Australia

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.

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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.

USTR 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers — areas of concern with a focus on China

Every year for the last 36 years, USTR releases a National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. This year’s forward provides a little background on the report. See USTR, 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, page 1, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021NTE.pdf.

“The 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE) is the 36th in an annual series that highlights significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports, U.S. foreign direct investment, and U.S. electronic commerce. This document is a companion piece to the President’s 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, published by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in March.

“In accordance with section 181 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended by section 303 of the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984 and amended by section 1304 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, section 311 of the Uruguay Round Trade Agreements Act, and section 1202 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, USTR is required to submit to the President, the Senate Finance Committee, and appropriate committees in the House of Representatives, an annual report on significant foreign trade barriers. The statute requires an inventory of the most important foreign barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services, including agricultural commodities and U.S. intellectual property; foreign direct investment by U.S. persons, especially if such investment has implications for trade in goods or services; and U.S. electronic commerce. Such an inventory enhances awareness of these trade restrictions, facilitates U.S. negotiations aimed at reducing or eliminating these barriers, and is a valuable tool in enforcing U.S. trade laws and strengthening the rules-based system.”

This year’s report covers 65 countries or country groups, so not all trading partners are covered by the annual report. China has the largest section of the report for an individual country (36 pages) while the European Union (covering 27 countries) has the largest section overall (52 pages). Other important trading partners with significant sections in the report include India (24 pages), Russian Federation (20 pages), Japan (18 pages), Indonesia (16 pages), Republic of Korea (14 pages), Brazil (14 pages), Vietnam (14 pages). the USMCA partners had smaller sections — Canada (8 pages) and Mexico (12 pages). the countries covered account for nearly 100 percent of U.S. trade in goods and nearly 90% of U.S. services trade.

The USTR press release from March 31, 2021 (majority of release copied below) provides an outline of some of the major areas of concern. See USTR, Ambassador Tai releases 2021 National Trade Estimate Report, March 31, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/march/ambassador-tai-releases-2021-national-trade-estimate-report.

Significant Barriers to U.S. Exports in 65 Trading Partners Detailed

“WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today released the 2021 National Trade Estimate (NTE) Report, providing a detailed inventory of significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services, investment, and electronic commerce.

“’The President’s Trade Agenda released earlier this month outlined a clear vision for supporting America’s working families by promoting a fair international trading system that boosts inclusive economic growth,’” said Ambassador Tai. ‘The 2021 NTE Report identifies a range of important challenges and priorities to guide the Biden Administration’s effort to craft trade policy that reflects America’s values and builds back better.’

“Published annually since 1985, the NTE Report is a comprehensive review of significant foreign trade barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services. The 570-page report examines 65 trading partners and country groups, including the U.S.’ largest trading partners, all 20 U.S. FTA partners, and other economies and country groupings of interest such as the Arab League, the United Kingdom (included as a separate entity for the first time in this report), and the European Union. Together, these economies account for 99 percent of U.S. goods trade and 87 percent of U.S. services trade. 

“The NTE Report covers significant trade barriers in 11 areas, including (1) import policies such as tariffs, import licensing and customs barriers; (2) technical barriers to trade; (3) sanitary and phytosanitary measures; (4) subsidies; (5) government procurement; (6) intellectual property protection; (7) services barriers; (8) barriers to digital trade and electronic commerce; (9) investment barriers; (10) competition; and (11) other barriers. 

“Taken as a whole, the NTE Report highlights significant barriers that present major policy challenges with implications for future U.S. growth opportunities, and the fairness of the global economy. Examples of these significant obstacles include: 

Agricultural Trade Barriers:  The NTE Report details an array of tariff and nontariff barriers to U.S. agricultural exports across trading partners and regions, ranging from non-science-based regulatory measures, opaque approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, burdensome import licensing and certification requirements, and restrictions on the ability of U.S. producers to use the common names of the products that they produce and export. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on barriers that hamper the ability of U.S. farmers, ranchers and food processors to access markets worldwide. 

Digital Trade:  The 2021 NTE Report details restrictive data policies in India, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Turkey, among other countries; local software pre-installation requirements in Russia, Indonesian tariffs on digital products, and existing or proposed local content requirements for online streaming services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU, Mexico, Ukraine, and Vietnam; and discriminatory tax measures in Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the UK. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on digital policies that threaten the regulatory landscape for U.S. exporters of digital products and services and undermine U.S. manufacturers’ and service suppliers’ ability to move data across borders. 

Excess Capacity:  China’s state-led approach to the economy and trade makes it the world’s leading offender in creating non-economic capacity, as evidenced by the severe and persistent excess capacity situations in several industries, including steel, aluminum, and solar, among others. China also is well on its way to creating severe excess capacity in other industries through its pursuit of industrial plans such as Made in China 2025, pursuant to which the Chinese government is doling out hundreds of billions of dollars to support Chinese companies and requiring them to achieve preset targets for domestic market share–at the expense of imports–and global market share in several advanced manufacturing industries. USTR will continue its bilateral and multilateral efforts to address these harmful trade practices.

Technical Barriers to Trade:   Technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures that unnecessarily restrict trade or curb the movement of innovative products risk lost opportunities to capitalize on America’s leadership in science and high-tech manufacturing, services, and agriculture. The NTE Report’s many examples of this challenge range from non-transparent European Union chemical regulations to Chinese Information Technology cybersecurity and encryption standards, to Indian and Brazilian testing and certification rules for telecommunications equipment, to technology. 

“The United States is taking steps to address these issues, and encourage flexible regulatory approaches and transparent, open processes, with these and many other partners. Within APEC, for example, the United States is engaged in projects on cybersecurity and blockchain to identify key public policy issues, and has projects in development on aerial drones and 3D printing. Another key example is USTR’s bilateral and multilateral work on standards and regulations related to electric cars, to ensure that vehicles from different manufacturers can all be charged reliably.

“The NTE Report details thousands of individual barriers to specific manufactured goods, farm products, and services. Each can reduce U.S. opportunities to export, invent, support jobs, and raise wages and incomes. These range from Argentina’s imposition of quota limits on imported books in September 2020 to India’s 38.8 percent average tariff on agricultural goods; the anomalous technical standards Saudi Arabia applies to shoes and electronic equipment; Ecuador’s mandatory and cumbersome process for allocating import licenses for agriculture products such as meats and dairy products; Indonesian local content requirements across a broad range of sectors; and Russian bans on imported food.”

What the NTE has to say about China 

The United States has for many years raised multiple concerns with China’s practices which the U.S. views as distorting trade flows and impeding market access to China. While the U.S. and China have engaged bilaterally extensively since China’s WTO accession and the U.S. has pursued several dozen disputes against Chinese practices that were clearly contrary to WTO obligations of China, little overall progress has been made in resolving the wide array of Chinese government distortions created and maintained over the years. These distortions contribute to the extraordinary trade deficit the United States has with China. See, e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, FEBRUARY 2021, April 7, 2021, https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/us-international-trade-goods-and-services-february-2021 (U.S. trade deficit in 2020 in goods with China was $310.2 billion; U.S. trade surplus in services was $22.1 billion; U.S. deficit in goods with China increased to $50.9 billion in the January – February 2021 period versus $42.1 billion in the first two months of 2020).

The Trump Administration pursued a 301 investigation on a number of intellectual property concerns with China, conducted Section 232 national security investigations on steel and aluminum — two sectors where Chinese actions have created massive global excess capacity — and negotiated with China the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement which took effect in mid-February 2020. The Agreement both addressed a number of problems in agriculture, intellectual property and services and committed China to expanded purchases of goods and services from the United States in 2021-2022 (and going forward). The NTE reviews where Chinese commitments under the Phase I Agreement apply and what progress is being seen. On the purchase commitments, China has not come close to meeting the commitments in 2021 though there were increased imports from the U.S. of agricultural products and energy products. See, e.g., March 20, 2021, The U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement under the Biden Administration, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/20/the-u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-under-the-biden-administration/. The U.S. has a long history of China promising reforms that are either not carried out or are undermined by additional restrictions. The list of areas of concern making it into the annual NTE is not exhaustive but illustrative of the challenges to obtaining conditions of fair trade with the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy.

Areas of concern for the United States with China shown in the 2021 NTE include:

Tariffs (there are some high agricultural tariffs, and the large tariffs imposed in retaliation to U.S. Section 232 actions on steel and aluminum and U.S. Section 301 actions for Chinese practices reviewed in the investigation).

Non-tariff barriers include

  • Industrial Policies (such as “Made in China 2025” and described generally as follows, “China continues to pursue a wide array of industrial policies that seek to limit market access for imported goods, foreign manufacturers, and foreign services suppliers, while offering substantial government guidance, resources, and regulatory support to Chinese industries. The beneficiaries of these constantly evolving policies are not only state-owned enterprises (SOEs) but also other domestic companies attempting to move up the economic value chain.),
  • State-Owned Enterprises (a number of concerns are raised including “China has also previously indicated that it would consider adopting the principle of ‘competitive neutrality’ for SOEs. However, China has continued to pursue policies that further enshrine the dominant role of the state and its industrial plans when it comes to the operation of state-owned and state-invested enterprises.”),
  • Industrial Subsidies (massive subsidies to industries creating excess capacity and causing harm to U.S. producers globally; U.S. is working with the EU and Japan on possible amendments to Subsidies Agreement to address certain aspects not effectively handled under existing rules)
  • Fisheries Subsidies (size of subsidies by China to its industry),
  • Excess Capacity (problem created in many sectors including steel, aluminum, solar panels and others through state programs, subsidies, etc.),
  • Indigenous Innovation (including preferences for IP developed in China),
  • Technology Transfer (301 investigation looked at “(1) the use of a variety of tools to require or pressure the transfer of technologies and IP to Chinese companies; (2) depriving U.S. companies of the ability to set market based terms in technology licensing negotiations with Chinese companies; (3) intervention in markets by directing or unfairly facilitating the acquisition of U.S. companies and assets by Chinese companies to obtain cutting-edge technologies and IP; and, (4) conducting or supporting cyber-enabled theft and unauthorized intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks for commercial gains.”)
  • Investment Restrictions (different systems for domestic and foreign investment; discriminatory treatment),
  • Administrative Licensing (problems continue to be experienced in a wide array of licensing situations)
  • Standards (ability of foreign companies to participate in establishing; development of Chinese standards regardless of international standards),
  • Secure and Controllable ICT Policies (cybersecurity law used to discriminate against foreign ICT prducts),
  • Encryption (“Onerous requirements on the use of encryption, including intrusive approval processes and, in many cases, mandatory use of indigenous encryption algorithms (e.g., for WiFi and 4G cellular products), continue to be cited by stakeholders as a significant trade barrier.”),
  • Competition Policy (“Many U.S. companies have cited selective enforcement of the Anti-monopoly Law against foreign companies seeking to do business in China as a major concern, and they have highlighted the limited enforcement of this law against SOEs.” “Instead, these remedies seem to be designed to further industrial policy goals. Another concern relates to the procedural fairness of Anti-monopoly Law investigations of foreign companies. U.S. industry has expressed concern about insufficient predictability, fairness, and transparency in Antimonopoly Law investigative processes.”),
  • Pharmaceuticals (some long standing issues addressed in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement; others to be addressed in the future),
  • Medical devices (China’s “pricing and tendering procedures for medical devices and its discriminatory treatment of imported medical devices”),
  • Cosmetics (“concerns with China’s regulation of cosmetics.” “Despite years of United States engagement with China via the JCCT, the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation, and other fora to share views and expertise regarding the regulation of cosmetics, as of March 2021 China has not yet addressed key U.S. trade concerns, including basic concerns such as the need to use international standards to facilitate cosmetics conformity assessment, nor has it provided assurances that U.S. intellectual property will be protected.”),
  • Export restraints (need to bring multiple cases at WTO on inputs where violate Protocol of Accession),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (modifications of rates to change trade flows),
  • Import Ban on Remanufactured Products
  • Import Ban on Recyclable Materials
  • Trade Remedies (problems in transparency and procedural fairness; problems also in apparent use of trade remedies to go after trading partners who use WTO rights against Chinese products),
  • Government Procurement (failure to join the WTO GPA yet),
  • Corporate Social Credit System (“Foreign companies are concerned that the corporate social credit system will also be used by the Chinese Government to pressure them to act in accordance with relevant Chinese industrial policies or otherwise to make investments or conduct their business operations in ways that run counter to market principles or their own business strategies. Foreign companies are also concerned about the opaque nature of the corporate social credit system.”),
  • Other Non-Tariff Measures (“Key areas include China’s labor laws, laws governing land use in China, commercial dispute resolution and the treatment of non-governmental organizations. Corruption among Chinese Government officials, enabled in part by China’s incomplete adoption of the rule of law, is also a key concern.”).

Intellectual Property Protection (many issues were included in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, some progress on issues raised).

  • Trade Secrets (major area of concern and theft, some believed from government-supported entities; some improvements from U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Bad Faith Trademark Registration (a continuing major concern; some progress in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Online Infringement (“Online piracy continues on a large scale in China, affecting a wide range of industries, including those involved in distributing legitimate music, motion pictures, books and journals, software, and video games.” Some progress made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Counterfeit Goods (a major problem. “The Phase One Agreement requires China to take effective enforcement action against counterfeit pharmaceuticals and related products, including active pharmaceutical ingredients, and to significantly increase actions to stop the manufacture and distribution of counterfeits with significant health or safety risks. The Phase One Agreement also requires China to provide that its judicial authorities shall order the forfeiture and destruction of pirated and counterfeit goods, along with the materials and implements predominantly used in their manufacture. In addition, the Agreement requires China to significantly increase the number of enforcement actions at physical markets in China and against goods that are exported or in transit. It further requires China to ensure, through third party audits, that government agencies and SOEs only use licensed software.”).

Agriculture (“China remains a difficult and unpredictable market for U.S. agricultural exporters, largely because of
inconsistent enforcement of regulations and selective intervention in the market by China’s regulatory authorities. The failure of China’s regulators to routinely follow science-based, international standards, and guidelines further complicates and impedes agricultural trade. The Phase One Agreement addresses structural barriers to trade and aims to support a dramatic expansion of U.S. food, agriculture, and seafood product exports, which will increase U.S. farm and fishery income, generate more rural economic activity, and promote job growth. The Phase One Agreement addresses a multitude of non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture and seafood products, including for meat and meat
products, poultry, seafood, rice, dairy, infant formula, horticultural products, animal feed and feed additives, pet food, and products of agricultural biotechnology. The Agreement also includes enforceable commitments requiring China to purchase and import on average at least $40 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products per year in 2021 and 2022, representing an average annual increase of at least $16 billion over 2017 levels. China also agreed that it will strive to purchase and import an additional $5 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products each year.”).

  • Agricultural Domestic Support (China exceeds the limits allowed it; WTO dispute confirms China in violation of WTO obligations; U.S. seeking authorization to retaliate),
  • Tariff-rate Quota Administration (U.S. challenged China’s administration of TRQs on various products and won WTO dispute; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement requires China to comply on the products of concern),
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Approvals (China’s system has been a major problem for U.S. producers. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement includes commitments by China to address the major concerns of the U.S. in this area),
  • Food Safety Law (China’s actions have been quite burdensome and have failed to provide notices to the WTO in many cases. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement addresses the main concerns),
  • Poultry (China restricted U.S. exports after avian influenza in the U.S. and maintained restrictions despite actions by the U.S. that complied with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement has China committing to follow OIE guidelines and limiting restrictions to the region where there is a problem in future outbreaks),
  • Beef (“In the Phase One Agreement, China agreed to expand the scope of U.S. beef products allowed to be imported, to eliminate age restrictions on cattle slaughtered for export to China, and to recognize the U.S. beef and beef products’ traceability system. China also agreed to establish MRLs for three synthetic hormones legally used for decades in the United States consistent with Codex standards and guidelines. Where Codex standards and guidelines do not yet exist, China agreed to use MRLs established by other countries that have performed science-based risk assessments.”),
  • Pork (“China bans the use of certain veterinary drugs and growth promotants instead of accepting the MRLs set by Codex.” Some progress on opening the China market to U.S. pork products was made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Horticultural Products (market access barriers for many U.S. products. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement obtains access for a number of products — fresh potatoes for processing, blueberries, nectarines and avocados from California, and barley, timothy hay and some other products.),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (practice of varying rates on agricultural commodities).

Services (“In 2020, numerous challenges persisted in a number of services sectors. As in past years, Chinese regulators
continued to use discriminatory regulatory processes, informal bans on entry and expansion, case-by-case approvals in some services sectors, overly burdensome licensing and operating requirements, and other means to frustrate the efforts of U.S. suppliers of services to achieve their full market potential in China. These policies and practices affect U.S. service suppliers across a wide range of sectors, including express delivery, cloud computing, telecommunications, film production and distribution, online video and entertainment software, and legal services. In addition, China’s Cybersecurity Law and related draft and final implementing measures include mandates to purchase domestic ICT products and services, restrictions on cross-border data flows, and requirements to store and process data locally. China’s draft Personal Information Protection Law also includes restrictions on cross-border data flows and requirements to store and process data locally. These types of data restrictions undermine U.S. services suppliers’ ability to take advantage of market access opportunities in China. China also had failed to fully address U.S. concerns in
areas that have been the subject of WTO dispute settlement, including electronic payment services and theatrical film importation and distribution. The Phase One Agreement addresses a number of longstanding trade and investment barriers to U.S. providers of a wide range of financial services, including banking, insurance, securities, asset management, credit rating, and electronic payment services, among others. The barriers addressed in that Agreement
include joint venture requirements, foreign equity limitations, and various discriminatory regulatory requirements. Removal of these barriers should allow U.S. financial service providers to compete on a more level playing field and expand their services export offerings in the China market.”)

  • Banking Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement addresses some concerns re access including bank branches and supplying securities investment fund custody services),
  • Securities, Asset Management, and Futures Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement resulted in China eliminating limits on equity ownership and commits to nondiscrimination for U.S. suppliers of these services),
  • Insurance Services (despite commitments by China as part of the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, U.S. participation in China’s insurance market remains very limited),
  • Electronic Payment Services (China has restricted access to foreign electronic payment services providers. U.S. won a WTO dispute and included provisions in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement. So far just one foreign electronic payment services provider has been licensed in China),
  • Internet-enabled Payment Services (major problems for foreign companies to obtain license to provide such services),
  • Telecommunications Services (range of barriers have limited foreign suppliers access to both basic telecom services and to value added services),
  • Internet Regulatory Regime (“China’s Internet regulatory regime is restrictive and non-transparent, affecting a broad range of commercial services activities conducted via the Internet, and is overseen by multiple agencies without clear lines of jurisdiction. China’s Internet economy had boomed over the past decade and is second in size only to that of the United States. Growth in China has been marked in service sectors similar to those found in the United States, including retail websites, search engines, online education, travel, advertising, audio-visual and computer gaming services, electronic mail and text, online job searches, Internet consulting, mapping services, applications, web domain registration, and electronic trading. However, in the Chinese market, Chinese companies dominate due in large part to restrictions imposed on foreign companies by the Chinese Government. At the same time, foreign companies continue to encounter major difficulties in attempting to offer these and other Internet-based services on a cross-border basis. China continues to engage in extensive blocking of legitimate websites and apps, imposing significant costs on both suppliers and users of web-based services and products. According to the latest data, China currently blocks a significant portion of the largest global sites. U.S. industry research has calculated that more than 10,000 foreign sites are blocked, affecting billions of dollars in business, including communications, networking, app stores, news, and other sites. Even when sites are not permanently blocked, the often arbitrary implementation of blocking, and the performance-degrading effect of filtering all traffic into and outside of China, significantly impair the supply of many cross-border services, often to the point of making them unviable.”),
  • Voice-over-Internet Protocol Services (“China’s regulatory authorities have restricted the ability to offer VOIP services interconnected to the public switched telecommunications network (i.e., to call a traditional phone number) to basic telecommunications service licensees.”),
  • Cloud Computing Services (foreign service providers can only operate in China by using a Chinese company and turning over brand, IP and other aspects; serious concern for U.S.),
  • Audio-visual and Related Services (“China prohibits retransmission of foreign TV channels, prohibits foreign investment in TV production, prohibits foreign investment in TV stations and channels in China, and imposes quotas on the amount of foreign programming that can be shown on a Chinese TV channel each day.”),
  • Theatrical Films (despite a WTO dispute and a resulting MOU where China agreed to expand number of U.S. films, China has not fulfilled its commitments)
  • Online Video and Entertainment Software Services (foreign suppliers are severely restricted),
  • Legal Services (very limited ability for foreign firms or foreign lawyers to practice in China)
  • Express Delivery Services (foreign service providers are banned from document delivery and face discriminatory and burdensome actions on package participation),
  • Data Restrictions (activities in China are likely to result in local storage requirements and limits on cross-border transfer; major concern to U.S. and many other countries).

Transparency (much work needed by China to meet obligations)

  • Publication of Trade-related Measures (WTO obligation to publish in one journal; spotty performance and many types of measures not published in the journal),
  • Notice-and-comment Procedures (little progress at sub-central government level; some progress at central government; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement commits China to provide 45 days notice and comment period for matters relating to the Agreement),
  • Translations (WTO commitment to provide translations in one of the three official WTO languages. “China does not publish translations of trade-related laws and administrative regulations in a timely manner (i.e., before implementation), nor does it publish any translations of trade-related measures issued by sub-central governments at all.”).

Conclusion

While the U.S. was the first country to produce a national trade estimate, a number of countries do so today. All trading partners have some practices which concern other trading partners, including the United States.

The length of the entry in the NTE for a give country is a reasonable indication both of the importance of the trade relationship and of the breadth of issues of concern. For the United States, the National Trade Estimate is a useful compilation of many of the major concerns raised by industries about problems in access to markets abroad or distortions created by practices of trading partners. Typically items found in the NTE will be part of USTR’s focus during the year in interactions with particular trading partners.

China is the country with the longest entry in the NTE and has been for many years. Considering the array of distortions and other problems identified in this year’s NTE, the focus on China is not surprising.

Some of the problems identified in this year’s NTE with China could be addressed through WTO reform, though China has indicated opposition to such an approach. On some of the issues, the U.S. has received repeated promises from China to address but without meaningful results to date.

What is clear is that U.S. trade relations with China are not balanced and haven’t been for the entire time of WTO membership for China. The challenge for the U.S. and the world is how to restore balance and save the global trading system. There are no obvious answers.

IMF April World Economic Outlook, IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings and U.S. efforts on global access to vaccines

The IMF released today its April 2021 World Economic Outlook, increasing projected global growth in 2021 and 2022 from its earlier projections. See IMF, World Economic Outlook, Managing Divergent Recoveries, April 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2021/03/23/world-economic-outlook-april-2021. Global contraction was less severe than previously thought in 2020 and the rebound is larger though there remains significant uncertainty.

“Global prospects remain highly uncertain one year into the pandemic. New virus mutations and the accumulating human toll raise concerns, even as growing vaccine coverage lifts sentiment. Economic recoveries are diverging across countries and sectors, reflecting variation in pandemic-induced disruptions and the extent of policy support. The outlook depends not just on the outcome of the battle between the virus and vaccines—it also hinges on how effectively economic policies deployed under high uncertainty can limit lasting damage from this unprecedented crisis.

“Global growth is projected at 6 percent in 2021, moderating to 4.4 percent in 2022. The projections for 2021 and 2022 are stronger than in the October 2020 WEO. The upward revision reflects additional fiscal support in a few large economies, the anticipated vaccine-powered recovery in the second half of 2021, and continued adaptation of economic activity to subdued mobility. High uncertainty surrounds this outlook, related to the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support to provide a bridge to vaccine-powered normalization, and the evolution of financial conditions.”

The following tables from the IMF webpage taken from the new report show first the global, advanced economies and developing economy outlook for 2020, 2021, 2022 and then for various major countries and regions for the same periods.

Much has been written about the need for debt relief and greater access to vaccines for many low-income countries to help them get through the pandemic and back on track for economic expansion. The IMFBlog from April 5, 2021 provides an overview of the serious challenges faced by low income countries and the potential sources of financial support available through the IMF if supported by member countries. See IMFBlog, Funding the Recovery of Low-income Countries After COVID, April 5, 2021, https://blogs.imf.org/2021/04/05/funding-the-recovery-of-low-income-countries-after-covid/.

“Several factors hamper the economic recovery of low-income countries. First, they face uneven access to vaccines. Most of these countries rely almost entirely on the multilateral COVAX facility—a global initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines led by a consortium of international organizations. COVAX is currently set to procure vaccines for just 20 percent of the population in low-income countries. Second, low-income countries have had limited policy space to respond to the crisis—in particular, they have lacked the means for extra spending * * *.

“Third, pre-existing vulnerabilities, including high levels of public debt in many low-income countries, and weak, sometimes negative, total factor productivity performance in some low-income countries continue to act as a drag on growth.”

The blog post reviews estimated financial needs over the next five years. The estimated needs are $200 billion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (including adequate vaccinations), an additional $250 billion to speed convergence with advanced economies, and an additional $100 billion if various risks materialized. Potentially $550 billion — obviously a huge number.

The blog identifies various potential sources of funds to address these needs that can be available through the IMF.

“- Expanding access to concessional resources under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, including extending access to emergency financing. From March 2020 to March 2021, about $13 billion has been approved to more than 50 low-income countries. The IMF is also currently reviewing its lending framework to low-income countries, beyond the temporary increase in access limits.

“- Proposal for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights . Support is building among the IMF’s membership for a possible SDR allocation of $650 billion. This would help address the long-term global need for reserve assets, and would provide a substantial liquidity boost to all members.

“- Debt service relief through the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to 29 eligible countries. The recently-approved third tranche covering the period April-October 2021 brings total debt service relief up to $740 million since April 2020. Such relief provides space for poor countries to scale up spending on priority areas during the pandemic.

“- Supporting a further extension of the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) until end-December 2021. The DSSI delivered US$5.7 billion in debt service relief for 43 countries in 2020 and is expected to deliver up to US$7.3 billion of additional debt service suspension through June 2021 for 45 countries.

“The needs of the poorest countries over the next five years are acute. But they are not out of reach. A strong, coordinated, comprehensive package is needed. This will secure a rapid recovery and transition to a green, digital, and inclusive growth that will accelerate convergence of low-income countries to their advanced economy counterparts.”

The IMF Spring meeting this week is taking up various issues designed to ensure assistance to the world’s low income countries. See, e.g., IMF, PRESS RELEASE NO. 21/99, IMF Executive Board Extends Debt Service Relief for 28 Eligible Low-Income Countries through October 15, 2021, April 5, 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2021/04/05/pr2199-imf-executive-board-extends-debt-service-relief-28-eligible-lics-october-15-2021.

The Rockefeller Foundation released a paper recently arguing that funding from the Special Drawing Rights could be used to help procure vaccines for low- and middle-income countries to enable 70% vaccination rates by the end of 2022. See PR Newswire, The Rockefeller Foundation Releases New Financing Roadmap to End Pandemic by End of 2022, April 6, 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-rockefeller-foundation-releases-new-financing-roadmap-to-end-pandemic-by-end-of-2022-301262501.html; Rockefeller Foundation, One for All: An Action Plan for Financing Global Vaccination and Sustainable Growth, https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/One-for-All-An-Action-Plan-for-Financing-Global-Vaccination-and-Sustainable-Growth-Final.pdf.

Other multilateral organizations such as the World Bank have been actively involved helping developing countries including using billions for vaccine procurement. See World Bank Group, WBG Vaccine Announcement – Key Facts, March 30, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/factsheet/2020/10/15/world-bank-group-vaccine-announcement—key-facts

“COVID-19 vaccines, alongside widespread testing, improved treatment and strong health systems are critical to save lives and strengthen the global economic recovery. To provide relief for vulnerable populations, low- and middle-income countries need fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe vaccines.

“That’s why the World Bank (WB) is building on its initial COVID-19 response with $12 billion to help poor countries purchase and distribute vaccines, tests, and treatments. The first WB-financed operation to support vaccine rollout was approved in January 2021

“By March 31, 2021, the WB had already committed $1.6 billion in vaccine financing in 10 countries including Afghanistan, Cabo Verde, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia. More than 40 additional projects are in the pipeline and will be approved in the coming weeks and months.”

The World Banks’s Spring meeting is also occurring this week and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic remains a critical part of the World Bank’s agenda.

U.S. announced larger role in global vaccine rollout

President Biden has had as his first priority to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States while committing to greater involvement in multilateral organizations. He has rejoined the World Health Organization, contributed $2 billion to the COVAX facility to obtain vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, with an additional $2 billion to be contributed as other countries fulfill their pledges, agreed to a fund raising event for COVAX later in April, loaned four million vaccine doses to Canada (1.5 million) and Mexico (2.5 million) and agreed with Japan, India and Australia to produce one billion doses of a vaccine (2021-2022) in India with funding from the US and Japan and distribution by Australia to countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

On April 5, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the Biden Administration’s intention to be more actively involved internationally as it gets the U.S. population vaccinated. See U.S. Department of State, Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on the COVID Response, April 5, 2021, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-on-the-covid-response/. The portion of Secretary Blinken’s remarks dealing with greater international engagement and the appointment of the U.S. coordinator for global COVID response and health security is copied below.

“There’s another major element to stopping COVID, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

“This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide.

“And I want to spend a minute on this, because it’s critical to understand.  Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus, not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again.  And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again.  Plus, if other countries’ economies aren’t rebounding because they’re still afflicted with COVID, that’ll hurt our recovery too.

“The world has to come together to bring the COVID pandemic to an end everywhere.  And for that to happen, the United States must act and we must lead.

“There is no country on Earth that can do what we can do, both in terms of developing breakthrough vaccines and bringing governments, businesses, and international institutions together to organize the massive, sustained public health effort it’ll take to fully end the pandemic.  This will be an unprecedented global operation, involving logistics, financing, supply chain management, manufacturing, and coordinating with community health workers who handle the vital last mile of health care delivery.  All of that will take intensive diplomacy.

“The world has never done anything quite like this before.  This is a moment that calls for American leadership.

“Now, the Biden-Harris administration’s main focus to date has been to vaccinate Americans – to slow and ultimately stop COVID here at home.  We at the State Department have been focused on vaccinating our workforce in the United States and in embassies and consulates around the world.  That’s been the right call.  We serve the American people first and foremost.  Plus, we can’t forget that the United States has had the highest number of COVID cases of any country in the world by a significant margin.  So stopping the spread here has been urgently needed for our people and for the world.  We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States.

“But soon, the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide, because again, only by stopping COVID globally will Americans be safe for the long term.

“Moreover, we want to rise to the occasion for the world.  By helping bring to a close one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, we can show the world once again what American leadership and American ingenuity can do.  Let’s make that the story of the end of COVID-19.

“We’ve already taken some important steps.

“On day one of the administration, we rejoined the World Health Organization.  By being at the table, we can push for reforms so that we can prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to the next biological threat.

“Congress recently provided more than $11 billion for America’s global COVID response, which we’ll use in several ways, including to save lives by supporting broad and equitable vaccine access; providing aid to mitigate secondary impacts of COVID, like hunger; and helping countries boost their pandemic preparedness.

“I’d note that this builds on a long tradition of American leadership.  The United States is the world’s largest donor to global health by far, including through international efforts like the Global Fund and the World Health Organization – and through our own outstanding global health programs, like PEPFAR, which has helped bring the world to the cusp of the first AIDS-free generation.

“We’ve also made a $2 billion donation to the COVAX program, which will supply COVID vaccines to low-income and middle-income countries.  We’ve pledged another $2 billion that we’ll provide as other countries fulfill their own pledges.

“We’ve already loaned vaccines to our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

“And we’ll work with global partners on manufacturing and supplies to ensure there will be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere.

“As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward.

“We believe that we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.

“I know that many countries are asking for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scope and scale of their COVID emergencies.  We hear you.  And I promise, we’re moving as fast as possible.

“We’ll be guided every step by core values.

“We won’t trade shots in arms for political favors.  This is about saving lives.

“We’ll treat our partner countries with respect; we won’t overpromise and underdeliver.

“We’ll maintain high standards for the vaccines that we help to bring to others, only distributing those proven to be safe and effective.

“We’ll insist on an approach built on equity.  COVID has already come down hard on vulnerable and marginalized people.  We cannot allow our COVID response to end up making racial and gender inequality worse.

“We’ll embrace partnership, sharing the burden and combining strengths.  The collaboration we formed a few weeks ago with the Quad countries – India, Japan, Australia – is a good example.  Together, we’re increasing the world’s manufacturing capacity so we can get more shots out the door and into people’s arms as fast as possible.

“And by the way, one of the reasons we work through multilateral collaborations where possible is because they often share and defend these same values.  For example, the COVAX initiative is designed explicitly to ensure that low- and middle-income countries can also get vaccines, because it’s only through broad and equitable vaccination that we’ll end the pandemic.

“Finally, we’ll address the current emergency while also taking the long view.  We can’t just end this pandemic.  We must also leave our country and the world better prepared for the next one.

“To do that, we’ll work with partners to reform and strengthen the institutions and systems that safeguard global health security.  That will require countries to commit to transparency, information sharing, access for international experts in real time.  We’ll need a sustainable approach to financing, surge capacity, and accountability, so all countries can act quickly to stem the next outbreak.  And we’ll keep pushing for a complete and transparent investigation into the origins of this epidemic, to learn what happened – so it doesn’t happen again.

“All told, this work is a key piece of President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda.  We’ve got to make sure that we can better detect, prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics and other biological threats.  Otherwise, we’ll be badly letting ourselves and future generations down.

“This is a pivotal moment – a time for us to think big and act boldly.  And the United States will rise to the challenge.

“I’m here today with a remarkable leader who will help us do just that.

“Gayle Smith was the administrator of USAID for President Obama, and served on the National Security Council for both President Obama and President Clinton, where we first got to know each other and worked together.  She has deep experience in responding to public health threats, having helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, having worked for years on the global fights against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS.  She is joining us from her most recent role as president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, primarily in Africa.

“She’s tested.  She’s highly respected.  She will hit the ground running.  And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.

I”’m grateful she’s agreed to serve as the coordinator for global COVID response and health security.  Gayle Smith, the floor is yours.  Thank you for doing this.

MS SMITH:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  It’s a pleasure to be able to work with you again, and to call you Mr. Secretary.

“I’d also like to thank my friends at the ONE Campaign for making this possible.  And I look forward to working with the men and women of the department and across the federal government, including because I know what you can do.

“I want to thank in particular some really smart scientists, President Biden, and the staff and volunteers at Howard University, where tomorrow I will get my second dose of the COVID vaccine.

“That vaccine is good for the body, but it’s also good for the mind and the soul, because it inspires hope in the future.  And our job is to shape that future.

“I fought some viruses in the past, and I’ve learned two lessons.  The first is that if the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning.  The second is that with unity of purpose, science, vigilance, and leadership, we can outpace any virus.

“America’s done it before.  Eighteen years ago, a Republican president launched a bold initiative to take on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  A Democratic president went on to expand that mission in scope.  In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration, with the strong and generous support of Congress, defeated the world’s first Ebola epidemic.

“Our challenges now are two: first, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world, and the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect, and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming.

“American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion.  I’m honored to be here, and thank you very, very much.”

Conclusion

This is an important week with both the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings and important agenda items on the continued global response to the pandemic and helping countries build back better. The IMF April World Economic Outlook has good news about the direction of global activity although the pace of recoveries will vary significantly among countries and regions. While global production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up enormously in the few months that vaccines have been approved and while there are many additional potential vaccines under development or in trials, the early months have seen some production challenges and distribution skewed to a handful of countries. Many of those countries with the most vaccine doses (U.S., UK, EU, India) have been countries or regions with many of the largest number of infections and deaths. Even so, the effort at equitable and affordable access to all needs additional work.

An article in the New York Times reviews an exciting potential development of a low-cost, easy to produce vaccine that could dramatically expand the ability of developing countries to produce their own vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine , April 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html (“A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NVD-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make.
Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.”).

Production is ramping up for the various vaccines that have been approved in various countries. Producers continue to explore adding capacity or licensing production to other producers. Governments – like the United States, Japan, India and Australia – are finding creative ways for nations to work together to build up additional capacity to reach countries with needs. COVAX has proven to be an important vehicle for distributing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. As capacities expand and additional funding is available, COVAX will continue to be a critical part of the solution.

The IMF and World Bank have the ability to address many of the challenges facing developing countries with the support of its member governments. Hopefully, this week’s meetings will make a difference. And individual countries can and are doing more. Secretary Blinken’s remarks show the U.S. will be increasing its role and working with others to ensure global success. For a world fatigued from the pandemic, a path to resolution is needed now. Hopefully, we are close.

When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang

Earlier this week, the EU added a series of individuals and companies to its sanctions list including Chinese officials and entities involved in the alleged extreme human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as well as others in Russia, Libya and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. See European Council, EU imposes further sanctions over serious violations of human rights around the world, 22 March 2021, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/03/22/eu-imposes-further-sanctions-over-serious-violations-of-human-rights-around-the-world/; Official Journal of the European Union, L 99 I, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/478 of 22 March 2021 implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses, Vol. 64, pages 1-12, 22 March 2021, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2021:099I:FULL&from=EN. The Official Journal regulation has as one of the bases of concern for a number of countries where individuals or entities are included on the sanctions list the following, “The Union remains deeply concerned about serious human rights violations and abuses in different parts of the world, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances or systematic use of forced labour committed by individuals and entities in China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Libya, Eritrea, South Sudan and Russia.” The regulation includes a page per person/entity being added. Some of the description of why WANG Junzheng has been added to the list is copied below.

“As Party Secretary and Political commissar of the XPCC since 2020, Wang Junzheng is involved in overseeing all policies implemented by the XPCC. In this position, he is responsible for serious human rights violations in China, in particular large-scale arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief, linked, inter alia, to the XPCC’s implementation of a large-scale surveillance, detention and indoctrination programme targeting Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities.

“He is also responsible for the XPCC’s systematic use of Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities as a forced workforce, in particular in cotton fields. As Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee of the XUAR since 2020, Wang Junzheng is involved in overseeing all the security policies implemented in Xinjiang, including the aforementioned programme targeting Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities. As Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the XUAR (February 2019 to September 2020), Wang Junzheng was responsible for maintaining internal security and law enforcement in the XUAR. As such, he held a key political position in charge of overseeing and implementing the aforementioned programme.”

On the same day, the United States, United Kingdom and Canada issued a joint statement announcing sanctions on individuals and/or an entity in China involved with the alleged human rights abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. See U.S. Department of State press release, Joint Statement on Xinjiang, March 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-on-xinjiang/. The body of the joint message is copied below.

“We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State, are united in our deep and ongoing concern regarding China’s human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang. The evidence, including from the Chinese Government’s own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming. China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.

“Today, we have taken coordinated action on measures, in parallel to measures by the European Union, that send a clear message about the human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang. We are united in calling for China to end its repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained.

“We underline the importance of transparency and accountability and call on China to grant the international community, including independent investigators from the United Nations, journalists, and foreign diplomats, unhindered access to Xinjiang.

“We will continue to stand together to shine a spotlight on China’s human rights violations. We stand united and call for justice for those suffering in Xinjiang.”

Australia and New Zealand, while not imposing sanctions themselves, added their voices of concern over the alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang of the Uyghurs. See Minister of Foreign Affairs Australia, Joint statement on Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang, 23 March 2021, https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/joint-statement-human-rights-abuses-xinjiang. The Joint Statement is copied below.

“The Australian and New Zealand Governments today reiterate their grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

“In particular, there is clear evidence of severe human rights abuses that include restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, as well as forced labour and forced birth control, including sterilisation.

“Australia and New Zealand welcome the measures announced overnight by Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. We share these countries’ deep concerns, which are held across the Australian and New Zealand communities.

“Since 2018, when reports began to emerge about the detention camps in Xinjiang, Australia and New Zealand have consistently called on China in the United Nations to respect the human rights of the Uighur people, and other religious and ethnic minorities.

“Today, we underscore the importance of transparency and accountability, and reiterate our call on China to grant meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for United Nations experts, and other independent observers.”

While China argues that their treatment of the Uyghurs is an internal matter, the allegations of serious human rights abuses have raised widespread international condemnation and increasing use of sanctions. The sanctions, however, typically are limited to freezing assets (if any) of individuals or entities in the sanctioning country, banning travel to the country imposing the sanctioning, etc.

Trade Implications

While allegations of human rights violations do not necessarily carry trade distortion implications, the case of the forced labor of Uighurs in Xinjiang clearly does. Xinjiang produces some 80% of the cotton grown in China, much of it produced by forced labor according to reports. As China is a major producer of textile and apparel products and a major exporter of the same, the distortions in trade flows should be obvious. Foreign cotton will have trouble competing in China with cotton produced with forced labor. Garment producers who don’t use the Chinese cotton will face distortions as competing against garments where a significant input has been obtained at artificially low prices. Some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada) have laws which permit them to prevent imports of products made with forced labor, although the breadth of the actions taken to date are typically quite limited.

In prior posts, I looked at the large number of products produced around the world with forced labor or with child labor and also looked specifically at the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs reviewing a number of publications and reports. See Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, January 25, 2021, ttps://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/ ; Forced labor and child labor — a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, January 24, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/.

To ramp up pressure on China to reform its treatment of the Uyghurs, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all other countries concerned about the human rights should coordinate a broad-based denial of imports from China or from other countries where cotton from Xinjiang is part of the product until such time as the treatment of the Uyghurs has been corrected.

COVID-19 vaccines — U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries

In a post earlier today, I reviewed a Chatham House event which looked at issues surrounding ramping-up production, dealing with supply chain issues and other matters affecting production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. See 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/

Today, the U.S., Japan, India and Australia held a head of government remote Quad meeting. One of the outcomes being reported in the press was agreement that the United States and Japan would pay for, India would produce and Australia would distribute one billion doses of COVID vaccine for the Indo-Pacific region. See Financial Times, US and Asia allies launch major vaccine drive to counter China, The 1bn Covid jabs will be funded by US and Japan, made in India and distributed by Australia, March 12, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/bcf5ff42-ac7f-4533-8fc2-b3e50a5e13ba.

The White House fact sheet on the quad meeting is available on the White House webpage. The portion dealing with the COVID-19 vaccines is copied below. See White House, Fact Sheet: Quad Summit, March 12, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/12/fact-sheet-quad-summit/. The one billion doses will be made available in 2021 and will be done in consultation with WHO, COVAX and others.

The Quad Vaccine Partnership

“While ensuring that vaccines have been made available to our people, “Quad” partners will launch a landmark partnership to further accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, Quad leaders are taking shared action necessary to expand safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in 2021, and will work together to strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination, in close coordination with the existing relevant multilateral mechanisms including WHO and COVAX.

“o Drawing on each of our strengths, we will tackle this complex issue with multi-sectoral cooperation across many stages of action, starting with ensuring global availability of safe and effective vaccines.

“o Quad partners are working collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at facilities in India, prioritizing increased capacity for vaccines authorized by Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRA). Quad partners will address financing and logistical demands for production, procurement, and delivery of safe and effective vaccines. Quad partners will work to use our shared tools and expertise, through mechanisms at institutions including the United States Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and, as appropriate, Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), as well as others.

“o The United States, through the DFC, will work with Biological E Ltd., to finance increased capacity to support Biological E’s effort to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022 with Stringent Regulatory Authorization (SRA) and/or World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL), including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“o Japan, through JICA, is in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for the Government of India to expand manufacturing for COVID-19 vaccines for export, with a priority on producing vaccines that have received authorization from WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) or Stringent Regulatory Authorities.

“o Quad partners will ensure expanded manufacturing will be exported for global benefit, to be procured through key multilateral initiatives, such as COVAX, that provide life-saving vaccines for low-income countries, and by countries in need.

“o Quad partners will also cooperate to strengthen ‘last-mile’ vaccination, building on existing health-security and development programs, and across our governments to coordinate and strengthen our programs in the Indo-Pacific.

“o This includes supporting countries with vaccine readiness and delivery, vaccine procurement, health workforce preparedness, responses to vaccine misinformation, community engagement, immunization capacity, and more.

“o Australia will contribute US$77 million for the provision of vaccines and “last-mile” delivery support with a focus on Southeast Asia, in addition to its existing commitment of US$407 million for regional vaccine access and health security which will provide full vaccine coverage to nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste, and support procurement, prepare for vaccine delivery, and strengthen health systems in Southeast Asia.

“o Japan will assist vaccination programs of developing countries such as the purchase of vaccines and cold-chain support including through provision of grant aid of $41 million and new concessional yen loans, ensuring alignment with and support of COVAX.

“o The United States will leverage existing programs to further boost vaccination capability, drawing on at least $100 million in regional efforts focused on immunization.”

Conclusion

The solution to the COVID-19 pandemic involves greater cooperation among governments, international organizations, manufacturers, suppliers and others. The Quad’s announcement today is an important step in helping bring the pandemic to a close.

Biden Administration should join the Joint Statement Initiatives that it is not presently party to

President Biden has made it clear that his Administration will work within multilateral organizations to the extent possible to move the U.S. agenda forward. During the Trump Administration, the U.S. participated actively in the World Trade Organization but was active in only one of the Joint Statement Initiatives that were initiated at the end of the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in late 2017.

Thus, the United States is an active participant in the ongoing negotiations following the Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (WT/MIN(17)/60, 13 December 2017), but is not a party to the other Joint Statement Initiatives. See Joint Ministerial Statement on Services Domestic Regulation (WT/MIN(17)/61, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development (WT/MIN(17)/59, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement, Declaration on the Establishment of a WTO Informal Work Programme for MSMEs (WT/MIN(17)/58, 13 December 2017); Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017.

While India and South Africa have challenged the legitimacy of the Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs), a great deal of the energy in the WTO in the last several years has been put into the JSIs. See, e.g., February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/; WTO, Coordinators of joint initiatives cite substantial progress in discussions, 18 December 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/jsec_18dec20_e.htm. The WTO press release is copied below.

“The coordinators of the joint initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) said on 18 December that substantial progress has been achieved in their respective discussions and that they are on track to deliver concrete results or additional progress at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled for next year.

“In their communication, the coordinators noted that they have delivered summary statements to WTO members outlining how far the four initiatives have advanced since they were launched three years ago, where they stand today, and what their next steps in the discussions will be.

“’What these statements clearly show is the substantial progress [of the initiatives] in a short period of time, that they are on track to delivering concrete results or progress at MC12, and that they are contributing to building a more responsive, relevant and modern WTO — which will be critical to restoring global trade and economic growth in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.’

“’These initiatives have grown into an increasingly important part of the agenda of the WTO, with an expanding number of participants from both the developed and developing worlds that account for a significant part of the WTO’s membership, and based on the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness,’ the coordinators added.

“The new joint initiatives were launched at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 with the aim of commencing negotiations or discussions on issues of increasing relevance to the world trading system.

“The joint initiative coordinators are Ambassador José Luis Cancela Gómez (Uruguay) for the Informal Working Group on MSMEs; Ambassadors George Mina (Australia), Yamazaki Kazuyuki (Japan) and Tan Hung Seng (Singapore) for the Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce; Deputy Permanent Representative Jaime Coghi Arias (Costa Rica) for the Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation; and Ambassador-designate Mathias Francke (Chile) for the Structured Discussions on Investment Facilitation for Development.

“The coordinators noted that the consolidated negotiating text on e-commerce will provide a foundation for intensified negotiations in 2021. They highlighted that the negotiations on services domestic regulation are at a ‘mature stage’, with a genuine potential for an outcome by MC12.

“The coordinators also said that substantive provisions of an investment facilitation agreement are being negotiated by the participating members in this initiative. In addition, they noted the recent announcement by the Informal Working Group on MSMEs of a package of declarations and recommendations to help small business trade internationally.

“The coordinators underscored that the shared and ultimate goal of these initiatives is to strengthen and reinforce the multilateral trading system, that they are open to all WTO members, and that they seek the participation of as many members as possible.

“The coordinators stated: ‘The initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation, and MSMEs clearly demonstrate that the WTO can respond to new economic and technological challenges in a flexible, pragmatic, and timely way. These initiatives — and their innovative approach to cooperation and negotiation — can provide a valuable illustration of WTO reform in action.’”

While the Joint Declaration Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 is not treated as a JSI, it does have many Members supporting the Declaration and engaging in the informal work programme.

Some of the other countries participating in all of the JSIs and Joint Declaration

While the number of WTO Members participating in the JSIs and supporting the Joint Declaration vary, the following is a partial list of Members who are signatories to all of the JSIs and the Joint Declaration. Other than the Electronic Commerce initiative, the U.S. is presently not a signatory or participant in any of the other JSIs or Joint Declaration.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Switzerland are participants in all of the JSIs and supportive of the Joint Declaration. Dozens of other Members are participating in some or many of the JSI’s that the U.S. is not presently supporting or active in.

Conclusion

While the United States has a large agenda of issues it wishes to address at the WTO (including trade and the environment, WTO reform, industrial subsidies), it makes no sense that the United States would not actively participate in work programs where most of the major economies are active and where new rules will be relevant to areas of significance for the United States as well as for trading partners. While the work program on women and trade is in an informal working group, President Biden has made empowerment of women an important priority for his Administration as a range of actions during International Women’s Day made clear. See, e.g., March 8, 2011, March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director,  heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/08/march-8-2021-international-womens-day-statements-of-un-women-executive-director-heads-of-wto-unctad-and-international-trade-centre-and-u-s-executive-orders-and-statement-by-president-biden/. Similarly, MSMEs are an important part of the U.S. economy and a major driver of economic growth. The U.S. has a very strong services sector which has an interest in domestic regulatory issues both in the U.S. and as addressed overseas. Finally, the U.S. is both a major investor in foreign countries and a recipient of large amounts of foreign investment and has a significant interest in helping the global community address issues involved in investment in developing and least developed countries on a more predictable basis.

Hopefully, the Biden Administration when its USTR nominee is confirmed in the coming days, will opt to engage in all of the JSIs. It is time.

Italy blocks exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, first blockage of export authorization by the EU or its member states

In a post just released, I reviewed the EU position on its vaccine export authorization program presented at the recent WTO General Council meeting where the EU stated no export request had been blocked. That is no longer true as reviewed in a Financial Times piece released earlier today. See Financial Times, Italy blocks shipment of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, |March 4, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/bed655ac-9285-486a-b5ad-b015284798c8?desktop=true&segmentId=d8d3e364-5197-20eb-17cf-2437841d178a. The vaccine supplier is Oxford/AstraZeneca which is a company who has shipped only a part of the quantity promised to the EU thus far and been subject to a public argument with the European Commission. Italy apparently notified the EU at the end of last week (and hence ahead of the EU statement to the General Council this week). As the EU didn’t object, Italy was allowed to block the export. According to the Financial Times, “Italy’s foreign ministry said that it had requested that the commission block the export of 250,700 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia because the latter was considered a ‘non-vulnerable’ country. It also cited ‘the high number of vaccine doses covered by the request . . . compared to the quantity of doses supplied so far to Italy and, more generally, to EU countries.'”

Expect significant backlash against the EU at the WTO.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH

Climate change is a major global concern. Indeed, the UN has indicated there is less than a year for countries to get serious about saving the planet by getting their updated national climate action plans (NDCs) submitted. See Time, ‘If This Task Was Urgent Before, It’s Crucial Now.’ U.N. Says World Has 10 Months to Get Serious on Climate Goals, February 26, 2021,https://time.com/5942546/un-emissions-targets-climate-change/; UN Climate Change, Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published, 26 February 2021, https://unfccc.int/news/greater-climate-ambition-urged-as-initial-ndc-synthesis-report-is-published (“’2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency. The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.  Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030 in their Nationally Determined Contributions well before the November UN Climate Conference in Glasgow,’ said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.”).

While the largest polluters — China and the United States — haven’t submitted updated NDCs, the Biden Administration is planning on hosting a climate summit in the summer and plans on having more ambitious plans for the U.S. prepared by that time. See Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, February 23, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/23/roadmap-for-a-renewed-u-s-canada-partnership/ (“The Prime Minister and the President expressed their commitment to have their two countries work together on cooperative action ahead of the US-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit that will allow both countries to increase their climate ambition. The President, in addition to acknowledging Canada’s new strengthened national climate plan and its globally ambitious price on pollution, reiterated his aim to have ready the US nationally determined contribution (NDC) in advance of the Summit and welcomed the Prime Minister’s aim to announce the enhanced 2030 emissions target for its NDC by the Summit as well.”).

At the World Trade Organization, many countries are anxious to explore ways that trade can facilitate addressing the challenges from climate change. Because of the large share of employment around the world by micro-, small- and medium’sized businesses (MSMEs), such businesses are playing and will have to play a critical role in adopting technologies to permit reduction of pollutions threatening the planet.

On February 25, 2021 a group of WTO Members (largely developed countries) submitted a communication to the WTO membership outlining ways that MSMEs can use intellectual property to green their businesses. See INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN, SINGAPORE, SWITZERLAND, THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE UNITED STATES, IP/C/W/675 (26 February 2021). The paper lays out the purpose of the communication in its introduction copied below.

“1. Some of today’s critical global challenges include climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and food security. As an example, climate change matters to our health and increases the risk of infections and pandemics.1

“2. Several international efforts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement are designed to address these challenges. In this context, the role of Green Technology2 is important to provide new alternatives to address these challenges and create opportunities that have economic, social, and environmental benefits, as underscored by the framework of the SDGs. Of these, several underline the importance of Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) for the accomplishment of the above objectives.

“3. Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) can play a pivotal role in this change towards more sustainability. As they provide for more than 50 percent of employment (G20/OECD, 2015), they can constitute core engines of innovation and growth. MSMEs working in the green tech sector represent key economic actors in the effort towards finding solutions to address the abovementioned global challenges. The role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) to enhance the competitiveness of MSMEs should be looked at closely. IPRs enhance the dissemination and protection of innovations – which is key for MSMEs, including those in the green tech sector (Friesike, Jamali, Bader et al, 2009). This submission presents IPR approaches for making MSMEs more competitive in green tech.

“1 Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/cchange/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/ (last consulted: 09.01.2021).”

The communication then provides information on international and national approaches to helping SMSEs obtain IP protection and/or obtain through license or otherwise existing IP technologies to address greening their businesses. For example, on international approaches, the communication reviews the role WIPO and WTO play in providing easy access to lots of information on intellectual property systems of many countries. WIPO has set up support through WIPO Green to facilitate collaboration on environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) including what technologies are available for licensing, etc.

“5. One important initiative to accelerate the development and dissemination of ESTs is WIPO GREEN, a marketplace designed to connect providers and seekers of ESTs. All technologies listed in the online database of WIPO GREEN are available for license, collaboration, joint ventures, and sale. In addition to establishing a network of various partners, WIPO GREEN contains a database of IP experts, supports acceleration projects in different countries and produces briefs and seminars for various green tech areas. It is thus particularly valuable for MSMEs, given that it facilitates the diffusion of their technologies and provides information to technology providers and seekers in all countries.”

The communication from the WTO Members also includes information on the Technology Mechanism provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and provides information on classification of green technology patents by WIPO, the European Patent Office (EPO) and US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

On national approaches Members can take, the communication focuses on actions the national patent office can take.

“12. There are several ways for IP offices to assist MSMEs in making the best use of IPRs.

“• IP offices can provide basic guidance and assistance on various IPR aspects. By preparing reader-friendly IP material, including patent and trademark basics, examination overviews, information on patent searching and resources on legal assistance that could be used by inventors and businesses in the green tech sector, individual questions and needs may be met.

“• IP offices may provide support in the form of assisting applicants with patent searches, landscape analyses and also facilitate free legal assistance.

“• Specifically with a view to promoting ESTs, IP offices could consider accelerated patent examination procedures for such green tech patent applications. This process shortens the time between application and grant, enabling MSMEs to attain financial support more quickly.

“• Customized workshops, seminars, or awards for the best green tech inventions may also help to make MSMEs that are involved in the green tech sector more aware of the benefits that the IP system may hold for them.”

The complete communication is embedded below.

W675-1

Conclusion

While there are presently limited environmental negotiations going on at the WTO (fisheries subsidies), the global race to address a warming world requires greater focus by WTO Members on the role trade can play to improve the global response. Restarting the environmental goods negotiations is one obvious area for negotiations. Addressing carbon leakage through national laws and international negotiations is another. Encouraging collaboration to spread green technology requires no negotiations but is a potentially important component in the global response. Hence the February 25 communication is a valuable contribution to increasing the global focus on how to address the challenges of a warming planet.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting

While the WTO’s General Council, in special session, appointed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General on February 15, 2021, her term starts on Monday, March 1. The challenges facing the WTO membership and the incoming Director-General are many and complex. At the same time, there is a lot of useful work that is done within the WTO including efforts of non-members to join the WTO (accessions).

In speaking to an informal Trade Negotiations Committee and Heads of Delegation meeting on February 25, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff spoke in part on “The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era”. See WTO, DDG Wolff calls on members to work with new Director-General to reform WTO, 25 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgaw_25feb21_e.htm. Part of the section of his statement on the new DG’s era is copied below.

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

“The landmark event of the last six months was the appointment of the new Director-General ten days ago after what turned out to be a lengthy process.  91 member delegations spoke last week to congratulate the new Director-General. The DDGs and the Secretariat join you in welcoming Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment with great enthusiasm.

“Of course, member enthusiasm, optimism and hope need to be translated into concrete action.  

“There is much that needs to be done at this critical juncture for the WTO. World trade must contribute to a more effective pandemic response as well as a strong and sustainable economic recovery. Climate issues are demanding more urgent attention. WTO reform is overdue, having been called for repeatedly by you, by your ministers and by many heads of government. 

“The challenges are many but so are the opportunities. Dr Ngozi’s remarks at the Special General Council meeting last Monday, subsequently circulated to delegations in document JOB/GC/250, presented a worthy and ambitious agenda for the members of this organization.

“What did she say?

“To act with a sense of urgency to assist in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic through the nexus of trade and public health:

“First, by playing a more forceful role in exercising the WTO’s monitoring function. Part of this would involve encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment. WTO monitoring suggests that as of yesterday, 59 members and 7 observers still had pandemic-related export restrictions or licensing requirements in place, mostly for personal protective equipment, disinfectants and to a lesser extent, for medicines and food. This represents a significant level of rollback compared to the 81 members and 10 observers that had implemented such measures over the past year. A welcome development — but there is much room to improve this record.  

“And second, by broadening access to new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics by facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules.

“Beyond these immediate responses to the pandemic, Dr Ngozi set out a number of other, also vitally important, challenges:

“To swiftly conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations, and thus pass a key test of the WTO’s multilateral credibility while contributing to the sustainability of the world’s oceans.

“To build on the new energy in the multilateral trading system from the joint statement initiatives attracting greater support and interest, including from developing countries.

“To address more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change, using trade to create a green and circular economy, to reactivate and broaden negotiations on environmental goods and services, to take the initiative to address the issue of carbon border adjustments as they may affect trade.

“To level the playing field in agricultural trade though improving market access and dealing with trade distorting domestic support, exempting from export restrictions World Food Programme humanitarian purchases.

“To strengthen disciplines on industrial subsidies, including support for state-owned enterprises. 

“To defuse the divisions over Special and Differential Treatment (SDT).

“And to develop a work programme for restoring two-tier dispute resolution, to be agreed no later than MC12.

“I sense from my discussions with members that you chose this leader, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, because she has shown herself during her career to be fearless in the face of daunting challenges — and is experienced in knowing how to work with others to make progress toward solutions. 

“Each of the challenges the WTO faces, I am sure, can be met and overcome.  Echoing Dr Ngozi’s words, the trading system that we inherited, now only three-quarters of a century old, is about people.  This is inscribed in the opening section of the Marrakech agreement: ‘to raise living standards, ensure full employment, increase incomes, expand the production of and trade in goods and services, and seek the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.”’

DDG Wolff’s summation correctly lays out many of the issues needing to be addressed by the WTO membership. The vast majority of the issues are highly controversial among at least some Members.

The first major order of business is a two day General Council meeting on March 1-2 which has several agenda items that lay out controversies on important potential deliverables by the WTO in 2021. The agenda for the two day meeting contains sixteen items. See WT/GC/W/820 (26 February 2021) embedded below.

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General Council meetings deal with updates on ongoing work at the WTO and address issues teed up by particular Members for consideration at the meeting. This post does not take up all agenda items but highlights a few of possible interest. Because DDG Wolff’s statement on February 25 reviews many of the activities of the WTO in the last six months which shows some of the positive developments, the full statement is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-calls-on-members-to-work-with-new-Director-General-to-reform-WTO

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

Agenda item 4 deals with the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. It is expected that there will be a decision on the timing and location of the twelfth Ministerial Conference at the General Council session on Monday-Tuesday. The 12th MC was postponed from June 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continued challenges from the pandemic the likely date will be the end of 2021. Kazakhstan which had offered to host the conference in 2020 and again in the summer of 2021 has recently indicated a willingness to host in December of this year as well. The ministerial had originally been scheduled for June because of challenging weather conditions in Kazakhstan in December. See TWELFTH SESSION OF THE MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, COMMUNICATION FROM KAZAKHSTAN, 8 February 2021, WT/GC/229 (24 February 2021)(embedded below).

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Report on WTO Accessions

Deputy Director-General Wolff will provide a statement on the annual report on WTO accessions. The report is WTO ACCESSIONS, 2020 ANNUAL REPORT BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WT/ACC/38, WT/GC/228 (18 February 2021). Activity on accessions was challenged by the pandemic and inability to travel/hold in person meetings. More technical assistance and virtual meetings were held. Accessions are important for acceding governments in terms of promoting reforms at home and obtaining increased certainty in their international trade relations. Accessions are also an important benefit of membership for existing Members as acceding Members reduce tariffs and various non-tariff barriers to gain accession. The first eight paragraphs of the report provide an overview of activities in 2020 and are copied below.

Overview of activities in 2020

“1. 2020 was an unprecedented year in recent history due the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and its consequences which have touched upon every single aspect of our lives in every corner of the world. It was a challenging year for the WTO, not least because the pandemic disrupted its core activities, especially during the first half of the year, and it also disrupted the international trade of Members, except for supplies of essential goods critical to combatting the health crisis as trade in these goods expanded dramatically. The difficulties and challenges arising from the pandemic were particularly pronounced in acceding governments due to the uncertainties of being outside of the multilateral trading system. In fact, the desire and urgency to be part of the WTO was never felt stronger than in the pandemic year. This was reflected in the level of accession activities in 2020, which was sustained vis-à-vis previous years, with a significant increase in technical assistance and outreach activities.

“2. The year for accessions started with the establishment of a new Working Party for the accession of Curaçao, a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (WTO Member), following its application for an independent membership as a separate customs territory pursuant to Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement. This constituted the 59th request by a state or separate customs territory for membership since the establishment of the Organization in 1995. In July, Turkmenistan was granted observer status in the WTO, with the understanding that it would apply for accession no later than in five years. This brought the total number of observer governments with the intention to accede to the WTO to 24, an increase by five since 2016 when Afghanistan and Liberia became the Organization’s most recent Members. The continuing interest to become part of the multilateral trading system is a testament to the attraction and relevance of its values and principles for all economies, regardless of their size or level of development.

“3. The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly hampered or delayed the technical work by acceding governments, Members and the Secretariat to prepare for, engage in and follow up on Working Party meetings. However, thanks to the firm commitment of the acceding governments to advance their work, four Working Parties met, including through the use of virtual platforms that connected the acceding governments which were unable to travel to Geneva. One acceding government had to cancel its already scheduled meeting due to the suspension of all WTO meetings in March. Out of the four accession Working Party meetings held in 2020, three were on LDC accessions (Ethiopia, Comoros and Timor-Leste). In two cases – the Working Parties of Ethiopia and Uzbekistan – this also represented the formal resumption of accession processes after several years of inactivity (8 and 15 years, respectively), signalling their desire to use WTO membership negotiations to drive domestic economic reforms, which have broader implications in the regions where they are located.

“4. When the pandemic halted planned missions, technical assistance, and outreach activities which required air travel, the Secretariat rapidly shifted the mode of operation to virtual format and took advantage of the opportunities provided thereby. In addition to the formal accession Working Party meetings which took place via Interprefy, the Accessions Division organised virtual technical meetings and briefing sessions with acceding governments, Working Party Chairpersons and partners in support of accessions. Moreover, the Division delivered a number of technical assistance, training and outreach activities in response to articulated needs of acceding governments, using various virtual platforms, such as MS Teams, Zoom and WebEx. In fact, the number of activities delivered by the Division and of participants who attended or were trained in 2020 exceeded considerably the numbers in previous years.

“5. One of the novel outreach programs developed in 2020 was two week-long activities which consisted of a series of webinars combining lectures, training and panel discussions. The first Accessions Week was organised from 29 June to 3 July, and the first edition of the Trade for Peace Week took place from 30 November to 4 December. These virtual events brought together a large number of resource persons and panellists from around the world and reached out to a larger number of participants, in a highly cost-effective manner, in comparison with traditional in-person activities. While the full values and benefits of in-person interaction cannot be replaced or replicated, the Accessions Week enabled the Secretariat to remain engaged with acceding governments and Members, experts and partners, beyond Geneva and around the world. The Trade for Peace Week provided an effective networking platform to expand the WTO’s partnership with the peace and humanitarian communities in support of fragile and conflict affected (FCA) countries in accession.

“6. The importance of collaboration and cooperation with partners was never felt more strongly than in 2020. The Secretariat made concerted efforts to enhance and expand the “Trade for Peace through WTO Accession” Initiative to support FCA countries in accession and those recently acceded to the WTO. In 2020, nine acceding governments were identified as being in a FCA situation according to the World Bank’s classification1, while conflicts emerged or resurged in some others. The pandemic hit hardest countries which had already been suffering from years of conflict, political crises, drought and other natural disasters, compounded by declines of the price of oil and other commodities. Nonetheless, some FCA acceding LDCs showed remarkable resilience in sustaining their engagement in accession. The Working Party on the Accession of the Union of Comoros resumed its work with determination to finalise the process as soon as possible. The Working Party on the Accession of Timor-Leste activated the Working Party by holding its first meeting nearly four years after its establishment, despite various challenges faced on the domestic front. Moreover, Somalia submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime, the base document to start its accession engagement with Members. Furthermore, the Secretariat continued to provide support to the g7+ WTO Accessions Group, which was coordinated by Afghanistan.

“7. The year 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the WTO. The Secretariat used its annual flagship event, the China Round Table on WTO Accessions, to review the contributions made by accessions to the multilateral trading system since 1995. The event also provided an opportunity for an exchange of ideas to explore the future expansion of WTO membership towards universality, including through possible improvements in the accession process. The year also marked a significant anniversary milestone for five Article XII Members2 – Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Jordan and Oman which joined the WTO in 2000, the year with the largest number of new members to date. Other anniversary milestones included the fifth anniversaries of Membership of Kazakhstan and Seychelles and the fifteenth anniversary for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, membership anniversaries have become an important occasion to reflect on the benefits and values of being part of the Organization.

“8. Finally, the thematic focus of the 2020 Annual Report was on the complementarities and synergies in negotiating WTO membership and regional trade agreements. Almost all acceding governments are involved in regional integration initiatives in parallel with their efforts to achieve WTO membership. The highlight of the year was the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to which all African WTO applicants are signatories. The Report’s thematic section builds on the rich discussions held on the topic during the 2020 Regional Dialogues on WTO Accessions for Africa and for the Arab Region, as well as other meetings on Central Asia and Eurasia. It aims to explore key opportunities and challenges that may arise in a simultaneous pursuit of regional and global integration efforts and to provide a checklist of issues for trade negotiators to consider in maximising the benefits from the participation in multiple trade arrangements.”

The full report is embedded below.

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Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

The sixth agenda item involves the effort from India and South Africa with a number of other developing or least developed countries to obtain a waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical goods needed for the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a very controversial issue with developed countries with pharmaceutical companies involved in the production of vaccines and other items opposing the waiver on the basis of existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement and on the global efforts through the WHO, GAVI and CEPI to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries through COVAX with financial contributions from many countries, NGOs and others. See, e.g., February 19, 2021, COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines  to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum received from G-7 virtual meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/19/covaxs-efforts-to-distribute-covid-19-vaccines-to-low-and-middle-income-countries-additional-momentum-from-g-7-virtual-meeting/

The TRIPS Council received the proposal back in October but has been unable to provide a recommendation to the General Council. A meeting of the TRIPS Council earlier this month continued the lack of agreement. Thus, the agenda item will simply result in the item being continued on the General Council’s future agendas until resolved or dropped. See WTO, Members discuss TRIPS waiver request, exchange views on IP role amid a pandemic, 23 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_23feb21_e.htm (” In this context and given the lack of consensus on the waiver request, members agreed to adopt an oral status report to be presented to the General Council at its next meeting on 1-2 March. The report indicates that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and therefore will continue discussions and report back to the General Council.”); December 11, 2020, Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting of December 10, 2020 – no resolution on proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/11/council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-of-december-10-2020-no-resolution-on-proposed-waiver-of-trips-obligations-to-address-the-pandemic/; December 6, 2020, Upcoming December 11th Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting – reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/06/upcoming-december-11th-wto-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-reaction-to-proposed-waiver-from-trips-obligations-to-address-covid-19/; November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

The WTO has been pursuing negotiations on fisheries subsidies to address sustainable fishing concerns since the end of 2001. Conclusion of the negotiations were supposed to take place in 2020 but WTO Members were unable to get the job completed in part because of disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. While completing the negotiations remains a key objective of Members and the incoming Director-General and such completion is needed to fulfill the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, WTO Members continue to face a large number of challenging issues. See, e.g., WTO press release, WTO members hold February cluster of meetings for fisheries subsidies negotiations, 24 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_24feb21_e.htm; February 22, 2021, An early test for the incoming WTO Director-General — helping Members get the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations to a conclusion, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/22/an-early-test-for-the-incoming-wto-director-general-helping-members-get-the-fisheries-subsidies-negotiations-to-a-conclusion/.

Agenda item 7 is entitled “Supporting the Conclusion of Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations for the Sustainability of the Ocean and Fishing Communities — Draft Ministerial Decision — Communication from Brazil (WT/GC/W/815. The draft Ministerial Decision is an effort by Brazil to highlight the critical aspect of the negotiations which is to address environmental sustainability and presumably reflects Brazil’s concerns with the efforts of so many Members to protect their subsidies versus ensuring sustainable fishing. The document is embedded below.

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

As reviewed in the incoming Director-General’s statement on February 15 and the summary of her statement by DDG Wolff on February 25, an important aspect of ongoing work at the WTO is a number of Joint Statement Initiatives that were started at the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, including on e-commerce/digital trade.

Agenda item 10 is a frontal attack on such initiatives by India and South Africa through their paper, “Legal Status of Joint Statement Initiatives and Their Negotiated Outcomes”, WT/GC/819. I had reviewed the submission in an earlier post. See February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/. The agenda item will like see many delegations take the floor to support the use of joint statement initiatives within the WTO or to oppose them. While there won’t be a resolution of the issue, the challenge to the process could significantly handicap some of the efforts envisioned by the incoming Director-General to help developing and least developed countries take advantage of the e-commerce/digital trade world and eventually participate in talks and/or in an agreement. WT/GC/W/819 is embedded below.

WTGCW819-1

Agenda item 8 is viewed as related to agenda item 10. India has been seeking to limit WTO consideration of e-commerce issues to the multilateral efforts over many years within the existing Councils and Committees of the WTO (but where limited progress has been made).

COVID-19 and possible future pandemics — addressing existing trade restrictions and improving the functioning of the WTO to better handle in the future

The incoming Director-General has as a high priority to work with Members to improve monitoring of export restraints on medical goods and agricultural goods during the pandemic and working with Members to see that the WTO helps Members recover and better handle any future pandemics. The Ottawa Group had put forward a trade and health initiative in November 2020. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The communication was made by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. The document contains an annex reviewing the types of actions Members could take to improve the response to the pandemic and improve conditions going forward. Included in the annex to the communication are sections on export restrictions; customs, services and technical regulations; tariffs; transparency and review; cooperation of the WTO with other organizations. Several paragraphs in the communication review the issue of possible export restrictions on vaccines and are copied below.

“9. We realize that the challenges related to the scarcity of essential medical goods, now alleviated to some extent by the response on the supply side, may be repeated at the moment of the development of a vaccine or new medical treatments. In this context, we welcome the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), a global pooled procurement mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines, managed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. This mechanism is critical in securing an equitable share of vaccines for all Members of the international community. As we strongly support the objective of this facility, we call on WTO Members to ensure that any export-restricting measures do not pose a barrier to the delivery of necessary supplies under the COVAX facility.

“10. We recognize the collaborative efforts of private and public stakeholders in the research and development of COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. We encourage the industry to take actions to ensure access at affordable prices to COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for vulnerable populations and support voluntary pooling and licensing of IP rights to accelerate the development of such diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and scaling up their production. We recognize the importance of the IP system in promoting R&D and innovation for access to effective treatments. We note that the flexibilities provided by the TRIPS Agreement and reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health remain available to protect public health and to promote access to medicines for all.”

The full document is embedded below.

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Canada will be providing an update on the initiative at the General Council meeting and will likely see many Members provide comments on the agenda item.

Agenda item 9 was added by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay reflecting concerns by them (and presumably many other trading partners) about actions taken by the European Union to exert control over exports of vaccines from the EU in light of EU concerns about its own access to vaccines from manufacturers. See CALL TO PREVENT EXPORT RESTRICTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES, WT/GC/818 (18 February 2021). The document is embedded below.

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Since the EU is one of the Members who has pushed the trade and health initiative, there is concern by some WTO Members that its actions on vaccines run counter to the initiative it is supporting. Presumably the EU will argue that its actions are consistent with its rights under the WTO and is consistent with the language laid out in paragraphs 9 and 10 above.

The two agenda items are likely to show the concerns of many Members on equitable access to medical goods during the pandemic and the reluctance of at least some Members to reduce their flexibilities under the existing WTO rights and obligations.

Conclusion

DDG Wolff indicated that Members selected the incoming Director-General because she is “fearless in the face of daunting challenges”. There is no shortage of daunting challenges facing the WTO and its new Director-General. A few have been reviewed above.

Some good news is that the EU and the United States are supportive of many of the priorities laid out by DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her February 15 statement to the Special Session of the General Council as seen in the recent EU revised trade policy and the opening statement of USTR nominee Katherine Tai at yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing See February 18, 2021, The European Commission’s 18 February 2021 Trade Policy Review paper and Annex — WTO reform and much more proposed, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/18/the-european-commissions-18-february-2021-trade-policy-review-paper-wto-reform-and-much-more-proposed/; February 25, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/25/u-s-trade-representative-nominee-katherine-tai-confirmation-hearing-before-the-u-s-senate-finance-committee/.

The challenges the new Director-General and the WTO Members face will be made harder by the lack among Members of a common vision and agreed purpose of the WTO, by the current inability of the WTO system to address fundamentally different economic systems, by the structure of decision making, by the failure of obligations to be updated to match level of economic development and role in global trade and by the related issue of how special and differential treatment is used. These challenges have resulted in a negotiating function that is broken, in a dispute settlement system that has no checks on the reviewers for errors or failures to operate within the bounds of authority granted in the Dispute Settlement Understanding and in the underperformance of the monitoring and implementation function.

Hopefully, DG Okonjo-Iweala will develop a strong personal staff and group of DDGs to help her attempt the seemingly impossible — getting meaningful progress and reform from the 164 current WTO Members. 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/

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will get her first reality check at the General Council meeting on March 1-2.


COVID-19 agricultural fall out — higher prices for many consumers and greater food insecurity

The World Bank’s President David Malpass in a February 1st posting on Voices flagged the challenges for many of the world’s poorest people flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic — higher food prices, greater hunger, more people pushed into extreme poverty. See World Bank blog,COVID crisis is fueling food price rises for world’s poorest, February 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/covid-crisis-fueling-food-price-rises-worlds-poorest. The post was originally published in the Guardian. The post is copied in its entirety below (emphasis in the original webpost).

“Over the last year, COVID-19 has undone the economic, health and food security of millions, pushing as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. While the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating, the rise in hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms. 

Income losses have translated into less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created local shortages and higher prices, especially for perishable food.  This reduced access to nutritious food will have negative impacts on the health and cognitive development of COVID-era children for years to come.

“Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. Phone surveys conducted periodically by the World Bank in 45 countries show significant percentages of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. With the situation increasingly dire, the international community can take three key actions in 2021 to increase food security and help prevent a larger toll on human capital.

“The first priority is enabling the free flow of food. To avoid artificial shortages and price spikes, food and other essential goods must flow as freely as possible across borders.  Early in the pandemic, when perceived shortages and panic generated threats of export bans, the international community helped keep food trade flows open. Credible and transparent information about the state of global food inventories – which were at comfortable levels pre-COVID – along with unequivocal free-trade statements from the G20, World Trade Organization, and regional cooperation bodies helped reassure traders, and led to helpful policy responses. Special rules for agriculture, food workers and transport corridors restored supply chains that had been briefly disrupted within countries.

“We need to remain vigilant and avoid backsliding into export restrictions and hardened borders that make food – and other essentials – scarce or more costly.

“The second priority is bolstering social safety nets. Short-term social safety nets offer a vital cushion for families hit by the health and economic crises. In Ethiopia, for example, households that experienced problems in satisfying their food needs initially increased by 11.7 percentage points during the pandemic, but participants in our long-running Productive Safety Net program were shielded from most of the negative effects.

“The world has mounted an unprecedented social protection response to COVID-19. Cash transfers are now reaching 1.1 billion people, and innovative delivery mechanisms are rapidly identifying and reaching new groups, such as informal urban workers. But ‘large scale’ is not synonymous with ‘adequate’. In a review of COVID-19 social response programs, cash transfer programs were found to be:

“–Short-term in their duration – lasting just over three months on average

“–Small in value – an average of $6 (£4.30) per capita in low-income countries

“–Limited in scope – with many in need remaining uncovered

“The pandemic has reinforced the vital imperative of increasing the world’s investments in social protection systems. Additional measures to expedite cash transfers, particularly via digital means, would also play an important role in reducing malnutrition.

“The third priority is enhancing prevention and preparedness. The world’s food systems endured numerous shocks in 2020, from economic impacts on producers and consumers to desert locust swarms and erratic weather.  All indicators suggest that this may be the new normal. The ecosystems we rely on for water, air and food supply are under threat. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise owing to growing demographic and economic pressures on land, animals and wildlife.

“A warming planet is contributing to costlier and more frequent extreme weather events. And as people pack into low-quality housing in urban slums or vulnerable coastal areas, more are living in the path of disease and climate disaster.

“Development gains can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Our experience with hurricanes or seismic events shows that it is more effective to invest in prevention, before a catastrophe strikes. That’s why countries need adaptive social protection programs – programs that are connected to food security early warning systems and can be scaled up in anticipation of shocks.

“The time is long overdue to shift to practices that safeguard and increase food and nutrition security in ways that will endure. The to-do list is long and urgent. We need sustained financing for approaches that prioritize human, animal and planetary health; restore landscapes and diversify crops to improve nutrition; reduce food loss and waste; strengthen agricultural value chains to create jobs and recover lost incomes; and deploy effective climate-smart agriculture techniques on a much greater scale.

“The World Bank Group and partners are ready to help countries reform their agriculture and food policies and redeploy public finance to foster a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.

Focusing on food security would address a basic injustice: almost one in 10 people live in chronic hunger in an age of food waste and plenty.  This focus would also strengthen our collective ability to weather the next storm, flood, drought, or pandemic – with safe and nutritious food for all.”

Food insecurity is an issue for all countries although most pressing for the poorest countries

The challenges noted by the World Bank President also face most other countries. For example, in the United States, there has been a massive increase in the number of people getting food from food banks and estimates are that one in seven Americans needs food assistance. Feeding America, The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity, October 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research (“Combining analyses at the national, state, county, and congressional district levels, we show how the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.”) The challenges for schools not being able to have in school education has complicated the challenge in the United States as millions of children receive food from their schools but need alternative sources when schools are not able to provide in school classes. See, e.g., Brookings Institution, Hungry at Thanksgiving: A Fall 2020 update on food insecurity in the U.S., November 23, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/23/hungry-at-thanksgiving-a-fall-2020-update-on-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s/ (reviews the increase in food insecurity and the various safety net programs in the U.S. attempting to address).

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

The World Trade Organization is directly involved in addressing the first priority identified by World Bank President Malpass — enabling the free flow of food. However, the WTO also monitors government support efforts and has the ability to be tackling trade and environment issues which could affect the third priority by reducing climate change.

WTO Members under WTO rules can impose export restraints under certain circumstances and in the first half of 2020, a number of members imposed export restraints on particular agricultural products and many imposed export restraints on certain medical goods. At the same time, the lockdown of countries had significant effects on the movement of goods and people. Many WTO Members have urged limiting such restraints and the WTO Secretariat has monitored both restraints imposed, when such restraints have been lifted (if they have), and trade liberalization efforts to speed the movement of important goods. See, e.g., WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm; WTO, COVID-19 AND AGRICULTURE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE, INFORMATION NOTE, 26 August 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/agric_report_e.pdf; WTO, COVID-19: Measures affecting trade in goods, updated as of 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. The August paper on COVIDE-19 and Agriculture is embedded below.

agric_report_e

There have been a number of proposals by certain WTO Members to forego export restraints on agricultural products during the pandemic. None have been acted upon by the membership as a whole, but the communications often reflect commitments of certain Members to keep agricultural markets open during the pandemic. See, e.g., RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS, STATEMENT FROM: AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EUROPEAN UNION; GEORGIA; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MALAYSIA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; NICARAGUA; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208/Rev.2, G/AG/30/Rev.2, 29 May 2020. The document is embedded below.

208R2-3

More can and should be done, including a WTO-wide agreement to forego agricultural export restraints during the current pandemic or future pandemics. However, there are strong objections to any such limits from a number of WTO Members including large and important countries like China, India and South Africa.

Indeed, efforts to get agreement at the December 2020 General Council meeting that countries would not block agricultural exports to the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes was blocked by a number of countries. While 79 WTO Members in January 2021 provided a joint pledge not to prevent agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme, it is a sign of the sensitivity of food security to many countries that a very limited humanitarian proposal could not obtain the agreement of all WTO Members in a period of hightened need by many of the world’s poorest countries. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has extracted a huge cost from the world economy, has pushed tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, has cost hundreds of millions people employment (full or partial), is complicating the education of the world’s children with likely long lasting effects, has exposed potential challenges to achieving global cooperation on a range of matters including the desirability of limiting or not imposing export restraints on agricultural and medical goods.

While the focus of countries and the media in the last several months has shifted to access to vaccines and ensuring greater equitable distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices, there remains much that needs to be done to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. International organizations like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries, businesses and NGOs need to se that both core issues are addressed in the coming months.


The WTO Informal Ministerial of January 29, 2021 — hope for progress at the WTO in 2021

Switzerland typically hosts an informal ministerial meeting of WTO trade ministers on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s January Davos event. This year both were handled remotely.

The informal ministerial was summarized in ten points by the Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin at the end of the event. President Parmelin’s statement is available here, https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/65098.pdf, and is copied below.

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

Personal Concluding Remarks by the Chair, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department for Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Guy Parmelin, Switzerland

“29 Ministers and high officials representing a broad spectrum of the WTO membership attended this year’s Informal World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Gathering in virtual format. In concluding and with warm thanks to all participants for their contributions, I would like to summarise the main points from our discussions as follows:

“• Ministers stressed the urgency of the swift appointment of a new WTO Director-General as well as the confirmation of the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“• Ministers reiterated their determination to maintain a credible multilateral trading system and to restore a climate of mutual trust.

“• Ministers expressed their concerns about the enormous social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted the relevance of trade and the role of the WTO in containing the pandemic and promoting recovery. Many Ministers underlined the importance of ensuring the development of as well as an equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines. They addressed ways and means to achieve these goals, including the implementation of measures facilitating trade, the role of intellectual property and transparency.

“• Ministers regretted that the negotiations on fisheries subsidies could not be completed in accordance with the end-2020 deadline foreseen in SDG 14.6. In light of the significance of this process for the sustainability of global fisheries, Ministers concurred that a comprehensive and effective agreement on fisheries subsidies should be concluded as soon as possible. Ministers agreed to step up efforts with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions consistent with all the elements of the negotiating mandate.

“• Ministers highlighted the importance of restoring a fully functional WTO dispute settlement system, which is a key pillar of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

“• Many participants argued for further progress in agricultural trade policy reform at MC12 and asked for an outcome on domestic support and other issues. The issues of public stockholding and the special safeguard mechanism were highlighted by several Ministers.

“• Many Ministers called for tangible outcomes, by MC12, on the Joint Statement Initiatives. Inter alia finalizing the process on Services Domestic Regulation and making substantial progress on E-commerce and Investment Facilitation as well as on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“• The need to reform the WTO was widely acknowledged. A number of Ministers insisted on advancing diverse issues related to the special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries. Some participants proposed to adjust WTO rules to present-day economic and competitive conditions.

“• Several Ministers supported new initiatives launched in response to global challenges such as the structured discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability.

“• Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to engage in the preparations for MC12 in order to advance key issues.”


The participants at this year’s informal ministerial included officials from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chad (coordinator for LDC Group), Chile, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Indonesia, Jamaica (Coordinator ACP Group), Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius (Coordinator African Group), Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland (Chair), Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and three officials with WTO roles — H.E. Mr. David Walker (New Zealand), WTO General Council Chair; H.E. Mr. Santiago Wills (Colombia), WTO Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, H.E. Mr. Alan Wolff, WTO Deputy Director-General. The full list with titles is embedded below.

List-of-participants-at-virtual-informal-ministerial-1-29-2021-65099

The good news for the informal ministerial was the position taken by the United States representative who reportedly indicated that the United States was actively reviewing the issue of the next Director-General and was intent on actively working on WTO reform. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach; Politico, Biden administration joins call for ‘swift appointment’ of new WTO head, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/29/biden-world-trade-organization-463820. Under the Trump Administration, the United States had blocked the formation of consensus around Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala based on the U.S. view that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not have a sufficient trade background. See, e.g., January 26, 2021, Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/26/letter-from-variety-of-former-u-s-officials-to-president-biden-urges-u-s-support-for-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-wto-director-general/. Hopefully, the current review of the issue by the Biden Administration, even ahead of President Biden’s trade team being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will result in the U.S. joining the support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, permitting the WTO to approve a next Director-General.

It was also reported that the United States, consistent with the Biden Administration’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, expressed interest in promoting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and concluding an ambitious fisheries subsidies agreement. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach. Fisheries subsidies negotiations have been going on for some twenty years, and many Members have remained more concerned with keeping their subsidies in place than agreeing to disciplines that would create conditions for sustainable fishing going forward. The Interest in the Biden Administration in working within the WTO on joint steps to promote recovery from the pandemic is different from the approach pursued by the Trump Administration which didn’t want to look at actions possible within the WTO (other than limits on export restraints on agricultural goods) while the world was dealing with the pandemic. The U.S. statement should mean more interest in exploring issues like those raised by the Ottawa Group. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

Other issues flagged in the Swiss President’s concluding remarks are issues of particular interest to some or many countries but not topics of clear agreement. For example, while it is likely that the United States will look for ways to resolve its concerns about longstanding problems in the WTO’s dispute settlement system, particularly around the Appellate Body, it is unlikely that there will be a swift resolution of the U.S. concerns, and hence there will likely be a continued impasse for at least much of 2021 on the return of a functioning two-stage dispute settlement system.

Similarly on domestic support in agriculture and other agriculture issues flagged, certain WTO Members have not supported further liberalization in agriculture while pushing for limits on domestic subsidies and rollback of liberalization commitments undertaken in the Uruguay Round. It is unlikely that there will be forward movement on these issues without greater balance in terms of tariff reductions on major agricultural products. Moreover, as noted in a recent post, other major distortions in agriculture that are not presently identified as domestic subsidies include widespread use of child and forced labor on many agricultural products. See January 25, 2021, Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021, Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. Such practices should be quantified and the level of potential distortion identified so WTO Members can decide how to address them in ongoing agriculture negotiations.

Progress is being made on Joint Statement Initiatives including e-commerce, services domestic regulation, investment facilitation and women’s empowerment. An open issue for these and topics in the sphere of trade and the environment (e.g., environmental goods agreement) is whether benefits provided by participants will be made available on an MFN basis or limited to participants, with the option of other Members to join in the future. See January 18, 2021, Revisiting the need for MFN treatment for sectoral agreements among the willing, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/18/revisiting-the-need-for-mfn-treatment-for-sectoral-agreements-among-the-willing/. For many Members liberalization could be speeded up if benefits in sectoral agreements go to those participating only while leaving the door open for other Members to join later when they see the value for them.

And on the important topic of WTO reform beyond the items listed above, there is little current agreement on how to deal with industrial subsidies and other practices that lead to massive global excess capacity, or on how to address access to special and differential treatment and many other areas of importance to some or many WTO Members.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided a statement during the virtual informal ministerial urging WTO Members to make 2021 a year of accomplishments. The WTO press release can be found here. WTO News, DDG Wolff urges WTO ministers to address the pandemic and make 2021 a year of action, 29 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/igo_29jan21_e.htm. DDG Wolff’s statement is copied below.

“My thanks to our Swiss hosts and to President Parmelin both for his remarks today and for his very thoughtful address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of the WTO last November.

“Ministers, you can make 2021 a year of substantial accomplishments at the WTO.

“There has already been a beginning.  In the first action of the year, Members accounting for most of the world’s agricultural exports committed to refrain from imposing export restrictions on purchases made by the World Food Program.

“The anticipated appointment of a new Director-General will bring needed leadership in moving toward concrete results.  But she can succeed only with your active engagement.

“I urge you not to wait for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference, delayed by the pandemic, to move negotiations forward to positive outcomes. 

“There is no reason why the twenty-year negotiation on fisheries subsidies cannot be concluded successfully — without a sacrifice of ambition — in the next few months.  Success hinges on Members’ willingness to accept a significant level of discipline on their own subsidies.  Political decisions and your active engagement will be required to bring about success.

“I urge you to address ‘trade and health’ forcefully and immediately.  Last year, trade made a vitally important contribution in supplying needed medical supplies to deal with COVID-19.  Proposals as to what more can be done must be deliberated now.  Cooperation on trade can accelerate access to vaccines.  There can be no higher priority.

“Consider how the WTO can further contribute to the economic recovery.  Members can take steps to ensure enhanced transparency, work to eliminate unnecessary barriers and agree that new restrictions will not be imposed.  Trade finance must be restored.  The WTO convened the major international financial organizations and banks to address this need in the aftermath of the financial crisis and it can do so now again.

“’Trade and climate’ must be on the WTO agenda.  Carbon border adjustment measures will likely result in conflicts unless Members engage in joint efforts to find mutually beneficial solutions.  The heightened interest of Members in a broad range of other environmental issues such as plastics pollution and the circular economy can be reflected in new agreements.   The WTO can be more visible as a steward of the planet by reviving and concluding the Environmental Goods Agreement

“The Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, and services domestic regulation can bear fruit this year, building on what was achieved with respect to small businesses last year.  In addition, more progress can be made on the economic empowerment of women through international trade.  

“Concerns over income inequality have been growing.  The WTO’s rules-based system needs to be seen not only among countries but also within countries, as responsive to the needs of workers, farmers and all who wish to engage in international trade.  But international trade rules cannot substitute for domestic policy actions to make growth more inclusive.  When large numbers of people are unhappy with how the economy is working for them, trade will often receive undeserved blame.  The WTO is about fairness.  Its work will never be done in pursuit of that objective, but further progress can be made this year.

“There can be an outcome on agriculture — at least a down-payment and a defined work program going forward.

“During 2021, the WTO can likely welcome new WTO Members, as it continues to move towards universal coverage.  Comoros and Bosnia-Herzegovina may be ready, and over a dozen others are making progress.

“Last but not least, ‘WTO reform’ can become a reality, with actions taken to —

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

“- achieve heightened enforcement through binding dispute settlement in a manner agreed by all, and

“- provide a strong mandate for a Secretariat to deliver all needed support to Members and to achieving the mission of the WTO. 

“We should greet this year with optimism and re-dedication.  With your strong engagement, 2021 can be a year to remember for what is achieved.

“Thank you.”

A presentation from the WTO Secretariat to Ministers needs to be positive, forward looking, aspirational and inspirational. DDG Wolff’s statement yesterday provides all of that. The first item mentioned, the joint pledge from 79 WTO Members not to restrict agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes is a positive for the world but follows the December failure of the WTO General Council to agree to the same by all WTO Members. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

The challenge for the WTO in 2021 will be whether Members can come together in fact to achieve many of the important opportunities and needs in front of the Membership. While the history of the WTO since 1995 and the major divisions among Members at the present time would strongly suggest that 2021 will not achieve many of the things that are needed and possible, hope springs eternal.

U.S. perspective

The Trump Administration did an excellent job of identifying problems with the operation of the WTO whether from the longstanding failures of the dispute settlement system, to the existential challenges to the viability of the WTO from major Members whose economies have not converged to a full market orientation, to the out-of-date rules around special and differential treatment to all who claim developing country status regardless of economic development of individual members, to the need for greater transparency in many areas, including importantly subsidies, to the failure of the WTO to update rules to address changing technology and trade issues.

The Biden Administration has indicated its intention to work within multilateral institutions, including the WTO. Early action by the United States on the Director-General selection issue could provide positive energy to WTO Members in the coming months. There are topics where success can be made in 2021 either multilaterally or plurilaterally. But a lot of what is needed for meaningful WTO reform will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the short term. Hopefully, the Biden team will stay the course to achieve reform that both returns the WTO playing field to the level agreed at the time of concluding the Uruguay Round, finds ways to deal with the massive distortions not presently covered by WTO rules, works with others to bring the WTO into the 21st century and addresses the critical issues for global prosperity and sustainable development.

China’s trade war with Australia — unwarranted and at odds with China’s portrayal of itself as a strong supporter of the WTO

China has imposed antidumping and countervailing duties on Australian barley and wine and has imposed import restrictions on a host of products from Australia including coal, lobsters, timber, red meat and cotton. While the first two products are allegedly pursuant to investigations conducted in a manner consistent with WTO Agreements, the other import restrictions are being done through verbal direction or under claims of labeling, pest or other bases. CNBC reported on December 17th the products restricted and the alleged justifications for import restrictions imposed by China on Australian goods. See CNBC, Here’s a list of the Australian exports hit by restrictions in China, December 17, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/18/australia-china-trade-disputes-in-2020.html. As CNBC reported,

“The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since Australia supported a call for an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Last month, Australian news outlets reported that the Chinese embassy there had threatened the
Australian government and handed over a list of alleged grievances toward Canberra.

“China has taken several measures this year that impede Australian imports, ranging from levying tariffs to imposing bans and restrictions.”

A press account in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 18, 2020, reviewed developments from an Australian perspective and included the “list of grievances” reportedly sent from China to Australia. See Sydney Morning Herald, ‘If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy’: Beijing’s fresh threat to Australia, November 18, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/if-you-make-china-the-enemy-china-will-be-the-enemy-beijing-s-fresh-threat-to-australia-20201118-p56fqs.html. The “list of grievances” China claimed it had with Australia, copied in the article, is reproduced below:

The list of grievances from the Chinese embassy.

In a South China Morning Post article from December 20, experts in Australia and China indicate that China’s actions are intended to both punish Australia and dissuade other countries from taking similar actions that displease China that Australia has taken. See South China Morning Post, China-Australia relations: Beijing’s trade restrictions are meant as a warning to Canberra, but will they work?, December 20, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3114635/china-australia-relations-beijings-trade-restrictions-are.

It is clear that the import restrictions, if taken for the reasons identified in the list of grievances above, are unjustified and violations of China’s WTO obligations.

WTO challenge filed by Australia on China’s antidumping and countervailing duties imposed on Australian barley

While Australia has been attempting to deal with China’s unilateral actions diplomatically, on December 16th, it filed a request for consultations with China at the WTO on the antidumping and countervailing duties being imposed on Australian barley. The request for consultations was circulated to WTO Members on December 21. See CHINA – ANTI-DUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTY MEASURES ON BARLEY FROM AUSTRALIA, REQUEST FOR CONSULTATIONS BY AUSTRALIA, WT/DS598/1, G/L/1382, G/ADP/D135/1, G/SCM/D130/1, 21 December 2020; WTO press release, Dispute Settlement, Australia initiates WTO dispute complaint against Chinese barley duties, 21 December 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news_e.htm. While some press accounts have characterized the WTO challenge as increasing the tensions between the two countries, the reality is that the request for consultations is a proper response by Australia to an action by China that it perceives violates China’s WTO obligations. See The Guardian, Australia escalates China trade dispute with WTO action, December 15, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/16/australia-escalates-china-trade-dispute-with-wto-action.

The U.S. and other WTO Members have been concerned for years that China uses trade remedy cases as a means not of pursuing bona fide industry concerns but rather as a means of retaliating against trading partners who take actions, even if WTO authorized, that are against Chinese products. Looking at the breadth of the request for consultations filed by Australia, it would appear that Australia views the investigations as similarly suspect. The request for consultations is embedded below and contains 26 alleged violations of WTO obligations by China in the barley investigations.

598-1

If there is a failure by China to conform to WTO obligations and end the unilateral and unauthorized actions against Australia, one should expect to see additional cases filed at the WTO by Australia to defend its rights.

Comments

China has been a major beneficiary of the multilateral trading system since joining the WTO at the end of 2001. While China has implemented many of the obligations it took on to join the WTO, there has long been concern that China’s implementation is subject to unilateral action against other Members where China is unhappy with positions taken by other Members. At the WTO, in arguing against taking up issues like the need for Members to converge to market-based conditions, China has argued that others (in particular the U.S.) are ignoring core principles of the WTO, such as most favored nation treatment. When one considers the range of actions China has taken against Australia in 2020, it is clear that they view most favored nation treatment obligations to WTO Members as subject to China’s political whims. China’s actions are unwarranted. For a nation wanting to be a leader in developing the trading system, its actions send the wrong signals to its trading partners.

Upcoming December 11th WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting — reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19

In my post of November 2, 2020, I reviewed a proposed waiver from many TRIPS obligations for all countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/. While originally filed by India and South Africa (IP/C/W/669), a few other countries have joined the proposal including Eswatini (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Kenya (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Mozambique (IP/C/W/669/Add.2) and Pakistan (IP/C/W/669/Add.3). South Africa made a supplemental filing providing what it described as “Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 pandemic”. Communication from South Africa, Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 Pandemic, IP/C/W/670, 23 November 2020. The South African communication is embedded below.

W670

My post of November 2 had raised a number of question presented by the proposed waiver:

” The proposal raises a series of questions that should be addressed to understand whether the waiver is appropriate. These questions include whether such a broad waiver request is appropriate or envisioned by Article IX:3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement? Shouldn’t those requesting a waiver be required to demonstrate that the existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement are inadequate to address concerns they may have? Can two Members request a waiver of obligations for all WTO Members? Can a waiver request be considered where the product scope is lacking clarity, and the uses/needs of the waiver are very broad and potentially open to differing views? To what extent is there a need for those seeking a waiver to present a factual record of actions being taken by governments, companies and international organizations to provide access to medical goods during the pandemic including to developing and least developed countries? Shouldn’t those seeking a waiver identify the extent of existing licenses by major pharmaceutical companies with them or other WTO Members for the production of vaccines or therapeutics to address COVID-19?”

The supplemental information provided by South Africa identifies various patent pending matters and identifies what it describes as restrictive actions by some companies and some patent litigation by certain companies. As such the communication provides some information of possible relevance in examining the proposed waiver. However, there is little if any information provided on most questions that seem important to an informed discussion of the proposed waiver.

On November 27, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico filed a communication entitled “Questions on Intellectual-Property Challenges Experienced by Members in Relation to COVID-19”. IP/C/W/671. While the entire communication is embedded below, paragraphs 3 and 4 are copied below and present a framework for the consideration of the proposed waiver and seek factual answers to a series of questions which would help understand if there are in fact any significant barriers being confronted by WTO Members in addressing the pandemic.

“3. The co-sponsors of this communication remain of the view that these important, challenging, and complex issues merit further reflection and significant consideration, in order to identify any specific and concrete IP-related challenges faced by Members in addressing COVID-19. In addition, we take note that IP rights are one part of a broad discussion informing the availability and accessibility of treatments for COVID-19. Indeed, as the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health emphasizes, the TRIPS Agreement itself is part of the wider national and international effort to address public health problems. With respect to COVID-19, this broader response includes significant investments through procurement mechanisms like the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility and Advance Market Commitment, as well as work within the WTO and elsewhere to safeguard and protect global supply chains.

“4. The co-sponsors of this communication are actively committed to a comprehensive, global
approach that leverages the entire multilateral trading system in place to supporting the research,
development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, equipment, therapeutics, and vaccines. The co-sponsors also reaffirm their support for the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities it provides, and for the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. In this context, we invite consideration of how the existing legal framework under the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities affirmed under the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, have operated thus far in the context of Members’ efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also committed to fully understanding the nature and scope of any concrete IP barriers experienced by Members related to or arising from the TRIPS Agreement, and such that would constitute impediments to the fight against COVID-19. To that end, and with a view to facilitating a consensual, evidence-based approach, the co-sponsors of this communication therefore respectfully submit the following questions to Members for their consideration and response.”

The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico then provides eight questions designed to develop a factual record of challenges faced on procurement of products, local production, compulsory licenses, as well as copyright-related challenges, industrial-designs-related challenges, and challenges from undisclosed information. The questions also include an inquiry as to “what specific legal amendments or actions would the proponents seek to enact for the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19 that are not – or may not be – consistent with the TRIPS Agreement and its flexibilities?”

W671

There is a meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights scheduled for December 11 at the WTO. It is assumed that the only item on the agenda will be the consideration of the proposed TRIPS waiver submitted by India and South Africa and joined by four other countries. A recommendation should be forwarded to the General Council by December 31. While the proposed waiver may receive support from many WTO Members, it will be opposed by many as well as not justified and undermining the existing WTO TRIPS Agreement and built-in flexibilities. The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico provides a possible path forward by seeking to gather factual information that would permit Members to identify what challenges actually exist and what existing tools are available for addressing the existing challenges so that the need for any waiver is limited to what is actually needed instead of being the very broad waiver proposal for all countries regardless of actual problems faced.

The Ottawa Group’s November 23 Communication and Draft Elements of a “Trade and Health” Initiative

On Monday, Novemer 23, Canada hosted a virtual meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform. The Group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided comments and urged the Members to “translate their statements about reforms to global trade rules into formal proposals and concrete requests at the WTO.” WTO, 23 November 2020, DDG Wolff calls on Ottawa Group to table formal reform proposals at WTO, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_23nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff provided seven options for the consideration of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, the first four of which used trade and health as one example.

“First, an observation: the game must be in play for key players to conclude that they have to join. If negotiations are not under way, there may be a substantial delay in attracting participation.

“Declarations, such as on trade and health, should be turned into formal proposals as soon as possible and should be embraced by all WTO members.

“And if some Members won’t come along or seek to delay — a joint initiative is a practical way to proceed and could then be launched as a priority. The time of testing should not be so long as to make a response to the pandemic arrive too late to be responsive to the current crisis.

“Second, Members can ask the WTO Secretariat for and receive support for evaluations of aspects of WTO reform. For example, on trade and health, Members can —

“Request the Secretariat to upgrade its COVID-19-related trade monitoring activities to collect and publish the best information available, not relying solely on notifications and verification. (This would be a more comprehensive and in-depth activity than that which takes place at present, which in itself was an upgrade from pre-COVID monitoring.)

“Request the Secretariat to work with the WHO, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders, to highlight trade issues affecting vaccine production and availability, and to propose ways to eliminate obstacles. (This would go beyond existing activities and result in proposals put to the WTO Member- ship).

“Third, Members can

“Propose that the Director General convene a small, representative, ambassador-level group of Friends of Trade and Health to identify how the trading system has performed during the pandemic and to issue preliminary conclusions and recommendations for useful changes in approach within a short, defined timeline.

“Propose that the WTO Secretariat embark now upon the necessary supporting work without delay.

“Propose that the Director General constitute other ‘Friends’ groups to advance consideration of institutional reform and other issues of current importance, and providing possible solutions, such as with respect to the relationship to current and future WTO Agreements of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, the disciplining of fossil fuel subsidies, addressing border adjustments likely with the adoption of carbon taxes, assessing the impact on markets of subsidies and other state interventions, employing trade to reduce income inequality, making the WTO more effective for economic development within and among Member economies, improving the trading system with respect to women in trade, providing WTO support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and more generally strategic foresight.

“G20 Members clearly want to enhance preparedness for future pandemics and other crises. Flexible groups with appropriate balance but able to be nimble and responsive are one way to supplement but not supplant the work of committees and joint statement initiatives (JSIs).

‘Propose that an ad hoc horizontal mechanism be created promptly in the event of crises to address — in real time — trade measures that are of concern. The mechanism, similar to trade policy reviews, but not limited to any single WTO Member’s measures, trade restrictive and trade liberalizing, should be constituted immediately for the current pandemic and economic recovery measures.

“Fourth, Members can

“Propose that the signatories of the Pharmaceutical Agreement providing for duty-free trade be updated (last done in 2010), that major nonsigna- tories join and that essential medical supplies be added to the coverage.

“Propose that the signatories of the Information Technology Agreement review and update its coverage, including adding medical equipment.

“Propose that negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement re-start in earnest now, with the addition of services.”

The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

The Canadian press release states in part, “As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.”

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.

“They also called for further cooperation amongst members, and between the WTO and other international organisations.

“The group also encourages WTO members to refrain from imposing tariffs on essential medical goods during the crisis. Such actions are intended to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and contribute to an effective response to a public health emergency. They can serve as a basis for future permanent commitments on trade in essential medical goods.

“Commission Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: ‘We are proud to promote this trade and health initiative. It aims to encourage stronger global cooperation at WTO level, by facilitating trade in healthcare products. This is critical in the current global health crisis and will also help us in future. But the Ottawa Group trade and health initiative is just the first step. Going forward, the EU will work to promote resilient global healthcare systems, as well as accessible and affordable healthcare products universally.’

“The communication will now be submitted later this week to the WTO secretariat, before being presented to the WTO General Council for discussion. It will be used to prepare the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, due to be held in 2021.”

That same day, November 23, the Ottawa Group submitted to the WTO a communication entitled “COVID-19 and beyond: Trade and Health”. WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The document is embedded below.

223

The communication is ten paragraphs plus an Annex which is described as “Draft Elements of a ‘Trade and Health’ Initiative”. The communication reviews the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and invites “all WTO Members to start working on a Trade and Health Initiative” referencing the Annex. Paragraph 6 of the communication summarizes the specific actions being proposed.

“6. With this objective in mind, we call on WTO Members to make their utmost efforts to prevent further disruptions in the supply chains of essential medical goods. As set out in the Annex to this Communication, we propose specific actions relating to export restrictions, trade facilitation,
technical regulations, tariffs, transparency and review, and call for the WTO to enhance its cooperation with other relevant international organizations, such as WHO, WCO, OECD as well as G20, given the context of the on-going evaluations of the global response to COVID-19. These proposed actions are not intended to be prescriptive and do not cover the universe of possible
measures that could support trade in essential medical goods. Rather, they reflect emerging best practices and should provide sufficient flexibility to be adapted to differing national circumstances.”

The Ottawa Group is hoping to get the support of all Members on a joint statement early in 2021 on a Trade and Health Initiative which could serve as a starting point for negotiations for new WTO commitments at the 12th Ministerial Conference in the summer of 2021 in Kazakhstan.

On export restrictions, the Annex calls for greater oversight of such restrictions without eliminating them outright.

On customs, services and technical regulations, the Annex calls for Members to share information and experiences on best practices in trade facilitation during a crisis (customs procedures, services (including freight, logistics, distribution and transport)) and on standards and technical requirements looking towards regulatory alignment.

On tariffs, the Annex calls on Members to “make best endeavours to temporarily remove or reduce tariffs on goods that are considered essential to fighting COVID-19 pandemic”.

On transparency and review, the Annex calls on Members to enhance transparency during the pandemic with the aim of identifying supply chain disruptions and avoiding such disruptions.

On the topic of cooperation of the WTO with other organizations, the Annex both encourages the WTO Secretariat to continue it outreach on measures related to COVID-19 and the studies developed by the Secretariat with a focus “on the causes and effects of the disruptions in the supply chains of essential goods and drawing on research of other international organizations.” The WTO Director-General is also encouraged to “intensify cooperation” with other organizations (including the G20) to improve “the analytical capacity of Members to monitor market developments in trade and production of essential medical goods.”

Finally, the Annex asks Members to review the effectiveness of the identified elements at the 12th Ministerial Conference “with a view to adopting possible commitments regarding trade in essential medical goods.”

Conclusion

There have been many communications put forward by different groups of Members at the WTO in the last eight months on actions that would make sense in terms of limiting export restraints on medical goods or avoiding such restraints on agricultural goods, about the need for effective trade facilitation measures to reduce barriers to movement of medical goods, and on other topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Group’s communication from Monday is an effort to come up with an early possible deliverable that could garner broad WTO Member support. As a result it seeks a joint statement with agreement on the statement for early 2021. The Group also provides five draft proposals for such a joint statement. The proposals don’t eliminate existing flexibility (e.g., export restraints) but try to tighten disciplines via increased transparency. The proposals encourage development of best practices on a range of trade facilitation and regulatory alignment issues. The proposals also encourage what is obviously in most Members self-interest — reducing or eliminating tariffs on medical goods during the pandemic. The proposals also call on Members to do a better job on transparency on measure taken during the pandemic with a focus on identifying disruptions to supply chains and addressing the same in short order. Finally, while the WTO already cooperates with other organizations, the proposals point to specific areas where enhanced cooperation would be helpful.

In an organization where Members have a low level of trust in each other, a joint statement on the need for a Trade and Health Initiative such as proposed by the Ottawa Group is probably all that can be achieved in the short term. Something along the lines outlined in the Annex would indeed be a confidence builder if achieved early in 2021. The ability to review developments at the 12th Ministerial and start negotiations on trade in essential medical goods at that time will also be important if accomplished. The more ambitious options presented by DDG Wolff should be considered but realistically are unlikely to either happen or get started ahead of the 12th Ministerial.

Let’s hope that the WTO membership can come together to support the Ottawa Group proposal. The EC has indicated that the Communication will be taken up at the December General Council meeting. That will be an early opportunity to see if there is likely to broad support for the initiative.

WTO initiatives on trade and the environment — likely to receive a warm welcome under a Biden Administration

The challenges facing the world from climate change are staggering and getting worse. While the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a Biden Administration will have the U.S. rejoin and work with other nations to find solutions to the pressing problems.

Today in Geneva, two initiatives were announced by groups of WTO Members. One addresses trade and environmental sustainability and was presented in a communication from 49 Members. Communication on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, WT/CTE/W/249 (17 November 2020). Neither the U.S., China, India, Brazil nor South Africa are on the communication though most developed countries and other Members are initial sponsors. The communication is embedded below.

W249

The second initiative was the launch of an informal dialogue on plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade. Seven Members are launching the informal dialogue. All Members are welcome to participate. The seven Members involved in the launch are Australia, Barbados, Canada, China, Fiji, Jamaica and Morocco. Only Australia, Canada and Fiji are part of both initiatives. The press release from the Secretariat on today’s initiatives included the following discussion of the plastics initiative.

“The dialogue is borne out of the recognition of the need for coordinated action to address the rising environmental, health and economic cost of plastics pollution and the importance of the trade dimension as a solution.

“Proponents aim to circulate their communication soon. * * *

“Ambassador Xiangchen Zhang of China said at the online event that possible subjects for discussion include improving transparency, monitoring trade trends, promoting best practices, strengthening policy coherence, identifying the scope for collective approaches, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and cooperating with other international processes and efforts. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji said they hope this informal dialogue will encourage discussion and exploratory work on how the WTO can contribute to efforts to reduce plastics pollution and transition to a circular, more environmentally sustainable plastics trade.”

Deputy Director-General Alan Wm Wolff spoke at today’s event and identified a range of initiatives that have been looked at by the Committee on Trade and Environment, or that could be, that could help move forward both initiatives including resuming talks at eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers on environmental goods and services, reforming subsidies on fossil fuels, promoting a global circular economy, addressing the carbon content of traded products and other actions.

The press release and DDG Wolff’s remarks are embedded below.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-New-initiatives-launched-to-intensify-WTO-work-on-trade-and-the-environment

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-remarks-on-the-Structured-Discussions-on-Trade-and-Environmental-Sustainability

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

Because addressing the challenges from climate change are a core priority for the incoming Biden Administration, I would expect that once the new trade team is in place, the U.S. will become involved in both of the initiatives and other activities at the WTO on the importance of finding rules and solutions to pressing trade and environment issues.

The Biden team almost certainly supports most if not all of the items identified in paragraph 1 of the Communication (WT/CTE/W/249), including the importance of multilateral environmental agreements, that there is an urgent need for action on climate change, that trade and environmental objectives and policies should be mutually supportive, that trade and trade policy need to support efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, among others. Similarly, the Biden Administration will presumably strongly support the four areas of activity identified in paragraph 2 of the Communication:

“2. Therefore, express our intention to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability, including by:

“intensifying our work to share experiences and best practices; promote transparency, dialogue and information sharing along the full value chain of products and materials;

“strengthening coherence at the national and international level with a view to identifying areas of common interest and for future work within the WTO, in order for WTO to address more effectively sustainable development issues;

“working in cooperation with relevant international organizations and relevant actors, including the private sector, to identify and support technical assistance and capacity building needs of Members, and in particular least-developed countries (LDCs).

“working on possible actions and deliverables of environmental sustainability in the various areas of the WTO.”

Similarly, I would expect the Biden Administration to have an active interest in working with industry and other governments to address the challenges of plastics pollution, although U.S. interests are likely to be more action oriented than the items teed up by China at today’s announcement.

Conclusion

For years, many Members have fought focusing energies at the WTO on issues involving trade and the environment. With the climate change crisis and consequences being felt around the world, it appears that many or most WTO Members are appreciating the need for the WTO to play its role in addressing sustainable development and the climate change challenge.

With a new U.S. Administration, the U.S. should be a very active participant in moving the WTO and its Members forward.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed on November 15, 2020

On Sunday, November 15, 2020, fifteen countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which will “enter into force for those signatory States that have deposited their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval, 60 days after the date on which at least six signatory States which are Member States of ASEAN and three signaotry States other than Members States of ASEAN have deposited their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval with the Depositary.” RCEP Article 20.6.2.

The fifteen countries signing the RCEP are the ten ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and five others (Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea). India had participated in negotiations but withdrew in late 2019. According to a CNN article, “The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership spans 15 countries and 2.2 billion people, or nearly 30% of the world’s population, according to a joint statement released by the nations on Sunday, when the deal was signed. Their combined GDP totals roughly $26 trillion and they account for nearly 28% of global trade based on 2019 data.” CNN Business, November 16, 2020, China signs huge Asia Pacific trade deal with 14 countries, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/16/economy/rcep-trade-agreement-intl-hnk/index.html.

The Joint Statement released on the 15th is copied below.

“Joint Leaders’ Statement on The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

“We, the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam – Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, met virtually on 15 November 2020, on the occasion of the 4th RCEP Summit.

We were pleased to witness the signing of the RCEP Agreement, which comes at a time when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge brought about by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. In light of the adverse impact of the pandemic on our economies, and our people’s livelihood and well-being, the signing of the RCEP Agreement demonstrates our strong commitment to supporting economic recovery, inclusive development, job creation and strengthening regional supply chains as well as our support for an open, inclusive, rules-based trade and investment arrangement. We acknowledge that the RCEP Agreement is critical for our region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in building the region’s resilience through inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process.”

https://asean.org/joint-leaders-statement-regional-comprehensive-economic-partnership-rcep-2/

The agreement has twenty chapters some of which have annexes:

  1. Initial Provisions and General Definitions
  2. Trade in Goods
  3. Rules of Origin
  4. Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation
  5. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
  6. Standards, Technical Regulations, and Conformity Assessment Procedures
  7. Trade Remedies
  8. Trade in Services
  9. Temporary Movement of Natural Persons
  10. Investment
  11. Intellectual Property
  12. Electronic Commerce
  13. Competition
  14. Small and Medium Enterprises
  15. Economic and Technical Cooperation
  16. Government Procurement
  17. General Provisions and Exceptions
  18. Institutional Provisions
  19. Dispute Settlement
  20. Final Provisions

The full RCEP agreement and country schedules of tariff commitments can be found in English at the webpage for RCEP, https://rcepsec.org/legal-text/ as well as on various individual signatory web pages. See, e.g., the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, https://www.dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/not-yet-in-force/rcep/rcep-text-and-associated-documents.

A summary of the agreement from the ASEAN webpage is embedded below. https://asean.org/storage/2020/11/Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement.pdf.

Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement

From the chapter titles, it is clear that the Agreement does not deal with issues such as labor or environment. While there is a chapter on trade remedies, a review shows no expanded rules on industrial subsidies – a matter of concern for many countries dealing with China. Similarly, under the competition chapter, the only reference (and it is indirect) to state-owned or state-invested enterprises is contained in Article 13.3.5 (“Article 13.3: Appropriate Measures against Anti-Competitive
Activities”). “Each Party shall apply its competition laws and regulations to all entities engaged in commercial activities, regardless of their ownership. Any exclusion or exemption from the application of each Party’s competition laws and regulations, shall be transparent and based on grounds of public policy or public interest.” (Emphasis added).

RCEP Chapter 7, Trade Remedies

While subsequent posts will look at other aspects of the RCEP Agreement, this post looks at Chapter 7, Trade Remedies. For convenience, the chapter is embedded below.

rcep-chapter-7

Safeguard actions

Section A of Chapter 7 deals with RCEP safeguard measures. The RCEP safeguard measure is intended to be available for a transitional period that extends to a period that is eight years after the tariff elimination or reduction on a specific good is scheduled to occur. Relief can be in the form either of stopping tariff reductions or snapping the tariff back to the MFN rate at the lower of the rates applicable at the date of entry into force of the Agreement for the country in question or the MFN rate on the date when the transitional RCEP safeguard measure is put in place. There is a three year limit on relief, with a one year extension in certain circumstances. If relief is for more than a year, the relief provided is to be reduced “at regular intervals”. Relief is not available against imports from a RCEP party whose imports are less than 3% of total imports from the RCEP parties or if the RCEP party is a Least Developed Country. RCEP has three members who are Least Developed Countries (LDCs) according to the UN’s 2020 list – Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Compensation is required and if not agreed to, then the party subject to the RCEP safeguard “may suspend the application of substantially equivalent concessions” on goods from the party applying the safeguard. No compensation is required during the first three years of relief if there has been an absolute increase in imports. No compensation will be requested from an LDC.

RCEP countries preserve their rights under the WTO to pursue global safeguard measures. RCEP parties are not to apply both a RCEP safeguard and a global safeguard to the same good at the same time.

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

Section B of Chapter 7 deals with antidumping and countervailing duties. While the Section starts by noting that parties “retain their rights and obligations under Article VI of GATT 1994, the AD Agreement, and the SCM Agreement,” the section adds clarity to notice and consultation requirements, timing of notice and information required for verification, maintaining a non-confidential file available to all parties and other matters. The biggest addition to parties rights and obligations is the acceptance of a “Prohibition on Zeroing” in dumping investigations and reviews. Article 7.13.

“When margins of dumping are established, assessed, or reviewed under
Article 2, paragraphs 3 and 5 of Article 9, and Article 11 of the AD Agreement, all individual margins, whether positive or negative, shall be
counted for weighted average-to-weighted average and transaction-to- transaction comparison. Nothing in this Article shall prejudice or affect
a Party’s rights and obligations under the second sentence of subparagraph 4.2 of Article 2 of the AD Agreement in relation to weighted average-to-transaction comparison.”

Considering the centrality of the WTO dispute settlement decisions on “zeroing” to the U.S. position on overreach by the Appellate Body, the actions of the RCEP parties to add the obligation contained in RCEP Art. 7.13 to their approach to antidumping investigations will almost certainly complicate the ability of the WTO to move past the impasse on the Appellate Body.

Conclusion

The RCEP Agreement is an important FTA in the huge number of such agreements entered by countries around the world. There will certainly be advantages for the RCEP countries from the regional trade liberalization and the common rules of origin adopted.

Pretty clearly, the RCEP has not dealt with some of the fundamental challenges to the global trading system from the rise of economic systems that are not premised on market-economy principles. While such issues can be addressed in the WTO going forward, the ability of China to get a large number of trading partners to open their markets without the addressing of the underlying core distortions from the state directed economic system that China employs suggests that the road to meaningful reform has gotten longer with the RCEP Agreement.

Nor have the RCEP countries chosen to include within the RCEP action on issues like the environment which are of growing importance to the ability to have sustainable development. Again while such issues can be addressed in the WTO, they are also being addressed in bilateral and plurilateral agreements by other countries and including some of the RCEP countries. Thus, RCEP is a lost opportunity for leadership by China on issues of great importance to its citizens and those of all RCEP parties.

As November approaches, Europe and the United States facing rapidly growing new COVID-19 cases

The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported globally skyrocketed during the October 12-25 period (5,431,119), up 24.37% from the September 28 – October 11 period (4,336,825). Data are from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control worldwide update series. Global confirmed cases to date are now 42,758,015.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (8,576,725) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (224,899), saw the number of new cases surge by 34.0% over the last two weeks with daily records set twice in the last week (both days over 80,000 new cases). The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The downtrend was reversed during September 14-27, when the number of new cases increased to 592,690 or a daily average of 42,335 cases. During September 28-October 11, the United States recorded 640,149 new cases (45,725/day). During October 12-25, the United States recorded 857,778 new cases and will likely surpass the prior two week peak in the next two weeks.

The United States regained the dubious distinction of recording the largest number of new cases in the last two weeks as India’s number of new cases continues to decline to 811,005 new cases from its peak of 1,238,176 new cases during the September 14-27 period. India is the only country to have recorded more than one million cases in a two week period. The United States appears likely to join India in the coming weeks.

Brazil (297,998 new cases) lost its hold on third place to France (367,624 new cases). Brazil’s new cases have been falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30, 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13, 402,304 new cases during September 14-27, 364,646 during September 28-October 11 and 297,998 new cases in October 12-25 (a decline of 52.92% since the end of July).

With the tremendous overall global growth and the declining volume of new cases in India and Brazil, the share of total new cases in the last fourteen days and since the end of December 2019 accounted for by India, Brazil and the United States declined to 36.21% in the most recent fourteen days from 47.31% in September 28-October 11. and from 54.33% during September 14-27 and down from 58.34% in the August 31-September 13 period. The three countries account for 51.04% of total cases since late December 2019 in the prior two weeks down from 53.25% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019 as of October 11.

The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 20.06% of total confirmed cases since December 2019 — 4.67 times the share of total cases our population would justify. With the large increase in the most recent two weeks, the U.S. was 15.79% of the total new cases during the last two weeks (up from 14.66% during Sept. 28-October 11) or 3.67 times the U.S. share of global population. The U.S. also accounts for 19.53% of total deaths or 4.54 times the U.S. share of global population.

Changing pattern of growth in cases, Europe experiencing a spike in cases surpassing its first wave

Much of Europe is in a massive build-up of new cases, rivaling or exceeding the challenges faced during the March-April time period. This is resulting in reimposition of some restrictions by some European countries with a fair amount of pushback from citizens weary of the restrictions.

France has been hit hardest in terms of the number of new cases with the October 12-25 number of new cases reaching 367,624 up 92.04% from the 191,427 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was up from 153,535 in the September 14-27 period. The current number of new cases compares to the prior peak in the March 30-April 12 period of 56,215 new cases (or is 6.54 times the prior peak in the latest two week period).

The United Kingdom is similarly facing major challenges as the last two weeks saw new cases of 263,166 up 62.88% from the 161,567 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was more than twice the 64,103 new cases in September 14-27 and just 32,422 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The United Kingdom’s prior peak in the April 13-26 period was 69,386 new cases. So the most recent two weeks is at a level that is 3.79 times the prior peak.

Spain’s number of new COVID-19 cases rose to 185,020, an increase of 27.93% rom the September 28-Ocotber 11 period with 144,631 new cases. Spain’s peak in the spring had been in the period March 30-April 12 with 81,612 new cases. Thus, the last two weeks were 2.27 times the Spring peak number of new cases.

Italy’s last two weeks saw a breathtaking spike to 155,015 new cases, 3.74 times the number of new cases from the prior two week period September 28-October 11 when Italy recorded 41,390 new cases which was nearly double the number of cases in the September 14-27 period (21,807 new cases). Italy’s most recent two weeks was 2.59 times the prior peak for Italy in the Spring during the March 30-April 12 period of 59,799 new cases.

Czechia which spiked following summer vacations saw its number of new cases during October 12-25 surge to 136,790 up from 46,080 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period and 23,893 new cases in the September 14-27 period and 11,307 new cases in the August 31 – September 13 period. Czechia largely escaped the March-April wave in Europe. The data for the last eight weeks constitutes 86.95 percent of Czechia’s total recorded cases since December 2019.

Belgium surged to 133,439 new cases in the October 12-25 period more than tripling the 40,791 new cases recorded in the September 28-October 11 period which more than doubling the numbers from September 14-27 of 17,797.

Poland, which had largely escaped the Spring wave of infections, recorded 120,308 new cases in the latest two week period (Oct. 12-25) up from 35,658 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period.

The Netherlands nearly doubled its number of new cases in the October 12-25 period (112,649) compared to the number of new cases in the September 28-Ocotber 11period (59,561). The last two weeks constitute 40.13% of total cases the Netherlands has recorded since December 2019.

Germany’s new cases in the October 12-25 period surged to 106,317 from 38,724 new cases during the September 28-October 11 period. The Spring peak for Germany had been during the March 30-April 12 period (67,932 new cases).

The Russian Federation saw continued increases in the number of new cases during the October 12-25 period (228,793) up from 141,513 in the September 28-October 11 period which was up 86,209 new cases in the September 14-27 period. Russia’s earlier peak was during the May 11-24 period when Russia recorded 137,206 new cases.

Ukraine recorded 81,144 new cases during the October 11-25 period compared to 60,762 new cases in September 28-October 11, and 43,645 new cases in the September-27 period.

Many other European countries saw large increases as well in the last two weeks, though the number of new cases are smaller those the countries reviewed above.

Developing country hot spots

Still a very large part of the new cases are in developing countries as has been true for the last few months although many countries, including India and Brazil are seeing many fewer new cases in the last two weeks. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (197,440), Colombia (104,964), Iran (66,452), Indonesia (57,028), Mexico (55,807), Iraq (49,029), Morocco (48,063), Peru (40,126), the Philippines (30,893), Turkey (25,753), South Africa (23,350), Chile (20,947), Bangladesh (20,434) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases. Of the listed developing countries, only Argentina, Colombia, Iran, Morocco, Turkey and South Africa saw increases from the September 28-October 11 period.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (224,899) and had the largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,522). Because the number of deaths typically follows increases in new cases (with a significant lag), the U.S. saw the number of new deaths increase 6.5% from the prior two weeks deaths (9,880). The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Argentina (11.24), Armenia (5.54), Moldova (5.22), Israel (5.06), Romania (4.94), Belgium (4.91), Iran (4.86), Colombia (4.65), Costa Rica (4.08), Mexico (4.00), Poland (3.63), Panama (3.44), Chile (3.27), and the United States (3.20). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.02 deaths/100,000 population. So the U.S.’s death rate over the last two weeks was 2.91 times the global average and was much higher than many large and/or developed countries. China’s number was so low, it was 0.00 people/100,000 population; France was 2.93, Germany 0.50, India 0.75, Italy 1.77, Japan 0.07, South Korea 0.05, Singapore 0.02, United Kingdom 2.98, Taiwan 0.00, Canada 0.90, Australia 0.03, New Zealand 0.00.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through October 25, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 15.16 deaths. The nine countries (of 86 which account for over 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (10.87), Belgium (93.73), Bolivia (74.93), Brazil (74.34), Spain (74.04), Ecuador (72.19), Chile (73.30), Ecuador (72.19), Mexico (69.56), the United States (68.34). The United States death rate has been 4.51 times the global rate and many times higher than nearly all other developed countries and most developing countries. Consider the following examples: China, where the virus was first found, has a death per 100,000 population of just 0.33 people. India’s data show 8.67 per 100,000 population; Germany has 12.08; Japan has 1.35; Korea is just 0.89; Canada is 26.52; Switzerland is 21.96; Poland is 11.46; Ukraine is 14.30; Norway is 5.24; Australia is 3.59; New Zealand is 0.52.

Conclusion

The world in the first ten months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania had greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been a significant resurgence in many of these countries (particularly in Europe where current rates of new cases are greater than during the March-April initial wave) as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased, schools reopen in many countries and fall comes to the northern hemisphere. But the number of new cases continues to rage in a few countries in the Americas, with the United States heading to new records. While there are growing number of cases in many developing countries in Asia and Africa, many countries are seeing significant declines with relatively smaller number of cases in Africa in total than in other continents.

A recent WTO Secretariat information paper showed that there has been a reduction in shortages of many medical goods needed to handle the COVID-19 pandemic which is obviously good news, although as the global total of new cases continues to rise, there may yet be additional challenges in terms of supply. See 18 September 2020, Information Note, How WTO Members Have Used Trade Measures to Expedite Access to COVID-19 Critical Medical Goods and Services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/services_report_16092020_e.pdf.

Despite significant expansion of production of PPE around the world and despite progress within GAVI on its program for outreach with various vaccines when developed (including securing production capacity in a number of countries), and other relevant medical goods and the ongoing efforts of CEPI on vaccine developments, and the license agreements that have been entered into by a number of the major groups developing vaccines for COVID-19, India and South Africa have filed a waiver request from most TRIPs obligations “in relation to prevention, containment of treatment of COVID-19”. The waiver request would apply to all WTO Members for a number of years (yet to be determined). See Communication from India and South Africa, Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPs Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19, 2 October 2020, IP/C/W/669. While I will address the waiver request in a later post, it is hard to imagine that the normal requirements for seeking a waiver have been met with the current communication. Based on the readout of the October 20, 2020 TRIPs Council meeting, it is likely that the waiver request will generate significant controversy in the coming three months and could complicate current efforts at greater global cooperation in addressing the pandemic.

With the third round of consultations for a new Director-General concluding on Tuesday, October 27, whoever the new Director-General ends up being can add the waiver request to the list of highly controversial matters that confront the WTO heading towards the end of 2020.

China’s trade restrictive actions against Australia — what they say about China’s compliance with notification requirements and the importance of market-economy conditions in global trade

One of the challenges companies and trading partners of China have faced in having the global rules of trade actually honored by China has been the informal actions of China’s government at the central, provincial and local level which result in clear violations of WTO obligations as well as the fear of retaliation companies trading with China may face if specific examples of non-compliant actions are raised bilaterally or through dispute settlement.

In yesterday’s Global Business Dialogue TTALK entitled “China and Aussie Cotton,” the challenges that Australia’s cotton producers are facing in China are reviewed including apparent verbally communicated requirements to Chinese cotton purchasers not to buy Australian cotton. See Global Business Dialogue TTALK of October 22, 2020, “China and Aussie Cotton,” https://myemail.constantcontact.com/CHINA-AND-AUSTRALIAN-COTTON—-TTALK-FOR-OCTOBER-22.html?soid=1101547782913&aid=L4XRKbnPF_A. The post has links to various sources for the concerns raised in the post.

A good summary paragraph from the TTALK piece follows:

“All of that said, this has been a tense year for China-Australia trade, as China has taken aim at one Australian export after another to signal its displeasure with Australian policies. Australian barley, beef, and wine were hit with import restrictions earlier. Last week it was coal and cotton – what might be called Australia’s black and white exports to China. This time, though, China’s restricted policies were not in black and white. They were instead oral instruction to Chinese buyers of those products not to buy from Australia.”

As the WTO Members consider reforms needed to improve the functioning of the global trading system, the challenges Australian producers are facing in having access to the Chinese market should help inform some of the critical challenges and needs.

Obviously, there are transparency requirements on all WTO Members on actions taken that affect access to a Member’s market. It is unlikely that any of the non-written actions, policies or practices taken by the Chinese government at the central, provincial or local level that affect foreign goods or services or foreign investors are notified to the WTO. If so, this is a major problem in the third leg of the WTO structure – notifications and oversight. While similar problems may exist for other WTO Members, the Australia example is a clear instance where China has discriminated against products of a trading partner without formal notification or justification.

Similarly, the Australian example raises concerns about China using the influence of the state to distort trade outcomes. This is, of course, the core concern of the United States, Japan, Brazil and others that the global trading system is premised on market-economy conditions within WTO Members and that systems like that of China don’t fit well under existing global rules. The state directing companies not to purchase commodities like cotton from foreign suppliers is inconsistent with such market-economy conditions.

For any reform initiative to permit the WTO to ensure conditions of fair trade in the global market, state actors need to sit out the vast majority of trade actions involved in the production, sale, import and export of goods and services. There have been proposals to date to address some of the notification deficiencies that exist, but nothing really focused on informal actions of states. Similarly, the U.S., Japan and the EU have also identified a series of issues (industrial subsidies, forced technology transfer) where the existing rules of the WTO are inadequate to address some of the distortions caused by economic systems like that employed by China. It is unclear that the areas being considered deal with some of the distortions flagged in the Australian case or the issue of threats or acts of retaliation by a WTO Member against companies engaged in trading with the Member or who have invested in the Member. While China is certainly a Member where companies often complain privately about retaliation or threats, China is not alone in that regard.

Without serious reform to address these and other existing problems as well as update the rules to reflect 21st century trading realities, countries will need to increasingly look outside the WTO for tools to address the distortions created.

WTO remaining candidates for the Director-General position — Questions and Answers from the July 15 and 16 meetings with the General Council

The third round of consultations with WTO Members on which of the two remaining candidates is preferred and hence may be the most likely to obtain consensus to become the next Director-General gets started next Monday, October 19 and ends on October 27.

Both Minister Yoo of Korea and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria are in the process of seeking support from WTO Members and have the full support of their governments which are making calls and sending letters to government officials in many of the WTO Members.

Minister Yoo is back in Europe seeking support in this third round (she and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both received preferences from the EU in the second round). Press reports indicate that China is believed to be supporting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and Japan is understood to have concerns with both candidates. Thus, Minister Yoo is working to bolster support in other regions of the world to supplement what is assumed to be only partial support within Asia.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the support from Kenya after Kenya’s candidate did not advance to the third round. It is not clear whether she will receive support from all African Members of the WTO, although Kenya’s action is obviously an imortant positive for her.

So the next eleven days will be an active time as each of the remaining candidates seeks support in the final round of consultations from Members in different geographical areas as well as in different categories (developed, developing and least developed countries).

One source of information about the candidates that hasn’t been available to the public but is now available is the questions and answers provided to the General Council meetings with each candidate on July 15 (Dr. Okonjo-Iweala) and July16 (Minister Yoo). While there were three days of meetings with the General Council to accommodate the eight candidates, the two remaining candidates appeared during the first two days. The Minutes of the Meeting of the General Council, 15-17 July 2020 are contained in WT/GC/M/185 (31 August 2020). The procedures for each candidate were reviewed by the General Council Chairman David Walker (New Zealand).

“Each candidate would be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than fifteen minutes. That would be followed by a question-and-answer period of no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the question-and-answer period, each candidate would have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if she or he so wished.” (page 1, para. 1.5).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 2 on pages 16-26. Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 5 on pages 51-60. The statements have previously been reviewed in my posts and are available on the WTO webpage.

Questions are picked randomly from Members who indicated an interest in asking questions. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala received questions during the meeting from nineteen Members with another thirty-nine Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her. Minister Yoo received questions during her meeting from seventeen Members with another forty-four Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
  • How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
  • What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
  • Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
  • Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
  • What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
  • Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
  • Focus in the first 100 days.
  • Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
  • What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
  • Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
  • How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
  • What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?

Minister Yoo’s questions came from Guatemala, Belgium, United States, India, Germany, El Salvador, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Spain, Qatar, Lithuania, Gabon, Botswana, China, Barbados, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:

  • Do you have any proposal on how to overcome the current crisis?
  • How do you plan to include measures to respect sustainable trade in an agenda focused on free trade and trade liberalization?
  • In looking at interim arbitration agreement of EU and other countries, is it appropriate for WTO resources to be used for activities that go beyond what is contemplated by the DSU?
  • How to convince Members that the multilateral trading system is still best way forward over bilateral and plurilateral trading arrangements?
  • Is there a gap in the WTO rulebook with regard to level playing field issues such as subsidies, economic action by the State and competition?
  • Do you have a multilateral solution to issues like e-commerce which are being tackled in the Joint Statement Initiatives that would be of interest to a large number of Members?
  • WTO is lagging behind in pursuing the development dimension; what is the path forward?
  • Role of DG re fighting protectionism and unilateral measures.
  • How to strike a balance between public stockholding and food security and the avoidance of unnecessary trade restrictions?
  • What is your view on the Doha Development Agenda?
  • What role the WTO can play to help drive Africa’s integration agenda?
  • What is the most important issue to achieve results?

Both candidates gave extensive answers to the questions posed while avoiding staking out a position on any issue that is highly controversial within the WTO. The answers are worth reading in their entirety. As a result the minutes of the meeting are embedded below.

WTGCM185

Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.

“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

“I spent the past few days meeting with Ambassadors and delegates in Geneva. When I listen to your views, together with the questions today, it seems that there are diverse views and priorities of Members – whether it concerns the negotiations, how to pursue development objectives and special and differential treatment, the plurilaterals or restoring the Appellate Body function. So, how can we, a dynamic group of 164 Members with different social and economic environments, come to an agreement? This brings me back to my original message. We need to rebuild trust in the WTO. How? Amid these divergent and different views of Members, I would share the commitment and hope to restoring and revitalizing the WTO.

“This pandemic has forced us to reflect upon what is needed from the multilateral trading system. Despite the current challenges, I have a firm belief in the multilateral trading system and what we can actually achieve in the future if we put our heads together and also our hearts into it. We are embarking on a new journey towards a new chapter for the WTO. Building on the past twenty-five years, when we embark on the new journey for the next twenty-five years, I am ready to provide a new leadership that will harness all the frustrations but most importantly all the hopes from Members to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive for the next twenty-five years and beyond.”

Conclusion

The process that WTO Members agreed on in 2002 to promote a process for finding a candidate for a new Director-General is cumbersome, time consuming and burdensome for candidates brave enough to put their hat in the ring. To date, the 2002 process has resulted in Members agreeing by consensus on a new Director-General (2005 and 2013). The process in 2020 has worked remarkably smoothly as well despite the deep divisions in the membership and the multiple-pronged crisis facing the organization.

The two finalists bring different backgrounds and skill sets to be considered by Members. Each started strong in the General Council meetings in mid-July as can be seen from their answers to questions posed, and each has continued to impress many Members in the subsequent months. There are political considerations in the selection process of the Director-General (just as in any major leadership position of an international organization). Both candidates are getting active support of their home governments. Fortunately, the membership has two qualified and very interesting candidates to consider. Whoever emerges as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the Members will still face the hurdle of whether any Member (or group of Members) will block the consensus. While that seems unlikely at the present time, one never knows.

Whoever becomes the next Director-General will face the daunting challenges of an organization with all three major functions not operating as needed, deep divisions among major players and among major groups. The lack of forward movement and the lack of trust among Members will weigh heavily on the new Director-General with a narrow window before the next Ministerial Conference likely to take place next June. It is remarkable that talented individuals with long histories of accomplishments would be willing to take on the problems the WTO is weighed down with at the present time. Hopefully, the next Director-General will be known in the next three weeks.

The effect of COVID-19 on the operation of WTO dispute settlement panels — Australia and others raise at the September 28 Dispute Settlement Body meeting

While most attention on the WTO’s dispute settlement system has focused on the operation of the Appellate Body, the timeliness of disputes is often driven by the actions of the panel. Under Article 12 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), panels are to render their reports within six months (3 months in urgent matters) and no longer than nine months after the panel is composed. Few if any panels in recent years have remotely come close to meeting a nine month report deadline.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting limitations on in person meetings at the WTO and travel restrictions, the panel process has been further complicated. At the recent Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting of September 28, Australia had put on the agenda the issue of “COVID-19 and dispute settlement”. Agenda item 9 of Proposed Agenda for the 28 September 2020 Dispute Settlement Body meeting, WT/DSB/W/670.

The subsequent press release on the DSB meeting contained the following description of the discussion of Australia’s issue on COVID-19 and dispute settlement.

Statement by Australia on COVID-19 and dispute settlement

“On behalf of 14 members (Australia; Brazil; Canada; Ecuador; Guatemala; Hong Kong, China; Mexico; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Singapore; Switzerland; Ukraine; and the United Kingdom), Australia made a statement expressing concern about delays in dispute settlement proceedings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While it is encouraging that DSB meetings have been able to resume at the WTO, ongoing restrictions affecting international travel and immigration place in question the feasibility of physical participation of panelists and capital-based delegates at meetings in Geneva into the future, Australia noted. During 2020, various governments, private sector organizations, and domestic and international adjudicative bodies worldwide have adapted their usual ways of working to continue operating in these difficult conditions; WTO members must ensure the dispute settlement system does the same.

“Australia urged panels to consider, in consultation with parties, flexible, alternative arrangements to ensure dispute proceedings can continue to progress in a timely manner despite the challenge of current restrictions. Australia recalled that Article 12.1 of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) affords panels discretion in the working procedures they adopt in individual disputes, and that panels, after consulting in parties, may determine alternative arrangements that would best serve the satisfactory settlement of the matters. Some panels have already adjusted their procedures to hold substantive meetings virtually through video conferencing technology; Australia welcomed these developments but, to ensure the equitable operation of the dispute settlement system, WTO members must find solutions to enable all current and future matters to move forward in one way or another.

“Several delegations took the floor to comment. Japan said that while virtual meetings are an option, face to face meetings were preferable, and that each panel should consult with parties on how to proceed in order to strike an appropriate balance between prompt settlement of disputes and protection of due process. India said oral hearings were an intrinsic aspect of due process rights guaranteed by the DSU and that panels cannot truncate these rights without the agreement of the parties in a dispute.

“The United States encouraged each panel to consult with the parties on how to proceed, bearing in mind the views of the parties and the relevant provisions of the DSU. China said it was fundamental to provide certainty in dispute settlement in order to avoid any undue delay; it noted some panels have adopted flexible procedures as a response. The EU said that the discretion of panels is not completely unfettered and that they must ensure the prompt settlement of disputes, a principle that was valid for all disputes. Both South Africa and Nigeria (for the African Group) noted the asymmetrical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing country members.”

WTO Dispute Settlement, 28 September 2020, Panel established to review China’s compliance with farm subsidy ruling, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dsb_28sep20_e.htm.

The fact that Australia and others raised the issue at the DSB is certainly welcome, although the comments of Members at the DSB meeting indicates that there are both an array of problems facing different Members and arguably mixed motives for some in concerns about alternative approaches to in person meetings.

First, panels have regularly used the existence of the pandemic as a justification for a lengthy delay in the likely release of a panel report. See, e.g., India – Additional Duties on Certain Products from the United States, WT/DS585/4 (4 June 2020)(panel composed on 7 January 2020, because of pandemic, report to parties not before the second quarter of 2021); India – Measures Concerning Sugar and Sugarcane, WT/DS579/9; WT/DS580/9; WT/DS581/10 (29 April 2020)(complainants are Guatemala, Australia and Brazil)(panels composed on 28 October 2019, report to the parties not before the second quarter of 2021).

Thus, the issue of delay caused by the pandemic is an important one to address to maintain the timely operation of panels. While many developing countries may have greater challenges in terms of internal infrastructure for alternative means of handling disputes remotely, the claim of due process concerns at least for some Members is suspect particularly if the functioning of administrative and judicial activities in-country are being handled remotely/virtually as is true in many countries. For example, in the United States, arguments at federal courts are handled remotely, including at the highest court in the land. No Member should be allowed to delay panel proceedings on due process grounds where their own administrative and court proceedings are handled remotely during the pandemic. The Secretariat should seek transparency from Members on how their agencies and courts are handling matters during the pandemic.

Certainly, WTO Members should identify challenges they face to being able to engage in remote/virtual hearings if in person events are not possible. Where problems exist, the WTO Secretariat in conjunction with other organizations should look to see what technical assistance can be provided to permit active participation. Similarly, if issues affect the ability of panelists to handle matters remotely, there should be a review of options that may exist to facilitate panelists ability to participate. Again, the Secretariat should seek information from Members on challenges they face in participating in dispute proceedings and should have information on potential panelists on the same types of issues.

While the basic premises that panels should consult with parties is clearly the correct path to follow (contrary to the current practice of many panels and that reviewed in detail about the Appellate Body), there is the question of what happens when there is a difference among the parties as to how to proceed. The good offices of the Director-General can be used to possibly bridge the differences. Delay should only be permitted when the concerns of the party objecting to proceeding cannot be reasonably overcome.

It will be interesting to see if Members press for a prompt resolution to the concerns raised at the last DSB meeting, or if they simply let the problems continue to fester and delay the proper operation of panels.