Through September 2021, when a country went through a Trade Policy Review, a large amount of material was made available to the public at the time of the TPR meeting with additional information (minutes, questions and answers, corrections to Secretariat report and/or government report) released a number of months later. The WTO press releases at the time of the TPR meeting were similar. The one for Singapore from 22 and 24 September 2021 is typical.
As can be seen from the press release, the public could access the full report of the Secretariat, the full report of the Government of Singapore, the concluding comments of the Chairperson as well as an Executive Summary of the Secretariat report at the time of the two day meeting to review the reports. Moreover, minutes from the meeting were available to the public typically about six weeks after the meeting as were the written questions and written answers.
Beginning in October, the press release has been modified and far less information is made available immediately to the public. There have been two TPRs so far in October, the Republic of Korea (13 and 15 October) and China (20 and 22 October). A TPR of the Russian Federation is scheduled for next week.
The WTO press release for the Republic of Korea is copied below. The current one for China is similar.
There is nothing on the WTO webpage which describes why so little information is being provided beginning this month on new Trade Policy Reviews. For the public, the drastic reduction in transparency makes the WTO operations even less understandable.
If the WTO will be releasing all of the documents it has historically but with significant time delays on all documents, what is the justification? For 25 years, TPRs have been conducted with the type of information released that gave the public a good understanding of the Secretariat’s and the government’s review of its trade policy. That understanding has been timely, consistent with the meeting and supplemented within several months with minutes and the written questions and answers.
If the WTO is not intending on releasing all of the documents it has historically released, what is the possible justification?
China, which is going through a Trade Policy Review this week, also went through a TPR in 2018. In 2018, the Secretariat Report released to the public at the time of the TPR meeting was 193 pages (along with a summary of 6 pages). See WT/TPR/S/375. China’s Report on its trade policy was 23 pages. See WT/TPR/G/375. These documents are dated 6 June 2018. A revision to the Secretariat Report is dated 14 September 2018 and was also 193 pages ( WT/TPR/S/375/Rev.1). The Concluding remarks by the Chairperson are contained in a separate press release from the WTO at the time of the TPR meeting but linked from the main notice of the TPR. See WTO news, Trade Policy Review: China, 11 and 13 July 2018, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp475_e.htm linking to the concluding remarks of the Chairperson at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp475_crc_e.htm. The minutes of the meeting are contained in WT/TPR/M/375, 21 November 20218 and are 98 pages in length with statements from 66 Members (two on behalf of larger groups). The written questions and answers are contained in WT/TPR/M/375/Add.1, dated 1 February 2019 and being 729 pages in length. The WTO Members who submitted questions (including follow-up questions) are shown on pages 2-3 of the document.
Because the current TPR on China (20 and 22 October) does not provide either of the full reports (Secretariat and Government) and because there is no indication of when minutes or written questions and answers will be available, there is certainly delayed access and potentially denial of access of the same type of information on China (or any other country) that was been released in the past. This should be viewed as unacceptable by the WTO Secretariat and WTO Members and certainly should be so viewed by the public.
What is available to the public from a Trade Policy Review is critical for an understanding of concerns raised by WTO Members about any other Member’s trade policy as well as the level and openness of the response from the Member being reviewed. The Secretariat’s report is an important factual analysis of developments in the Member being reviewed. The recent curtailment of access to the full Secretariat Report and the full Government Report greatly harms transparency and the ability of the public to understand developments within WTO Members in a timely manner. Should the WTO cease to release any of the information heretofore available to the public in current and future TPRs, the WTO will be further damaging the public’s perception of the WTO and will be further retreating from openness and transparency towards the public..
On October 8, 2021, the WTO released the latest in a series of Information Notes pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first one is entitled “COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Tariffs on Vaccine Inputs”. The purpose of the information note was to examine public information to see if import tariffs in any of the 27 major vaccine manufacturing countries could pose challenges or create “choke” points in vaccine production. The second Information Note is entitled “Indicative List of Trade-Related Bottlenecks and Trade-Facilitating Measures on Critical Products to Combat COVID-19” and is an update on an earlier version released 20 July 2020. Both Information Notes are linked to a WTO press release from 8 October. See WTO news, WTO issues papers on vaccine inputs tariffs and bottlenecks on critical COVID-19 products, 8 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_08oct21_e.htm
The second Information Note is the more important of the two papers as it identifies a range of challenges to the expedited movement of vaccines and inputs. However, the first paper is interesting in terms of identifying tariffs on critical materials in major producing countries. However, as the paper acknowledges, the analysis has its limitations.
” 2. TECHNICAL DETAILS “The MFN applied tariffs were based on the dataset used for World Tariff Profiles 2021, and 2020 imports were based on the TDM dataset3. Even if the national tariff line data (i.e. eight-digit tariff line codes) were available, beyond the standard HS six-digit level there is no uniformity of codes across national tariff nomenclatures. Thus, even if only a portion of the HS six-digit code pertains to the COVID-19 vaccine input, the data used in the analysis both for tariffs and imports were the six-digit MFN tariff average and the total six-digit imports from the world. Preferential tariffs were not taken into consideration and thus intra-EU imports, imports from partners of free trade agreements (FTAs) or any other preferential imports were treated as if MFN tariffs were levied. Furthermore, there was definitely an over-estimation of the import value of the inputs, since identification of the national breakdown pertaining to the actual product used in vaccine manufacturing cannot be easily done. Sometimes even within the most detailed national tariff line (or specific product) code available (eight digits or longer), the product coverage does not necessarily refer only to the specific vaccine input and includes non-vaccine-related inputs. While tariff estimates can be arguably good enough,4 the same cannot be said of the estimated imports value.” (footnotes omitted)
Certainly for the EU, U.S. and some others, many of the potentially dutiable imports will have been duty free from FTAs or other preferential partners. But the Information is nonetheless useful in flagging general categories of products important to vaccine production that have bound tariffs at 5% or greater. While neither the U.S. nor Japan have any such categories, many other vaccine producing countries have one, several or many product categories where bound tariffs are 5% or higher. Table 4 of the Information Note provides a useful summary of the findings made.
A detailed review of each of the 27 countries is provided in the WTO’s Vaccine Production and Tariffs on Vaccine Inputs which is attached to the first Information Note.
The second note is the more interesting as it reflects issues and suggestions from various stakeholders on how to expand production and access to vaccines, therapeutics and medical devices needed to combat COVID-19. The introduction to the Information note provides useful background.
“1. INTRODUCTION “This information note seeks to facilitate access to information on possible trade-related bottlenecks and trade-facilitating measures on critical products to combat COVID-19, including inputs used in vaccine manufacturing, vaccine distribution and approval, therapeutics and pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and medical devices. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all specific trade measures, nor does it make any judgement on the effect or significance of the reported bottlenecks, nor on the desirability of implementing any of the suggestions on trade-facilitating measures.3
“The indicative list is based on issues identified and suggestions made by stakeholders at various events and consultations convened by the WTO, as well as with vaccine manufacturers in the context of meetings organized by the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19,4 which includes the heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WTO.5 This revision includes information as of 4 October 2021. Entries under each subheading are presented in no particular order. One common theme that emerges is that essential goods and inputs need to flow efficiently and expeditiously to support the rapid scaling up of COVID-19 production capacity worldwide. As manufacturers scale up production and establish new sites in different countries, the production network is not only becoming larger but also increasingly complex and international. The delay of a single component may significantly slow down or even bring vaccine manufacturing to a halt, so it follows that inputs need to flow expeditiously, and each node within the supply chain network needs to operate seamlessly with the others.” (footnotes omitted)
There are a large number of potential trade-related bottlenecks including export restrictions (13 WTO Members are reported to have one or more), such restrictions as applied by manufacturers to “fill and finish” sites, effect of such restrictions on clinical trials, high applied tariffs, customs administration challenges (no green channels for expedited clearance, limited hours of customs operation, treatment of non-commercial samples sent for testing ad quality control, import barriers/delays on manufacturing equipment), challenges in completing consular transactions.
There are also many bottlenecks identified from vaccine regulatory approval including when looking at WHO Emergency Use Listing, requirements for application/registration and authorization, inspection, release, post-approval changes, donations, EUA and regular approval, scaling up production and other issues.
The paper also identifies bottlenecks in the distribution of finished vaccines and immunization supplies, bottlenecks in trade in pharmaceuticals, bottlenecks in trade in diagnostics and other medical devices.
All in all, a daunting list of challenges the vast majority of which involve the importing country and the complexity of systems for approval of medical goods and vaccines.
The last four pages of the Information Note then identify “possible trade-facilitating measures” that could be taken to improve movement of goods. Because the information note is providing a summary of proposals put forward by stakeholders and is not an agreed set of steps by WTO Members, the note states that “no judgement is made on the desirability of implementing any of these suggestions.” Page 7. That said, many of the suggestions relate to streamlining import operations, e.g., through implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, seeing that customs operates 24 hours/7 days a week, exemptions from export restrictions, harmonization of regulatory approaches and many more.
The Information Notes developed by the WTO provide useful information either from public sources, such as the bound tariff rates of COVID-19 vaccine input materials or summaries of information gathered from stakeholders at events looking at how to ramp up production and distribution of vaccines. It is clear that the challenges for all WTO Members in addressing the global pandemic are many and not easily addressed. The Information Notes provide a data base that can be used by WTO Members to see that the current pandemic is fully addressed in fact in the coming months, and that Members consider ways to prepare for a better outcome to future pandemics.
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.
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
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.
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;
(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.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to subparagraph 1(b).
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
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.
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.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to Article 66.1 of this Agreement.
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.
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
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
“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.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create problems around the world, there has been increased activity in many countries and at multilateral organizations seeking to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and increase access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. While a number of vaccines have been approved by one or more countries (usually on an emergency use authorization basis) and a few have been approved the World Health Organization, a number of others are seeking approval or are in final stages of trials.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control now issues a weekly update on the COVID-19 situation worldwide. Today’s release of data for week 17 of 2021 shows global cases since the beginning at 153,220,576 of which the Americas has the largest share with 41.16% (63,068,547 cases; U.S. being 32.4 million; Brazil being 14.8 million; Argentina being 3.0 million; Colombia being 2.9 million and Mexico being 2.3 million). Europe is second with 33.10% of the total cases (50,722,884; France with 5.7 million, Turkey with 4.9 million, Russia with 4.8 million, the U.K. with 4.4 million and Italy with 4.0 million). Asia represents 22.70% of cases (34,785,351 of which India is 19.9 million, Iran is 2.5 million, Indonesia is 1.7 million, Iraq is 1.1 million and the Philippines is 1.1 million). Africa accounts for 2.98% of cases (4,571,789 of which South Africa has reported 1.6 million and no other countries have more than 0.5 million). Oceania accounts for 0.05% of cases (71,300). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 17, updated 6 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.
Deaths are similarly distributed globally with the Americas having 47.79% of global deaths (1,533,740 of 3,209,416); Europe having 33.47% (1,074,175), Asia having 14.89% (477,851), Africa having 3.81% (122,304) and Oceania having 0.04% (1,340). Id.
The world has seen increases in new cases for the last ten weeks in a row and has had the highest number of cases per week in the most recent weeks as the copied graphic from today’s ECDC publication shows.
“Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 17 2021
“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”
As the news accounts make clear, India is facing major challenges and has accounted for a very large part of new cases in recent weeks. For example, over the last 14 days, India reported 4.86 million new cases. This is the first time any country has amassed more than four million cases in a two week period. India has accounted for 42.61% of the world total of new cases in that two week period. Id.
Press accounts have shown a health care system in India struggling to keep up with shortages of everything from ICU units to PPE to medications to oxygen and with a small part of the population totally vaccinated or having received the first of two shots. BBC News, Coronavirus: How India descended into Covid-19 chaos, 5 May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56977653.
In response to its internal crisis, India has diverted production of COVID-19 vaccines to domestic use, essentially halting exports, complicating the efforts of the COVAX facility to get vaccines to the 91 low- and middle-income countries (other than India which also is supposed to receive vaccines from COVAX). While COVAX has shipped more than 53 million doses to 121 countries as of May 4, as much as 90 million additional vaccine doses were supposed to be supplied by Indian producers to COVAX during April and May that will not make it into the system. See, e.g., Gavi, COVAX vaccine rollout, https://www.gavi.org/covax-facility; Gavi, COVAX updates participants on delivery delays for vaccines from Serum Institute of India (SII) and AstraZeneca, 25 March 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/covax-updates-participants-delivery-delays-vaccines-serum-institute-india-sii-az.
Considering the challenges that India is facing, many nations have been providing assistance in an effort to support India as it attempts to cope with the current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The U.S. assistance is summarized in a fact sheet from the White House which is embedded below.
A number of countries in South America are also seeing major problems — e.g., Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru — though receiving far less attention than India.
Vaccination development, production and distribution
Efforts have been made over the last decade to develop tools and organizations to develop, produce and distribute vaccines to achieve greater equity in access and affordability of vaccines. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF along with important private sector actors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have worked hard to both support research of potential vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic, worked with companies to arrange purchases of vaccines if approved for use, raised funds from governments and private sector participants to pay for the efforts on research and procurement, and organized distribution to the 92 low- and middle-income countries sufficient to address 20% of the populations as well as for any other countries choosing to work through the COVAX facility.
At the same time, a number of countries have negotiated contracts with companies developing vaccines. Because at the time of contracting, it was not known which vaccines would be effective or achieve approval from which governments, major advanced economies often contracted for quantities far in excess of likely needs (assuming all vaccines were eventually approved).
Because of the unprecedented government funding and industry cooperation, a number of vaccines were developed and approved on at least an emergency use basis and production efforts began in late 2020 and have been ramping up in 2021. This includes vaccines developed in the U.S., the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, India and Russia. While all have not yet been approved by the WHO, all have been approved by at least a number of governments. A number of others are either in the approval process or in final stage trials with vaccine approvals likely in the second half of 2021.
It is expected that capacity to produce more than 10 billion doses of vaccines to fight COVID-19 will be operational by the end of 2021. COVAX contracts and deliveries to economies outside of COVAX have anticipated relatively small volumes in the 1st quarter of 2021, with increases in each of the next three quarters. UNICEF has a “COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard” which it describes as follows (https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard):
“The COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard is the go-to public resource for the latest information on the world’s COVID-19 vaccine market and the COVAX Facility’s vaccine deliveries.
“From a global vaccine market perspective, the dashboard gives an overview of:
“- COVID-19 vaccine development and progress towards vaccine approvals
“- Reported global vaccine production capacity
“- Manufacturing agreements
“- Vaccines secured and optioned through bilateral and multilateral supply agreements
“- Reported vaccine prices
“The ‘Delivery’ tab of the dashboard provides daily updates on total COVAX vaccine deliveries, doses allocated, and doses ordered. It also includes country- and economy level data on vaccine deliveries and planned shipments over a seven-day period. This information covers both UNICEF-procured doses and deliveries, as well as other national and institutional buyers participating in the COVAX Facility. It further tracks globally reported vaccine deliveries and vaccine donations outside of COVAX.”
For example, looking at the capacity figures from the dashboard by development stage shows 4 billion dose capacity approved for use in the first half of 2021, growing to 8 billion dose capacity approved for use in the second half of 2021, with 19 billion dose capacity projected for each of 2022 and 2023 as being approved for use.
As of May 5, 3032, Bloomberg reports that more than 1.21 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered. The top six areas for vaccinations are China (284.6 million doses administered), the United States (249.6 million), India (162.4 million), the EU (158.6 million), the U.K. (50.7 million) and Brazil (50.2 million). See Bloomberg, More Than 1.21 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 5, 2021 at 5:38 p.m. EDT, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. Not surprisingly, with the exception of China which has one of the lowest rates of infection of any country in the world, vaccinations have been concentrated in countries with high rates of infection — both developed and developing.
Because of the disruption in supplies from India because of their current challenges, far fewer doses have been administered in low-income countries as COVAX is behind its schedule for deliveries. There are, of course, other challenges in a number of low-income countries, where poor health care infrastructure has resulted in many of the vaccine doses that have been received not being used. See NPR, They Desperately Need COVID Vaccines. So Why Are Some Countries Throwing Out Doses?, May 5, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/05/05/991684096/they-desperately-need-covid-vaccines-so-why-are-some-countries-throwing-out-dose (“It seems incredible: At a time when low-income nations are clamoring for vaccines against COVID-19, at least three countries — Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and South Sudan — are either discarding doses or giving them to other countries. What’s going on?”).
The Proposal for a TRIPs Waiver from India and South Africa
Back in October 2020, India and South Africa filed a proposal for a waiver from many TRIPS Agreement obligations for all WTO Members for a period of years on vaccines, therapeutics and other medical goods relevant to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. There has not been agreement within the TRIPS Council on approving the proposed waiver with a number of advanced pharmaceutical producing countries (U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland) opposing the proposal or disagreeing that a waiver would address the current availability challenges. The issue has been discussed on a number of occasions in the TRIPS Council. See, e.g., WTO press release, TRIPS Council to continue to discuss temporary IP waiver, revised proposal expected in May, 30 April 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_30apr21_e.htm. There have also been efforts to identify challenges to increasing capacity and production faster and addressing concerns over equitable access. Those issues have been addressed in prior posts, listed above.
There has been considerable pressure from NGOs and, in the U.S., from Democratic members of Congress to agree to the waiver despite concerns within the Biden Administration on whether agreeing to a waiver would actually improve production or access. The Biden Administration in late April announced its decision to make 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines available for redistribution in the coming months (including 10 million doses in current inventory once FDA approves release). AstraZeneca has not yet applied for authorization for its vaccine in the United States, and the U.S. believes it has sufficient other supplies to permit sharing the 60 million doses expected to be available through June. See Financial Times, U.S. plans to share 60m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, 26 April 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/db461dd7-b132-4f08-a94e-b23a6764bdb3. And as part of the relief the U.S. is providing to India, the U.S. has directed inputs for 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent to India instead of to U.S. facilities.
Leading nations through groupings like the G-7, G-20 and others have been looking at the options for further increasing production in the coming months to give greater coverage, as well as looking at sending doses not needed to COVAX or particular countries in need. See, e.g., Gavi, France makes important vaccine dose donation to COVAX, 23 April 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/france-makes-important-vaccine-dose-donation-covax.
“Enabling equitable global access to Covid-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics and Diagnostics (VTDs)
“62. We affirm our belief that commitment to an open, transparent and multilateral approach is essential in responding to the global health impacts of Covid-19. A global health emergency on this scale requires co-ordinated action and global solidarity. We reaffirm our support for all existing pillars of Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), including its COVAX facility. We recognise that equipping the ACTAccelerator with adequate funding is central. We support the strengthening of health systems, and affordable and equitable global access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and we will further increase our efforts to support affordable and equitable access for people in need, taking approaches consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation. We recall in this regard the Charter for Equitable Access to Covid-19 Tools. We recognise the importance of effective and well-functioning global value chains for VTD supply and will work with industry to encourage and support on a voluntary basis and on mutually agreed terms, including licensing, technology and know-how transfers, contract manufacturing , transparency, and data sharing, public private costs and risk sharing. We recognise the need to enable a sustainable environment for local, regional and global productions, beyond Covid-19 products for long-term impact. We welcome the collective G7 commitments of over $10.7 billion USD to date in funding to these initiatives and encourage all partners to increase their support as the next critical step in controlling the pandemic and strengthening health security. In this context, we look forward to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) Summit to be co-hosted by Gavi and Japan following the COVAX AMC One World Protected Event co-hosted by Gavi and US. (Emphasis added)
“63. We commit to the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Equitable Access and Collaboration Statement to help accelerate the end of the acute phase of the Covid19 pandemic. We commit to supporting COVAX financially, including by encouraging pledges to the Facility, including at the COVAX AMC Summit in June, disbursing as soon as possible, providing in-kind contributions, and coordinating with and using COVAX, which is the key mechanism for global sharing of vaccines to supplement its own direct procurement, to enable the rapid equitable deployment of vaccines.
“64. We support the work of G7 Health Ministers and continued G7 efforts to work with partners to improve pandemic preparedness and global health security, with WHO as the leading and co-ordinating authority, to strengthen health systems, develop solutions that embed a One Health approach, tackle antimicrobial resistance, and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. We welcome the establishment of the One Health High Level Experts Panel supported by WHO, FAO, OIE and UNEP. We are determined to ensure that lessons are learned and applied from the pandemic. We look forward to the forthcoming G20 Global Health Summit in Rome and to its Declaration, and to further close cooperation on strengthening the global health architecture, including longer-term considerations such as exploring the potential value of a global health treaty, to strengthen global pandemic preparedness and response. We will deploy our foreign and development policies and programmes to build a more resilient world that is better protected against health threats, including encouraging new public health guidance in consultation with national and relevant international organisations on international travel by sea or air, including cruise ships, and supporting an expert-driven, transparent, and independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened Covid-19 origins study, and for expeditiously investigating future outbreaks of unknown origin. Together with G7 Health Ministers, we commit to work in partnership with low- and lower-middle income countries by improving coordination of G7 support for, and collaboration with, public health and health security capacities and their regional bodies in Africa, Asia and other regions, building on the G7 commitment to support implementation of and compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) in 76 countries, taking into account the recommendations from the IHR Review Committee. We will align with and support national and regional health priorities and leadership to improve public health. We look forward to the publication of the G7 Carbis Bay Progress Report on global health and what we can learn from its conclusions on G7 commitments to strengthening health systems to advance universal health coverage and global health security.
“65. We note the continuing need to support health systems and health security and secure sustainable financing, together with partner countries’ domestic resources, to help accelerate global vaccine development and deployment, recover and then sustain access to essential health and nutrition services and health commodities, including in humanitarian settings and for sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to bolster the global health architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through stronger rapid response mechanisms. We look forward to working with G7 Finance Ministers to build consensus on practical actions to facilitate access to existing global financing sources to meet demands for access to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as how best to tackle the ACT-A funding gaps, with the aim of shortening the lifespan of the pandemic and with particular focus on the needs of vulnerable countries. In this regard, we look forward to the outcomes of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) initiated by the WHO, and the High Level Independent Panel on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response (HLIP) established by the G20.”
At the same time that G-7 foreign ministers were concluding their work in London, the WTO was holding the first of two days of a General Council meeting. The WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged the resolution of addressing equitable access to vaccines. The U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement changing the U.S. position (and contradicting what they had agreed with other G-7 foreign ministers hours before) by indicating that the U.S. would support the waiver of TRIPS rights and obligations during the pandemic and would work on text in the TRIPS Council to see if a consensus could be achieved. The Director-General’s statement from May 5, the USTR statement and the Director-General’s comments on the USTR statement are embedded below.
While the pharmaceutical industry in advanced countries is unquestionably shocked by the shift in U.S. position (and stocks of vaccine producers suffered stock market price declines on May 5), the EU President has indicated a willingness to look at the issue and the French President has indicated his support of the U.S. position. See Financial Times, Pharma industry fears Biden’s patent move sets dangerous precedent, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/f54bf71b-87be-4290-9c95-4d110eec7a90; The Guardian, EU ‘ready to discuss’ waiver on Covidvaccine patents, 6 May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/06/eu-ready-to-discuss-waiver-on-covid-vaccine-patents (“The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen , has said the bloc is ‘ready to discuss’ a US-backed proposal for a waiver on the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he was ‘absolutely in favour’ of the plan as pressure built for a move that could boost their production and distribution around the world.”).
The concerns of industry have been identified in prior posts of mine and are summarized in yesterday’s Financial Times article on what if any benefit there will be should a waiver be agreed to. See Financial Times, Will a suspension of Covid vaccine patents lead to more jabs?, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/b0f42409-6fdf-43eb-96c7-d166e090ab99 (“[T]he drug makers’ main argument is that waiving intellectual property is not the solution. Vaccine makers have already pulled out all the stops to supply billions of doses at an unprecedented speed, including signing unusual partnerships with rivals to expand production. Moderna put its patents online last summer but they are not useful alone.”).
The Road Forward
It is unclear where the process at the WTO goes from here. The WTO TRIPS Council is expecting a revised document from India and South Africa in May that arguably could become the basis for WTO Members, including the U.S. and EU and others who have been opposed to a waiver, to consider and negotiate from. If a consensus emerges around a text, then it would go to the General Council for a vote/approval. But while the formal process is understood, it is unclear what an agreement would actually look like. It is hard to imagine that the U.S., EU, Switzerland, Japan and possibly others would agree to waive the pharmaceutical companies rights within their own territories. So there is a question whether rights could be waived selectively? If so, what possible liability would exist for governments and/or companies exploiting the IP rights of others? It is unclear if there will be a requirement for some/all countries who engage in use of others intellectual property to provide compensation similar to a compulsory license fee. Will countries that have existing voluntary licensing agreements with producers be able to void those agreements or have the same IP rights used by other companies? Will there be limitations on where goods produced can be shipped (e.g., only to low- and middle-income countries)? What will the basis be for getting IP holders to transfer technology where there is no compensation? There are undoubtedly dozens of other issues that the industry and their lawyers have besides the above. If waiver is the direction the world goes, presumably there needs to be transparency and full opportunity for vetting proposals so that all issues are identified, understood and properly addressed.
In my prior posts, I have argued that to date vaccines have largely gone to the countries with large levels of infections and deaths. Those pushing for greater equity in access based on a simple percent of global population approach abandon those concerns when a large developing country runs into a surge and finds itself in serious difficulty, such as is happening with India. I support targeting relief to address fire situations like India. See April 29, 2021, COVID-19 — Efforts to help India during its current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/29/covid-19-efforts-to-help-india-during-its-current-surge-of-cases-hospitalizations-and-deaths/. There are equally important fire situations in other countries that deserve the attention and concern of the world as well.
The WTO has been and should be encouraging Members to eliminate export restrictions as quickly as possible. The new Director-General has used the power of convening to probe what are the barriers to increased production and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. Many of the barriers are bottlenecks in supply chains, shortages of various inputs as the industry drastically ramps up production of vaccines, lack of trained personnel in some countries where there may be existing vaccine capacity for other vaccines. Governments can and should be working with industry to address bottlenecks on an expedited basis. Encouraging voluntary licensing is useful and there are some 272 agreements around the world already in place with others being worked on. However, as Johnson & Johnson’s experience (where it talked to 100 companies but only found 10 they could work with) shows, the presence of a facility in a country is not the same as a facility with trained personnel who can actually produce a safe vaccine of the types currently approved for use on COVID-19.
The biggest short term availability of more supplies for low- and middle-income countries is not from the waiver but rather from governments redirecting volumes that are not needed for their own populations. The U.S. and EU are each starting that, but more can and should be done. Such actions have real potential.
Similarly, pursuit of new vaccines, such as one being tested in a number of developing countries that is far lower cost than some currently being used to vaccinate against COVID-19 and which apparently can be easily used in many countries in existing vaccine facilities makes a lot of sense. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.
While there are lots of groups and individuals arguing there is a moral imperative to wave the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies during the global pandemic, there is little practical evidence that such an approach will get the world to the place presumably everybody wants — the quickest curtailment of the pandemic for the benefit of all.
Time will tell whether an effort to negotiate a waiver is an aid or a hindrance to actually ending the pandemic.
India has been setting daily records for new infections almost every day for the last week or so and reported more than two million infections in the last week. See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 16, updated 29 April 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases; European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/data-national-14-day-notification-rate-covid-19 (week 15, 1,534,202 new cases reported; week 16, 2,056,121 new cases reported). Thus, India is the first country to record more than two million cases in a single week and the second to record more than three million in a two week period (the United States exceeded three million during the two weeks 50 and 51 of 2020). With total cases reported by India of 17,118,040, India has the second largest number of cases after the United States (32,125,099) but has a population more than four times that of the United States. However, press reports suggest that information on COVID-19 cases and deaths in India are substantially underreported, perhaps representing only 10-20% of actual cases and deaths. See, e.g., New York Times, As Covid-19 Devastates India, Deaths Go Undercounted, April 24, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-deaths.html.
What is clear is that India is being overwhelmed at the present time with India’s health care system struggling to handle the huge number of people needing assistance, with many hospitals unable to handle the case load, with acute shortages reported on oxygen, ICU beds and much more. See, e.g., The Financial Times, Editorial Board, The tragedy of India’s second wave, April 26, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/90281790-fb9e-468c-b3fa-c7549bd3bb39 (“The suffering of the Indian people in the country’s second wave of Covid-19 is a human tragedy on a vast scale. It is also a warning, and a danger, for the world. Many nations have been through dark times in the global pandemic; several with smaller populations still have higher death tolls. But with reports of people dying in the streets outside overwhelmed hospitals running short of oxygen, India today perhaps most closely resembles the worst-case scenarios painted when the virus was identified 16 months ago.”); New York Times, ‘This Is a Catastrophe.’ In India, Illness Is Everywhere, April 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/world/asia/India-delhi-covid-cases.html. The extent of human suffering from people not able to obtain timely care has been described by the Director-General of the World Health Organization as “beyond heartbreaking”. World Health Organization, Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 26 April 2021, 26 April 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-26-april-2021.
“Reflecting the United States’ solidarity with India as it battles a new wave of COVID-19 cases, the United States is delivering supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India. In addition, U.S. state governments, private companies, non-government organizations, and thousands of Americans from across the country have mobilized to deliver vital oxygen, related equipment, and essential supplies for Indian hospitals to support frontline health care workers and the people of India most affected during the current outbreak. U.S. Government assistance flights will start arriving in India on Thursday, April 29 and will continue into next week.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.
“Immediate U.S. Emergency COVID-19 Assistance
“The United States is providing:
“- Oxygen Support: An initial delivery of 1,100 cylinders will remain in India and can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centers, with more planeloads to come. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also locally procured oxygen cylinders and will deliver them to support hospital systems in coordination with the Government of India.
“- Oxygen Concentrators: 1700 oxygen concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air, these mobile units provide options for flexible patient treatment.
“- Oxygen Generation Units (PSA Systems): Multiple large-scale units to support up to 20 patients each, and additional mobile units will provide an ability to target specific shortages. A team of U.S. experts will support these units, working hand-in-hand on the ground with Indian medical personnel.
“- Personal Protective Equipment: 15 million N95 masks to protect both patients and Indian health care personnel.
“- Vaccine-Manufacturing Supplies: The U.S. has re-directed its own order of Astra Zeneca manufacturing supplies to India. This will allow India to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
“- Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs): 1 million rapid diagnostic tests – the same type used by the White House — to provide reliable results in less than 15 minutes to help identify and prevent community spread.
“- Therapeutics: The first tranche of a planned 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug remdesivir to help treat hospitalized patients.
“- Public Health Assistance: U.S. CDC experts will work hand-in- hand with India’s experts in the following areas: laboratory, surveillance and epidemiology, bioinformatics for genomic sequencing and modeling, infection prevention and control, vaccine rollout, and risk communication.
“U.S. Support for India from the Outset of the Pandemic
“The United States and India have closely worked together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. COVID-19 assistance has reached more than 9.7 million Indians across more than 20 states and union territories, providing life-saving treatments, disseminating public health messages to local communities; strengthening case-finding and surveillance; and mobilizing innovative financing mechanisms to bolster emergency preparedness:
“- Partnered with more than 1,000 Indian healthcare facilities to strengthen preparedness, including training of over 14,000 people on infection prevention and control.
“- Helped keep more than 213,000 frontline workers safe — including risk mitigation training for doctors, nurses, midwives, community volunteers, sanitation workers, and others who are actively responding to COVID-19 in India.
“- Launched joint public messaging with UNICEF on COVID prevention that has reached more than 84 million people.
“- Provided 200 state-of-the-art ventilators to 29 healthcare facilities in 15 states to care for critically-ill COVID-19 patients.
“U.S.-India Health Partnership: Seven Decades Strong
“- For seventy years, U.S. public health experts from across the government, including USAID, HHS, CDC, FDA, and NIH, have worked in partnership with Indian officials to improve the health of India’s most vulnerable communities and the well-being of its people.
“- Over the last 20 years, U.S. foreign assistance to India has exceeded $2.8 billion, including more than $1.4 billion for health care.
“- The United States, India, and other partners have worked together to reduce new HIV infections by 37 percent between 2010 and 2019.
“- Since 1998, the United States and India have worked together to combat tuberculosis (TB) through improved patient-centered diagnosis, treatment and prevention, helping treat 15 million people with the disease.
“- In the last five years, the United States has helped 40 million pregnant women receive vital health information and services.
“- The United States, in partnership with the Government of India and World Health Organization, has supported initiatives at the District, State and National level to build frontline disease detection capacity.
“- The United States and India are working together to advance global health security and fight outbreaks before they become pandemics.”
India is a critical part of the global effort to vaccinate the world both with vaccines developed within India and with vaccines (e.g., AstraZeneca and Novavax) that are licensed for production in India with large commitments to supply COVAX for distribution to low- and middle-income countries and with other vaccines licensed from other countries (China and Russia). The immediate challenges in India has shifted the focus of the Indian government and its vaccine producers to supply almost exclusively for the Indian market while India struggles through the current surge in new cases and hospitalizations. The focus of the world on the need to help India is an interesting departure from the discussion of vaccine distribution based on population that has dominated focus through March.
Many parts of the world have been able to keep the COVID-19 pandemic under control to a large extent and hence have relatively few COVID-19 cases. Other countries — the U.S., India, Brazil, the EU countries and UK — have had far less success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and have recorded very large numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Looking at current data, China has achieved the largest number of vaccinations — 235,976,000 vaccinations or 21.82% of global totals til April 28, 2021) — but a very low percent of global COVID-19 cases — 102,384 cases or 0.07% of global cases. The U.S. has the largest number of cases and second largest number of vaccinations (21.79% of cases; 21.69% of vaccinations). India has the second largest number of cases and the third largest number of vaccinations (11.61% of cases; 13.86% of vaccinations). The EU (27 countries) has 20.46% of COVID-19 cases (2nd largest if looking at the 27 countries together) and 12.75% of vaccinations. The United Kingdom has 2.99% of cases and 4.39% of vaccinations. Brazil has 9.75% of cases (3rd highest for an individual country) and 4.17% of vaccinations.
Both China and India are major vaccine producers and have comparable populations. But China has had only 0.6% of the COVID-19 cases that India has had, but has 157.45% of the vaccinations that India has accomplished. Vaccination data is from Bloomberg, More than 1.08 Billion Shots Given: Cover-19 Tracker, updated April 28, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.
The problems India is facing are daunting and emphasize the need for the global community to respond to emergencies as they arise while global production of vaccines continue to ratchet up in the coming months. That doesn’t mean that efforts to roll out vaccines to all countries is not an important initiative (COVAX has now shipped more than 48 million doses to 120 countries and various countries are shipping vaccines to ow- and middle-income countries outside of COVAX). But pandemics do not wreak havoc uniformly across the world. Fires need to be addressed urgently while capacities are increased to deal with all needs. The last several weeks have shown India to be suffering such a “fire”. Diverting resources from other parts of the world to India makes sense at the moment. Brazil’s fire continues as well and undoubtedly needs more attention.
While vaccines will help get the world out of the pandemic, all countries need to be vigilant on the non-vaccine tools available to minimize the spread of the pandemic within markets until there is sufficient vaccine capacity to address all needs — capacity that should be here by the end of 2021.
WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had indicated when she took office that she would be gathering industry, multilateral groups, and some governments to look at how vaccine production could be expanded and the role the WTO could play in that effort. At the same time, with the proposal from India and South Africa for waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical products relevant to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic still under consideration in the TRIPS Council, with opposition from a number of important Members, DG Okonjo-Iweala has been seeking an approach that in fact expands production in developing and least developed countries and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. without needing an all or nothing resolution to the proposed waiver.
“COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”
While the virtual meeting convened by DG Okonjo-Iweala was conducted under Chatham House rules, a number of participants made their prepared comments public and there was some press coverage.
DG Okonjo-Iweala provided a wrap-up at the end of the session which was posted on the WTO website. See WTO news, DG Okonjo-Iweala calls for follow-up action after WTO vaccine equity event, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_14apr21_e.htm (“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today (14 April) called on WTO members, vaccine manufacturers and international organizations to act to address trade-related obstacles to the scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production to save lives, hasten the end of the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.”). DG Okonjo-Iweala’s summary comments are copied below. See WTO speeches, Chair Summary following “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno7_e.htm.
“One thing that came out of today’s discussions is that it was only through working together across borders that scientists developed safe and effective vaccines in record time. And it is only by working together, across borders, that we’ll be able to solve the problems [of vaccine scarcity and equitable access] discussed today. This is a problem of the global commons, and we have to solve it together.
“Our purpose today was to contribute to efforts to increase vaccine production and broaden access, starting with the immediate term.
“Specifically we had three goals:
“The first was to pinpoint the obstacles, particularly the trade-related obstacles, to ramping up production, and to equitably distributing and administering vaccines — and we looked at how the WTO could contribute to these solutions.
“The second was to bring together people who are able to increase and to scale up manufacturing, people in a position to share technology and knowhow, and people willing to finance additional manufacturing capacity.
“And third, to think about the road ahead, including on the TRIPS waiver and incentives for research and development, so that we get the medical technologies we need, and no country is left at the back of the line waiting. If there is one refrain we heard continuously from everyone today it is that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
“We heard first-hand from governments and vaccine manufacturers from developed, developing, and least developed countries, as well as a wide range of other stakeholders from international organizations, civil society and development finance institutions.
“And we heard good news: that supplies are ramping up and companies are learning by doing, that there have been major gains in productivity, and that there is still capacity. We also heard that there is a willingness to finance investment in vaccine manufacturing both in the short- and long-term, and there are ideas and energy to do things differently.
“However, we heard from many that we need to do more. It hasn’t really been business as usual, so we may need to move on to ‘business unusual’ to solve the problems before us.
“In the discussions today we heard a great deal of agreement. We agree that it’s not acceptable for people and countries to have to wait indefinitely for vaccines. We do not want to repeat experiences of the past.
“We heard a consensus on the urgent need to scale up production and vaccinate everyone, because every day the shortage continues, scope for dangerous new variants will increase, and the number of prevent preventable deaths will grow. The economic impact of these delays can and has been quantified by many institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.
“It was agreed that production capacity needs to be expanded, particularly in developing and least developed countries and emerging markets. And that vaccine distribution needs to be more effective and more equitable.
“We heard that open cross-border trade in raw materials, and other inputs, was essential for maintaining and scaling up production, and that supply chains in these inputs must be maintained.
“Also widely shared was the view that innovation, research and development will be vital for dealing with COVID-19 variants and in other health crises.
“We had useful exchanges on issues where some perspectives were different, such as on the future shape of vaccine supply chains, on the appropriate role for intellectual property protections, on issues of vaccine contract transparency — which was pointed to by many as an important factor in appropriate pricing and distribution and a critical part of access and equity.
“Concerns expressed by some about cross-border supply chain operations, including export restrictions and shortages of skilled personnel reinforced my view, and hopefully that of members, that the WTO must and can play a central part in the response to this crisis.
“Various perspectives about the TRIPS Agreement, and whether the existing flexibilities are enough to address developing country needs were put on the table. These echoed the discussions on the waiver proposal going on in the TRIPS Council, and I want to reiterate that today is a way of contributing to that discussion.
“I agree with the view that the WTO is a logical forum for finding a way forward on these issues, and I hope that the ideas raised here will contribute to convergence in the TRIPS Council on meaningful results that can contribute to the goals that we have.
“I hope that the discussion today, listening to each other, seeing that we all share a common goal, and that we may not be so far apart, will lead to the willingness to come to the middle, and work out something that will be acceptable to all.
“Participants were generally of the view that ramping up vaccine manufacturing capacity is a complex process. It requires large, long-term investment and sustainable business models. It relies on open international supply lines for ingredients and equipment. We heard how shortages of even a single piece of equipment, filters, can halt operations at a production facility. Vaccine manufacturing necessitates collaboration, and the movement of skilled labour, to facilitate transfer of technology and knowhow.
“Safety is a paramount consideration, and quality is the other part of safety. This demands effective regulatory capacity and stringent compliance, down to the factory floor. Indeed we heard this is a big risk companies factor in when making decisions as to where to produce, and how to produce. I hope that they’ve heard sufficient encouragement today, to enable us to move towards leveraging the existing capacities in emerging markets and developing countries mentioned repeatedly today, which could actually help to take care of the shortages talked about.
“Turning capacity around to produce COVID-19 vaccines is not only about the physical space alone. We heard repeatedly that it requires transfer of technology and knowhow, together with investment and support for quality assurance.
“We also learned about how existing licensing arrangements have operated — including an example of how skills transfer was carried out in a few as six months. We also heard calls for support to build human capital, and to help build regulatory cooperation.
“Some participants suggested more active matchmaking to connect companies that have the investment capacity with those that have potential for expanding production capacity, even in the short term.
“We also heard about ongoing efforts to build new manufacturing capacity, and the lessons that can be learned from that.
“We also began to see the aspects of the collaboration we need to make things happen. We had many international organizations show they are willing to work together to bring to fruition things like putting in place technical expertise, helping with capacity building and quality control, and investing directly in production.
“I believe that today’s exchanges have advanced our understanding of the challenges we face for scaling up vaccine production, and that working together is the only way ahead.
“In the coming weeks and months, we expect concrete follow-up action. These issues are not easy, but the political will and engagement from the private sector displayed today, suggests it is possible.
“As we move forward, I expect:
“- From WTO members:
“- Action to further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers, and to work with other organizations to facilitate logistics and customs procedures. We are monitoring this as part of our regular work, and we’ll continue doing so to increase supplies and maintain robust supply chains. Trade has been underlined as a critical factor in production; it is incumbent upon WTO members to act.
‘- Advance negotiations in the TRIPS Council on the waiver proposal and incentives for research and innovation. I hope that the ideas and the open dialogue heard will move us closer to agreement.
‘- For vaccine manufacturers:
‘- Concrete moves to scale up vaccine manufacturing, both short-term turnaround of existing capacities, milking whatever productivity gains we can from current facilities, and taking steps to invest.
“- Increased technology and knowhow transfer, which many participants stressed would be necessary to make additional production work.
“- We need transparency in contract agreements and product pricing. We hope to continue this dialogue and to help monitoring steps in that direction.
“- For international organisations and financial institutions:
“- We noted your willingness to finance, both existing and new capacity, your willingness to work on capacity building for regulatory issues, not just for vaccines, but also for therapeutics and diagnostics, which are equally important.
“I trust that we have found a good basis to deliver concrete action, and to continue this discussion that we’ve had today.
“This should not be a one-off, we should continue to talk to each other, and make sure that we can deliver.
“I hope that besides concrete action to increase capacity, this discussion has given us elements of a framework on trade and health that we can put together at the WTO, and that can be put before ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in mid-December. Such a framework should provide for trade-related preparedness to handle this pandemic, and the next one.”
The Biden Administration has been meeting with various interest groups on the TRIPS wavier proposal (both pro and con) and is receiving pressure from some Members of Congress and prior government officials to agree to a waiver. Ambassador Tai’s statement stresses the need for equity in vaccine availability. “These losses have been disproportionately borne by vulnerable and economically disadvantaged communities within our countries. And the significant inequities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication, and creativity. Extraordinary crises challenge all of us to break out of our comfortable molds, our in-the-box thinking, our instinctive habits. This is not just a challenge for governments. This challenge applies equally to the industry responsible for developing and manufacturing the vaccines. The desperate needs that our people face in the current pandemic provide these companies with an opportunity to be the heroes they claim to be – and can be. As governments and leaders of international institutions, the highest standards of courage and sacrifice are demanded of us in times of crisis. The same needs to be demanded of industry.”
The EU statement is consistent with their views that equity is necessary and that the EU has been working to contribute to that result through production ramp up and large exports in fact, including to the COVAX facility. The EU summed up what the WTO should be doing. “To sum up, the WTO can support vaccine equity through five sets of actions: Promoting best practices in terms of trade facilitation and regulatory cooperation to maintain open supply chains; Facilitating cooperation with the private sector, both to ramp up production in the short term, and to enhance manufacturing in global regions with under-capacity, focusing in particular on Africa; Supporting Members’ use of the available TRIPs flexibilities; Continuing to seek joint approaches with the World Health Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation; and Ensuring transparency and effective monitoring of any temporary export restriction, as proposed by the Ottawa Group.”
The World Health Organization also participated and the Director-General’s statement is available from the WHO website. See WHO press release, COVID-19 and vaccine equity panel: what can the World Trade Organization contribute?, 14 April 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-panel-what-can-the-world-trade-organization-contribute (“COVAX was created, as you know, almost a year ago to avoid the same thing happening again. And although COVAX has distributed almost 40 million doses of vaccine to 110 countries and economies, vaccine nationalism, vaccine diplomacy and severe supply constraints have so far prevented COVAX from realizing its full potential. Global manufacturing capacity and supply chains have not been sufficient to deliver vaccines quickly and equitably where they are needed most. More funding is needed, but that’s only part of the solution. Money doesn’t help if there are no vaccines to buy. We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced. To address this challenge, WHO and our partners have established a COVAX manufacturing task force, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security. We need to go beyond the traditional modus operandi to provide sustainable and effective solutions to address this extraordinary crisis. Some manufacturers have begun sharing the know-how and technologies to produce more vaccines, but only under restrictive conditions, on a very limited basis. The current company-controlled production sharing agreements are not coming close to meeting the overwhelming public health and socio-economic needs for effective, affordable and equitable access to vaccines, as well as therapeutics and other critical health technologies. This is an unprecedented emergency that demands unprecedented measures.”).
One of the private sector participants, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) included its statement on the IFPMA website. See IFPMA, IFPMA statement at WTO event “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What can the WTO Contribute”, 14 April 2021, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/ifpma-statement-at-wto-event-covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-what-can-the-wto-contribute/. The IFPMA statement is embedded below but highlights the extraordinary effort of the private sector in ramping up production which is expected to be 10 billion doses by the end of 2021 with some 272 partnerships entered into and 200 technology transfer agreements.
Rising Infections; dramatically ramped up production
Last Thursday’s summary from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows the world going through a massive ramp up of new infections such that week 14 of 2021 is the second highest week during the pandemic of new infections with the vast majority of the cases and increase in Asia, the Americas and Europe. See ECDC, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 14, updated 15April 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.
“Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 14 2021
“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”
The ECDC data show Africa as accounting for 3.18% of total infections during the pandemic, Asia accounting for 19.50% (India is 9.91%; China is 0.07%), the Americas for 43.18% (United States 22.91% and Brazil 9.90%), Europe 34.08% (the Eu is 20.79%, the UK is 3.20%, Russia is 3.4%), and Oceania 0.05%.
While there are countries who have fewer or more vaccinations as a percent of the global total than their share of infections, considering distribution equity from that vantage point has some surprising results.
Country Percent of infections Percent of vaccinations
United States 22.91% 23.16%
European Union 20.79% 12.36%
United Kingdom 3.20% 4.76%
Japan 0.37% 0.21%
Republic of Korea 0.08% 0.17%
India 9.91% 13.85%
China 0.07% 21.18%
South Africa 1.14% 0.33%
Brazil 9.90% 3.92%
The pharmaceutical industry is projecting that 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine will ship in 2021. That means that in the next eight and a half months, some nine billion doses will ship. If 10 billion doses are shipped in 2021, that is sufficient to fully vaccinate 5-6 billion people in 2021 (depending on number of doses that are for single shot vaccines). That is sufficient doses to vaccinate 63.3-75.9% of the current estimate of the global population (7.9 billion). See Worldometer, Current World Population, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/#:~:text=The%20current%20world%20population%20is,currently%20living)%20of%20the%20world./ With the continued efforts to expand production and approve additional vaccines, 10 billion doses may be exceeded in fact by the end of the year.
This suggests, just as the COVAX and UNICEF distribution plans indicate, that low- and middle-income countries will see a large increase in supplies in the second half of 2021, just as will be true for the rest of the world.
The U.S.-Gavi event on April 15 talked about increasing funding for COVAX to go from 20% to 30% of populations the COVAX facility is serving. See U.S. Department of State, Video Remarks of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Launch of GAVI’s COVAX Commitment, April 15, 2021, https://www.state.gov/launch-of-gavis-covax-commitment/. Moreover, the World Bank is committing billions to increases purchases of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. And many countries are executing their own contracts with vaccine producers.
If there are issues besides assistance in resolving bottlenecks that would appear to be important to speeding up distribution and ensuring access by all, it would be to ensure that all countries with vaccine supplies greater than their internal needs, work to get those vaccines distributed to other countries later this year as their internal needs clarify.
Moreover, there are very exciting developments on the vaccine front with the start up of trials in a number of developing countries of a new vaccine where the potential exists for low costs with a vaccine that can be produced locally by many countries based on technology similar to what is already used for other vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.
All to say, there is considerable reason for optimism with the current efforts and progress. Efforts by governments, multilateral institutions, industry and others are helping identify challenges both to production and distribution but also to the needs for a speedy recovery once the pandemic is brought under control. While everyone needs to continue to focus on resolving bottlenecks, securing cooperation to ensure all are reached, and addressing developments as they arise, 2021 is not a repeat of the HIV situation.
The WTO has an important role in monitoring trade restrictions and looking forward to what actions Members are willing to take to advance trade and health needs and help ensure a next pandemic is handled more quickly than the COVID-19 has been. The effort to obtain a waiver from TRIPS obligations is, in this writer’s view, missing where the challenges are and seeking an outcome that will not advance improved vaccinations in 2021. While it is common for countries to continue to fight yesterday’s problems instead of addressing the current challenges, such an approach will not secure equitable and affordable access to vaccines in 2021-2022.
“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.
“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.”).
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.
The monthly regular meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body was scheduled for March 26, 2021. The proposed agenda was circulated earlier and contained as item 4, “United States – Measures Relating to Trade in Goods and Services, A. Request for the Establishment of a Panel by Venezuela (WT/DS54/2/Rev.1)”. See Dispute Settlement Body, 26 March 2021, Proposed Agenda, WT/DSB/W/679 (24 March 2021). For background, the Venezuelan request for a panel is embedded below.
The Maduro government in Venezuela is viewed as illegitimate by the United States and dozens of other governments based on the 2013 election. The U.S. has recognized Juan Guaido as the interim President and has imposed a series of sanctions on Venezuela and the Maduro government. While the sanctions were imposed during the Trump Administration, no changes have yet occurred in the Biden Administration. A 2020 write-up from the State Department describes the problems and justifications for the sanctions. See U.S. Department of State, U.S. Relations With Venezuela, Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, July 6, 2020, https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-venezuela/. Much of the fact sheet is copied below.
“The United States recognizes Interim President Juan Guaido and considers the Venezuelan National Assembly, which he currently leads, to be the only legitimate federal institution, according to the Venezuelan Constitution. Nearly sixty other countries have joined in this recognition.
“The United States works with Interim President Juan Guaido and his team on a number of areas of mutual concern, including humanitarian and migration issues, health issues, security, anti-narcotrafficking initiatives, and reestablishment of the rule of law. The United States proposed a Democratic Transition Framework in 2020 as a guide to help Venezuelan society achieve a peaceful, democratic transition. Venezuela’s previous presidents, the late Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013-2019), defined themselves in large part through their opposition to the United States, regularly criticizing and sowing disinformation about the U.S. government, its policies, and its relations with Latin America. Maduro, who was not reelected via free and fair elections, clings to power through the use of force. His policies are marked by authoritarianism, intolerance for dissent, and violent and systematic repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms – including the use of torture, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and the holding of more than 400 prisoners of conscience. Maduro has been sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and in 2020 the Department of Justice charged him with offenses related to narco-terrorism and drug trafficking The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) posted a $15-million reward for information to bring him to justice. The Maduro regime’s irresponsible intervention in the economy has facilitated widespread corruption and stoked hyperinflation leading to negative economic growth and a humanitarian crisis, including food, energy, and water shortages, in a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
“U.S. Assistance to Venezuela
“Through its assistance to the legitimate Guaido Interim Government and democratic organizations within and outside Venezuela, the United States supports the protection of human rights, the promotion of civil society, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and transparency and accountability in the country. From Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 to 2019, the United States has committed approximately $58.6million in bilateral democracy assistance to Venezuela. Assistance to Venezuela is subject to a number of restrictions, including those under Section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (P.L. 107-228) (the so-called Drug Majors restriction), the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and restrictions contained in the annual appropriations laws
“Since 2005, the President has determined annually that Venezuela, and more recently the illegitimate Maduro regime, has “failed demonstrably” to adhere to its drug control obligations under international counternarcotics agreements. The President has issued a national interest waiver to enable certain assistance programs vital to the national interests of the United States, such as human rights and civil society programs, to continue.
“Pursuant to Section 40A of the AECA, since 2006 the Department of State has determined annually that Venezuela was “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Under this provision, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela during the relevant fiscal year.
“U.S. Assistance in Response to the Venezuela Regional Crisis
“The United States is answering Interim President Guaido’s call to help the people of Venezuela cope with severe food, water, energy, and medicine shortages. Since FY 2017, the United States has provided more than $856 million in assistance to support the response to the crisis inside Venezuela and the region, which includes $611 million in humanitarian assistance and $245 million in economic and development assistance. The United States is the single largest donor to the combat the crisis, and supports sixteen countries hosting Venezuelan refugees. USG-provided humanitarian assistance addresses critical life-saving needs, including food and nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and health, and temporary shelter. Our development assistance is helping countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean meet longer term needs, such as education deficits, caused by the man-made regional crisis.
“Bilateral Economic Relations
“Before the United States suspended diplomatic operations in Venezuela, the United States was Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods between both countries reached $3.2 billion in 2019. U.S. goods exports to Venezuela totaled $1.2 billion in 2019. U.S. imports from Venezuela totaled $1.9 billion. U.S. exports to Venezuela have historically included petroleum and refined petroleum products, machinery, organic chemicals, and agricultural products. Crude oil dominated U.S. imports from Venezuela, which was one of the top five suppliers of foreign oil to the United States. In early 2019, imports of Venezuelan crude oil averaged roughly 500,000 barrels per day, but sanctions imposed by the United States have now cut this to zero. Previously, U.S. foreign direct investment in Venezuela was concentrated largely in the petroleum sector, but sanctions, coupled with the poor business environment, have significantly reduced these investment.
“Hyperinflation, state intervention in the economy including expropriations, macroeconomic distortions, physical insecurity, corruption, violations of labor rights, and a volatile regulatory framework make Venezuela an extremely challenging climate for U.S. and multinational companies. A complex foreign exchange system, capital controls, and the lack of dollars, coupled with increasing sanctions from the United States and other countries, have prevented firms from repatriating their earnings out of Venezuela and importing industrial inputs and finished goods into Venezuela. Lack of access to dollars, price controls, and rigid labor regulations have compelled many U.S. and multinational firms to reduce or shut down their Venezuelan operations.
“Since 2017, the United States has made over 300 Venezuelan-related designations, pursuant to various Executive Orders (E.O.), including under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Designations include former President
“Maduro and those involved in public corruption and undermining democracy under E.O. 13692 (Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) issued by the President in March 2015 and E.O. 13850 (Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) issued by the President in November 2018, each as amended. Since 2017, the Department of Treasury has designated two individuals for involvement in narcotrafficking under the Kingpin Act, including former Vice President (and nominal Minister of Oil) Tareck El Aissami.
“Additionally, E.O. 13850, in conjunction with determinations made by the Secretary of the Treasury, authorizes sanctions against persons determined to be operating in the gold, oil, financial, and defense and security sectors of the Venezuelan economy and was the basis for the January 2019 designation of Venezuelan national oil company Petreoleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). The Central Bank of Venezuela is also designated under E.O. 13850.
“On August 5, 2019, the President signed E.O. 13884 which blocks all property and interests in property of the Government of Venezuela that are in the United States or that are within the possession or control of any United States person. In conjunction with E.O. 13884, Treasury also issued or , including those that authorize, among other things, transactions with Guaido and the National Assembly, activities for the official business of certain international organizations, and activities NGOs undertake to support humanitarian projects to meet basic human needs in Venezuela.
“For additional information about the Venezuela sanctions program, please visit the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website.
“On March 26, 2020, the Department of Justice charged former President Maduro and 14 other current and former Venezuelan officials, including his vice president for the economy, his Minister of Defense, and the Chief Supreme Court Justice with offenses related to narco-terrorism, corruption, and drug trafficking, and other criminal charges.
“Venezuela’s Membership in International Organizations
“Venezuela and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Monetary Fund, Interpol, World Bank, World Trade Organization and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
“Venezuela is a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and PetroCaribe. Venezuela is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, , the G-15, the G-24, and the G-77. On August 5, 2017 Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from Southern Common Market (Mercosur).
“With the recognition of Juan Guaido as interim President by 57 countries, Venezuela’s participation or representation in some of these organizations has come under debate.
“On April 26, 2017, Maduro announced Venezuela would withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), a process that requires two years. This decision was reversed by Interim President Guaido and the National Assembly. On January 10, 2019, the OAS Permanent Council voted not to recognize the second term of former President Nicolas Maduro and on April 9, 2019 the OAS Permanent Council approved a resolution to accept interim President Guaido’s nominee Gustavo Tarre as Venezuela’s representative to the Permanent Council on April 9.
“The interim Guaido government is also an active member of the Lima Group, an important group of likeminded nations founded in 2017 to facilitate regional coordination in the pursuit of a democratic resolution to the Venezuela crisis.
“On March 15, 2019, the IDB approved a resolution recognizing Guaido’s representative, Ricardo Hausmann. The current representative is Alejandro Plaz.
“On March 12, 2019, the United States suspended embassy operations in Caracas. The United States maintains formal diplomatic relations with Venezuela and the Guaido interim government through its accredited Ambassador to the United States.
“On August 28, 2019, the Department of State announced the opening of the Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU). The VAU is the interim diplomatic office of the U.S. Government to Venezuela, located at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. It continues the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people.”
Venezuela requested consultations with the United States in late December 2018. See UNITED STATES – MEASURES RELATING TO TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, REQUEST FOR CONSULTATIONS BY VENEZUELA (28 December 2018), WT/DS574/1, G/L/1289, S/L/420, 8 January 2019.
The United States refused the request for consultations. Venezuela requested a panel on 14 March 2019. See UNITED STATES – MEASURES RELATING TO TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY VENEZUELA, WT/DS574/2, 15 March 2019.
The request was included in the draft agenda for the DSB meeting of March 26, 2019. See Dispute Settlement Body, 26 March 2019, Proposed Agenda, WT/DSB/W/641, 22 March 2019 (agenda item 6, “UNITED STATES – MEASURES RELATING TO TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, A. REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY VENEZUELA (WT/DS574/2)”).
The U.S. objected to the inclusion of the Venezuelan request on the agenda. No DSB meeting was held on March 26, 2019. Venezuela agreed to withdraw its request, and the DSB meeting was rescheduled for April 26, 2019. See Dispute Settlement Body, 26 April 2019, Proposed Agenda, WT/DSB/W/643, 24 April 2019.
The minutes of the April 26, 2019 DSB meeting included the following statement ahead of the adoption of the agenda.
“Prior to the adoption of the Agenda, the representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela said that his delegation wished to make a short statement for the record to the effect that Venezuela was not asking to modify the proposed Agenda of the present meeting to request an inclusion of an item. However, Venezuela wished to reserve its right to do so at any future DSB meeting. Subsequently, Japan said that it wished to include on the proposed Agenda an item under “Other Business” regarding its communication contained in Job/DSB/3. The Agenda was adopted as amended. Following the adoption of the Agenda, the representative of Peru, speaking on behalf of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Paraguay said that the members of the Lima Group supported the functioning of the DSB at the present meeting. However, their Governments wished to indicate that they did not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s regime nor that of its representatives. The representative of Venezuela said that the DSB was not the appropriate forum to discuss this matter. The representative of the Russian Federation said that her country supported the legitimate government of Nicolás Maduro and underlined that the WTO was not the appropriate international forum vested with the authority to discuss issues raised by the members of the Lima Group.” Dispute Settlement Body, 26 April 2019, MINUTES OF MEETING HELD, WT/DSB/M/428 25 June 2019, page 1.
“If the EU understands correctly, the US is not ready to accept this panel request by Venezuela as being valid, as it was submitted by a government which the US no longer recognises as the legitimate government representing Venezuela.
“In fact, in this case, the EU would have expected the US to rely on the security exceptions in Article XXI of the GATT and Article XIVbis of the GATS for justifying any departures from basic GATT and GATS provisions that may lie in the measures taken against Venezuela.
“Indeed, we note that the United States measures at issue appear justified by the security exceptions, so the challenge at issue cannot in any event succeed.
“All this being said, the EU has to react for systemic reasons and express its concern at the prospect of the DSB being prevented from holding its meeting on all items of today’s agenda simply because that agenda is not adopted.
“There is a longstanding and widely recognised principle that DSB agendas cannot be blocked to the extent that they include items governed by negative consensus. This includes first panel requests (governed by consensus), since they are a necessary pre-condition to a second panel request. This principle is of utmost importance because the binding nature of WTO dispute settlement rests on it.
“That said, the EU expects this meeting to be suspended now, as a result of the US objection to the agenda adoption. This should allow the Chairperson and the WTO Members most involved to consult in search of a solution. The EU hopes that these efforts will rapidly yield a solution, so that this meeting can continue and the DSB discharge the important duties with which it is entrusted.”
Friday’s events at the Dispute Settlement Body meeting were not surprising once the request for a panel had been filed by Venezuela. What is surprising is the Maduro government’s effort to re-raise a matter that had no possibility of being considered in light of the well understood U.S. position (a position agreed to by many WTO Members).
WTO Members have historically shown an inability to evaluate disputes they pursue from the vantage point of whether the result desired is at all politically possible for the Member whose action is being challenged. Yet pursuing disputes that cannot be resolved through the dispute settlement system is a disservice to the WTO and to the proper functioning of the Dispute Settlement Body. The Maduro government dispute with the United States first and foremost is a question of the legitimacy of the Maduro government and its refusal to transfer power to the interim President. No WTO dispute will help resolve the underlying dispute. Besides the question raised by the United States (blocking requests from entities which are not the true representatives of the people), getting rid of the request properly reflects the political realities of the underlying dispute.
“Six countries remain subject to potential action while broader international tax negotiations continue
“WASHINGTON – The United States Trade Representative (USTR) today announced the next steps in its Section 301 investigations of Digital Service Taxes (DSTs) adopted or under consideration by ten U.S. trading partners. In January, USTR found that the DSTs adopted by Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom were subject to action under Section 301 because they discriminated against U.S. digital companies, were inconsistent with principles of international taxation, and burdened U.S. companies. USTR is proceeding with the public notice and comment process on possible trade actions to preserve procedural options before the conclusion of the statutory one-year time period for completing the investigations.
“’The United States is committed to working with its trading partners to resolve its concerns with digital services taxes, and to addressing broader issues of international taxation,’ said Ambassador Katherine Tai. ‘The United States remains committed to reaching an international consensus through the OECD process on international tax issues. However, until such a consensus is reached, we will maintain our options under the Section 301 process, including, if necessary, the imposition of tariffs.’
“The remaining four jurisdictions – Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, and Indonesia – have not adopted or not implemented the DSTs under consideration when the investigations were initiated. Accordingly, USTR is terminating these four investigations without further proceedings. If any of these jurisdictions proceeds to adopt or implement a DST, USTR may initiate new investigations.”
Yesterday’s USTR press release included links to the Federal Register notices that will appear presumably next week. Each notice provides a timeline for written comments and a virtual hearing as well as the proposed list of products that could be imposed.
For example, the Federal Register notice on Austria states that “In particular, USTR proposes to impose additional tariffs of up to 25 percent ad valorem on an aggregate level of trade that would collect duties on goods of Austria in the range of the amount of the DST that Austria is expected to collect from U.S. companies. Initial estimates indicate that the value of the DST payable by U.S.-based company groups to Austria will be up to approximately $45 million per year. USTR further proposes that the goods of Austria subject to additional tariffs would be drawn from the preliminary list of products in the Annex to this notice, as specified by the listed eight-digit tariff subheadings.” Similar language appears in each of the notices with the estimated taxes on U.S. digital services estimated at $55 million per year for India, $140 million for Italy, $155 million for Spain, $160 million for Turkey, $325 million for the United Kingdom. At an ad valorem additional duty of 25%, this means that if there is not a resolution to the issues at the OECD, duties could be applied by the U.S. on $180 million of goods from Austria, $220 million from India, $560 million from Italy, $620 million from Spain, $640 million from Turkey and $1.3 billion from the United Kingdom. Products listed in the Annex are the products from which USTR is proposing the U.S. would choose for additional duties.
All Federal Register notices seek comments on a range of issues. The language from the Turkey notice is copied below and is similar to that in each of the other five Federal Register notices.
“III. Request for Public Comments
“In accordance with section 304(b) of the Trade Act (19 U.S.C. 2414(b)), USTR invites comments from interested persons with respect to whether action is appropriate, and if so, the appropriate action to be taken.
“USTR requests comments with respect to any issue related to the action to be taken in this investigation. With respect to the proposed tariff action outline above, USTR specifically invites comments regarding:
“• The level of the burden or restriction on U.S. commerce resulting from Turkey’s DST, including the amount of DST payments owed by U.S. companies, the annual growth rate of such payments, and other effects, such as compliance costs.
“• The appropriate aggregate level of trade to be covered by additional duties.
“• The level of the increase, if any, in the rate of duty.
“• The specific products to be subject to increased duties, including whether the tariff subheadings listed in the Annex should be retained or removed, or whether tariff subheadings not currently on the list should be added.
“In commenting on the inclusion or removal of particular products on the preliminary list of products subject to the proposed additional duties, USTR requests that commenters address specifically whether imposing increased duties on a particular product would be practicable or effective to obtain the elimination of Turkey’s acts, policies, and practices, and whether imposing additional duties on a particular product would cause disproportionate economic harm to U.S. interests, including small- or medium-size businesses and consumers.
“Simultaneously with this notice, USTR also is requesting public comments on proposed trade actions in five other DST investigations initiated at the same time as the Turkey DST investigation. Certain interested persons may wish to provide written comments or oral testimony on multi-jurisdictional issues common to two or more investigations. To avoid duplication, the USTR portal will have a separate docket for multi-jurisdictional submissions, and USTR will hold a separate multi-jurisdictional hearing.
“To be assured of consideration, you must submit written comments on the proposed action by April 30, 2021, and post-hearing rebuttal comments by May 10, 2021 for the multi-jurisdictional hearing, and by May 14, 2021 for the Turkey DST hearing.”
All six notices provide the dates for requesting to appear, for submitting comments and for the hearing. The dates from the notices are copied below.
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 11, 2021 at 9:30 am: Virtual hearing on Austria DST proposed action.
May 18, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit Austria DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 10, 2021 at 9:30 am: Virtual hearing on India DST proposed action.
May 17, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit India DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 5, 2021 at 9:30 am: Virtual hearing on Italy DST proposed action.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 12, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit Italy DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 6, 2021 at 9:30 a.: Virtual hearing on Spain DST proposed action.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 13, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit Spain DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 7, 2021 at 9:30 am: Virtual hearing on Turkey DST proposed action.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 14, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit Turkey DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
United Kingdom notice
DATES: April 21, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit requests to appear at a hearing, along with a summary of the testimony, by this date.
April 30, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit written comments by this date.
May 3, 2021: Multi-jurisdictional virtual hearing on proposed actions.
May 4, 2021 at 9:30 a.m.: Virtual hearing on the United Kingdom DST proposed action.
May 10, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit multi-jurisdictional hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
May 11, 2021: To be assured of consideration, submit the United Kingdom DST hearing rebuttal comments by this date.
The Federal Register notices issued by USTR on the six countries and the notice on terminating 301 investigations on Brazil, Czech Republic, European Union and Indonesia are embedded below and will appear in the Federal Register in the next week or so.
The Biden Administration has rejoined the effort to find an acceptable solution to the digital services tax issue within the OECD/G20 Integrated Framework and has reportedly made a major concession to facilitate movement in the talks. See Wall Street Journal, Yellen Removes Obstacle to Global Corporate-Tax Deal, February 26, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/yellen-removes-obstacle-to-global-corporate-tax-deal-11614363591 (“Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday that the U.S. would no longer insist on a “safe harbor” under which some elements of the tax rules would be optional. The idea, proposed in late 2019 by her predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, drew objections from European counterparts, though talks on how it would work never advanced very far.”).
At the same time, the U.S. has been and remains concerned about what it views as efforts by major trading partners to impose discriminatory taxes on major U.S. digital services companies. There were many U.S. Senators who expresssed deep concerns with the practices of trading partners in this area during Ambassador Tai’s confirmation hearing to become USTR. The action taken yesterday by USTR reflects the willingness of the Biden Administration to be prepared to impose tariffs on products from selected countries where investigations have resulted in previously released reports that identified significant problems under U.S. law. At the same time, USTR has made clear that the Administration’s preferred approach is through the OECD/G20 Integrated Framework process. And USTR has terminated the remaining four investigations where reports were not released.
All of the above indicate that the U.S. will put primary focus on the ongoing OECD negotiations while preserving options under U.S. law on investigations that had proceeded to a determination by holding public hearings and considering potential products on which to impose additional tariffs. USTR’s actions should generally be acceptable to the U.S. Congress while also letting the OECD negotiations play out in the coming months while preserving options if a negotiated outcome proves illusive.
The world has witnessed the unprecedented development of a number of vaccines in record time to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The development has been the result of widespread cooperation in sharing information and the funding in part by governments and early orders for hundreds of millions of doses if vaccines proved efficacious and safe. In roughly one year since the virus was declared a pandemic by the WHO, individual vaccines have been produced and authorized by one or more governments (some by as many as 70 along with WHO approval).
According to the Financial Times COVID-19 vaccine tracker, as of March 25, nearly 490 million vaccine shots have been administered around the world (based on data from 166 locations). See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, 25 March 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=isr&areas=usa&areas=eue&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=1. The companies with approved vaccines have been ramping up production at their own and at licensed facilities in other countries. Because companies are racing to put in place 3-4 times the global capacity for all vaccines (3.5 billion doses) to produce COVID-19 vaccines (10-14 billion doses by the end of 2021) and because there are complex supply chains and production processes for the new vaccines, there have been various delays which have occurred both at manufacturers and at suppliers. This has been true in the U.S., in the EU, in India and other producing countries. While countries and producers are working on solutions, shortages of certain materials exist and can reduce production of finished vaccines globally.
While the WHO, GAVI, CEPI and UNICEF have set up COVAX to get vaccines to a total of 192 countries, including 92 low- and middle-income countries where materials will be supplied at discounted prices or for free and have a target of two billion doses to participating countries in 2021, there is an early reliance on AstraZeneca’s vaccine whether produced by AstraZeneca or through license by the Serum Institute (SII) in India, the world’s largest vaccine producer.
Unfortunately, many countries are going through a new wave of COVID-19 infections which puts pressure on governments to secure sufficient supplies to address domestic demand. See, e.g., European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 11, updated 25 March 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases (shows total new reported infections going up globally for the fourth week after a sharp decline after New Year’s). Countries showing large numbers of cases over the last two weeks (whether increases or decreases) include Ethiopia (21,227), Kenya (12,083), Libya (12,852), South Africa (17,646), Argentina (91,023), Brazil (995,861), Canada (48,021), Chile (77,561), Colombia (63,417), Ecuador (18,223), Mexico (66,683), Paraguay (26,252), Peru (98,323), United States (830,346), Uruguay (19,512), Bangladesh (19,938), India (416,683), Indonesia (80,522), Iran (119,383), Iraq (67,344), Jordan (109,594), Lebanon (43,964), Pakistan (38,371), Philippines 969,382), United Arab Emirates (29,506), Austria (39,842), Belgium (50,670), Bulgaria (43,115), Czechia (142,042), Estonia (20211), France (378,370), Germany (162,032), Greece (32,005), Hungary (111,929), Italy (308,890), Moldova (19,82), Netherlands (83,797), Poland (272,046), Romania (70,295), Russian Federation (133,24), Serbia (65,689), Spain (67,833), Sweden (61,666), Turkey (232,705), Ukraine (147,456), United Kingdom (78,063). While many countries do not produce COVID-19 vaccines, the list of countries includes many in the EU as well as Brazil, the United States and India. Brazil’s production of COVID-19 vaccines is not expected to start until May. Below I review developments on vaccination roll-outs in the United States, the European Union and India.
Vaccination roll-out in the U.S., EU and India — three important COVID-19 vaccination production areas
Under the Biden Administration, the United States has drastically improved its performance on COVID-19 vaccinations with 129.3 million vaccinations given by March 24 and with the President announcing his Administration’s revised goal of 200 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office (April 29). See Financial Times, Biden doubles vaccine goal to 200m in first 100 days, 25 March 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/a1accbdf-0010-426c-9442-feb73b5c8a1d. While the U.S. focus is on getting the U.S. population vaccinated as the first priority, the U.S. has agreed to “loan” 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to Canada and 2.5 million doses to Mexico. The U.S., following a leader’s remote meeting of the Quad (U.S., Japan, India, Australia), agreed to work with the other Quad partners to produce one billion doses in India of a vaccine by the end of 2022 from a U.S. company that would be paid for by Japan and the U.S. and would receive distribution support from Australia for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. See March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/.
Much of the anticipated ramp up of COVID-19 vaccine production will be happening over the coming months, such that there should be dramatically greater vaccine availability in the coming months. That doesn’t help governments or populations waiting for vaccines. or that are going through a significant ramp up in infections. The pharmaceutical industry and major groups got together earlier this month to explore where the bottlenecks are in ramping up production. See March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit”, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/ It is unclear the extent to which governments and industry are working together to solve bottlenecks in supply, to facilitate production ramp up, share experiences in reusing safely some critical materials that are in short supply, etc. During these critical months, greater cooperation in solving problems and facilitating expansion of production is needed and hopefully is occurring. Export restrictions have and will occur under various guises, reflecting internal political pressures. In the coming months and certainly by the third quarter of 2021, there should be large volumes of vaccine doses above and beyond what has been contracted by COVAX that will be available for use around the world. Time is obviously of the essence. Cooperation to solve supply chain bottlenecks and speed ramp-ups is the best short term option for speeding getting past the pandemic globally.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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/
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations around the world with more than 110 million people having been infected and with more than 2.4 million deaths, the world is anxiously awaiting vaccines to permit vaccinations for vulnerable populations. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-leads of the COVAX initiative which seeks to provide equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. More than 2 billion vaccine doses have been or are being contracted to supply to 92 low- and middle-income countries as well as other countries who have agreed to buy vaccines through COVAX.
The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about “vaccine nationalism” as large and wealthier countries have contracted for large amounts of vaccines. In a joint statement with the UNICEF Executive Director on February 10, the WHO DG laid out what is needed in 2021 to achieve vaccine equitable distribution. See In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together, Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 10 February 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/10-02-2021-in-the-covid-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together. The joint statement is embedded below.
The problem of vaccine availability can be traced to a number of sources including the inability to predict which development efforts would succeed, efforts by governments to support development through funding and advance contracts which do not always support the early vaccine successes, challenges of approval processes in different countries and more. However, it is clear that in the early days of the vaccine rollout, a handful of countries have been able to obtain the largest amount of vaccine doses and to provide vaccinations to citizens. For example, the Financial Times has an update of its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” published today (February 19) that looks at data for 99 countries or territories where vaccinations are reported through mid-February. Of a global total of 194.4 million vaccinations, 91.6% are reported by the following 10 countries or groups of countries: United States, 57.2 million; China 40.5 million; European Union, 24.7 million; United Kingdom, 17.0 million; India, 10.2 million; Israel, 7.1 million; Brazil 6.2 million; Turkey, 5.9 million; United Arab Emirates, 5.4 million; Russian Federation, 3.9 million. Of the 99 countries or territories, 24 reported vaccinations of at least 10/100 residents, an additional 30 reported vaccinations of at least 5.0-9.9/100 residents and an additional 10 reported vaccinations of at least 3.0-4.9/100. Gavi views 3% as the percent of population needed to be vaccinated to address health care workers. See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, February 19, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=usa&areas=eue&areas=ind&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=0
At today’s G-7 virtual meeting, there were new pledges from G-7 countries to contribute to COVAX to permit the purchase of vaccine doses contracted and with some countries agreeing to share surplus vaccine doses with the world’s poorest countries. The Gavi press release of today is embedded below.
Much of the activity at the WTO over the last year has focused on the trade challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Trade restrictions on exports of medical goods and agricultural goods have been tracked with various efforts to minimize scope and duration. Efforts at expediting the movement of medical goods and agricultural products have also been pursued, and debates have occurred on whether TRIPS rights should be waived during the pandemic to improve access to medical goods during the pandemic. Most advanced countries with pharmaceutical producers have argued that there are sufficient flexibilities within the WTO TRIPS Agreement to handle the current challenges. At the same time over recent years there have been efforts through the WHO, CEPI and GAVI and with the assistance of UNICEF to provide the infrastructure to permit collective purchasing of vaccines and other medical goods and the collection of funds to permit assisting low- and middle-income countries in terms of vaccine availability. COVID-19 is a truly global pandemic. The pressure on governments to find solutions is obviously enormous. Actions like those by the G-7 today and by other governments, NGOs and others to address the COVID-19 challenge are along the lines of what is needed to have more equitable distribution of vaccines. As the UN and WHO keep saying, no one is safe until all are safe.
The challenges for COVAX are huge and the goal for 2021 is to get 20% of the populations part of the program vaccinated. Developed countries and others able to do so need to continue to cooperate to see that these goals for 2021 are met and that further help is available moving into 2022. A study commissioned by the ICC estimates the global costs of not moving quickly to get all people in the world vaccinated at being more than $8 trillion — a figure that dwarfs the costs to get the vaccines produced, distributed and shots given. Hopefully, the world will cooperate and do what is needed to see that all countries can recover from the current pandemic in a timely manner.
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).
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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/.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In yesterday’s post (January 24), I reviewed the continued widespread human rights issue of child labor and forced labor in the production of a wide range of products (agricultural, manufactured, mined products) in many countries around the world. Such actions raise trade concerns by distorting the costs of production of products made with such labor and hence potentially skewing trade flows towards producers “benefitting” from the use of such labor. See 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/. In the United States, imports of products made with such labor are supposed to be banned. I had concluded by arguing that the WTO should develop information that would help Members understand the quantity of products that are made with child or forced labor and permit Members to then decide what actions were needed to eliminate or offset such practices.
I received a comment on yesterday’s post from Amb. Dennis Shea, the Former Deputy United States Trade Representative and Chief of Mission on international trade issues in Geneva and the Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the WTO (2017-January 2021). Amb. Shea’s comment focused on cotton. He said, “The WTO’s Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (COA-SS) and its Cotton Subcommittee are charged with examining all trade-distorting policies affecting the cotton sector in order to discharge its mandate properly. It seems to me that the COA-SS and Cotton Subcommittee should examine recent reports of widespread forced labor in the picking of cotton in the Xinjiang Province of China. It is my understanding that Xinjiang accounts for nearly 20 percent of global cotton exports, so it’s probably not a stretch to say that forced labor practices there (horrific from a human rights standpoint) are also distorting global cotton prices.”
While cotton is but one of many products believed to be produced by child and/or forced labor, it is an important product globally. The fact that there may be an existing WTO mechanism for developing the relevant information is potentially important.
In yesterday’s post, I had referenced an upcoming WITA virtual webinar, The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang, being held this Wednesday, January 27. One of the speakers at the event is Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Washington, D.C. One of the papers referenced in a recent WITA note is by Dr. Zenz for the Center for Global Policy entitled “Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton” (December 2020), https://cgpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/20201214-PB-China-Zenz-1-3.pdf. The paper confirms that Xinjiang produces 20% of global cotton and nearly 84.9% of all cotton produced in China. Id. at 3. The Executive Summary of the paper states in part (page 3) —
“The evidence shows that in 2018, three Uyghur regions alone mobilized at least 570,000 persons into cotton-picking operations through the government’s coercive labor training and transfer scheme. Xinjiang’s total labor transfer of ethnic minorities into cotton picking likely exceeds that figure by several hundred thousand.
“Despite increased mechanization, cotton picking in Xinjiang continues to rely strongly on manual labor. In 2019, about 70 percent of the region’s cotton fields had to be picked by hand – especially the high-quality long-staple cotton predominantly grown in southern Xinjiang’s Uyghur regions, where mechanized picking shares are low. State policies have greatly increased the numbers of local ethnic minority pickers, reducing reliance on outside Han Chinese migrant laborers. The intensive two- to three-month period of cotton picking represents a strategic opportunity to boost rural incomes, and therefore plays a key role in achieving the state’s poverty alleviation targets. These targets are mainly achieved through coercive labor transfers.
“Cotton picking is grueling and typically poorly paid work. Labor transfers involve coercive mobilization through local work teams, transfers of pickers in tightly supervised groups, and intrusive on-site surveillance by government officials and (in at least some cases) police officers. Government supervision teams monitor pickers, checking that they have a “stable” state of mind, and administer political indoctrination sessions. Some regions put Uyghur children and elderly persons into centralized care while working-age adults are away on state-assigned cotton-picking work assignments. While not directly related to the campaign of mass internment, these labor transfers can include persons who have been released from internment camps.
“The data presented in this report provides strong evidence that the production of the majority of Xinjiang’s cotton involves a coercive, state-run program targeting ethnic minority groups.”
China is not the only country where the U.S. Department of Labor has identified production of cotton is likely done with child labor, forced labor or child labor and forced labor. See USDOL, 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, September 2020, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2019/2020_TVPRA_List_Online_Final.pdf. Indeed many of the world’s largest cotton producers are listed in the report as likely producing cotton with child labor, forced labor or both child labor and forced labor:
Child labor and forced labor: China, India (cottonseed), Turkmenistan.
In the past there has been one WTO dispute on subsidies to cotton producers in the United States. See UNITED STATES – SUBSIDIES ON UPLAND COTTON, WT/DS267 (case brought by Brazil). I have been unable to find information on the WTO webpage that indicates the question of child or forced labor as a subsidy or other form of nontariff barrier has ever been examined at the WTO whether on cotton or more broadly.
For the last seventeen years, there has been concern about distortions to the cotton trade and the harm to countries for which cotton is a major export product. The breakout of cotton occurred at the request of the so-called Cotton Four — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. See Cotton, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/agric_e/cotton_e.htm.
“Cotton is discussed at the WTO on two tracks: 1) the trade reforms needed to address subsidies and high trade barriers for cotton, and 2) the assistance provided to the cotton sector in developing countries.
“The trade aspects of cotton are handled by the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session including through dedicated discussions on trade in cotton. The development assistance aspects of cotton are discussed in the meetings of the ‘Director-General’s Consultative Framework Mechanism on Cotton’.
“These various tracks of discussion have been developed over the years as a response to a series of proposals to address the sector tabled by four African countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — known as the Cotton Four or C4.”
While WTO Members are supposed to be reporting information on various categories of data (including domestic support) on cotton and on non-tariff barriers affecting trade in cotton, the latest WTO Secretariat compilation of information does not indicate that Members were asked about or provided information on the benefits to domestic cotton production from child labor and/or forced labor. See COTTON — BACKGROUND PAPER BY THE SECRETARIAT, TN/AG/GEN/34/Rev.13, TN/AG/SCC/GEN/13/Rev.13, 2 November 2020 (and Add.1 and Add.2); COTTON — MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 7 DECEMBER 2013, WT/MIN(13)/41, WT/L/916, 11 December 2013 (“3. In this context, we therefore undertake to enhance transparency and monitoring in relation to the trade-related aspects of cotton. To this end, we agree to hold a dedicated discussion on a biannual basis in the context of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session to examine relevant trade-related developments across the three pillars of Market Access, Domestic Support and Export Competition in relation to cotton. 4. The dedicated discussions shall be undertaken on the basis of factual information and data compiled by the WTO Secretariat from Members’ notifications, complemented, as appropriate, by relevant information provided by Members to the WTO Secretariat. 5. The dedicated discussions shall in particular consider all forms of export subsidies for cotton and all export measures with equivalent effect, domestic support for cotton and tariff measures and non-tariff measures applied to cotton exports from LDCs in markets of interest to them.”); COTTON — MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 19 DECEMBER 2015, WT/MIN(15)/46, WT/L/981, 21 December 2015. The background paper (without addenda) is embedded below.
Thus, there is an existing forum for developing information on all distortions to the cotton market. Yet, to date, the WTO subcommittee on Cotton is not examining the widespread issue of child labor and forced labor as part of its information gathering. This is unfortunate but could be addressed if there is a will to in fact flag all distortions.
There can be arguments pro and con on whether all child labor and forced labor constitutes actionable subsidies under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. While I believe that the practices identified as being used in Xinjiang constitute actionable subsidies (government action which provides inputs (labor) at rates lower than market), there can be no doubt that the failure of governments to eliminate child labor and forced labor distorts competition between those obtaining products through the use of such labor and others who are not using such labor. The use of child labor and forced labor are universally condemned and supposed to be eliminated by 2025 (child labor) or 2030 (forced labor) pursuant to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The WTO can and should develop the factual basis for an understanding of the trade distortions flowing from child labor and forced labor. The existence of a current program at the WTO on cotton to develop information on all forms of subsidies and all forms of non-tariff barriers is a good place to start the exercise. My thanks to Amb. Shea for flagging the potential existing vehicles within the WTO to address at least cotton.
In recent years, the United States has paid more attention to the trade distortions flowing from forced labor and child labor in other countries, particularly in China. While there has been significant progress in the last twenty years in reducing forced labor and child labor globally according to the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some retrenchment and efforts by China to address minorities in country have created an international backlash and concern.
The ILO webpage on forced labor reflects the global nature of the problem. The webpage states in part,
“Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 24.9 million people around the world are still subjected toit. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 20.8 million (83 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 4.1 million (17 per cent) are in State-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 8 million (29 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 12 million (64 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates some US$ 150 billion in illegal profits every year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion is a result from forced economic exploitation in domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).
“Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in certain areas of the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases they are restrained from leaving the employers’ home through threats or violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia, where millions of men, women and children are tied to their work through a vicious circle of debt. In Europe and North America, a considerable number of women and children are victims of traffickers, who sell them to networks of forced prostitution or clandestine sweat-shops. Finally, forced labour is still used as a punishment for expressing political views.
“For many governments around the world, the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge in the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, associated with well-targeted technical assistance, are the main tools at the international level to combat this scourge.”
While the incidence of forced labor and child labor is declining, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated trends as these populations are most vulnerable. See, e.g., ILO, The International Labour Organization and the US Department of Labor partnership to eliminate child labour and forced labour, 2019, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@ipec/documents/publication/wcms_710971.pdf (“The ILO’s most recent global estimates of child labour indicate, however, that significant progress is being made. From 2000 to 2016, there was a net reduction of 94 million children in child labour and the number of children in hazardous work was halved. In parallel, the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182) was ratified by 186 countries, reaching almost universal ratification. The challenges ahead, however, remain formidable: in 2016, 152 million girls and boys were in child labour and 25 million men, women and children were trapped in forced labour.”); ILO, COVID-19 impact on child labour and forced labour: The response of the IPEC+ Flagship Programme, 2020, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_745287.pdf (“COVID-19 has plunged the world into a crisis of unprecedented scope and scale. Undoubtedly, restoring global health remains the first priority, but the strict measures required are resulting in massive economic and social shocks. As lockdown, quarantine, physical distancing and other isolation measures to suppress transmission continue, the global economy has plunged into a recession. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging in the poorest countries and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, such as children in child labour and victims of forced labour and human trafficking, particularly women and girls. These vulnerable groups are more affected by income shocks due to the lack of access to social protection, including health insurance and unemployment benefits. * * * Experience from previous crisis situations, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic, has shown that these factors play a particularly strong role in exacerbating the risk to child labour and forced labour.”).
In China, the government’s efforts to “reeducate” minority populations (e.g., Uyghurs from the western region of Xinjiang) has led to allegations of forced labor on a range of products and actions by the United States to restrict certain imports from China from the region. The Washington International Trade Association is holding a virtual webinar on January 27 looking at the challenges in China and the forced labor problem of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the resulting U.S. ban on cotton and tomato products. See WITA, WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Vol. 206, January 22, 2021 (containing various articles on the China forced labor issue and referencing the webinar on January 27, WITA Webinar: The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang).
“The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL or the Department) has produced this ninth edition of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), as amended. The TVPRA requires USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB or the Bureau) to “develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries that [ILAB] has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards” (TVPRA List or the List; 22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(C)). It also requires submission of the TVPRA List to the United States Congress not later than December 1, 2014, and every 2 years thereafter (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(3)).
“The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 expanded ILAB’s mandate to require the TVPRA List to include, ‘to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor’” (22 U.S.C. 7112(b)(2)(C)).
“The TVPRA directs ILAB ‘to work with persons who are involved in the production of goods on the list … to create a standard set of practices that will reduce the likelihood that such persons will produce goods using [child labor or forced labor],’ and ‘to consult with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labor internationally and ensure that products made by forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States’ (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(D)–(E)).” (pages 1 and 3).
This year’s publication lists 77 countries that have one or more products believed to be produced with child labor, with forced labor or with both child and forced labor. Fourteen countries are listed as having products believed to be produced with forced labor. Thirty-six countries are listed as believed to produce products with child and forced labor. Sixty-four countries produce some products with child labor. The 77 countries are listed below along with whether products are believed produced with child labor, forced labor, or child labor & forced labor.
While the number of products obviously vary by country and category, the report categorized agriculture as having 68 child labor listings and 29 forced labor listings. This compares to manufacturing with 39 child labor and 20 forced labor listings; mining showed 32 child labor and 13 forced labor listings and pornography showed one each.
Looking at specific products for individual countries provides the most information.
As an example, China is shown as having the following products believed to be produced with forced labor — Artificial Flowers, Christmas Decorations, Coal, Fish, Footwear, Garments, Gloves, Hair Products, Nails, Thread/Yarn, and Tomato Products. China is also shown as having the following products believed to be produced with child labor and forced labor — Bricks, Cotton, Electronics, Fireworks, Textiles, and Toys. As a USDOL separate post notes, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn and tomato products were added in 2020 because of research on the forced labor situation in Xinjiang. See USDOL, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Against Their Will: The Situation in Xinjiang, Forced Labor in Xinjiang, 2020, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/against-their-will-the-situation-in-xinjiang. The document is embedded below.
Looking at India, products believed to be produced with child labor include the following — Bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), Brassware, Cotton, Fireworks, Footwear, Gems, Glass Bangles, Incense (agarbatti), Leather Goods/ Accessories, Locks, Matches, Mica, Silk Fabric, Silk Thread, Soccer Balls, Sugarcane, Thread/Yarn. Products believed produced with child labor & forced labor include the following — Bricks, Carpets, Cottonseed (hybrid), Embellished Textiles, Garments, Rice, Sandstone, Stones.
While the USDOL reports don’t estimate the portion of exports from any country of individual products that are produced with child and/or forced labor, the trade consequences can be significant as such labor is artificially valued creating distortions in competitiveness and resulting trade flows. For example, the list of products for China are either important export products for China or important inputs into exported products. The same would true for India and for many other of the 77 countries on the list.
The U.S. has in place statutory provisions which permit the exclusion from entry into the United states of products produced with forced labor. The Trump Administration did a somewhat better job enforcing U.S. law on imports of products produced with child or forced labor. Much more can be done and should be done domestically.
Similarly, the ILO is working to eliminate forced labor and child labor consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goals. “The objective of the IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme – in line with Target 8.7 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – is to provide ILO leadership in global efforts to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2025 and all forms of contemporary slavery and human trafficking by 2030. It also aims to ensure that all people are protected from – and can protect themselves against – these gross human rights violations.” ILO, IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme Implementation, Towards a world free from child labour and forced labour, page 4, 2020, https://respect.international/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/wcms_633435.pdf.
The WTO could play a role in the fight against forced labor and child labor. Such labor practices distort global trade flows in addition to the challenges created for countries engaged in such practices in terms of poverty and human rights abuses. The WTO could gather information from Members on the volume of production and exports of products produced with child and forced labor both as finished products and as inputs into other products. Such an exercise would facilitate an understanding of the extent of global trade represented by such products and help focus attention on trade actions that could be taken to help Members eliminate such harmful practices. While it is unlikely that Members will agree to such a data gathering undertaking, one is surely needed and would add transparency to a source of an important global issue with trade as well as non-trade dimensions.
On January 8, 2021, I reviewed in a post the release of the first three of ten reports on investigations under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, on countries’ digital services taxes (DSTs). See January 8, 2021, U.S. Section 301 investigations on digital service taxes by trading partners – an update, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/08/u-s-section-301-investigations-on-digital-service-taxes-by-trading-partners-an-update/ (release of reports on India, Italy and Turkey). The release of the three reports was accompanied by a decision to postpone indefinitely the imposition of additional duties on France for its DST to permit a coordinated response on all eleven countries following the completion of all investigations. The Federal Register notices on the India, Italy and Turkey investigations and the postponement of imposition of duties on France for its DST were published on January 12. See 86 FR 2477-78 (Italy); 86 FR 2478-79 (India); 86 FR 249-80 (France); 86 FR 2480 (Turkey).
On January 14, USTR released three additional reports on the DSTs of Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom and released a status report on the remaining four investigations on Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, and Indonesia. See USTR press release, USTR Releases Findings and Updates in DST Investigations, 01/14/2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/january/ustr-releases-findings-and-updates-dst-investigations. The press release is embedded below but, similar to the earlier reports, found that “each of the DSTs discriminates against U.S. companies, is inconsistent with prevailing principles of international taxation, and burden or restricts U.S. commerce.”
The press release notes that “’The taxation of companies that engage in international trade in goods and services is an important issue,’ stated U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer. ‘The best outcome would be for countries to come together to find a solution.’” As noted in the January 8 post, there is an ongoing process through the OECD/G20 Integrated Framework to find a solution by mid-2021.
For the four investigations where USTR has not yet published reports, USTR released a status report yesterday, reflecting the reality that the Trump Administration is in its final week and such unfinished investigations and issuance of reports will await the incoming Biden Administration. See Office of the United States Trade Representative, Section 301 Investigations, Status Update on Digital Services Tax Investigations of Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, and Indonesia, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Releases/StatusUpdate301InvestigationsBEUIndCR.pdf. The twenty page status report is embedded below.
The status update is organized as reviewed in the opening paragraph of the update.
“In this Status Update, USTR reports on the progress of the four investigations, offers brief descriptions of the four jurisdictions’ approach to digital services taxes, and describes our preliminary, high-level concerns. In the sections that follow, we address: the procedural developments in the four investigations (Section I); a description and preliminary analysis of Brazil’s DST proposal (Section II); a description and preliminary analysis of the Czech Republic’s DST proposal (Section III); a description and preliminary analysis of the EU’s approach to digital services taxes (Section IV); and a description and preliminary analysis of Indonesia’s DST proposal (Section V).”
There is little doubt that when the four pending investigations are completed, there will be similar findings to those in the prior seven completed investigations.
As reviewed in the January 8 post, the OECD was to hold a virtual meeting on January 14-15, 2021 in an effort to obtain public input to refine the draft documents released in October and to help resolve remaining issues. The 11th plenary meeting of the 137 participating countries of the OECD/G20 Integrated Framework will be held virtually on January 27-29.
For the incoming Biden Administration, it will be facing in the early months of the new Administration critically important negotiations on the OECD/G20 proposals as well as the need to complete the investigations on the four unfinished 301 investigations on DSTs. The outcome and interplay of both will have significant implications for global trade and for fairness in international taxation.
Below are the reports on Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom and the notices sent to the Federal Register on each of the three investigations.
For all countries the question of tax base erosion and profit shifting during a period of tremendous growth in e-commerce has been important as countries struggle to secure funding sources in a rapidly changing global marketplace. Concerns about tax revenue sources has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic as e-commerce has surged and may countries tax revenues have shrunk which stimulus outlays have soured.
For a number of years the OECD and the G20 have been working with many other countries in what is called an integrated framework to examine how international taxation needs to change to reflect the changed economic environment. The U.S. unhappiness with many trading partners on the question of digital service taxes is the early adoption of taxes on digital services before the completion of international negotiations and, in particular, taxes which appear to the U.S. to discriminate against U.S. companies who often are major global players in e-commerce and digital services.
In a post from early June, I reviewed the actions of the United States in response to actions by trading partners to introduce digital services taxes (DST), including a first investigation under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (“section 301”) on France on their DST and the initiation of investigations under section 301 on nine other countries and the European Union. While USTR had identified additional tariffs of 100% on a variety of French products, the imposition of duties was postponed until January 6, 2021 to give negotiators time to reach an agreement within the OECD. See June 3, 2020: Digital Services Taxes – New U.S. Section 301 Investigations on Nine Countries and the European Union, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/03/digital-services-taxes-new-u-s-section-301-investigations-on-nine-countries-and-the-european-union/.
“Washington, DC – The U.S. Trade Representative has issued findings in Section 301 investigations of Digital Service Taxes (DSTs) adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey, concluding that each of the DSTs discriminates against U.S. companies, is inconsistent with prevailing principles of international taxation, and burden or restricts U.S. commerce.
“The findings on each of the DSTs are supported by comprehensive reports, which are being published today on USTR’s website.
“USTR is not taking any specific actions in connection with the findings at this time but will continue to evaluate all available options.
“The Section 301 investigations of the DSTs adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey were initiated in June 2020, along with investigations of DSTs adopted or under consideration by Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Indonesia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. USTR expects to announce the progress or completion of additional DST investigations in the near future.”
“Washington, DC – The U.S. Trade Representative has determined to suspend the tariff action in the Section 301 investigation of France’s Digital Services Tax (DST). The additional tariffs on certain products of France were announced in July 2020, and were scheduled to go into effect on January 6, 2021. The U.S. Trade Representative has decided to suspend the tariffs in light of the ongoing investigation of similar DSTs adopted or under consideration in ten other jurisdictions. Those investigations have significantly progressed, but have not yet reached a determination on possible trade actions. A suspension of the tariff action in the France DST investigation will promote a coordinated response in all of the ongoing DST investigations.
“The suspension of the France DST tariffs is set out in a notice sent for publication in the Federal Register.”
The three notices on the India, Italy and Turkey investigations were sent to the Federal Register on January 6 and will appear in the Federal Register next week. The same is true on the postponement of tariffs on France which was forwarded yesterday to the Federal Register and which should appear next week as well.
The three USTR reports released on January 6 and the four notices sent to the Federal Register by USTR on January 6 or 7 are embedded below.
The OECD/G20 Integrated Framework negotiations on arriving at tax policies for an increasingly digitalized global economy have been ongoing for a number of years and include 137 countries.
The OECD/G20 Integrated Framework project released a series of reports on policy issues and approaches to address international taxation in the age of digitalisation in early October to address base erosion profit shifting (“BEPS”) and have moved the target date for completion from the end of 2020 to mid-2021. The reports released attempt to address at least some of the U.S. concerns. The OECD has sought public comments, received more than 270 comments and is holding a virtual meeting on January 14-15 in an effort to obtain public input to refine the draft documents and help resolve remaining issues. The 11th plenary meeting of the 137 participating countries of the OECD/G20 Integrated Framework will be held virtually on January 27-29.
To understand some of the concerns of U.S. businesses or business groups with actions of particular trading partners, a review of several comments to the OECD/G20 may be useful. I embed below comments from the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, Amazon and the Business Roundtable. The Amcham Ireland paper comments on non-discrimination, multilateralism, administrability and certainty, avoiding double taxation, durability, efficiency, scope, safe harbour, segmentation and the interaction with the US’s Global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI). Amazon explores issues in the two pillar blueprints dealing with segmentation, sourcing, user location/IP address, business-to-business sales, reasonable steps/evidence requirements, double tax relief, dispute prevention and resolution, marketing and distribution safe harbour, GILTI Co-existence, framework for implementation, double-tax relief, application of STTR, and additional areas for simplification. The Business Roundtable (BR) has an overview section in which they “affirm certain principles of international income taxation” as being critical to a strong and growing global economy. One of the principles is that taxation should be of net business profits, not gross revenue. BR also provides seven comments on specific aspects of Pillar One and/or Two which are similar to concerns raised by the other U.S. interests. Comment 4 states “An agreement on Pillar One must include repeal of existing unilateral measures and a commitment to refrain from imposing any new unilateral measures aimed at profit reallocation or the digital economy.” It is the unilateral actions of trading partners that are perceived to discriminate against U.S. companies, often base tax on revenue versus profit and deviate from other established international taxation principles that is causing concern in the U.S. business community and resulting in U.S. investigations under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended.
With the Trump Administration in its last twelve days, it is unknown if USTR will be able to complete the remaining seven 301 investigations on Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Indonesia, Spain, and the United Kingdom to accompany the three reports released on the 6th of January dealing with India, Italy, and Turkey and the earlier report and proposed action on France. My guess is that this will be a primary focus of USTR in the next week and a half so that a full set of reports is available and possibly a recommendation for action on all eleven reports. Whether the remaining investigations are completed by January 20 or not, the Biden Administration will be confronted with the ongoing OECD/G20 process with a target completion in the front half of 2021 and a host of governments implementing DSTs unilaterally ahead of any agreement among the Integrated Framework members. Action under 301 is an option should trading partners pursue approaches to DSTs that in fact discriminate against U.S. companies or deviate from what the OECD/G20 process is likely to generate as a final package.
News accounts report many countries starting to receive at least some doses of vaccines. In the United States, two vaccines have received emergency use authorization (“EUA”)(the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines). The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has received approval (emergency use or other) in a number of countries (EU, Canada, United Kingdom, Bahrain) and was the first vaccine to receive an EUA from the World Health Organization. See WHO press release, WHO issues its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine and emphasizes need for equitable global access, December 31, 2020, https://www.who.int/news/item/31-12-2020-who-issues-its-first-emergency-use-validation-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-and-emphasizes-need-for-equitable-global-access. As the WHO press releases indicates, “The WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine. It also enables UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization to procure the vaccine for distribution to countries in need.”
AstraZeneca will likely seek emergency use authorization in the United States in January and Johnson & Johnson in February. AstraZeneca has received an emergency use authorization in the United Kingdom. It has also been given EUA by India (along with a vaccine from Bharat Biotech). See New York Times, India Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine and 1 other, January 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/world/asia/india-covid-19-vaccine.html.
A recent Financial Times article includes a graph showing the number of citizens in various countries who have received a first vaccination shot. See Financial Times, European leaders under pressure to speed up mass vaccination, January 1, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/c45e5d1c-a9ea-4838-824c-413236190e7e. The countries shown as having started vaccinations include China, the U.S., the U.K., Kuwait, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Russia, Argentina, Iceland, Bahrain, Oman, Israel, and fourteen of the 27 members of the EU).
Similarly an article from CGTN on January 1, 2021 shows a number of countries who are buying COVID-19 vaccines from China including Hungary and a number of others while vaccines from China are in stage 3 trials in a number of countries. CGTN, 1 January 2021, Hungary to focus on EU, Chinese coronavirus vaccine purchases, https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-01-01/Hungary-to-focus-on-EU-Chinese-coronavirus-vaccine-purchases-WHm11NYjni/index.html. “By the end of 2020, UAE became the first country to roll out a Chinese vaccine to the public. Pakistan also announced on Thursday that they will purchase 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China’s Sinopharm after China officially approved the vaccine for general public use. Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot, another candidate vaccine in China, has been signed up for purchase deals with Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, Chile, and Singapore. The company is also in supply talks with Malaysia and the Philippines.”
So the good news at the beginning of 2021 is that effective vaccines are starting to be distributed. Many others are in late stages of trials, giving hope to a significant number of vaccines approved for use in the coming months. The WHO’s list of vaccines in development and their status can be found on the WHO website at this cite. https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/draft-landscape-of-covid-19-candidate-vaccines. How quickly approved vaccines can be produced, distributed and vaccinations given globally will determine when the pandemic will be brought under control. There are many challenges that the world faces in getting to the hoped for situation of a pandemic that is in the past.
For example, even in developed countries, governments are finding that there are significant hurdles in getting production volumes up to promised levels, and much greater challenges in going from production to distribution to vaccinations. In the United States, the Trump Administration had aimed at having 20 million vaccinations accomplished by the end of 2020. Only 13.071 million doses were distributed by the end of the year according to the US CDC and only 4.2 million vaccinations (first shot of two shots) occurred. See Center for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations (viewed Jan. 3, 2021). President-elect Biden is talking about an aggressive program to get 100 million vaccinations (as the current vaccines require 2 shots, this means 50 million people) vaccinated in the first 100 days of his Administration (by the end of April). To achieve this objective will require cooperation from Congress in providing sufficient funding to build up the capabilities at the state and local levels. Health care infrastructure has been reduced over the last dozen years with a reduction of some 50,000 health care workers in the U.S. The huge COVID-19 case load in the United States and record hospitalizations also have health care operations across the United States overextended. So despite having sufficient vaccines on order from four companies where EUAs have been or will likely be granted in the near future to permit vaccination of all Americans by fall, there are enormous practical challenges to making the vaccinations happen in fact. And that is before the challenges of convincing portions of the population of the safety of the vaccines and the need for the vast majority of people to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
“COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level, today announced that it had arrangements in place to access nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, on behalf of 190 participating economies. For the vast majority of these deals, COVAX has guaranteed access to a portion of the first wave of production, followed by volume scales as further supply becomes available. The arrangements announced today will enable all participating economies to have access to doses in the first half of 2021, with first deliveries anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2021 – contingent upon regulatory approvals and countries’ readiness for delivery.
“Given these are arrangements for 2 billion doses of vaccine candidates which are still under development, COVAX will continue developing its portfolio: this will be critical to achieve its goal of securing access to 2 billion doses of safe and effective, approved vaccines that are suitable for all participants’ contexts, and available by the end of 2021. However, today’s announcements offer the clearest pathway yet to end the acute phase of the pandemic by protecting the most vulnerable populations around the world. This includes delivering at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses of approved vaccines in 2021 to the 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for the COVAX AMC.
“The new deals announced today include the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine.. These deals are in addition to existing agreements COVAX has with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for 200 million doses – with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, as well as a statement of intent for 200million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine candidate.
“In addition to this, COVAX also has – through R&D partnership agreements – first right of refusal in 2021 to access potentially more than one billion doses (based on current estimates from the manufacturing processes under development) that will be produced, subject to technical success and regulatory approval, by candidates in the COVAX R&D Portfolio.”
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“The COVAX Facility currently has 190 participating economies. This includes 98 higher-income economies and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible to have their participation in the Facility supported via the financing mechanism known as the Gavi COVAX AMC. Of the 92 economies eligible to be supported by the COVAX AMC, 86 have now submitted detailed vaccine requests, offering the clearest picture yet on actual global demand for COVID-19 vaccines.
“In addition to gathering detailed information on participating economies’ vaccine requests, COVAX, through Gavi, UNICEF,WHO, the World Bank, and other partners has been working closely with all countries in the Facility, particularly AMC-eligible participants, to help plan and prepare for the widespread roll out of vaccines. Conditions that determine country readiness include regulatory preparedness as well as the availability of infrastructure, appropriate legal frameworks, training, and capacity, among other factors.
“’Securing access to doses of a new vaccine for both higher-income and lower-income countries, at roughly the same time and during a pandemic, is a feat the world has never achieved before – let alone at such unprecedented speed and scale,’ said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which leads on procurement and delivery for COVAX. ‘COVAX has now built a platform that offers the world the prospect, for the first time, of being able to defeat the pandemic on a global basis, but the work is not done: it’s critical that both governments and industry continue to support our efforts to achieve this goal’.
“Early pledges towards 2021 fundraising targets
“To achieve this ambitious goal, COVAX currently estimates it needs to raise an additional US$ 6.8 billion in 2021 – US$ 800 million for research and development, at least US$ 4.6 billion for the COVAX AMC and US$ 1.4 billion for delivery support.
“Support for the COVAX AMC will be critical to ensuring ability to pay is not a barrier to access. Thanks to the generous support of sovereign, private sector, and philanthropic donors, the AMC has met its urgent 2020 fundraising target of US$ 2 billion, but at least US$ 4.6 billion more is needed in 2021 to procure doses of successful candidates as they come through the portfolio.”
The world is anxiously awaiting the resolution of the pandemic through the approval and distribution of effective vaccines on a global basis in 2021. The good news is that a number of vaccines have been approved in one or more countries and billions of doses of approved vaccines will likely be produced in 2021. The efforts of the WHO, GAVI and CEPI and the generosity of many nations, private and philanthropic organizations will mean people in nearly all countries will receive at least some significant volume of vaccines in 2021. As most vaccines require two shots, the number of people vaccinated in 2021 in an optimistic scenario is probably less than two billion. The world population at the beginning of 2021 is 7.8 billion people. Thus, 2021, even under an optimistic scenario, will not likely result in the eradication of the pandemic around the world.
Even in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and the 27 members of the European Union where advance purchases should result in sufficient doses being available to vaccinate all eligible members of society, there are massive challenges in terms of distribution and vaccinating the numbers of people involved and educating the populations on the safety and benefits of the vaccines. Thus, even in wealthier countries it will be optimistic to achieve the desired levels of vaccination by the end of 2021.
The Director-General of the WHO in his year-end message laid out the likely situation for the world in 2021, the availability of vaccines but the continued need to be vigilant and adhere to preventive measures to control the pandemic and the need to work collectively to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines for all. See WHO,COVID-19: One year later – WHO, Director-General’s new year message, December 30, 2020, https://www.who.int/news/item/30-12-2020-covid-19-anniversary-and-looking-forward-to-2021 (Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General)
“As people around the world celebrated New Year’s Eve 12 months ago, a new global threat emerged.
“Since that moment, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so many lives and caused massive disruption to families, societies and economies all over the world.
“But it also triggered the fastest and most wide-reaching response to a global health emergency in human history.
“The hallmarks of this response have been an unparalleled mobilization of science, a search for solutions and a commitment to global solidarity.
“Acts of generosity, large and small, equipped hospitals with the tools that health workers needed to stay safe and care for their patients.
“Outpourings of kindness have helped society’s most vulnerable through troubled times.
“Vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics have been developed and rolled out, at record speed, thanks to collaborations including the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
“Equity is the essence of the ACT Accelerator, and its vaccine arm, COVAX, which has secured access to 2 billion doses of promising vaccine candidates.
“Vaccines offer great hope to turn the tide of the pandemic.
“But to protect the world, we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere – not just in countries who can afford vaccines –are immunized.
“To do this, COVAX needs just over 4 billion US dollars urgently to buy vaccines for low- and lower-middle income countries.
“This is the challenge we must rise to in the new year.
“My brothers and sisters, the events of 2020 have provided telling lessons, and reminders, for us all to take into 2021.
“First and foremost, 2020 has shown that governments must increase investment in public health, from funding access to COVID vaccines for all people, to making our systems better prepared to prevent and respond to the next, inevitable, pandemic.
“At the heart of this is investing in universal health coverage to make health for all a reality.
“Second, as it will take time to vaccinate everyone against COVID, we must keep adhering to tried and tested measures that keep each and all of us safe.
“This means maintaining physical distance, wearing face masks, practicing hand and respiratory hygiene, avoiding crowded indoor places and meeting people outside.
“These simple, yet effective measures will save lives and reduce the suffering that so many people encountered in 2020.
“Third, and above all, we must commit to working together in solidarity, as a global community, to promote and protect health today, and in the future.
“We have seen how divisions in politics and communities feed the virus and foment the crisis.
“But collaboration and partnership save lives and safeguard societies.
“In 2020, a health crisis of historic proportions showed us just how closely connected we all are.
“We saw how acts of kindness and care helped neighbors through times of great struggle.
“But we also witnessed how acts of malice, and misinformation, caused avoidable harm.
“Going into 2021, we have a simple, yet profound, choice to make:
“Do we ignore the lessons of 2020 and allow insular, partisan approaches, conspiracy theories and attacks on science to prevail, resulting in unnecessary suffering to people’s health and society at large?
“Or do we walk the last miles of this crisis together, helping each other along the way, from sharing vaccines fairly, to offering accurate advice, compassion and care to all who need, as one global family.
“The choice is easy.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.
“WHO stands with you – We Are Family and we are In This Together.
“I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful, safe and healthy new year.”
We all want to have the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror as 2021 progresses. There is hope for significant progress this year. How much progress will depend on the will of governments and peoples to focus on the eradication of the pandemic and to support the dramatic ramp up of production, distribution and vaccination of the world’s people.