also for India. For the last two weeks, India recorded 5,544,535 new cases — the first time a country has surpassed five million cases in a two week period, although week 18 was slightly lower than week 17 in terms of new cases recorded in India. See ECDC, Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, 13 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/data-national-14-day-notification-rate-covid-19. India accounted for 49.38% of global cases over the last two weeks — the highest percent for a single country during the pandemic — and remains in a state of health care crisis as previously reported, although support from trading partners and lockdowns in a number of the Indian states appear to be reducing the number of cases and helping to some extent address health care needs.

Because of the size of India’s population and despite the recent surge of cases, India’s number of cases and deaths per 100,000 population are lower than many other countries. India has reported infections for 1.64% of its population or 1,642.21 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 198.33 people/100,000 in the last week. Brazil has reported infections for 7.16% of its population or 7,155.64 people/100,000 population during the pandemic and 202.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. Bolivia has recorded infections in 2.73% of its population or 2,779.45 people/100,000 population and 103.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. The United States has recorded infections for 9.88% of its population or 9,881.43 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 86.43 people/100,000 population in the last week. And there are many other countries with higher COVID-19 cases than India according to the ECDC data. Similar comparisons can be made on deaths where India has suffered recorded COVID deaths equal to 0.02% of its population during the pandemic compared to 0.20% for Brazil, 0.11% for Bolivia and 0.18% for the United States. Even in the last week, deaths in Brazil per 100,000 were more than three times what was recorded in India (6.87 people vs. 1.968 people). Bolivia was comparable to India during the last week (1.876) while the U.S. death count is declining (1.42 people during the last week per 100,000 population).

All of the above to say, the world’s attention on India is understandable because of the severe challenges the Indian government is facing and the size of its population. However, there are a number of countries experiencing comparable or even greater surges than India. Brazil is one example, but there are others in South America and some in Asia facing alarming increases or levels of infections. Equitable access needs to be tempered by flexibility to address current fires if the global effort is to be successful and reduce global infections and deaths.

WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement negotiations — the Chair’s May 11 text and the road to the July 15 virtual TNC meeting with trade ministers

On May 11, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, the Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules responsible for the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations presented a a Draft Consolidated Chair Text to a meeting of the heads of delegation. The news release from the WTO, “Fishing subsidies negotiations chair introduces new text in run-up to July ministerial,” 11May 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_11may21_e.htm, is copied below.

“The chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, introduced on 11 May a new draft text aimed at bringing members closer to agreement ahead of the 15 July meeting of ministers. The text is based on members’ collective work and proposes landing zones to curb harmful fisheries subsidies and ensure the sustainability of the world’s oceans.

“‘The aim of this new draft text is to serve as the basis for work toward a clean text to present to a meeting of ministers on 15 July,’ the chair told heads of delegations at a meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules. ‘This leaves us just two months to finish. The shared sense of urgency is palpable, and we need to harness that sense to finally agree to the compromise landing zones that will represent the ambitious and balanced outcome that ministers in Buenos Aires mandated us to find, to make a substantial and tangible contribution to the health of our shared oceans.’ The new draft text is available here. View the chair’s statement here.

“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.

“The chair noted that the draft reflects language from WTO members, whether reflected in proposals, or a facilitator’s work, or expressed during meetings and consultations. The whole text is up for discussion and it will ultimately be up to members to resolve the issues that remain open, he said.

“Members will have the opportunity next week to identify key issues they find the most difficult to agree on and then will convene in weekly meetings starting 24 May. Each week will be dedicated to a specific issue in the text.

“’I know it will not be easy. Nothing is easy when 164 members need to reach consensus, but it is doable. The good thing is that we have a complete text in front of us on which we can engage,’ the chair said. ‘Now it’s time to sprint for the finish line.’”

Draft Consolidated Chair Text and Explanatory Note

The draft consolidated chair text is nine pages in length and consists of an introductory page, eleven articles and sixteen footnotes. See Fisheries Subsidies, Draft Consolidated Chair Text, TN/RL/W/276, 11 May 2021, https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/TN/RL/W276.pdf&Open=True. Amb. Wills explanatory note is 26 pages and goes through both an introduction, a review of preliminary matters, a detailed discussion of each article and sub-article noting changes from prior drafts, and ends with a review of the work program going forward. See Fisheries Subsidies, Draft Consolidated Chair Text, Chair’s Explanatory Note Accompanying TN/RL/W/276, TN/RL/W/276/Add.1, 11 May 2021, https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/TN/RL/W276A1.pdf&Open=True. The text and explanatory note are embedded below.

W276

W276A1

The Chair’s explanation of modifications to earlier texts is useful to understand where major differences continue. Some of the issues with significant differences of views remaining or where attention needs to be focused in the coming weeks include:

  • whether the agreement will apply to fuel subsidies to fishing and fishing related activities at sea that are not “specific” within the meaning of Art. 2 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (Art. 1.2);
  • special and differential treatment provisions under Articles 3 (prohibition on subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (Art. 3.8)), 4 (prohibition on subsidies concerning overfished stocks (Art. 4.4)) and 5 (prohibition on subsidies concerning overcapacity and overfishing (Art. 5.5 Alt.1 and Alt. 2));
  • whether disciplines in Article 5 extend to “subsidies for a vessel not flying the flag of the subsidizing Member” (Art. 5.4);
  • specific provisions for least developed country Members (Art. 6);
  • fleshing out Article 7 on technical assistance and capacity building to developing and least developed countries;
  • what additional notification requirements are mandatory or subject to an “extent possible” exception under Article 8;
  • a range of institutional arrangement provisions under Art. 9 depending on whether the agreement is to be an annex to the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures or a stand-alone agreement.

To get a true grasp of the range of issues that still need addressing, a careful review of the Chair’s Explanatory Note is required. It is clear that major differences remain on a very large number of topics and many issues go to whether any agreement will truly address the sustainable development goal at the heart of the negotiations. Moreover, there are areas not yet addressed.

For example, looking at Articles 9 (institutional arrangements) and 10 (dispute settlement), there are several issues identified that do not appear in the draft articles such as when the agreement will come into effect and whether some types of disputes will be excluded and whether specific remedies for violations are needed. Paragraphs 129-132 of the Explanatory Note are copied below and review these matters.

“129. Before concluding my remarks on this provision, I would like to highlight one critical institutional issue that has not been discussed in full, which is entry into force. As you know, it could take many months if not years for a new WTO instrument to enter into force. This gap – as well as anything that Members may decide to do during this period, such as a provisional application of this instrument – could affect how we see certain issues. Now that we are in the endgame mode, I would urge you to turn your minds to this issue.

Article 10: Dispute settlement

“130. Dispute settlement, covered in Article 10, also depends on whether the disciplines become an annex to the SCM Agreement or a standalone agreement. This is because Article 30 of the SCM Agreement already provides for application of the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU) and special and additional rules for prohibited subsidies in Article 4 of the SCM Agreement. If the fisheries subsidies disciplines are annexed to the SCM Agreement, these existing rules of the Agreement would apply to the disciplines, unless we specifically decided to depart from them. The current text in Article 10 was added in 126/Rev.1 to reflect this default position.

“131. This text has remained unchanged since then, but this does not mean that we have not been discussing this. In fact, so far in 2021 alone, we have held dedicated sessions on various aspects of dispute settlement, such as non-violation claims and standard of review. And the views exchanged in those meetings were very helpful. In particular, there appears to be a general acceptance that the DSU and Article 4 of the SCM Agreement should be the starting point, and that we should not be inventing new dispute settlement rules for the fisheries subsidies disciplines. Reflecting this understanding, this Article is unbracketed in the new text.

“132. This is not meant to imply that there was full convergence on this provision, or that no more work is needed on it. In fact, during our recent meetings on dispute settlement, some Members wanted to specifically exclude non-violation claims or set a separate standard of review. In addition, I am well aware of the views that fisheries-subsidies-specific remedies and/or countermeasures could be crafted. Removing the square brackets here only means that Article 4 of the SCM Agreement and the DSU are a starting point, on which we can build as needed.”

An active schedule leading up to the July 15 virtual TNC meeting with trade ministers

The Chair on page 26 of his Explanatory Note outlines next steps. With only eight weeks until the virtual TNC meeting with trade ministers to see if a final agreement on fisheries subsidies can be reached, not surprisingly Amb. Wills outlines a very busy schedule of meetings essentially requiring focus and heads of delegation and capital involvement every week. The level of activity is explained in paragraphs 142-146 of Amb. Wills’ Explanatory Note, copied below.

“142. As I said during the last TNC meetings, I will be calling on all of you to engage intensively, in a compromise-seeking, convergence-oriented mode, aimed at quickly finding acceptable landing zones. I also ask you to give these negotiations priority, and to be ready to meet at short notice and in a range of different configurations – be it bilateral meetings, small-group consultations, confessionals, or plenary sessions, including with the engagement of the DG as appropriate – as well as bilateral consultations. If needed, we also need to be ready to work nights and weekends to get this done.

“143. I appreciate and count on your flexibility on the substance and process, as we head into this very intensive phase of our work. Though we should remain flexible, I understand from many of you that a calendar of activities would be useful for your preparation, especially if you require input from capitals. Therefore, I intend to organize thematic weeks starting the week of 24 May as follows:
“• Each week will be dedicated to a specific pillar or pillars from the text.
“• The first two days of each week would be for consultations. This would be an opportunity for Members to reach out to me, and for me to reach out to Members, in respect of particular issues regarding that week’s theme.
“• The rest of each week would be dedicated to meetings in various configurations. This is where flexibility would be required given that the form of meetings would depend on each topic.
“• I can assure you that the principles of transparency and inclusiveness will be respected. And in this regard, I plan to give transparency briefings each week.

“144. An outline of this structure, including the themes for each week, will be circulated shortly. I hope that you will find this calendar of activities useful in terms of your planning.

“145. To help my thinking in structuring specific topics of discussion, I would like to start by first touching base with each of you before we start work during the thematic weeks. Therefore, on 20 and 21 May I intend to hold brief HoDs plus one, in-person, 10-minute confessional style meetings with interested delegations. The idea is for you to identify up to three issues in the text that are the toughest for your delegation. These meetings will be short and to the point; all you have to do is come with your list of those three tough issues and share it with me. Further details, including how to schedule a slot, will be communicated shortly.

“146. I look forward to engaging with all of you during this final stage of these negotiations. I know it will not be easy. Nothing is easy when 164 Members need to reach consensus, but it is doable. The good thing is that we have a complete text in front of us on which we can engage. I am sure no delegation will be entirely happy with the text – you will all find something you don’t like, in addition to things that you do like. Let us now figure out those key issues that require further teasing out in Geneva so that we can present something to Ministers that provides them with clean and straightforward options in July. As I said at the last TNC, the Negotiating Group on Rules has come a long way. Your leadership and willingness to engage over the last year has led us to this point. Now it’s time to sprint for the finish line.”

Conclusion

Ambassador Wills has laid out a very aggressive work program to conclude an agreement that has been being negotiated for twenty years. With fundamental differences among WTO Members on how ambitious an outcome is desired, the challenges, even with the revised text and hard work undertaken in the last year, remain steep.

In my last post, I indicated that in my view the TRIPS waiver proposal and controversy surrounding how to achieve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines was likely to suck a lot of the oxygen out of the WTO for other issues. See May 10, 2021,  World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/10/world-trade-organization-possible-deliverables-for-the-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-november-30-december-3-2021/ . Hopefully that assessment will prove to be inaccurate. The world needs WTO Members to achieve a meaningful outcome on the fisheries subsidies negotiations. We should know in a few weeks whether Members can walk (efforts to achieve vaccine equity) and chew gum (fisheries subsidies negotiations) at the same time.

World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021

On May 3, 2021, the WTO held a Trade Negotiations Committee (“TNC”) session combined with an informal session of the Heads of Delegation in Geneva. Because the WTO over time has eliminated the immediate release of statements of the Chair of the TNC and the Chairs of different negotiating groups who provide updates on the status of negotiations, there is very limited public information on the meeting at the present time. The WTO released a news release on the meeting entitled “Members discuss contours of potential MC12 deliverables”. See TNC and Heads of Delegation Meeting, Members discuss contours of potential MC12 deliverables, May 3, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/hod_03may21_e.htm. A review of WTO documents listed on the WTO website reveals that Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala provided a seven page Chair’s statement at the meeting, although the document is not publicly available. See JOB/TNC/91. There was at least one other statement made by chairs of negotiating groups, though the statement is not publicly available. See Council for Trade in Services – Special Session – Report by Ambassador Zhanar Altzhanova, Chair of the CTS Special Session, to the informal TNC and HODs meeting – 3 May 2021, JOB/SERV/307, May 4, 2021. One would assume there were reports on the fisheries subsidies negotiations, on agriculture and on various Joint Statement Initiatives though there is no listing of any such statements.

Copied below is the May 3 WTO news release.

“Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make such deals possible. Fisheries subsidies, agriculture and the COVID-19 pandemic featured prominently in the discussions, with several members stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results was critical for the WTO’s credibility. The 3 May gathering was both a formal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee and an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation.

“Summing up members’ interventions at the end of the day, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said what she had heard matched what she had been told in her own consultations: ‘Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results.’

“She said three concrete deliverables stood out: an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies; outcomes on agriculture, with a focus on food security; and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

“Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12, scheduled to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

“On fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalize an agreement in July, she called on delegations to work with the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve. ‘We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ she said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair translate increased flexibility into an agreement.

“Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO ‘food security package’. Elements for a prospective package included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

“The Director-General welcomed the view expressed by many delegations that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health. The WTO’s spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders, she said.

“Reporting on a 14 April event where vaccine manufacturers, international organizations, civil society and members looked at how the WTO could contribute to efforts to combat the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, she said it was clear that underused manufacturing capacity existed in several developing countries.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala praised members’ support to India amid the upsurge in COVID-19 cases there, which followed India’s own exports of a large number of vaccines. ‘That is what the WTO membership should be about — working together, supporting each other,’ she said. She asked members to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal aimed at finding a pragmatic compromise that works for all.

“With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members ‘can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed’.

“The General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, is consulting on proposals about issues specific to least-developed countries such as the G-90 proposals on special and differential treatment as well as on small economies and areas such as the e-commerce Work Programme, she said.

“She noted that groups of members had signalled a desire to move ahead in areas such as services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises as well as issues related to trade and climate change.

“For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Director-General said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organizing meetings “in various configurations large and small” to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members. She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings ‘Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don’t know about,’ she emphasised. She indicated that she would work closely with the General Council chair and the chairs of the negotiating bodies as well as MC12 chair Kazakhstan to conduct these meetings.

“Emphasising the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the ‘path to July’ would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. ‘Week in, week out, this is what we will do now.’”

It is often the case that the U.S., European Union and China release their statements at events like the May 3 TNC session. Reviewing the webpages for the three Members’ WTO operations shows a statement only for the EU. See EU Statement at the Trade Negotiations Committee/Heads of Delegation meeting, 3 May 2021, Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/97682/eu-statement-trade-negotiations-committeeheads-delegation-meeting-3-may-2021_en.

The EU seeks a number of specific outcomes for the 12th Ministerial Conference and emphasizes the need to keep the agenda limited to permit success. The EU’s list starts with the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies agreement negotiations and secondly achieving agreement on trade and health including increasing COVID-19 vaccine production.

“Firstly, on fisheries subsidies; the EU supports the Chair’s efforts to move the negotiations forward and the
Director-General’s involvement and intent to achieve an outcome already in July. With this in mind, we need to
consider how best to use the short time ahead. These negotiations are a test case of the ability of the WTO to
deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, in this case SDG 14.6. We are already late, well passed the
deadline that Heads of State and Government instructed us, here at the WTO, to deliver. We have full
confidence that Ambassador Wills will find the best way forward for these negotiations.

“Secondly, on trade and health, we must work towards a Ministerial Declaration that brings together key
elements of the Ottawa Group proposal on Trade & Health (export restrictions, transparency, trade facilitation)
as well as progress on the expansion of production capacities through voluntary licensing and, where necessary,
supporting the use of the available TRIPs flexibilities.”

Beyond these two deliverables, the EU looks for an agreed work program for reform of the WTO’s three core functions — negotiations, transparency/monitoring, and dispute settlement. Restoring a functioning two-tier dispute settlement system is the top priority in this area followed by improved notification practices.

The EU supports the various Joint Statement Initiatives and intends to propose additional ones on industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and trade and environment topics.

The EU’s proposal on agriculture differs in part from the summary of views presented by DG Okonjo-Iweala as addressing export restraints, particularly for World Food Programme purchases is a priority while other issues including public stockholding (and other forms of domestic support) is viewed as more appropriate for a work program outcome from the 12th Ministerial.

Developments in the last week

The WTO held a two day General Council meeting on May 5-6 with the big news being the United States’ indication that because of the extraordinary circumstances of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United States would support the proposed waiver of certain TRIPS obligations on medical goods for the duration of the pandemic, more specifically being willing to enter into text negotiations in the TRIPS Council. See 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/.

The major countries within the EU have come out opposing the U.S. change of position on the waiver proposal and have urged the United States to remove export restrictions on vaccines and raw materials and other inputs, See The Hill, EU leaders criticize Biden push to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents: Not a ‘magic bullet’, May 8, 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/international/europe/552459-eu-leaders-criticize-biden-push-to-waive-covid-19-patents-not-a; Euronews, EU leaders urge US to end COVID-19 vaccine export limits amid patents controversy, 8 May 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/07/european-leaders-urge-u-s-britain-to-match-eu-generosity-on-vaccine-exports. Not surprisingly, the move was also criticized by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. See, e.g., McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP – JDSupra, BIO & IPO Issue Statements on Biden Administration’s Support for Proposed WTO Waiver, May 7, 2021, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/bio-ipo-issue-statements-on-biden-3271048/.

There have been additional announcements by the WHO on vaccines receiving emergency use authorization (first of two Chinese vaccines was approved on May 7, 2021; a second is pending), additional vaccine producers have reached agreements with COVAX for supplying vaccines once their vaccines are approved by the WHO (Moderna, Novavax), and increased production targets by major COVID-19 producers (e.g., Pfizer raised its target for 2021 to 3 billion doses from 2.5 billion and increased 2022 from 3 billion doses to 4 billion doses; Moderna increases production forecast for 2021 to 800 million to 1 billion and is making investments to increase production in 2022 to 3 billion doses). See, e.g., World Health Organization, WHO lists additional COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use and issues interim policy recommendations, 7 May 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/07-05-2021-who-lists-additional-covid-19-vaccine-for-emergency-use-and-issues-interim-policy-recommendations; Gavi, Gavi signs agreement with Moderna to secure doses on behalf of COVAX Facility, 3 May 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/gavi-signs-agreement-moderna-secure-doses-behalf-covax-facility; Gavi, Gavi signs agreement with Novavax to secure doses on behalf of COVAX Facility, 6 May 2021,https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/gavi-signs-agreement-novavax-secure-doses-behalf-covax-facility; Wall Street Journal, Pfizer Lifts Covid-19 Vaccine Production Targets for 2021, 2022, May 7, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pfizer-lifts-covid-19-vaccine-production-targets-for-2021-2022-11620425904; Moderna, Moderna Reports First Quarter Fiscal Year 2021 Financial Results and Provides Business Updates, May 6, 2021, https://investors.modernatx.com/news-releases/news-release-details/moderna-reports-first-quarter-fiscal-year-2021-financial-results

What is clear is that the increased attention that will be paid by WTO Members on the waiver proposal within the TRIPS Council will likely suck a lot of oxygen out of the WTO in the coming months for other negotiating issues, many of which remain controversial in their own right. Any text based agreement on a TRIPS waiver is unlikely until close to the 12th Ministerial (and unlikely then if EU opposition remains or the U.S. is unable to achieve acceptable text). Thus, the remaining months before the 12th Ministerial Conference will present some major challenges to the WTO Members in their efforts to come up with achievements to keep the WTO relevant going forward. The U.S. move also creates a division with European allies and appears to have been taken without consultation with those allies ahead of last week’s announcement — a departure from the Biden Administration’s approach to date.

COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create problems around the world, there has been increased activity in many countries and at multilateral organizations seeking to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and increase access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. While a number of vaccines have been approved by one or more countries (usually on an emergency use authorization basis) and a few have been approved the World Health Organization, a number of others are seeking approval or are in final stages of trials.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control now issues a weekly update on the COVID-19 situation worldwide. Today’s release of data for week 17 of 2021 shows global cases since the beginning at 153,220,576 of which the Americas has the largest share with 41.16% (63,068,547 cases; U.S. being 32.4 million; Brazil being 14.8 million; Argentina being 3.0 million; Colombia being 2.9 million and Mexico being 2.3 million). Europe is second with 33.10% of the total cases (50,722,884; France with 5.7 million, Turkey with 4.9 million, Russia with 4.8 million, the U.K. with 4.4 million and Italy with 4.0 million). Asia represents 22.70% of cases (34,785,351 of which India is 19.9 million, Iran is 2.5 million, Indonesia is 1.7 million, Iraq is 1.1 million and the Philippines is 1.1 million). Africa accounts for 2.98% of cases (4,571,789 of which South Africa has reported 1.6 million and no other countries have more than 0.5 million). Oceania accounts for 0.05% of cases (71,300). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 17, updated 6 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

Deaths are similarly distributed globally with the Americas having 47.79% of global deaths (1,533,740 of 3,209,416); Europe having 33.47% (1,074,175), Asia having 14.89% (477,851), Africa having 3.81% (122,304) and Oceania having 0.04% (1,340). Id.

The world has seen increases in new cases for the last ten weeks in a row and has had the highest number of cases per week in the most recent weeks as the copied graphic from today’s ECDC publication shows.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 17 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 17 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”

As the news accounts make clear, India is facing major challenges and has accounted for a very large part of new cases in recent weeks. For example, over the last 14 days, India reported 4.86 million new cases. This is the first time any country has amassed more than four million cases in a two week period. India has accounted for 42.61% of the world total of new cases in that two week period. Id.

Press accounts have shown a health care system in India struggling to keep up with shortages of everything from ICU units to PPE to medications to oxygen and with a small part of the population totally vaccinated or having received the first of two shots. BBC News, Coronavirus: How India descended into Covid-19 chaos, 5 May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56977653.

In response to its internal crisis, India has diverted production of COVID-19 vaccines to domestic use, essentially halting exports, complicating the efforts of the COVAX facility to get vaccines to the 91 low- and middle-income countries (other than India which also is supposed to receive vaccines from COVAX). While COVAX has shipped more than 53 million doses to 121 countries as of May 4, as much as 90 million additional vaccine doses were supposed to be supplied by Indian producers to COVAX during April and May that will not make it into the system. See, e.g., Gavi, COVAX vaccine rollout, https://www.gavi.org/covax-facility; Gavi, COVAX updates participants on delivery delays for vaccines from Serum Institute of India (SII) and AstraZeneca, 25 March 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/covax-updates-participants-delivery-delays-vaccines-serum-institute-india-sii-az.

Considering the challenges that India is facing, many nations have been providing assistance in an effort to support India as it attempts to cope with the current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The U.S. assistance is summarized in a fact sheet from the White House which is embedded below.

FACT-SHEET_-Biden-Harris-Administration-Delivers-Emergency-COVID-19-Assistance-for-India-_-The-White-House

A number of countries in South America are also seeing major problems — e.g., Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru — though receiving far less attention than India.

Vaccination development, production and distribution

Efforts have been made over the last decade to develop tools and organizations to develop, produce and distribute vaccines to achieve greater equity in access and affordability of vaccines. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF along with important private sector actors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have worked hard to both support research of potential vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic, worked with companies to arrange purchases of vaccines if approved for use, raised funds from governments and private sector participants to pay for the efforts on research and procurement, and organized distribution to the 92 low- and middle-income countries sufficient to address 20% of the populations as well as for any other countries choosing to work through the COVAX facility.

At the same time, a number of countries have negotiated contracts with companies developing vaccines. Because at the time of contracting, it was not known which vaccines would be effective or achieve approval from which governments, major advanced economies often contracted for quantities far in excess of likely needs (assuming all vaccines were eventually approved).

Because of the unprecedented government funding and industry cooperation, a number of vaccines were developed and approved on at least an emergency use basis and production efforts began in late 2020 and have been ramping up in 2021. This includes vaccines developed in the U.S., the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, India and Russia. While all have not yet been approved by the WHO, all have been approved by at least a number of governments. A number of others are either in the approval process or in final stage trials with vaccine approvals likely in the second half of 2021.

It is expected that capacity to produce more than 10 billion doses of vaccines to fight COVID-19 will be operational by the end of 2021. COVAX contracts and deliveries to economies outside of COVAX have anticipated relatively small volumes in the 1st quarter of 2021, with increases in each of the next three quarters. UNICEF has a “COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard” which it describes as follows (https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard):

“The COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard is the go-to public resource for the latest information on the world’s COVID-19 vaccine market and the COVAX Facility’s vaccine deliveries.

“From a global vaccine market perspective, the dashboard gives an overview of:  

“- COVID-19 vaccine development and progress towards vaccine approvals

“- Reported global vaccine production capacity

“- Manufacturing agreements  

“- Vaccines secured and optioned through bilateral and multilateral supply agreements  

“- Reported vaccine prices

“The ‘Delivery’ tab of the dashboard provides daily updates on total COVAX vaccine deliveries, doses allocated, and doses ordered. It also includes country- and economy level data on vaccine deliveries and planned shipments over a seven-day period. This information covers both UNICEF-procured doses and deliveries, as well as other national and institutional buyers participating in the COVAX Facility. It further tracks globally reported vaccine deliveries and vaccine donations outside of COVAX.”

For example, looking at the capacity figures from the dashboard by development stage shows 4 billion dose capacity approved for use in the first half of 2021, growing to 8 billion dose capacity approved for use in the second half of 2021, with 19 billion dose capacity projected for each of 2022 and 2023 as being approved for use.

There have been challenges in ramping up production, including manufacturing issues at individual companies, bottlenecks in supply chains for particular inputs, export restrictions in place for some, etc. In prior posts I have reviewed data pulled together by industry and others on the challenges as well as the enormous level of voluntary licensing, and other arrangements to grow capacity and production. Industry estimates have consistently been that capacity will be at 10-15 billion doses by the end of 2021 — an extraordinary accomplishment considering global capacity for vaccines previously (roughly 5 billion doses for all vaccines). See, e.g., April 18, 2021, WTO’s April 14th virtual meeting to review COVID-19 vaccine availability, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/18/wtos-april-14th-virtual-meeting-to-review-covid-19-vaccine-availability/ (” One of the private sector participants, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) included its statement on the IFPMA website. See IFPMA, IFPMA statement at WTO event ‘COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What can the WTO Contribute’, 14 April 2021, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/ifpma-statement-at-wto-event-covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-what-can-the-wto-contribute/. The IFPMA statement is embedded below but highlights the extraordinary effort of the private sector in ramping up production which is expected to be 10 billion doses by the end of 2021 with some 272 partnerships entered into and 200 technology transfer agreements.” (emphasis added)); April 13, 2021, April 15, 2021 — U.S and Gavi co-host event for additional funding for COVAX amid concerns about two workhorse vaccines for COVAX, ttps://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/13/april-15-2021-u-s-and-gavi-co-host-event-for-additional-funding-for-covax-amid-concerns-about-two-workhorse-vaccines-for-covax/; April 8, 2021, COVAX delivers COVID-19 vaccines to 100th country; India surge in infections likely to reduce product availability for COVAX through May and likely longer, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/covax-delivers-covid-19-vaccines-to-100th-country-india-surge-in-infections-likely-to-reduce-product-availability-for-covax-through-may-and-likely-longer/; April 2, 2021, Global vaccinations against COVID-19; developments and challenges in the roll-out for many countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/02/global-vaccinations-against-covid-19-developments-and-challenges-in-the-roll-out-for-many-countries/; March 25, 2021, Global vaccinations for COVID-19 — continued supply chain and production issues and a new wave of infections in many countries delay greater ramp up for some until late in the second quarter of 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/25/global-vaccinations-for-covid-19-continued-supply-chain-and-production-issues-and-a-new-wave-of-infections-in-many-countries-delay-greater-ramp-up-for-some-until-late-in-the-second-quarter-of-2021/; March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/; March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit” – efforts to ramp-up production, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/; March 5, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — France supports Italy’s blockage of a shipment to Australia; while Australia has asked the EU to permit the shipment, Australia will have its own production of AstraZeneca product by the end of March, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/05/covid-19-vaccines-france-supports-italys-blockage-of-a-shipment-to-australia-while-australia-has-asked-the-eu-to-permit-the-shipment-australia-will-have-its-own-production-of-astrazeneca-produc/; March 4, 2021, Italy blocks exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, first blockage of export authorization by the EU or its member states, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/italy-blocks-exports-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-australia-first-blockage-of-export-authorization-by-the-eu-or-its-member-states/; March 4, 2021, The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/the-eus-response-to-challenges-to-its-actions-on-covid-19-vaccine-exports/; March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/.

As of May 5, 3032, Bloomberg reports that more than 1.21 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered. The top six areas for vaccinations are China (284.6 million doses administered), the United States (249.6 million), India (162.4 million), the EU (158.6 million), the U.K. (50.7 million) and Brazil (50.2 million). See Bloomberg, More Than 1.21 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 5, 2021 at 5:38 p.m. EDT, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. Not surprisingly, with the exception of China which has one of the lowest rates of infection of any country in the world, vaccinations have been concentrated in countries with high rates of infection — both developed and developing.

Because of the disruption in supplies from India because of their current challenges, far fewer doses have been administered in low-income countries as COVAX is behind its schedule for deliveries. There are, of course, other challenges in a number of low-income countries, where poor health care infrastructure has resulted in many of the vaccine doses that have been received not being used. See NPR, They Desperately Need COVID Vaccines. So Why Are Some Countries Throwing Out Doses?, May 5, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/05/05/991684096/they-desperately-need-covid-vaccines-so-why-are-some-countries-throwing-out-dose (“It seems incredible: At a time when low-income nations are clamoring for vaccines against COVID-19, at least three countries — Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and South Sudan — are either discarding doses or giving them to other countries. What’s going on?”).

The Proposal for a TRIPs Waiver from India and South Africa

Back in October 2020, India and South Africa filed a proposal for a waiver from many TRIPS Agreement obligations for all WTO Members for a period of years on vaccines, therapeutics and other medical goods relevant to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. There has not been agreement within the TRIPS Council on approving the proposed waiver with a number of advanced pharmaceutical producing countries (U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland) opposing the proposal or disagreeing that a waiver would address the current availability challenges. The issue has been discussed on a number of occasions in the TRIPS Council. See, e.g., WTO press release, TRIPS Council to continue to discuss temporary IP waiver, revised proposal expected in May, 30 April 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_30apr21_e.htm. There have also been efforts to identify challenges to increasing capacity and production faster and addressing concerns over equitable access. Those issues have been addressed in prior posts, listed above.

There has been considerable pressure from NGOs and, in the U.S., from Democratic members of Congress to agree to the waiver despite concerns within the Biden Administration on whether agreeing to a waiver would actually improve production or access. The Biden Administration in late April announced its decision to make 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines available for redistribution in the coming months (including 10 million doses in current inventory once FDA approves release). AstraZeneca has not yet applied for authorization for its vaccine in the United States, and the U.S. believes it has sufficient other supplies to permit sharing the 60 million doses expected to be available through June. See Financial Times, U.S. plans to share 60m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, 26 April 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/db461dd7-b132-4f08-a94e-b23a6764bdb3. And as part of the relief the U.S. is providing to India, the U.S. has directed inputs for 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent to India instead of to U.S. facilities.

Leading nations through groupings like the G-7, G-20 and others have been looking at the options for further increasing production in the coming months to give greater coverage, as well as looking at sending doses not needed to COVAX or particular countries in need. See, e.g., Gavi, France makes important vaccine dose donation to COVAX, 23 April 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/france-makes-important-vaccine-dose-donation-covax.

On May 5, 2021, the G-7 Foreign Ministers completed a meeting in London and issued a communique which included language about access to vaccines. The G-7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom with the European Union as an observed. The U.K. as host also invited Australia, South Korea, India, South Africa and Brunei (as Chair for the ASEAN group of countries). The communique from the G-7 and the EU can be found here and the section on access to vaccines is copied below. See G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué, London, May 5, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/983631/G7-foreign-and-development-ministers-meeting-communique-london-5-may-2021.pdf.

“Enabling equitable global access to Covid-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics and Diagnostics (VTDs)

“62. We affirm our belief that commitment to an open, transparent and multilateral approach is essential in responding to the global health impacts of Covid-19. A global health emergency on this scale requires co-ordinated action and global solidarity. We reaffirm our support for all existing pillars of Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator
(ACT-A), including its COVAX facility. We recognise that equipping the ACTAccelerator with adequate funding is central. We support the strengthening of health systems, and affordable and equitable global access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and we will further increase our efforts to support affordable and equitable access for people in need, taking approaches consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation. We recall in this regard the Charter for Equitable Access to Covid-19 Tools. We recognise the importance of effective and well-functioning global
value chains for VTD supply and will work with industry to encourage and support on a voluntary basis and on mutually agreed terms, including licensing, technology and know-how transfers, contract manufacturing , transparency, and data sharing, public private costs and risk sharing.
We recognise the need to enable a sustainable environment for local, regional and global productions, beyond Covid-19 products for long-term impact. We welcome the collective G7 commitments of over $10.7 billion USD to date in funding to these initiatives and encourage all partners to increase their support as the next critical step in controlling the pandemic and strengthening health security. In this context, we look forward to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) Summit to be co-hosted by Gavi and Japan following the COVAX AMC One World Protected Event co-hosted by Gavi and US. (Emphasis added)

“63. We commit to the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Equitable Access and Collaboration Statement to help accelerate the end of the acute phase of the Covid19 pandemic. We commit to supporting COVAX financially, including by encouraging pledges to the Facility, including at the COVAX AMC Summit in June, disbursing as soon as possible, providing in-kind contributions, and coordinating with and using COVAX, which is the key mechanism for global sharing of vaccines to supplement its own direct procurement, to enable the rapid equitable deployment of vaccines.

“64. We support the work of G7 Health Ministers and continued G7 efforts to work with partners to improve pandemic preparedness and global health security, with WHO as the leading and co-ordinating authority, to strengthen health systems, develop solutions that embed a One Health approach, tackle antimicrobial resistance, and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. We welcome the establishment of the One Health High Level Experts Panel supported by WHO, FAO, OIE and UNEP. We are determined to ensure that lessons are learned and applied from the pandemic. We look forward to the forthcoming G20 Global Health Summit in Rome and to its Declaration, and to further close cooperation on strengthening the global health
architecture, including longer-term considerations such as exploring the potential value of a global health treaty, to strengthen global pandemic preparedness and response. We will deploy our foreign and development policies and programmes to build a more resilient world that is better protected against health threats, including encouraging new public health guidance in consultation with national and relevant international organisations on international travel by sea or air, including cruise ships, and supporting an expert-driven, transparent, and independent process for the next
phase of the WHO-convened Covid-19 origins study, and for expeditiously investigating future outbreaks of unknown origin. Together with G7 Health Ministers, we commit to work in partnership with low- and lower-middle income countries by improving coordination of G7 support for, and collaboration with, public health and health security capacities and their regional bodies in Africa, Asia and other regions, building on the G7 commitment to support implementation of and compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) in 76 countries, taking into account the recommendations from the IHR Review Committee. We will align with and support national and regional health priorities and leadership to improve public health. We look forward to the publication of the G7 Carbis Bay Progress Report on global health and what we can learn from its conclusions on G7 commitments to strengthening health systems to advance universal health coverage and global health security.

“65. We note the continuing need to support health systems and health security and secure sustainable financing, together with partner countries’ domestic resources, to help accelerate global vaccine development and deployment, recover and then sustain access to essential health and nutrition services and health commodities, including in
humanitarian settings and for sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to bolster the global health architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through stronger rapid response mechanisms. We look forward to working with G7 Finance Ministers to build consensus on practical actions to facilitate access to existing global financing
sources to meet demands for access to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as how best to tackle the ACT-A funding gaps, with the aim of shortening the lifespan of the pandemic and with particular focus on the needs of vulnerable countries. In this regard, we look forward to the outcomes of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) initiated by the WHO, and the High Level Independent Panel on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response (HLIP) established by the G20.”

At the same time that G-7 foreign ministers were concluding their work in London, the WTO was holding the first of two days of a General Council meeting. The WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged the resolution of addressing equitable access to vaccines. The U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement changing the U.S. position (and contradicting what they had agreed with other G-7 foreign ministers hours before) by indicating that the U.S. would support the waiver of TRIPS rights and obligations during the pandemic and would work on text in the TRIPS Council to see if a consensus could be achieved. The Director-General’s statement from May 5, the USTR statement and the Director-General’s comments on the USTR statement are embedded below.

WTO-_-News-Speech-DG-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-General-Council

Statement-from-Ambassador-Katherine-Tai-on-the-Covid-19-Trips-Waiver-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Statement-of-Director-General-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-on-USTR-Tais-statement-on-the-TRIPS-waiver

While the pharmaceutical industry in advanced countries is unquestionably shocked by the shift in U.S. position (and stocks of vaccine producers suffered stock market price declines on May 5), the EU President has indicated a willingness to look at the issue and the French President has indicated his support of the U.S. position. See Financial Times, Pharma industry fears Biden’s patent move sets dangerous precedent, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/f54bf71b-87be-4290-9c95-4d110eec7a90; The Guardian, EU ‘ready to discuss’ waiver on Covidvaccine patents, 6 May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/06/eu-ready-to-discuss-waiver-on-covid-vaccine-patents (“The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen , has said the bloc is ‘ready to discuss’ a US-backed proposal for a waiver on the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he was ‘absolutely in favour’ of the plan as pressure built for a move that could boost their production and distribution around the world.”).

The concerns of industry have been identified in prior posts of mine and are summarized in yesterday’s Financial Times article on what if any benefit there will be should a waiver be agreed to. See Financial Times, Will a suspension of Covid vaccine patents lead to more jabs?, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/b0f42409-6fdf-43eb-96c7-d166e090ab99 (“[T]he drug makers’ main argument is that waiving intellectual property is not the solution. Vaccine makers have already pulled out all the stops to supply billions of doses at an unprecedented speed, including signing unusual partnerships with rivals to expand production. Moderna put its patents online last summer but they are not useful alone.”).

The Road Forward

It is unclear where the process at the WTO goes from here. The WTO TRIPS Council is expecting a revised document from India and South Africa in May that arguably could become the basis for WTO Members, including the U.S. and EU and others who have been opposed to a waiver, to consider and negotiate from. If a consensus emerges around a text, then it would go to the General Council for a vote/approval. But while the formal process is understood, it is unclear what an agreement would actually look like. It is hard to imagine that the U.S., EU, Switzerland, Japan and possibly others would agree to waive the pharmaceutical companies rights within their own territories. So there is a question whether rights could be waived selectively? If so, what possible liability would exist for governments and/or companies exploiting the IP rights of others? It is unclear if there will be a requirement for some/all countries who engage in use of others intellectual property to provide compensation similar to a compulsory license fee. Will countries that have existing voluntary licensing agreements with producers be able to void those agreements or have the same IP rights used by other companies? Will there be limitations on where goods produced can be shipped (e.g., only to low- and middle-income countries)? What will the basis be for getting IP holders to transfer technology where there is no compensation? There are undoubtedly dozens of other issues that the industry and their lawyers have besides the above. If waiver is the direction the world goes, presumably there needs to be transparency and full opportunity for vetting proposals so that all issues are identified, understood and properly addressed.

In my prior posts, I have argued that to date vaccines have largely gone to the countries with large levels of infections and deaths. Those pushing for greater equity in access based on a simple percent of global population approach abandon those concerns when a large developing country runs into a surge and finds itself in serious difficulty, such as is happening with India. I support targeting relief to address fire situations like India. See April 29, 2021, COVID-19 — Efforts to help India during its current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/29/covid-19-efforts-to-help-india-during-its-current-surge-of-cases-hospitalizations-and-deaths/. There are equally important fire situations in other countries that deserve the attention and concern of the world as well.

The WTO has been and should be encouraging Members to eliminate export restrictions as quickly as possible. The new Director-General has used the power of convening to probe what are the barriers to increased production and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. Many of the barriers are bottlenecks in supply chains, shortages of various inputs as the industry drastically ramps up production of vaccines, lack of trained personnel in some countries where there may be existing vaccine capacity for other vaccines. Governments can and should be working with industry to address bottlenecks on an expedited basis. Encouraging voluntary licensing is useful and there are some 272 agreements around the world already in place with others being worked on. However, as Johnson & Johnson’s experience (where it talked to 100 companies but only found 10 they could work with) shows, the presence of a facility in a country is not the same as a facility with trained personnel who can actually produce a safe vaccine of the types currently approved for use on COVID-19.

The biggest short term availability of more supplies for low- and middle-income countries is not from the waiver but rather from governments redirecting volumes that are not needed for their own populations. The U.S. and EU are each starting that, but more can and should be done. Such actions have real potential.

Similarly, pursuit of new vaccines, such as one being tested in a number of developing countries that is far lower cost than some currently being used to vaccinate against COVID-19 and which apparently can be easily used in many countries in existing vaccine facilities makes a lot of sense. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.

While there are lots of groups and individuals arguing there is a moral imperative to wave the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies during the global pandemic, there is little practical evidence that such an approach will get the world to the place presumably everybody wants — the quickest curtailment of the pandemic for the benefit of all.

Time will tell whether an effort to negotiate a waiver is an aid or a hindrance to actually ending the pandemic.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announces selection of four Deputy Directors-General

A little over two months after assuming the position of Director-General (“DG”) of the World Trade Organization, DG Okonjo-Iweala announced her four Deputy Directors-General (“DDGs”). Two of the four DDGs are women, marking the first time that there is gender balance among the DDGs. The press release from the WTO is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-DG-Okonjo-Iweala-announces-her-four-Deputy-Directors-General

DG Okonjo-Iweala’s selections follow past practice of picking DDGs from the four regions other than the region of the DG (Africa). The U.S. and the EU (France this time) continue to hold a DDG slot (Angela Ellard and Amb. Jean-Marie Paugam respectively). The Asian slot goes to China (Amb. Xiangchen Zhang) for the second time in a row (potentially indicating that three of the five slots will be going to the US, EU and China going forward). The Latin slot goes to Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica. Three of the four have extensive experience in Geneva with Amb. Xiangchen Zhang having recently concluded his role as China’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, with Amb. Jean-Marie Paugam having been France’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and with Ms. Anabel Gonzalez having had many roles both within the WTO Secretariat and with the Government of Costa Rica including Minister of Foreign Trade. All four have extensive experience with trade issues as the short bios included in the press release review. Ms. Angela Ellard from the U.S. has decades of experience in the interaction between the legislative and executive branches in the U.S. in the trade arena having served in a senior staff capacity for the House Ways and Means Republicans.

Today’s press release did not identify areas of responsibility for each of the four DDGs. That information will presumably be released in the coming days.

In prior posts I have urged the selection of strong individuals for the four DDG slots, people able to help DG Okonjo-Iweala with the myriad challenges facing the organization. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/; March 31, 2021, When will WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala reveal choices for Deputy Directors-General?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/when-will-wto-dg-okonjo-iweala-reveal-choices-for-deputy-directors-general/.  The four individuals who have been selected all appear to be strong individuals with the ability to help the DG in outreach to major Members. They bring a lot of talent and depth of understanding of current challenges to their jobs. Chemistry among the group and with the DG is something that will develop over time and hopefully will have them being a cohesive and highly supportive team for the DG.

With much to accomplish to restore credibility for the WTO and its ability to help move global trade forward in a more sustainable and equitable manner, I join all those wishing the new DDGs success in their new positions.

Alan Wolff’s vision for saving the WTO — aspirational but is it achievable?

Alan Wolff served as a Deputy Director-General at the World Trade Organization until the end of March this year. He is now a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics. While at the WTO, DDG Wolff was a frequent speaker to Members and groups on various aspects of the WTO, its importance to bettering lives and promoting peace and the need for reform to remain relevant. I have covered some of former DDG Wolff’s statements in prior posts. See, e.g., March 6, 2021, WTO’s four Deputy Directors-General tenure reportedly concludes at the end of March 2021 — thanks for an outstanding job, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/06/wtos-four-deputy-directors-general-tenure-reportedly-concludes-at-the-end-of-march-2021-thanks-for-an-outstanding-job/ (DDG Wolff gave 142 speeches between October 2017 and March 6, 2021); December 8, 2020, Trade for Peace Week at the WTO – a positive look at how trade can and should contribute to global peace and stability, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/08/trade-for-peace-week-at-the-wto-a-positive-look-at-how-trade-can-and-should-contribute-to-global-peace-and-stability/; November 22, 2020, DDG Wolff’s comments to G20 on immediate challenges for trade to address economic rebound from the pandemic and for WTO reform, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/22/ddg-wolffs-comments-to-g20-on-immediate-challenges-for-trade-to-address-economic-rebound-from-the-pandemic-and-for-wto-reform/; 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/.

On April 29, 2021, the Peterson Institute of International Economics presented an hour virtual program with Mr. Wolff during which he presented his thoughts on “Saving the WTO, A Roadmap to the Future” and answered questions. Mr. Wolff provided a paper, and a slide deck (which he went through during his presentation). Links to the virtual meeting, his paper and his slide deck can be found here: PIIE Virtual Event, The Future of the WTO, April 29, 2021, Chttps://www.piie.com/events/future-wto; Alan Wm. Wolff, Saving the WTO, A Roadmap to the Future of the World Trade Organization, April 29, 2021, https://www.piie.com/sites/default/files/documents/wolff-4-29-2021speech.pdf; Alan Wm. Wolff, presentation slides, Saving the WTO, A Rodmap to the Future, April 29, 2021, https://www.piie.com/sites/default/files/documents/wolff-4-29-2021ppt.pdf.

Mr. Wolff’s paper, slide deck, and presentation reflect his thinking on the importance of the World Trade Organization, the challenges that need to be addressed to get to a future of continued importance for the WTO and reforms that will be required in the structure and operation of the organization. For those with an interest in the multilateral trading system and the challenges defining the current mix of global trade needs, Mr. Wolff’s materials are an important resource and will undoubtedly spark a lot of discussion in Geneva, in capitals and among those caring about a viable trading system. While there are practical aspects of his paper, the paper in total is aspirational. While there are many questions about whether the elements of the roadmap laid out are achievable and while there are some potential missing links or sequencing issues that may prevent forward movement on some items, Mr. Wolff’s vision of what could be is worth careful evaluation.

Mr. Wolff reviews that the WTO governs more than three quarters of world trade, is the basis for the hundreds of free trade agreements and has all Members stating that the system serves their interests. Negotiations, transparency/ implementation and dispute settlement are the core elements. For fragile and conflict-affected countries, membership supports achieving peace through improving opportunities for citizens. Since the late 1940s, the GATT and now the WTO have seen huge increases in trade with billions of lives improved as a result.

While the value of the WTO is encapsulated in the above aspects, there are obviously many problems that plague the current functioning of the WTO. Some are discussed in Mr. Wolff’s paper — e.g., mistrust, limited success of negotiating function, lack of full transparency, breakdown of the dispute settlement system, and changing economic profile of Members and hence obligations Members should assume.

There are eight current major challenges that Mr. Wolff identifies as needing to be addressed to get to the future (slides 8 and 9):

“1. Dealing with the trade aspects of fighting the pandemic.

“2. Using trade to boost the economic recover, with special attention to developing countries.

“3. Making the recovery greener.

“4. Assuring that carbon border adjustment measures are based on cooperation and do not become a source of conflict.

“5. Forestalling fragmentation of the digital economy.

“6. Putting into place binding dispute settlement that is accepted as legitimate by all litigants.

“7. Making the trading system visibly more positive for workers.

“8. Reforming the WTO as an institution.”

Dispute Settlement discussion

There are many specific proposals for actions that are suggested to be taken under each of the topics. Each section of the paper is worth careful review. For purposes of this post, because I have written extensively on dispute settlement, I look at the section of Mr. Wolff’s paper dealing with dispute settlement (pages 14-18). Mr. Wolff’s discussion is copied below.

Dispute settlement

“• The primary feature that distinguishes the WTO from most other international organizations is the fact that the commitments contained in its agreements are enforceable. Putting into place binding dispute settlement accepted as legitimate by all litigants is essential to restore enforceability.

“There being no Appellate Body (AB) at present, major litigants, including the U.S. and the EU, have used a procedural trick to prevent a dispute settlement panel finding from becoming final. This is informally known as “appealing into the void”. Proceedings are paused indefinitely while the losing party at the panel stage appeals to a body that does not exist except on paper.

“The blocking of appointments is the sole result of one Member, the United States, being dissatisfied with what the Appellate Body was doing and not doing, mostly rendering trade remedies less effective and in some instances totally ineffective. While killing off the Appellate Body was largely a matter of one Member acting against the will of 163 others, there has been a growing recognition that only a serious negotiation is going to resolve the matter. Importantly, an increasing number of Members now concede that the former system had serious imperfections, so that change is necessary.

“There is a far wider and deeper importance to the dispute settlement issue than correcting quasi-judicial overreach, or under-performance. The premise on which the United States entered into its agreements liberalizing trade was that industries and workers suffering harm from facing a more open domestic market or from unfair foreign competition would have a remedy within agreed limits. The erosion of trade remedies — their increasing unavailability and increasing ineffectiveness when available — caused a fundamental imbalance as compared with the deal that the United States thought that it had negotiated. In part it is due to this imbalance that a belief has grown in some quarters that the WTO serves capital rather than labor.

“It is the widely held view in the United States, in the Senate, House and Executive Branch, that the Appellate Body sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Domestic experience in the United States with its own Supreme Court is instructive. The Court itself becomes threatened if it becomes politically tone-deaf. This occurred with respect to
New Deal legislation during the 1930s, and it was, observers feel, threatened again during more recent times with the attempted judicial repeal of Obamacare. In the United States, the constitutional system has checks and balances preventing a rule by judges (gouvernance des juges as the problem was known when it was a central cause of the French revolution). In the WTO, there has been neither a legislative nor an executive function available to review and change any outcomes that emerged from the Appellate Body. Kritarchy, rule by judges, is a form or governance that is unsustainable, and that is what occurred, at least with respect to trade remedies. This is unsupportable for an organization consisting of Members prizing sovereignty over their own trade.

“The solution to the WTO dispute settlement problem lies in creating accountability to the Members. This should not take a form that interferes with the independence of its decision-making nor the binding nature of decisions. I support, as do almost all and perhaps ultimately all Members, a binding, independent, two-tier (panel and appellate stage) WTO dispute settlement system. As it may be impossible to create a relevant legislative function which would provide systemic checks and balances, much of the cure of necessity will have to lie in how a new Appellate Body (NAB) is structured.

“The European Union created a multiparty interim arrangement (MPIA). Although not a complete solution in itself, it can provide some ideas for moving forward with changes in the structure of the appellate body and how it functions. The process conducted by then Dispute Settlement Body Chair Ambassador David Walker also yielded elements of a
potential solution. The following suggestions could be considered:

“• Expand the number of Appellate Body members. The EU suggested a roster of 10 for its MPIA (only three serving on any one case) but this number could be expanded to provide greater diversity of representation both in terms of geography and skill sets — including relevant trade remedy experience, as antidumping and subsidies are complex matters.

“• Provide explicitly for a role of the WTO secretariat to seek to narrow differences and make the process more about settling a particular dispute than on seeking to make law.

“• Seek to uphold the primary importance of trade agreements by directing appellate panels to look at negotiating history to discern the intent of the parties.

“• Have strict time limits for appellate review to discourage a de novo examination of the issues at hand.

“• Place emphasis on streamlining written presentations as well as limits on length of decisions to focus on the essential elements needed to settle a dispute.

“• The rules should provide that only issues raised by the parties can be addressed on review.

“• Where the WTO agreements do not cover a specific issue, the matter should be referred to the Members to resolve through rulemaking.

“• Double down on the emphasis that the appellate review is not to expand obligations or limit rights and is to give due deference to domestic decision making where trade remedies are the subject of review.

“• The appellate body should not act as a collegial body on particular cases — appellate panels should be independent of each other.

“• It is necessary to try to provide a suitable oversight role for the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) which is currently no more than a rubber stamp for appellate decisions.

“Another major problem with WTO dispute settlement is that it takes far too long to get to a result, often taking several years. This is unacceptable in the eyes of ministers of WTO Member countries bringing a case and industries seeking to benefit from it. Strict time limits must be adhered to. Justice delayed can easily become justice denied.

“As for process, I would suggest that the trilateral partners, the EU, the U.S, and Japan, begin working on a solution. The three are used to working with each other. The EU and the U.S. have been the furthest apart on the AB issue, with Japan somewhat in the middle. In parallel, a small working group of friends of the DSB chair or General Council chair, could be constituted to consider ways forward. The trilateral would feed suggestions into the working group, and both could report to the Membership as a whole in the DSB. At this stage a meeting of the whole membership in the name of inclusiveness, would not be productive. Inclusion in a null result is not meaningful inclusion.”

As Mr. Wolff’s paper correctly notes, there have not been effective checks and balance on the Appellate Body which is not supportable over time as it results in obligations not from negotiations but from decisions of the Appellate Body. His suggestions address a number of concerns raised by the U.S., including overreach problems through clarifying what expanding rights and obligations means (e.g., no gap filling), providing deference to administering authorities in trade remedy cases (giving meaning to ADA Art. 17.6(ii), limit issues reviewed to those raised by parties, strict time limits, etc.

Missing from Mr. Wolff’s analysis is the concern raised by the Trump Administration that because economies such as the Chinese economy don’t conform to market-economy principles, the current dispute settlement system doesn’t permit addressing distortions created by such economic systems and permits such economies to block efforts to address such distortions by trading partners under their domestic law. Mr. Wolff while serving as a Deputy Director-General at the WTO reviewed his belief that the WTO system was premised on convergence of economic systems versus the coexistence of different economic systems. He repeated that view during the virtual event on April 29th and in his paper but noted that a number of WTO Members do not support that view. In a consensus based system, those opposed to convergence can block clarification of the need to converge. Mr. Wolff’s paper doesn’t review whether dispute settlement reform can occur without solving that underlying issue (either through achieving convergence or by adopting new rules to achieve more acceptable balance). Indeed, his paper suggests that “Part of the answer to distrust in the area of trade will be putting into place more effective and timely dispute settlement as a means for trade agreement enforcement.” (page 22)

Also missing from Mr. Wolff’s analysis is the need to curb review of factual findings of panels by the Appellate Body (the DSU Article 11 issue) and the need to address rebalancing of rights and obligations to correct for past overreach situations.

Conclusion

Mr. Wolff’s paper and presentation correctly claim that the WTO must be more engaged and respond to the existing challenges through action. While acknowledging the mistrust and problems with the current structure and operation of the WTO, his remarks present a vision of a better functioning global trade system that responds to the needs of its Members, is capable of addressing a changing world through improved transparency, cooperation, updated rules, a revised dispute settlement system and a Secretariat that is able to present ideas for action, independently monitor compliance and more.

For skeptics, it will be easy to point to not only mistrust, but vastly different perspectives by Members on the role of the WTO and the focus of future activities, the current consensus system and its use by many to thwart movement, and the increased activity of Members outside of the WTO to support the view that Mr. Wolff’s vision, however interesting, has no chance of succeeding.

Mr. Wolff quotes President Theodore Roosevelt in his paper (page 5), a quote that he would undoubtedly put forward in response to the skeptics and to urge WTO Members to recommit to the effort.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.