China

WTO Accessions — perhaps the most valuable benefit for Members in the first 25 years of the WTO’s existence

Much has been written about the challenges facing the World Trade Organization twenty-five years after its birth at the beginning of 1995.

The Appellate Body (“AB”) has ceased functioning with the United States blocking the appointment of new AB members based on longstanding problems with the Dispute Settlement system that have not been addressed. There are fundamental differences among major Members in what the proper role of the dispute settlement system is. Because the AB’s view of its role has differed from that of at least some of the Members, many delegations have opted to litigate instead of negotiate on issues which are not covered by the actual language of existing agreements.

The negotiating function of the WTO has had limited success in the first 25 years of the WTO reflecting deep differences among Members in priorities and the core function of the WTO. The inability to update rules or develop new rules to address 21st century commercial realities has called into question the ongoing relevance of the organization Members have failed to honor agreement directions for periodic liberalization updates in agriculture and services trade. Members have also taken decades to tackle issues of pressing time sensitivity, such as fisheries subsidies.

And there are problems in the timeliness and completeness of notifications required by many agreements and the quality of the work of many of the Committees.

A bright spot for an organization in trouble has been the success of bringing additional countries and territories into the organization. Of the 164 members at present, 36 have joined since the WTO opened in 1995 and some 23 countries or territories are in the accession process at the moment. Some 98% of global trade is now covered by WTO Members. While there are many reasons for countries or territories to join the WTO, including integrating into the global economy and improving the competitiveness of the economy (Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff describes the benefits of accession as being a catalyst for domestic reform and economic growth), there is no doubt that accessions are of benefit to the global trading system and bring the benefits of liberalization in the acceding country or territory to the existing WTO membership. Indeed, commitments of acceding Members in terms of tariff liberalization and other obligations typically are far higher than the commitments of existing Members at the same economic stage of development. Yet, accession is of great benefit to acceding countries. See WTO press release, 8 November 2020, DDG Wolff: WTO accession is a catalyst for domestic reform and economic growth, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_06nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff, in speaking to Arab countries in the accession process made the following comments:

“Furthermore, during the last eight months, the world has experienced unprecedented levels of disruptions in people’s daily lives and their economic activities due to Covid-19. The world is not near the end of this crisis. Despite these challenging times, trade has played a key role in addressing local shortages of food, medical supplies and other essentials during the pandemic.

“Trade will have to play an even greater role in supporting recovery of the global economy going forward. In this context, we should recognise the important role played by Saudi Arabia in steering the G20 during this difficult year, urging collective and multilateral cooperation. The Riyadh Initiative is a praiseworthy effort endorsed by the G20 nations.

“The Arab region has not escaped the dire economic consequences of this pandemic. For some, the steep fall in oil prices has aggravated existing problems. A crisis, however, also presents opportunities for closer international cooperation to limit the harm from the pandemic and to spur the recovery.

“These issues demonstrate that more, not less, global and regional trade integration is required. Integration into the world economy goes hand in hand with necessary domestic reforms. This is where WTO accession makes particularly valuable contributions. Those engaged in the reform-driven accession process are likely to experience a quicker recovery and greater resilience in the future.

“Based on evidence from the 36 accessions which have been successfully completed, the WTO accession process has served as an effective external anchor for domestic reforms, acting as a catalyst in realizing the potential of their economies. According to the last WTO Director-General’s Annual Report on WTO Accessions, Article XII Members have registered higher growth rates of GDP and trade (exports and imports), as well as increased flows of inward FDI stocks, in the years following their accession compared to the rest of the world. These results indicate that integrated, open economies tend to grow faster. In addition, by signalling a government’s commitment to international rules, WTO membership appears to also encourage the inflow of foreign investment.

“The accession process has been used by resource-based countries to diversify their economies. Economic diversification is one of the major priorities for the governments in the Arab region. Our 2016 study examined whether countries’ export structures became more diversified after gaining WTO membership. This was true for about half of the recently acceded
Members, which increased the number of exported products, measured in HS chapters, accounting for more than 60% of their exports after accession. This was achieved often through rebranding their economies with WTO membership and attracting increased FDI.”

From 1995-2016, the thirty-six countries or territories that joined the WTO included many of the major economies that were not original Members of the WTO. These included China, Chinese Taipei, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation. The other countries or territories who have joined represent a wide cross-section of geographic regions and levels of development: Ecuador, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Panama, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Jordan, Georgia, Albania, Oman, Croatia, Lithuania, Moldova, Armenia, North Macedonia, Nepal, Cambodia, Tonga, Cabo Verde, Montenegro, Samoa, Vanuatu, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Yemen, Seychelles, Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Afghanistan. No accessions have been completed since 2016.

The twenty-three countries and territories that are in the process of accession often are countries or territories that have suffered from years of conflict. This has led the WTO to host the first “Trade for Peace Week” from November 30-December 4, 2020. See WTO press release, 25 November 2020, WTO to host first Trade for Peace Week, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/acc_25nov20_e.htm.

“In announcing the Trade for Peace Week, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff noted: ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes international trade as an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction that contributes to the promotion of sustainable development. This in turn can facilitate building and maintaining peace. The connection between trade and peace is the raison d’être for the creation of the rules-based multilateral trading system that led to economic recovery and prosperity after the devastation from World War II.’

“Currently, 23 countries are in the process of joining the WTO, and over a half of them suffer from a fragile situation from years of conflicts. Launched in 2017, the Trade for Peace initiative aims to assist fragile and conflict-affected (FCA) countries through WTO accession, with the emphasis on institution building based on the principles of non-discrimination, predictability, transparency and the rule of law. Based on experiences of former FAC countries, WTO accession can help set the conditions to move out of a state of fragility or conflict into a state of stability, economic well-being and peace.”

There are ten events this week. The public can register to participate in the virtual panels. See WTO Accessions, Trade for Peace Week, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/acc_e/t4peace2020_e.htm.

DDG Wolff spoke at one of today’s event and his comments are embedded below. See WTO press release, November 30, 2020, DDG Alan Wolff – DDG Wolff calls for more structured WTO cooperation with humanitarian and peace communities, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_30nov20_e.htm.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-calls-for-more-s

The twenty-three countries and territories in the process of accession include: Algeria, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belarus, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Comoros, Curacao, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanese Republic, Libya, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste, and Uzbekistan.

Conclusion

The genesis for the GATT and the other Bretton Woods institutions was a desire to provide an infrastructure and global rules to minimize the likelihood of future world wars. Cooperation, collaboration and integration would all reduce the likelihood of global conflict.

The WTO provides the opportunity for countries or territories struggling to escape violence to embark on a path of hope. That is a core mission of the WTO today just as it was for the GATT in the late 1940s.

Moreover, the record over the first twenty-five years of the WTO’s existence has been that those countries and territories who take the challenging steps to become Members of the WTO improve their economies and speed growth, development and foreign direct investment. Accessions also offer real improvements in market access for existing WTO Members. A true win-win situation.

For an organization struggling to maintain relevance amidst deep divisions among Members who seem to have lost the consensus on the core purpose of the organization, the pilgrimage of non-member countries and territories to join the organization is a beacon of hope. Serious reforms and updating of the rule book are desperately needed for a better functioning system where outcomes are based on underlying economic strengths and not the interference of governments. A willingness of Members to refocus on what the purpose of the WTO is in fact and to be supporters of contributing to the maximum of one’s ability will be key to forward movement. Inspiration can be drawn from the efforts of non-members to join.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed on November 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The agreement has twenty chapters some of which have annexes:

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

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

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

Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement

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

RCEP Chapter 7, Trade Remedies

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

rcep-chapter-7

Safeguard actions

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

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

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

COVID-19 Pandemic continues to spin out of control globally; U.S. becomes first country to record more than one million new cases in a week

Ten and a half months into the global pandemic, the world remains on a sharply upward trajectory in terms of new cases. As of November 15, the global total of new cases in the last fourteen days is just under 8 million (7,925,568) with total recorded cases since the end of December 2019 topping 54 million (54,110,061). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 15 November 2020.

The United States accounts for 1,778,530 of the cases in the last fourteen days and became the first country to record more than one million new cases in a week — 1,043,933 for the seven days ending November 15. The 184,813 new cases recorded on November 14 is more in one day than the vast majority of countries in the world have recorded since the end of December 2019. For example 53 of 55 countries in Africa have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. did on November 14 and the other two (Morocco and South Africa) have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. recorded in the last week. Similarly 32 of 43 countries in Asia (including China) have had fewer cases over the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the other 11, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. In the Americas, 40 of 46 countries or territories (other than the U.S.) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14 and three of the other six countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has recorded in the last seven days. In Europe, the other area very hard hit in the last several months, 39 of 53 countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the remaining fourteen countries, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. All countries and territories in Oceania (12 of 12) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14. Indeed, the total cases of all of Oceania (combined) for the last 10 1/2 months are lower than the U.S. figures for just November 14.

Nearly every one of the fifty U.S. states is experiencing significant increases and a number of states are already struggling with health care facilities, personnel and supplies. U.S. hospitalizations are at a record high for patients with COVID-19 ( 69,455 on November 14; https://covidtracking.com/data/charts/us-currently-hospitalized) and are expected to go above 100,000 by the end of the year. The U.S. recorded 8,487 deaths from COVID-19 in the last week and is projected to have more than 2,000 deaths/day from COVID-19 by January. A large number of U.S. states are imposing new restrictions in an effort to halt the dramatic increase in the U.S. number of new cases. See, e.g., New York Times, November 15, 2020, Doctors Call for More Restrictions and Caution as Virus Surges, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/11/14/world/covid19-coronavirus-updates; CNBC, November 14, 2020, U.S. reports record Covid hospitalizations as states roll out restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/14/us-reports-record-covid-hospitalizations-as-states-roll-out-restrictions-again.html; Bloomberg, November 13-14, 2020, World Clamps Down as Covid-19 Refuses to Cede: Virus Update, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-13/u-s-sets-record-as-states-move-to-tighten-rules-virus-update.

As the last of the articles referenced above shows, many European countries have also been imposing significant restrictions in an effort to bring the pandemic back under control. Some European countries are seeing some significant retrenchment from the extraordinary numbers recorded within recent weeks in the last week. Others are seeing a slowing of the rate of growth or a plateauing of new cases. For example, the ECDC data for France shows new cases in the week ending November 15 at 205,894 down significantly from the 384,080 new cases of the prior week. Italy’s rate of increase slowed with new cases in the last week at 242,962 compared to 223,060 the prior week. Spain saw a small decline from 143,154 new cases the week ending November 8 to 129,759 new cases during the week ending November 15.

While there has been very encouraging news on the vaccine front from Pfizer/BioNTech and with likely similar good news expected from Moderna, broad distribution in the U.S. and Europe and other developed countries is still likely months away even if started in the next month or two. The requirement for extreme cold storage and transfer of the product will make global distribution even more challenging because of extra infrastructure/equipment needs. Thus, every country has an ongoing need to take the steps necessary to bring the pandemic under control without a vaccine.

In the United States where the current Administration has focused its efforts on expediting development of new vaccines and therapeutics, the failure to provide national leadership on controlling the pandemic and the continual issuance of misinformation has unfortunately politicized much of the health care preventive efforts needed by individuals and communities. The Administration’s current refusal to recognize the results of the recent elections and failure to accord the President-elect’s team access to agencies will complicate the process of the incoming Administration being able to implement a more comprehensive and consistent response to the pandemic to assist the states. Thus, the current crisis will certainly just get worse in the coming months. Projections now are that the U.S. will suffer an additional 200,000 deaths in the next four-five months. Many of those deaths are preventable but will happen because of our inability to focus on and accept the scientific facts and known action steps to control the spread. Remarkably a recent poll suggested that a large percent of the U.S. population believes the U.S. response to COVID-19 has been well handled. Thus, a wealthy developed country with 4.3% of the global population is apparently doing well by having roughly 20% of cases and 20% of deaths.

The rebound economically of European and U.S. economies during the third quarter after the steep decline in the second quarter following largescale closures will be negatively affected by the fourth quarter surge in cases and needed renewed restrictions in both areas. Such restrictions will negatively affect not only domestic economies but global trade as well in both goods and services. Even for areas of the world where the COVID-19 pandemic has not had tremendous direct effects, there have been negative effects because of the contraction of trade in goods and services as reviewed in a recent WTO Secretariat paper. See WTO, Trade and Development, November 11, 2020, Least developed countries hit hard by trade downturn triggered by COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/devel_11nov20_e.htm; Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries, MARKET ACCESS FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES OF EXPORT INTEREST TO LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT1, WT/COMTD/LDC/W/68, 23 October 2020.

The likely approach of more tailored restrictions being imposed by countries or states/provinces hopefully will mean a smaller negative economic effect from the current surge in cases. However, in the U.S., Congress and the Administration have been unable to agree to renewed stimulus measures and past stimulus packages have come to an end. There are more than 20 million Americans who have been receiving some form of unemployment assistance where assistance has or is ending. Millions of renters and home owners face potential evictions or foreclosures on homes because of non payment of rent or mortgages. The continued failure of the federal government to address these ongoing needs will depress the U.S. economy going forward and will cause major problems for millions of families — making the future months different than the U.S. economic response to the earlier surges.

The bottom line — the global challenges from the pandemic are growing and not receding.

U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement — Data through September 2020; USDA and USTR report on agriculture portion

U.S. September export data were released earlier this month. While there are some improvements in some categories of merchandise exports in Septmeber, China remains far behind its overall commitments in the U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement. As reported in prior posts, both China and the U.S. have taken steps to implement parts of the Phase 1 Agreement that took effect on February 14, 2020. The big question mark on the Phase 1 Agreement has been whether the agreement to increase imports from the United States is likely to be met by China. Prior posts on the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement can be found here: October 10, 2020,  U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – first six months data on U.S. exports (March-August 2020) covered by the purchase commitments show China needing to triple purchases in next five months to meet first year commitments, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-first-six-months-data-on-u-s-exports-march-august-2020-covered-by-the-purchase-commitments-show-china-needing-to-triple-purchases-in-next-six-months-to-meet-fi/; September 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – How is China Doing to Meet Purchase Commitments for the First Year; a Review of U.S. Domestic Exports through July 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/12/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-how-is-china-doing-to-meet-purchase-commitments-for-the-first-year-a-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-july-2020/; August 8, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement – review of U.S. domestic exports through June 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/08/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-june-2020/; July 10, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement – limited progress on increased U.S. exports to China (through May), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-limited-progress-on-increased-u-s-exports-to-china-through-may/; June 5, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Deal is Failing Expanded U.S. Exports Even Before Recent Efforts by China to Limit Certain U.S. Agriculture Exports as Retaliation for U.S. Position on Hong Kong, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/05/u-s-china-phase-i-deal-is-failing-expanded-u-s-exports-even-before-recent-efforts-by-china-to-limit-certain-u-s-agriculture-exports-as-retaliation-for-u-s-position-on-hong-kong/; May 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Agreement – some progress on structural changes; far behind on trade in goods and services, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/12/u-s-china-phase-i-agreement-some-progress-on-structural-changes-far-behind-on-trade-in-goods-and-services/; January 19, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement – Details on the Expanding Trade Chapter, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/19/u-s-china-phase-1-agreement-details-on-the-expanding-trade-chapter/; January 15, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement Signed on January 15 – An Impressive Agreement if Enforced, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/15/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-signed-on-january-15-an-impressive-agreement-if-enforced/.

An unusual aspect of the Phase 1 Agreement is agreement by China to increase imports from the United States of various categories of goods and services during the first two years of the Agreement with 18 categories of goods grouped in three broad categories (manufactured goods, agriculture and energy) and five services categories. Chinese imports of goods and services from the United States under the Agreement are supposed to increase by $76.7 billion in the first year over levels achieved in 2017 and in the second year by $123.3 billion over 2017 levels. The categories and tariff items included in the goods categories are reviewed in Annex 6.1 of the Agreement and the attachment to Annex 6.1. In the confidential version of the agreement, growth levels are provided for each of the 23 categories of goods and services.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected trade flows for most countries including both China and the United States and while bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated since the signing of the Phase 1 Agreement, the U.S. continues to report that China intends to honor its purchase commitments in this first year. Article 6.2 of the Agreement defines the time period for the purchase commitments as being January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021. So the first year by agreement is calendar year 2020.

However, since the Agreement took effect in mid-February, my analysis has focused on the period since the agreement went into effect (for statistics, from March 1, 2020). This is consistent with the position that USTR and USDA took in an interim report released on October 23 looking at China’s compliance with its purchase commitments in agriculture. “It is worth noting that the Phase One Agreement did not go into effect until February 14, 2020, and March is the first full month of its effect. That means that we have seen seven months of agreement sales.” U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Interim Report on the
Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, AGRICULTURAL TRADE, October 23, 2020, Page 1. The joint press release and interim report are embedded below.

USTR-and-USDA-Release-Report-on-Agricultural-Trade-between-the-United-States-and-China-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

Ag-Report-Cover-v7red

For purposes of this post, I will look at the March-September data, but I will also reference January – September data.

The interim report from USTR and USDA indicated that for March-August, China had purchased 71% of the first year commitments (though obviously all had not been shipped). Looking at U.S. domestic exports for the March – September period and projecting for full year 2020, shows China meeting 82.73% of first year agriculture commitments if the first year is measured from March 2020-February 2021. Total Phase 1 products are projected at only 56.94% of first year commitments for the March-February year with manufactured goods at 50.46% and energy at 46.63%. If calendar year 2020 is examined, then total Phase 1 goods are projected to meet 51.40% with manufactured goods at 50.85%, agricultural products at 65.49% and energy goods at 35.33%. To meet first year commitments, China would have to import .3.47 times the product from the United States as was done in the first seven months in the next five months (October – February ) or 4.69 times the imports from the United States in the three month period of October – December if a calendar year basis is examined. Under neither time period, will first year U.S. domestic exports of goods to China meet the actual 2017 U.S. exports (although the U.S. gets close under current trends for the March-September period). Thus, none of the growth in exports above 2017 levels will be achieved in the first year.

U.S. export data on services are available quarterly for some of the relevant categories and annually for certain information. Total U.S. services exports to all countries are down 21.05% for the first nine months of 2020. Services trade data with China for 2020 is available for the first six months of 2020 and shows U.S. exports of services down41.51% from 2019 levels. 2019 US exports of services to China were $36.398 billion, slightly lower than 2017 US exports of services to China of $36.986 billion. See U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, September 2020 (November 4, 2020). The Phase 1 Agreement with China has large increases in U.S. services exports in the first year of the agreement ($12.8 billion over 2017 levels – to $49.786 billion). Thus, the limited data available indicate that U.S. services exports to China will likely miss 2017 levels by more than 40% and will obviously not show any gain above 2017.

Looking at total U.S. domestic exports of goods to China for the period March-September 2020, U.S. exports were $58.885 billion ($8.412 billion/month) compared to $65.073 billion in 2017 ($9.296 billion/month). These include both products covered by the Annex 6.1 commitments and other products. For the January-September 2020 period total U.S. exports were $71.402 billion ($7.934 billion/month) compared to $83.434 billion in 2017 ($9.270 billion/month).

Total 2017 U.S. domestic exports of goods to China were $120.1 billion. The Phase 1 Agreement calls for increases on a subset of goods of $63.9 billion in the first year. Thus, the target for the first year of the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is U.S. exports to China of $184 billion if non-subject goods are exported at 2017 levels.

Other U.S. domestic exports not covered by the 18 categories in Annex 6.1 were $33.314 billion in 2017 (full year). For the period March – September, 2020 figures for the 18 categories have decreased 5.73% from comparable levels in 2017. Non-covered products (which face significant tariffs in China based on retaliation for US 301 duties) have declined 18.59%, and total exports to China are down 9.51%. Looking at January – September figures for the 18 categories declined 12.02% while other U.S. domestic exports were down 20.26% from comparable levels in 2017. NOTE: compared to earlier posts, I have corrected the HS category for aircraft in the Phase 1 HS numbers which has resulted in usable figures for aircraft and reduced non-covered U.S. exports of goods.

Thus, the first seven months since the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement went into effect suggest that U.S. domestic exports of the Annex 6 goods will be $85.807 billion if the full year shows the same level of increase over 2017 for each of the 18 categories of goods; non-covered products would be $22.880 billion, for total U.S. domestic exports to China of $108.688 billion. This figure would be far below 2017 and dramatically below the target of $184.0 billion (if noncovered products remain are at 2017 levels; $176.019 billion with noncovered products at estimated 2020 levels) . The same is true if one looks at January-September 2020 which suggest full year 2020 exports of Annex 6 goods of $77.464 billion, other exports of $25.324 billion, for total domestic exports in 2020 of $102.789 billion even further behind 2017.

To achieve the target level of U.S. exports in the October 2020-February 2021 period, U.S. domestic exports of the 18 categories of goods in Annex 6.1 would have to be $107.389 billion ($21.478 billion/month) an amount that is 3.47 times the monthly rate of exports of the 18 categories to China in the March – September 2020 period ($6.187 billion/month).

If one uses January-September for comparison and for other US exports, with only three months data remaining in 2020, U.S. exports of goods covered by Annex 6.1 would have to be $98.661 billion or $32.887 billion/month which is 5.69 times the average of $5.782 billion of the January-September period.

Chinese data on total imports from all countries (in U.S. dollars) for January-September show a decline of 3.1% from the first nine months of 2019. http://english.customs.gov.cn/statics/report/monthly.html. General Administrator of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Total Export & Import Values, September 2020 (in USD). China’s imports from the U.S. were up 0.2% during the same time period, but show imports from the U.S. substantially larger than U.S. domestic exports ($91.448 billion vs. $71.402 billion, though Chinese imports would be CIF value vs. FAS value for U.S. exports and may include U.S. exports to third countries or territories that end up in China). China’s imports from the U.S. continue to grow in October, with China showing imports from the U.S. up 3.1% in the first ten months.

The 18 product categories included in Annex 6.1 of the Phase 1 Agreement show the following for March-September 2017, March-September 2020 and rate of growth for the first year of the Agreement versus full year 2017 (figures in $ million):

Product categoryMarch-September 2017March-September 2020% change 2017-2020 March-September$ Value needed in next five months to reach 1st year of Agreement vs. projected 1st year
manufactured goods
1. industrial machinery $6,324.9
$7,371.2

+16.54%
2. electrical equipment and machinery
$2,496.0


$2,769.2

+10.94%
3. pharma- ceutical products $1,333.9 $1,697.7
+27.27%
4. aircraft (orders and deliveries) $9,503.7 $2,117.4 -77.72%
5. vehicles $6,180.3
$3,012.4
-51.26%
6. optical and medical instruments $1,862.4
$2,000.6
+7.42%
7. iron and steel
$717.8
$303.1
-57.77%
8. other manufactured goods $6,142.3 $7,999.7 +30.24%
Total for mfg goods
$34,561.3

$27,271.3

-21.09%
$63,998.2
Agriculture
9. oilseeds $2,774.3 $3,374.9 +21.65%
10. meat $329.5 $1,786.1+442.01%
11. cereals $870.4 $1,469.3 +68.81%
12. cotton $465.1 $990.1+112.86%
13. other agricultural commodities $2,628.2
$2,369.2
-9.85%
14. seafood $821.2 $448.8 -45.35%
Total for agriculture
$7,888.8

$10,438.3

+32.32%

$22,913.3
Energy
15. liquefied natural gas
$133.2

$445.2

+234.21%
16. crude oil $1,904.5 $4,183.1+119.65%
17. refined products $1,150.0
$931.0
-19.05%
18. coal $298.6 $37.6 -87.42%
Total for energy
$3,486.3

$5,596.9

+32.32%

$20,477.0
Total for 1-18 $45,936.4 $43,306.5 -5.73% $107,388.5

China has recovered more quickly from COVID-19 economic challenges than has the U.S. However, as reviewed above, their total imports from all countries are down in the first nine months of 2020 while up only 0.2% from the United States. Thus, while China has been increasing imports from the United States of some goods categories, it is extremely unlikely it will achieve the year one commitments of U.S. goods regardless of whether the first year is the calendar year 2020 or the twelve months March 2020 – February 2021.

Conclusion

As reviewed in prior posts, the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is a potentially important agreement which attempts to address a range of U.S. concerns with the bilateral relationship and obtain somewhat better reciprocity with the world’s largest exporter. The Phase 1 Agreement has left other challenges to a Phase 2 negotiation which has not yet begun and will not begin before 2021 at the earliest. With a change of U.S. Administrations on January 20, 2021 and an announced focus on domestic challenges in the U.S., it is unclear what bilateral challenges between the U.S. and China will be addressed in 2021.

While there has been some progress on non-trade volume issues that are included in the Phase 1 Agreement and some improvements in exports of U.S. agricultural goods, there has been very little forward movement in expanding U.S. exports of goods to China in fact and a sharp decline in U.S. exports of services to China.

With the process of selecting a new Director-General for the World Trade Organization in limbo following the third round of consultations and the announcement by the Trump Administration of an inability to join a consensus on the Nigerian candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, it is unclear when and if the WTO will be able to engage in meaningful reform efforts in the near term such that the large bilateral concerns between the U.S. and China can be brought back under the WTO or whether the world is in for many years of bilateral tensions with actions outside of the system the norm and not the exception.

“The values of the WTO” — do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?

On November 6, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff presented comments to the UN Chief Executives Board. In a press release, entitled “DDG Wolff shares views with international agency heads on future of multilateral cooperation,” the Secretariat provides a short introduction and then includes DDG Wolff’s comments including an Annex. See WTO, WTO and Other Organizations, DDG Wolff shares views with international agency heads on future of multilateral cooperation, 6 November 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_06nov20_e.htm. The statement by DDG Wolff is worth reading in its entirety and presents information on the effects of the pandemic and the future of multilateralism including reforms needed for the WTO. However, for purposes of this post, I will focus on Annex 1 to his statement, entitled “The Values of the World Trade Organization. The Annex is copied below and generally reflects views DDG Wolff has presented in the past.

Annex I

The Values of the World Trade Organization

“In the current upsurge in criticism of the inadequacies of the collective responses to the pandemic, the WTO is receiving heightened scrutiny, and more urgent calls for WTO reform. It is necessary to understand the values that the multilateral trading system is designed to promote before it can be reformed.

“A serious inquiry into this subject would serve three purposes:

“to know the value of what we have in the current system,

“to determine if the values of the current system enjoy the support of all WTO members, and

“to address the degree to which the WTO is of sufficient continuing relevance as it is at present or whether it needs fundamental change.

“WTO members can make progress toward improving the organization to help it to create a better world through building on the values that are inherent in the system. These include –

Stability and peace — The original mission of the multilateral trading system was to enhance economic growth to achieve stability and support peace; today the WTO fosters integration of conflicted countries into the world economy.

Well-being — At its core, the organization is about the economic advancement of the people whom its members represent. Well-being is defined to include creating jobs and, as we are finding out, it also includes health;

Rule of law — The enforceability of obligations is a key distinguishing feature of the WTO as compared with most other international endeavours;

Openness – The multilateral trading system rests upon the principle that to the extent provided within the bounds of the WTO agreements, markets will be open to international trade and trade is to be as free from distortions as possible;

Equality — Equality among members provides the opportunity for each member to participate in the organization, and its rights and obligations, to the extent of its capabilities;

Sovereignty — Sovereignty is preserved — no decision taken within the WTO is to have an automatic effect on the laws or actions of any member;

Development — Fostering development to allow all members to benefit equally from the rights and undertake equally the obligations of the WTO.

International cooperation — Cooperation is a shared responsibility of membership to enable the organization to function.

Sustainability — There is increasingly an attitude of care among members for stewardship of the planet and its inhabitants.

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

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

Reciprocity — Broadly defined reciprocity is required for negotiations to succeed.

Balance — is provided:

“Through each member’s judgment of the costs and benefits of the rights it enjoys and the obligations it has undertaken;

“Through its view of how its costs and benefits compare with those of other members;

“Through a member’s view of its freedom of action in relation to the freedom of action for others, and

“Specifically, through its judgment of whether it has sufficient freedom to act to temper its commitments for trade liberalization (openness) with measures designed to deal with any harms thereby caused.

Trust — International trade would largely cease if trade-restrictive measures that were inconsistent with the rules were as a regular matter put into place and only removed prospectively through lengthy litigation.

Morality — in its absence, it would be hard to fully explain the provision addressing pharmaceutical availability in health emergencies. The 1994 Marrakech Declaration states that the WTO was being created to reflect the widespread desire to operate in a fairer and more open multilateral trading system.

Universality — Membership is open to all who are willing to negotiate entry.”

Many of these “values of the WTO” are not controversial. Two are critical to the direction of the WTO moving forward — the primacy of market forces and convergence. These values are viewed as critical by the United States and as central by the EU, Japan, Brazil and others. China’s economic system is viewed as inconsistent with these values. See, e.g., February 22, 2020, WTO Reform – Addressing The Disconnect Between Market and Non-Market Economies, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/22/wto-reform-addressing-the-disconnect-between-market-and-non-market-economies/; Statement from Brazil, Japan and the United States, Importance of Market-Oriented Conditions to the World Trading System, WT/GC/W/803/Rev. 1 (2 October 2020); CHINA’S TRADE-DISRUPTIVE ECONOMIC MODEL,
COMMUNICATION FROM THE UNITED STATES, 16 July 2018, WT/GC/W/745.

China rejects the claim that its economic system is properly the subject of WTO scrutiny or that it hasn’t engaged in “reform”. Coexistence, not convergence is China’s view of the appropriate value within the WTO. See, e.g., Statement of H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 7), October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml; CHINA AND THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, COMMUNICATION FROM CHINA, 19 July 2018, WT/GC/749; General Council, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, 26 July 2018, WT/GC/M/173 (5 October 2018)(pages 29-41). And, of course, while China is the largest economy with an economic system at odds with market-economy conditions, it is not the only one.

Importantly, the candidate found through consultations with the WTO membership to be most likely to attract consensus and hence be recommended by the Chair of the General Council and his facilitators to become the next Director-General of the WTO, Dr. Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala of Nigeria, has taken the view that the WTO’s role is not to exclude any economic system but is rather to determine if different economic systems create distortions in trade that need to be addressed through modifications to the rules. See, e.g., August 19, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 2, comments by the candidates, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/19/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-addre/; August 17, 2020, The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, background on issues, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/17/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-address-dist/.

Here is what I had written up based on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s participation in a WITA webinar on Jly 21 and her answer to specific questions. The webinar can be found at https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/.

“Q: On resetting of tariff commitments (comment from USTR Lighthizer as a problem within the WTO based on changing economic development of many countries), would this be in the best interest of the system? 

“A:  This is a critical question and issue.  Renegotiating any agreement would require consensus building that would be very difficult to achieve.  That would certainly be true on bound tariffs. The balance of rights and obligations raised by the United States flows from the concerns about state-led economies and state-owned enterprises and whether such economies belong in the system.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO is not there to comment on the economy of any Member.  In her view, the key question is what disciplines does the WTO have around any issue that arises.  Are the disciplines sufficient to address the imbalances in rights and obligations that may arise?  We need to start there.  What are the fundamental issues —  state-owned enterprises (SOEs), public body.  Can we come to agreement on the meaning of the term public body?  Can we tighten subsidy disciplines that already exist or can we negotiate new subsidy or other disciplines to address the concerns that arise from these types of economies? That is the approach all Members should be pursuing. 

“Q: On industrial subsidies, China has signaled that they will oppose tightening disciplines.  The U.S., EU and Japan have been working on a proposal and discussing with some Members.  How can the Director-General help the membership navigate these issues? 

“A:  If Dr. Okonjo-Iweala becomes the next Director-General, she would encourage that proposals from the U.S., EU and Japan be tabled so all Members can see what they are and how acceptable they are to other Members (including China).  Let’s start to work with an actual proposal.  Sometimes countries are not as far away as one might think.  Members need to work on a specific proposal and see what happens.”

Conclusion

The WTO is a different organization in 2020 than it was when it started in 1995 or when its basic structure and agreements were being negotiated during 1986-1994. Major economies have joined and some have economic systems that are significantly different than the traditional economies who led the GATT. The question of how to deal with different economic systems within the global trading system has not been addressed directly although some would argue that the U.S., EU and others have worked hard during accession negotiations to get commitments from acceding countries to engage in reform if the economy is based on state-control or other deviations from a market economy. For an economy like China’s, there were early reforms, some of which have been reversed over time and others which were never in fact implemented.

While evaluation of distortions caused by different economic systems is certainly an approach that can be pursued, it starts from a premise of coexistence of economic systems within the WTO and assumes rules can be formed that will adequately address all distortions created by non-market factors in a given economy. But the “convergence” value and the “primacy of market forces” value are fundametal to a system where the results of competition will be viewed as acceptable by all Members. In a consensus system, the refusal of a major player like China to agree to these values limits the likely options to other Members but clearly endangers the ability of the WTO to fulfil its core functions in ways that are acceptable to all.

That the likely next Director-General has taken a position that is at odds with the two WTO values identified in Annex 1 of DDG Wolff’s presentation from November 6 is understandable in a consensus system where there is obvious disagreement among WTO Members on the particular values. However, if moving forward with reform, the WTO membership and its Director-General fail to get Members to agree on the core values, such failure will ensure the WTO will not be the sole arbitrator of trade matters going forward.

WTO reports a 30% decline in commercial services trade in 2nd quarter of 2020 — travel challenges through September will continue to put downward pressure on commercial services trade

A press release from the WTO on October 23, 2020 was headlined “Services trade drops 30% in Q2 as COVID-19 ravages international travel.” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/serv_22oct20_e.htm. One of the charts in the press release shows travel down 81% in the second quarter of 2020, with transport down 31% and all other commercial services down 9%. Within other services, construction exports were down 24%; manufacturing and repair services exports were down 22%; telecommunications services exports were down 8%; insurance services exports were down 3%; financial services exports were down 1%; and computer services exports up 4%, with remaining categories of services exports down 9-14%.

The press release contained a link to monthly trade trends through August which looked at both imports and exports of merchandise and of commercial services. See WTO statistics, latest trends, https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/latest_trends_e.htm. Commercial services were presented at an aggregate level and showed percent change for months on a year-on-year basis. For the European Union commercial services exports outside of the EU, the rate of decline from 2019 data declined 29% in May 2020, 22% in June, 21% in July and 20% in August. For the United States, exports of commercial services declined by 31% in May, 30% in June, 29% in July and 29% in August. China’s exports of commercial services went from a decline of 6% in May to a decline of 5% in June, and a !% growth in July and a 6% growth in August. The United Kingdom showed a decline of 27% in commercial exports in May, an 11% decline in June, a 9% decline in July and a 1% increase in August. India showed declines in each of the four months from May-August of 10%, 8%, 11% and 10%. Similarly, Japan showed declines each month in the four months from 24% in May, 23% in June, 35% in July and 36% in August. Korea was the last country shown and had declines each month of 30%, 24%, 27% and 26%.

Travel continues to be the major driver of the decline in commercial services into the third quarter, with the UNWTO reporting in its World Tourism Barometer (Volume 18, Issue 6, October 2020) that international arrivals declined 81% in July and 79% in August compared to year earlier figures. For the first eight months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, international arrivals are down 70.1%, with Asia and the Pacific down 78.8%, Europe down 67.7%, the Americas down 64.8%, Africa down 69.% nd the Middle East down 68.7. UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, Volume 18, Issue 6, October 2020, https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/epdf/10.18111/wtobarometereng.2020.18.1.6.

While travel restrictions through August had been being reduced in a number of countries, the huge increase in Europe of new COVID-19 cases in October and early November has resulted in increased restrictions in a number of European countries and will likely mean extended challenges for international travel to and from Europe, as well as cut backs in domestic travel for the remainder of 2020.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) puts out various publications including an Air Passenger Market Analysis. The September issue shows that revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) were down 88.8% in September 2020 for international air travel, bringing the January-September decline to 72.3%. Domestic air travel by contrast was down, but “just” 43.3% in September (51.2% for January – September). Thus, the total market (international and domestic) was down 72.8% in September and 64.7% for the first nine months of 2020. IATA, Air Passenger Market Analysis, The recovery in passenger travel slows amid elevated risks, September 2020, https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/air-passenger-monthly-analysis—september-2020/.

While the travel sector encompasses far more than air travel, the challenges facing the airline industry are similar to challenges faced by other parts of the sector, although other parts of the sector are often far more fragmented (restaurants, bars, hotels, entertainment venues) and without the resources to survive the prolonged depression in demand due to the pandemic.

IATA provided a powerpoint analysis by their Chief Economist, Brian Pearce, on the 6th of October 2020, entitled “COVID-19, Outlook for airlines’ cash burn,” https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/outlook-for-airlines-cash-burn/. The powerpoint reviews the steep reduction in stock prices for airlines compared to other stocks, outlines the extraordinary level of aid the industry has received from governments ($160 billion) and suppliers ($20 billion), shows the timing when government support is ending, graphs the slow recovery in passenger revenues, and explores the challenge for the airlines to downsize costs sufficiently to deal with the drastic contraction in revenues, and shows an industry cash burn (expenditures exceeding revenues) of $51 billion in the 2nd quarter of 2020 and a projected further cash burn of $77 billion in the second half of 2021. The presentation also shows that many airlines can’t sustain for long the cash burn and ends on the sobering note that airlines are not expected to turn cash positive until 2022.

Press reports show challenges for airlines in many parts of the world. See, e.g., South China Morning Post (Bloomberg article), November 3, 2020, Asia airlines seen staving off pandemic ruin for now as troubles head West, https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/3108066/asia-airlines-seen-staving-pandemic-ruin-now-financial-troubles-head-west; BBC, November 3, 2020, Covid threatens to ground India’s aviation industry, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-54729074.

The U.S. has seen tens of thousands of airline employees furloughed or dismissed since October 1st as government support came to an end in September, and Congress and the Administration have not been able to agree on a further package of supports for the industry or the nation more broadly as the pandemic continues to grow in size in the U.S. The surge in new cases in the United States is also resulting in various states imposing restrictions on bars and restaurants, and the hotel and entertainment industries continue to be severely affected by declines in demand.

Similarly, much of Europe has been reimposing at least some restrictions that affect the travel sector in an effort to regain control over the pandemic.

All of the above is simply to point out that the decline in commercial services trade reported by the WTO last month for the second quarter of 2020 is likely to continue through the remainder of 2020, led by the devastating contraction of the travel sector.

Hong Kong requests consultations with the United States on the change in origin marking requirements for goods from Hong Kong

When China enacted legislation earlier this year giving China sweeping powers over Hong Kong in the name of national security following months of protests in Hong Kong, there was significant concern among China’s trading partners about China’s actions. The United States, viewing Hong Kong as having lost significant autonomy to China by the legislation enacted by China, took actions to eliminate many aspects of its own treatment towards Hong Kong. The actions of the U.S. were caused by President Trump’s Executive Order of July 14 which was published in the Federal Register on July 17, 2020. The Federal Register notice is embedded below.

2020-15646

One of the actions taken in response to the Executive Order was a change by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the country of origin marking required on goods from Hong Kong to indicate such goods were from China. The Federal Register notice of the change was published on August 11, 2020 and is embedded below.

2020-17599

The government of Hong Kong released a statement on the day of the Federal Register notice and has raised concerns with the U.S. government about such change in marking requirements during the intervening months. The August 11 release from Hong Kong is embedded below.

HK-statement-on-US-country-of-origin-marking-requirement-for-HK-goods-as.._

Having been unable to get the United States to modify its position on country of origin marking, on October 30, Hong Kong filed a request for consultations with the United States at the WTO challenging the change in origin marking requirements as violative of a number of WTO obligations the U.S. has (seven alleged violations are listed in the request). See UNITED STATES – ORIGIN MARKING REQUIREMENT, REQUEST FOR CONSULTATIONS BY HONG KONG, CHINA, WT/DS597/1, G/L/1365, G/RO/D/8, G/TBT/D/53 (3 November 2020). The request for consultations is embedded below.

597-1

Whatever the technical and legal merits of the Hong Kong request for consultations, this is the type of dispute that will not result in a satisfactory resolution through resort to the WTO dispute settlement system. The underlying dispute is about the actions of China in implementing national security legislation affecting the treatment of those living in Hong Kong which the U.S. (and many other countries) view as contrary to the agreed treatment of Hong Kong by China following the return to China from the United Kingdom. Resolution of the underlying dispute will not be advanced by Hong Kong’s request. Moreover, with the current impasse on the WTO Appellate Body, adding a dispute to the WTO pending cases which in reality involves bilateral differences between the U.S. and China will do nothing to resolve the Appellate Body impasse. Thus, if there is a panel report which finds U.S. violations of existing obligations, the U.S. would almost certainly file an appeal where no functioning Appellate Body is in place. Thus, the dispute will not resolve the matter or result in authorization by the WTO for action by Hong Kong.

While a change in administrations could result in a different approach being taken by the United States (unknown if that would be true), if the Trump Administration continues past January 20, the request for consultations filed by Hong Kong will simply generate paperwork without the possibility of a meaningful resolution.

WTO Dispute Setttlement Body meeting of October 26, 2020 — no movement on Appellate Body impasse; U.S. appeals panel report on its imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods

The regular monthly meeting of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) occurred on October 26, 2020. The agenda for the meeting contained the normal issues looking at surveillance of implementation of recommendations adopted by the DSB, a review of certain disputes, nominations for the indicative list of governmental and non-governmental panelists. It also contained review and adoption of the draft annual report of the DSB (2019/2020) and the renewed proposal to start the process for selecting Appellate Body members. See DSB, 26 October 2020, Proposed Agenda, WT/DSB/W/670 (22 October 2020). The agenda is embedded below.

W672

Of particular interest are items 4 and 5 dealing with the WTO panel report on United States – Tariff Measures on certain goods from China, WT/DS/543/R and WT/DS/543/R/Add.1 and item 10 dealing with the long running proposal to start the process for filling vacant Appellate Body seats.

China’s dispute with the U.S. over the U.S. 301 investigation and resulting tariffs on Chinese goods

On October 26th, the U.S. filed an appeal from the panel decision in United States – Tariff Measures on certain goods from China, WT/DS/543/R and WT/DS/543/R/Add.1. See UNITED STATES – TARIFF MEASURES ON CERTAIN GOODS FROM CHINA, NOTIFICATION OF AN APPEAL BY THE UNITED STATES UNDER ARTICLE 16 OF THE UNDERSTANDING ON RULES AND PROCEDURES GOVERNING THE SETTLEMENT OF DISPUTES (“DSU”), WT/DSB543/10 (October 27, 2020). The U.S. notice of appeal is embedded below. The last paragraph states, “At this time, no division of the Appellate Body can be established to hear this appeal in accordance with DSU Article 17.1. The United States will confer with China so the parties may determine the way forward in this dispute.” This is consistent with the U.S. view that Members have many ways to resolve differences, and so a lack of immediate appeal options doesn’t mean a resolution isn’t possible.

543-10

That the U.S. would file an appeal was widely expected and suggested in an earlier post. See September 16, 2020:  WTO panel decision in United States – Tariff Measures on Certain Goods from China increases the need for comprehensive WTO reform, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/16/wto-panel-decision-in-united-states-tariff-measures-on-certain-goods-from-china-increases-the-need-for-comprehensive-wto-reform/.

Nonetheless, the panel decision was on the agenda of the DSB meeting (item 4). Below is the U.S. statement on agenda item 5 responding to China’s statement regarding the panel report. See Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, Geneva, October 26, 2020, pages 12-15,https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Oct26.DSB_.Stmt_-2.pdf:

“STATEMENT BY CHINA REGARDING THE PANEL REPORT IN ‘UNITED STATES – TARIFF MEASURES ON CERTAIN GOODS FROM CHINA’

“ The findings in the report United States – Tariff Measures on Certain Goods from China are based on legal errors. The United States has notified an appeal of this report to the DSB. Accordingly, the panel report cannot be adopted today.

“ The United States would submit a notice of appeal and an appellant submission once a Division of the Appellate Body can be established to hear this appeal. China may file its own appeal of the panel report now or at that point of time.

“ The United States nonetheless wishes to address this panel report because it reflects a major, missed opportunity for the WTO to begin to address the most serious problem faced by every Member that seeks a balanced and fair world trading system: namely, aggressive, state policies that seek to dominate broad industrial sectors.

“ In prior DSB statements, the United States has elaborated upon China’s far-reaching efforts to unfairly take technology from other Members.1 And, as Member’s are aware, it was that action taken by the United States to combat these policies that led to the U.S. measures that China challenged in this dispute.

“ These unfair trade practices have cost U.S. innovators, workers, and businesses billions of dollars every year. Further, they harm every Member, and every industry in every Member, that relies on technology for maintaining competitiveness in world markets.

“ The tariff measures the United States took in response to China’s practices led earlier this year to the historic Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement Between the United States and China.2 In this agreement, China committed to cease some – though not all – of its unfair and harmful technology transfer practices.3 The Phase One Agreement includes a strong enforcement mechanism, including China’s agreement that the United States may impose additional tariffs on goods of China upon a U.S. finding that China has failed to meet its obligations. Pursuant to the Phase One Agreement, China is making changes to its economic and trade practices that will benefit not just the United States, but also China, and all WTO Members.

“ China would not have agreed to the technology transfer provisions of the Phase One Agreement but for the additional U.S. tariffs that China chose to challenge in this dispute. Moreover, it cannot credibly be asserted that alternative tools were available to the United States, nor to any other Member, to address China’s unfair and harmful technology transfer policies.

“ Accordingly, the Panel’s findings against the U.S. tariff measures amount to an acknowledgement that the WTO system, as currently formulated, is an impediment to an improved world trading system. This is completely backwards. Rather, as stated in the preambles to the WTO Agreement and the Marrakesh Declaration, the WTO’s role should be to promote ‘reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements’;4 ‘an integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system’;5 and ‘open, market-oriented policies.6’

“ The Panel reached its institutionally-harmful findings by making fundamental legal errors in the evaluation of two defenses presented by the United States.

“ First, the Panel failed to conduct its own objective assessment of whether the facts on the record in the dispute established that China and the United States had both agreed that issues relating to the dispute were to be addressed outside the WTO system.

“ The United States established, and China did not dispute, that China had already adopted its own remedy by imposing retaliatory tariffs on more than half of all U.S. exports to China. And China did this openly as a response to the same tariff measures that China challenged in this dispute.7

“ Furthermore, in the Phase One Agreement, China agreed that the United States may impose additional tariff measures upon a U.S. finding that China was breaching its obligations under that agreement, including with respect to technology transfer.8

“ In short, the Parties’ actions demonstrated that they had agreed on bilateral mechanisms to address the issues related to the dispute. The Panel, however, took no account of the evidence. Rather, the Panel simply accepted China’s assertion to the contrary – an assertion made during the litigation and only for the purpose of seeking a finding that essentially would signal the WTO’s support for China’s technology theft.9

“ This erroneous result amounts to an approval for the cynical misuse of the WTO dispute settlement system. Even if adopted, the finding would not in any way promote the resolution of any dispute between China and the United States. At most, a Member that prevails in a WTO dispute can obtain the authority to suspend WTO concessions. But here, China had already taken the unilateral decision that the U.S. measures could not be justified, and China had already imposed tariff measures on U.S. goods.

“ Second, the Panel incorrectly rejected the U.S. defense that the measures were necessary to protect public morals under Article XX(a) of the GATT 1994.10 The United States provided extensive evidence and argumentation, showing:

“o the existence of China’s unfair and harmful technology transfer policies, as we summarized earlier in this statement;

“o that these policies were inconsistent with U.S. and international norms for moral conduct;

“o that the U.S. measures were taken for the explicit purpose of ending the unfair practices;

“o and that after years of unproductive negotiations and discussions in various fora, the United States had no other available tools to address this crucial issue.

“ The U.S. showings on these factual matters were largely undisputed by China. China did not even attempt to rebut the existence of the unfair technology transfer policies documented by the United States.

“ At the outset of its analysis, the Panel did correctly find that the norms against theft, misappropriation, and unfair competition underlying the U.S. tariff measures could fall within the scope of public morals as used in Article XX(a).11

“ However, the Panel used an unsupportable approach for evaluating whether the U.S. measures were ‘necessary’ within the meaning of Article XX(a).12 As a result, the Panel findings are legally unsound.

“ Ironically, the Panel wrote that it was adopting a ‘holistic’ approach to the analysis of necessity.13 But the actual approach was anything but that; rather, it was myopic, addressed only to whether the public morals objective of the U.S. measure was sufficiently connected to the particular products subject to the U.S. tariffs.14

“ The Panel had no legal basis for adopting this single test to evaluate ‘necessity.’ As an initial matter, nothing in the text of Article XX(a) requires any particular level of connectedness. And even if this were a valid consideration, the Panel had no basis for assuming that it was even possible for any Member to tightly connect particular sets of imported products to far-ranging and non-transparent policies involving technology theft.

“ Nor did the Panel even address the U.S. showing that there were no possible alternative means for the United States to achieve the public morality goals recognized under Article XX(a).

“ In short, the Panel failed to conduct a holistic analysis, ignoring nearly all of the record evidence in the dispute. Instead, the Panel rejected the U.S. defense based only on the legally erroneous use of a narrow and unsupportable legal test.

“ In closing, the United States will turn to the real-world events involving China’s unfair technology transfer policies, and U.S. efforts to address them. As noted, China committed in the Phase One Agreement not to pursue some of the unfair technology transfer policies that led to the U.S. tariff measures. This is a positive step, and the United States is closely monitoring China’s compliance. The issuance of this report has no effect on the Parties’ ongoing implementation of the Phase One Agreement, which will benefit all of China’s trading partners.

“ The Panel avoided any meaningful findings by taking flawed legal shortcuts, instead of considering the extensive record evidence involving China’s harmful technology transfer policies and the past failed attempts to address these policies in other ways. In taking this approach, the panel report indicates that the WTO is incapable of handling these issues. The report thus serves as further confirmation that the U.S. tariff measures were the only available means to address the major problems to the world trading system resulting from China’s forced technology transfer policies.

“1 See WT/DSB/M/410, paras. 11.2-11.3 (March 27, 2018, meeting); WT/DSB/M/412, paras. 5.5-5.11 (April 27, 2018, meeting); WT/DSB/M/413, paras. 4.1-4.4 (May 28, 2018, meeting); WT/DSB/M/423, paras. 8.3-8.7 (December 18, 2018, meeting); see also Findings of the Investigation into China’s Acts, Policies and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Section%20301%20FINAL.PDF.

“2 Economic and Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (Phase One Agreement), https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/agreements/phase%20one%20agreement/Economic_And_Trade_Agreement_Between_The_United_States_And_China_Text.pdf.

“3 Id., see Chapter 2 (“Technology Transfer”).

“4 Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Agreement, preamble.

“5 Id.

“6 Marrakesh Declaration of 15 April 1994, preamble.

“7 Panel Report, paras. 7.4-7.6.

“8 Phase One Agreement, Chapter 7.

“9 Panel Report, para., 7.22.

“10 Panel Report, paras., 7.236-7.238.

“11 Panel Report, para., 7.140.

“12 Panel Report, paras., 7.178 and 7.180.

“13 Panel Report, paras., 7.111, 7.152 -7.1533, and 7.238.

“14 Panel Report, para., 7.178.”

China’s statement at the DSB meeting is not presently up on China’s WTO Mission website. Press accounts indicate that “Beijing, meanwhile accuseed the United States of taking advantage of the non-functioning AB to avoid having to comply with the panel decision. China argued that the panel was correct in finding that Washington applied the tariffs in a discriminatory maner. The US decision to appeal the ruling is an abuse of WTO rules, China said.” Washington Trade Daily, October 27, 2020, US Appeals WTO Ruling on China Tariffs, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/344bb981-f669-41fb-8a47-4bdf16a9d1a0.pdf.

Bloomberg’s reported on October 26, 2020, U.S. appeals WTO ruling that Trump’s China tariffs were illegal, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-26/u-s-appeals-wto-ruling-that-trump-s-china-tariffs-were-illegal, “China criticized Washington’s decision to take advantage of appellate body’s state of limbo and touted the ruling as a victory for the multilateral trading system against unilateralism, according to prepared remarks obtained by Bloomberg.”

The EU was among other Members who commented on the dispute. The EU comments on item 5 are contained below. See EU Statements at the Regular DSB Meeting, 26 October 2020, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/87549/eu-statements-regular-dsb-meeting-26-october-2020_en.

“AGENDA POINT 5: STATEMENT BY CHINA REGARDING THE PANEL REPORT IN ‘UNITED STATES – TARIFF MEASURES ON CERTAIN GOODS FROM CHINA’

“This is yet another dispute that illustrates the grave consequences of the blockage of Appellate Body appointments since 2017. That blockage frustrates the essential rights of Members that were agreed
multilaterally in the DSU.

“In that regard we refer to EU’s intervention under item 7 of the DSB meeting on 28 September 2020, where we elaborated on these consequences and on the possibility of appeals being adjudicated upon through appeal arbitration based on Article 25 of the DSU, consistently with the principles of the DSU. We will not repeat these points today.

“The EU takes note of US’ decision to appeal the panel report in this case. The panel report will therefore not be adopted by the DSB today.

“The EU intervened as third party in this case and will intervene before the AB once the proceedings can resume. We therefore reserve our position for the purposes of these appellate proceedings.

“This being said, we would like to offer some brief remarks on the substance of the report.

“The EU would like to recall, as expressed in its written submission, that it shares the concerns expressed by the US regarding the protection of intellectual property rights and discriminatory conditions applying to foreign licensors of intellectual property in China.

“However, we do welcome the general approach of the panel to the exception in Article XX(a) of the GATT.

“In our view, much as the text of Article XX itself, the panel’s approach strikes the right balance between the Members’ legitimate right to protect public morals and the need to ensure that exceptions are not used to
circumvent the Members’ obligations under the GATT.

“Second intervention

“The EU’s appeal to the Appellate Body in DS494 must not be confused with ‘blocking the dispute resolution’ or appealing ‘into the void’.

“The EU attaches great importance to maintaining a functioning two-tier dispute settlement process. This is why we have actively supported all efforts to find a solution to the impasse over the Appellate Body appointments and this is also why the EU, together with other Members, has put in place the MPIA.

“However, if the other party is not willing to agree on such contingency measures while the impasse continues, the EU may have no choice but to appeal before the Appellate Body. Whether or not such appeal would be
processed is in the hands of the other party.

“In the DS494 dispute, the EU offered to Russia to agree on a means of having the appeal heard through appeal arbitration based on Article 25 of the DSU and that offer still stands.”

Continued Impasse on Appellate Body Vacancies

A large majority of WTO Members support starting the process of finding Appellate Body members to fill the current six vacancies. The U.S. continues to oppose moving forward with this process as it doesn’t feel that its concerns have been addressed. The U.S. statement at the October 26 meeting is copied below:

“APPELLATE BODY APPOINTMENTS: PROPOSAL BY SOME WTO MEMBERS (WT/DSB/W/609/REV.18)

“ As we have explained in prior meetings, we are not in a position to support the proposed decision. The systemic concerns that the United States has identified remain unaddressed. Instead, Members should consider how to achieve meaningful reform of the dispute settlement system.

“ The U.S. view across multiple U.S. Administrations has been clear and consistent: When the Appellate Body overreaches and itself breaks WTO rules, it undermines the rules-based trading system.

“ The Appellate Body’s abuse of the limited authority we Members gave it damages the interests of all WTO Members who care about a WTO in which the agreements are respected as they were negotiated and agreed.

“ Earlier this year, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative published a Report on the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization. The Report details how the Appellate Body has failed to apply WTO rules as agreed by WTO Members, imposing new obligations and violating Members’ rights.17 We appreciate the number of Members who have reviewed the Report and share the view that the Report identifies serious errors by the Appellate Body.

“ As the United States has explained repeatedly, the fundamental problem is that the Appellate Body has not respected the current, clear language of the DSU.

“ Members cannot find meaningful solutions to this problem without understanding how we arrived at this point. Without an accurate diagnosis, we cannot assess the likely effectiveness of any potential solution.

“ The United States has actively sought engagement from Members on these issues. Yet, some Members have remained unwilling to admit there is even a problem, much less engage in a deeper discussion of the Appellate Body’s failures.

“ And rather than seeking to understand why the Appellate Body has departed from what Members agreed, these Members and others have now redirected the focus and energies of the Membership to pursue an arrangement that would, at best, perpetuate the failings of the Appellate Body.18

“ Nevertheless, the United States is determined to bring about real WTO reform. We Members must ensure that the WTO dispute settlement system reinforces the WTO’s critical negotiating and monitoring functions, and does not undermine those functions by overreaching and gap-filling.

“ The central objective of the dispute settlement system is to assist the parties to find a solution to their dispute. As before, Members have many methods to resolve a dispute, including through bilateral engagement, alternative dispute procedures, and third-party adjudication.

“ Parties should redouble their efforts to find such a positive solution to their disputes.

“ The United States will continue to insist that WTO rules be followed by the WTO dispute settlement system. We will continue our efforts to seek a solution on these important issues.

“17 United States Trade Representative, Report on the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (February 2020), available at https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/AB-Report_02.11.20.pdf.

“18 See U.S. Statement at the June 29, 2020, Meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body (Item 13), available at: https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Jun29.DSB_.Stmt_.as-deliv.fin_.public13218.pdf.
U.S. Statements at the October 26, 2020, DSB Meeting.”

The history of the efforts in 2019-2020 by Members to get the Appellate Body vacancies filled is chronicled in the Draft Annual Report of the DSB, WT/DSB/W/662 (16 October 2020) pages 2-6. The draft annual report is embedded below.

W662

Conclusion

The dispute between China and the U.S. over the U.S. 301 investigation and imposition of duties on certain Chinese goods brings into stark relief the challenges for the WTO in regaining relevance. To the United States, the limitations of the WTO and the incompatibility of the Chinese economic system with WTO rules has led to building conflict over the last twenty years and to the U.S.’s search for a solution to render some of the distortive practices in China less problematic. The panel report raised significant concerns for the United States though embraced by China even though both Members have been engaged bilaterally outside of the WTO trying to address many of the concerns raised in the U.S. 301 investigation.

At the same time, the U.S. (and others) have had problems with the dispute settlement system that go back at least twenty years. These problems go to the Appellate Body in some cases creating obligations or rights not found in the Agreements from which disputes are filed, and to the increasing practice of the Appellate Body in ignoring the procedural and substantive limitations on the AB’s conduct contained in the Dispute Settlement Understanding. There are major differences in views on what is appropriate for the Appellate Body with the U.S. and Europe (and others) far apart. An overactive dispute settlement system which has created obligations that Members never agreed to has led many Members to pursue disputes instead of negotiating. Such action by Members has contributed to the nearly moribund negotiating function at the WTO.

The path forward on these critical issues is unclear and unlikely to be clarified in the near future. All of which means that the new Director-General when selected will face a WTO in a growing state of paralysis and diminished relevance.

WTO Director-General selection — press reports EU, Japan join those supporting Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria

With the third round of consultations concluding on Tuesday, October 27, press reports indicate that Japan will be supporting the Nigerian canadidate and the EU, after extended internal debate, has apparently agreed to support Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as well. See The Japan Times, October 26, 2020, Japan decides against backing South Korean for WTO chief, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/10/26/business/japan-south-korea-nominee-wto/; Politico, October 26, 2020, EU backs Nigerian candidate for WTO top job, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-backs-nigerian-candidate-for-wto-top-job/.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the backing of the WTO Members of the African Union and reportedly several dozen other Members from the Americas and Asia. See, e.g., RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html.

Some press article have suggested that China is also likely to support the Nigerian candidate, although there has not been formal confirmation to date and some articles have suggested China may have problems with each of the two remaining candidates. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, October 8, 2020, China faces ‘difficult trade-off’ as WTO leadership race heads into final round, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3104712/china-faces-difficult-trade-wto-leadership-race-heads-final.

The United States has been reported in the press as supporting Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the Republic of Korea. Bloomberg (article in Swissinfo.com), October 21, 2020, Global Trade-Chief Race Slows as U.S., EU Split on Finalists, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/bloomberg/global-trade-chief-race-slows-as-u-s—eu-split-on-finalists/46110158.

It is also known that the President of Korea and other senior officials within the Korean government have been actively reaching out to WTO Members to encourage support of Minister Yoo in the third round. See, e.g., Yonhap News Agency, October 20, 2020, Moon requests support from 2 nations for S. Korean candidate’s WTO chief bid, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320; The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201020009151320.

What do the news articles portend?

Assuming the support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is as broad and deep as is being reported, the Nigerian should be the candidate who is announced by the troika in the WTO (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement
Body and Trade Policy Review Body) as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus from the membership at an informal heads of delegation. If there is no opposition from a Member or Members suggesting blockage of consensus, the informal heads of delegation meeting could be set for as early as Thursday, October 29, with a General Council meeting to confirm the selection held that afternoon or on the 30th of October. If one or more Members indicates a likelihood of blockage of consensus, it is likely that the informal heads of delegation meeting would not occur on the 29th to give the troika the opportunity to work with those threatening blockage to attempt to achieve consensus. See October 9, 2020:  October 8th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of two finalists, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/09/october-8th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-two-finalists/ (video from WITA; see comments of Amb. Rufus Yerxa, President of the National Foreign Trade Council).

Under the procedures adopted in late 2002 for the selection of a Director-General if there is a failure to achieve consensus, Members could select the Director-General based on a vote. To date, voting has not been required. Hopefully, the same will be true in this selection as well. If so, it appears that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General of the WTO.

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

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

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

A good summary paragraph from the TTALK piece follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 new cases over last 14 days pass 5,000,000 for first time on October 22.

According to data compile by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, total new COVID-19 cases reported globally reached 5,042,415 for the last fourteen days on October 22, 2020 bringing the totals since data started to be gathered at the end of 2019 to 41.299 million cases. See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, October 22, 2020, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 22 October 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases. This is the first day where the two week total exceeded five million. The most recent two week total compares to 3,780,469 new cases for the two weeks ending on September 13; 3,019,983 new cases for the two weeks ending on July 19; 1,932,024 new cases for the two weeks ending on June 21; and 1,281,916 new cases for the two weeks ending on May 24.

While vaccines are available in China and the Russian Federation to some extent and emergency approval of two vaccines may be presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the second half of November 2020, countries is the Americas and Europe in particular are seeing sharp increases in the number of new cases as cooler weather and greater time indoors accompanies the start of Fall.

Here are all countries (13) that had 100,000 new cases or more in the last two weeks according to the ECDC report. They account for 3,605,666 of the cases in the last two weeks (71.5%). All but India and Brazil are increasing, most dramatically:

India – 871,291 (down from recent periods)

United States – 786,488 (increasing)

France – 303,912 (increasing)

Brazil – 298,078 (down from recent periods)

United Kingdom – 244,954 (increasing)

Russian Federation – 198,716 (increasing)

Argentina – 196,410 (increasing)

Spain – 169,394 (increasing)

Italy – 115,708 (increasing)

Czechia – 113,555 (increasing)

Colombia – 104,017 (increasing)

Netherlands – 103,024 (increasing)

Belgium – 100,119 (increasing)

Individual countries in Europe are reimposing some restrictions in response to the sharp spike in new cases, including lockdowns in Ireland and Czechia. See Politico, October 21, 2020, EU leaders to discuss Coronavirus on October 29, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-leaders-to-confer-on-pandemic-oct-29/. The EU has made arrangements with three groups developing vaccines for early supplies and is reported to be close to arrangements with three more (and possibly with a fourth).

Different states in the United States are responding to the rising number of new cases in different ways reflecting in part the politicization of prevention measures like wearing masks and the continued mixed messages coming from government officials on the pandemic. Rural America which had escaped most of the early infections has been going through large surges, particularly in the middle of the country and in the northern states in the midwest. Hospitalizations have increased in many states and will likely continue to climb if predictions of worsening new case counts continue to play out. The U.S. has made arrangements with a number of pharmaceutical companies and groups for early access to vaccines that receive approval for distribution.

In a recent WTO TRIPs Council meeting, the U.S. and U.S. reportedly opposed a proposal from India and South Africa to waive certain intellectual property protections for a period of time to address getting vaccines and therapeutics to all peoples when available. See World Trade Organization press release, October 20, 2020, Members discuss intellectual property response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_20oct20_e.htm; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, October 20, 2020, U.S., EU oppose WTO effort to waive IP protections amid pandemic, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/us-eu-oppose-wto-effort-waive-ip-protections-amid-pandemic.

As the pandemic continues to rage with a shifting focus on hot spots back to more developed countries and as vaccines get close to approval and mass production, the question of distribution of vaccines and therapeutics to countries in need will become a more pressing issue. While there has been greater international cooperation (with the exception of the U.S.) in supporting groups focuses on getting vaccines to developing and least developed countries, there obviously remains a tension between the role of government in taking care of its citizens and its role in contributing to global outreach. See Nature, 24 September 2020, Who Gets a Covid Vaccine First? Access plans are taking shape, https://media.nature.com/original/magazine-assets/d41586-020-02684-9/d41586-020-02684-9.pdf While the WHO would like to see all countries pool vaccines and make them available to vulnerable groups globally before addressing other national needs, that is a highly unlikely scenario among major producing countries. Particularly for developed countries experiencing large surges in new cases, the political pressure to address the immediate needs at home will likely rule government actions. The good news is that some pharmaceutical companies involved in vaccine development have plans to produce or license production in multiple countries, including in countries for broader distribution to developing and least developed countries. This is in addition to the government and private sector support to GAVI and others for obtaining vaccines and therapeutics and making them available to countries in need.

Conclusion

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate and will likely worsen for the Americas and Europe in the coming weeks. If there are increased restrictions by countries in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, that will slow the economic rebound in important parts of the world and will likely slow the rebound in trade in goods and services.

At the same time, the world is getting close to knowing whether a number of the vaccine trials underway by western pharmaceutical companies have been successful and whether vaccines from these companies will join those of China and Russia. As vaccines and some therapeutics become commercially available, there will be the important challenge of seeing that all peoples with needs are able to access the vaccines and therapeutics on an equitable and affordable basis. The jury is out as to how access will actually work and whether the roll out of vaccines and therapeutics will in fact be equitable and affordable.

Third Round of Consultations in Selecting new WTO Director-General – eight days to go, political outreach continues at high level

The last WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, departed at the end of August. The existing four Deputy Directors-General are overseeing WTO operations awaiting the outcome of the selection process for a new Director-General. While eight candidates were put forward by early July and had two months to “become known” to WTO Members, the process of winnowing down the candidates started in September and has gone through two rounds where the candidate pool went from eight to five to two. Which brings the WTO to the third and final round of consultations by the troika of Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body with the WTO Membership to find the one candidate with the broadest support both geographically but also by type of Member (developed, developing, least developed).

The third round started on October 19 and will continue through October 27. While the process is confidential, with each Member meeting individually with the troika and providing the Member’s preference, Members can, of course, release information on the candidate of their preference if they so choose.

The two candidates who remain in contention are Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. While all eight of the candidates who were put forward in June and July were well qualified, Minister Yoo and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala have received high marks from WTO Members from the very beginning. While Minister Yoo has the advantage in terms of trade background, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has an impressive background as a former finance minister, 25 years at the World Bank and her current role as Chair of GAVI.

The procedures for selecting a new Director-General which were agreed to in late 2002 by the General Council put a primary focus on qualifications as one would assume. However, where there are equally well qualified candidates then geographical diversity is specifically identified as a a relevant criteria. There has never been a Director-General from Africa and there has only been one Director-General from Asia (although there was also a Director-General from the Pacific area outside of Asia). With the UN Sustainable Development Goals including one on gender equality (SDG #5), many Members have also been interesting in seeing a Director-General picked from the women candidates. Since both of the two remaining candidates are women, geographical diversity will likely have an outsized role in the third round .

Both remaining candidates are receiving strong support from their home governments in terms of outreach to foreign leaders seeking support for their candidate. The candidates, of course, are also extremely busy with ongoing outreach.

Thus, Minister Yoo traveled back to Europe last week and had a meeting with the EC Trade Commissioner Dombrovskis on October 13, among other meetings. See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/cldr_20_1935; Yonhap News Agency, Seoul’s top trade official to visit Europe to drum up support her WTO chief race, October 12, 2020, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201012003300320?section=business/industry;

Similarly, the Korean President Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon are engaged in outreach for Minister Yoo’s candidacy. Korea JoongAng Daily, October 12, 2020, Moon, allies intensify campaign for Yoo Myung-hee to head WTO, https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2020/10/12/national/politics/Yoo-Myunghee-WTO-Moon-Jaein/20201012172600409.html. Contacts have been made with heads of state or senior officials in Malaysia, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Japan and the U.S. among others. See The Korea Times, October 20, 2020, Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election Government goes all out for Yoo’s WTO election, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/10/120_297887.html. President Moon has also raised the issue of support with new ambassadors to Korea — including the German, Vietnamese, Austrian, Chilean, Pakistani and Omani ambassadors. Yonhap News Agency, October 16, 2020, Moon requests support for S. Korea’s WTO chief bid in meeting with foreign envoys, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20201016008600315.

Minister Yoo is reported to be having problems in solidifying support from some major Asian Members — including China and Japan — for reasons at least partially separate from her qualifications and is facing what appears to be block support by African WTO Members for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. Thus, broad outreach in Asia, the Americas and in Europe will be important for Minister Yoo if she is to be the last candidate standing on October 28-29.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is similarly receiving strong support from her government where President Muhammadu Buhari indicated full support by the Nigerian government. See The Tide News Online, Ocotber 14, 2020, Buhari Backs Okonjo-Iweala For WTO Job, http://www.thetidenewsonline.com/2020/10/14/buhari-backs-okonjo-iweala-for-wto-job/. Press accounts report that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has the full backing of the African Union as well as support in both the Americas and Asia. See RTL Today, October 19, 2020, ‘I feel the wind behind my back’: Nigerian WTO candidate, https://today.rtl.lu/news/business-and-tech/a/1596831.html. Many have felt that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the candidate to beat, and she is certainly helped by the support of the African Union WTO Members but will also need broad support in the other regions of the world to be the one remaining candidate.

With just eight days to go to the conclusion of the third round of consultations, the remaining two candidates and their governments are turning over every stone in their effort to generate the support needed to come out of the third round as the sole candidate left.

While the candidate announced on October 29 as the remaining candidate still has to be put forward to the General Council for consensus adoption as the new Director-General, it seems unlikely at the moment that either candidate, should she emerge as the preference of the WTO membership, would be blocked by a Member from becoming the next Director-General. While such blockage is always a possibility, the 2002 agreed procedures have prevented such blockage and hopefully will result in a clean conclusion this year as well.

It is certain to be an interesting end of October.

Reform at the WTO — fundamental divisions continue on key issues for U.S.

At the recent Informal Trade Negotiations Committee and Informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 12 and the General Council meeting on October 13, WTO Members continued to line up on opposite sides of major reform proposals from the United States and others.

While the U.S. and other supporters of change in developing country status for special and differential treatment (“S&DT”) have not included least developed countries (where there is no dispute on the need for assistance), China, India, and South Africa hide behind a Doha Development Agenda item on S&DT on existing agreements and proposals put forward by the G90 in an effort to avoid their need to justify any special and differential treatment in new agreements or ongoing negotiations. The concept that Members who have advanced economically rapidly over the last twenty-five years are going to get additional S&DT benefits on existing agreements while not permitting a better differentiation of which WTO Members have actual needs is not one likely to move forward and will exacerbate the negotiating impasse at the WTO. There is a good summary of the S&DT debate at the General Council meeting on October 13 in the October 14 issues of Washington Trade Daily. https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/7ce1179a-5882-4f55-96ce-84eea151fa27.pdf.

The U.S., EU and China statements at the General Council meeting and the U.S. and EU statements at the informal TNC and Heads of Delegation meeting the day before are available on each country’s WTO website.

Developing Counry criteria; Special and Differential Treatment

Below are excerpts from the October 13 General Council meeting on agenda item 6, “Procedures to strengthen the negotiating function of the WTO — Statement by the United States (WT/GC/W/757/Rev.10 and WT/GC/W/764/Rev.1).”

Statement by U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

“At the HODs meeting yesterday, I spoke about the paralysis of the WTO’s negotiating function.

“In our view, the root causes are complex and varied. They include:

“- Appellate Body overreach, which enticed many Members to disfavor negotiation and instead pursue litigation to achieve desired outcomes;

“- A chronic lack of transparency by many Members, especially some major players, which is distorting our grasp of key issues and undermining the foundation for negotiations; and

“- Certain Members’ unjustifed claim of automatic entitlement to blanket special and differential treatment (S&D), which ensures that ambition levels remain far too weak to produce negotiated outcomes. Members cannot find trade-offs or build coalitions when significant players use S&D to avoid making meaningful offers.

“As we’ve discussed our S&D reform proposal with Members, we have heard three criticisms.

“First, certain advanced, wealthy, or influential Members claim they have an automatic, permanent, and sacrosanct entitlement to blanket S&D. We disagree. Our approach to S&D eligibility can and must evolve to reflect the trade and development reality of today.

“Second, some Members argue for a different solution – the “case-by-case” approach, where each Member is asked to contribute to the full extent of its capabilities to a set of disciplines. But we know from experience—it’s called the Doha Round—that this approach does not work when some Members are not willing to take on obligations commensurate with their role in the global economy.

“- Some Members point to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) as a successful case-by-case approach to S&D, but the TFA is not a readily or generally applicable model moving forward. Recall that under the TFA, a Member may lose competitiveness if other Members fully implement the agreement and it does not. Most trade agreements operate differently, in that a Member is likely to believe it will be better off if other Members fully implement the obligations and it does not.

“Third, some Members say it is folly to try to create categories of Members. This is an odd criticism, given that categories already exist. Today, there are three categories – first, those Members to which all obligations apply; second, the LDCs that enjoy enhanced flexibilities; and third, the majority of Members – around 90 – that claim entitlement to blanket S&D as self-declared developing countries.

“So the starting point is not categorization, but what to do with this last category of Members that represent significantly divergent economies. These Members simply do not fit the same mold or have the same needs. The more economically advanced of these countries are clearly capable of negotiating the flexibilities they need, rather than availing themselves of blanket S&D.

“As just one example, China’s global merchandise exports are 14 times greater than the combined exports of all 49 countries that the UN categorizes as LDCs. Its economy is more than 11 times the economies of all 49 LDCs combined. China’s per capita income is more than five times higher than that of the LDC average – a remarkable development since 1995, when China’s per capita income was within $900 of the LDC’s average.

“China even admitted at the General Council meeting in July that China is not in the same position as Benin or Liberia. It is helpful that China recognizes that it should not receive the same flexibilities as LDCs. But does that mean that China believes it is in the same position as Pakistan or Kenya? Because today, China claims the right to seek the same blanket S&D as these and other lower-income countries.

“In 1995, China’s per capita income was nearly 20 percent smaller than that of Kenya and more than 25 percent smaller than that of Pakistan. Today, China’s per capita income is nearly four times that of Kenya, and more than triple that of Pakistan.

“The failure to differentiate some of this organization’s most advanced, wealthy, or influential Members from LDCs and others diminishes the value of special and differential treatment to those who need it most. It also imperils our ability to reach new agreements that could provide greater opportunities for the WTO’s poorest Members who are least integrated into the global trading system.

“This issue, and the need for reform, is not going away. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Members.”

U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, WTO General Council Meeting, October 13, 2020, item 6, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/10/13/statement-by-ambassador-shea-at-the-wto-item-6/.

Statement by EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado:

“PROCEDURES TO STRENGTHEN THE NEGOTIATING FUNCTION OF THE WTO – STATEMENT BY THEUNITED STATES

“The EU reconfirms that development is a central pillar of this organisation.

“The current distinction between developed and developing countries no longer reflects the reality of the rapid economic growth in some developing countries. We should therefore continue to work on special and differential treatment with a view to ensuring that flexibilities are made available to those members who actually need them to enable them to fully benefit from their membership to this Organisation.

“The European Union firmly believes that if this organisation is to prosper, special and differential treatment must become much more granular, in function of an individual Member’s demonstrated needs and capacities. Future differentiation should be designed in terms of specific individual country needs at the sectoral or activity level rather than calling for a block exemption of a large category of Members. Furthermore, the EU considers that each developing country’s need for SDT should be assessed on a case-by-case and evidence-based basis. The notable exception should be the LDCs who deserve particular treatment and who in any case have graduation mechanism.

“We are open to looking into special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions in future agreements, such as the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies. We expect to have a discussion with Members as to what development concern is raised by the provisions under discussion and what flexibility is necessary in order to eventually allow the affected Members to fully implement the agreement. It is only where special and differential treatment responds to a specific need that it can be truly effective. In this context, we call on advanced WTO Members claiming developing country status to undertake full commitments in ongoing and future WTO negotiations. As mentioned previously, this should particularly be the case for members of the G20, which represent the world’s most important economies.

EU Statements by Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado at the General Council meeting, 13 October 2020, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/86935/eu-statements-ambassador-jo%C3%A3o-aguiar-machado-general-council-meeting-13-october-2020_en

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 6:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“I have repeated many times that, the debate on criteria to differentiate developing members is totally meaningless, as it is a systematic and directional mistake. Development is one of the key objectives of the WTO, which is also an important attraction for many countries choosing to join in this Organization. As WTO members, our focus on development should be on how to translate the concept of development into practice rather than anything else.

“To be specific, our collective efforts should be focused on how to effectively enforce the existing special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions, and negotiate meaningful S&DT for the developing members, for example in the fisheries subsidy negotiations. For the existing S&DT provisions, there should be assurance that developing members in need could truly benefit from and fully integrate into the multilateral trading system.

“Mr. Chairman, we did a preliminary review on the current 155 S&DT provisions contained in the 16 WTO agreements, finding that at least 105 provisions are too vague to operate, accounting for 67.7%; for the remaining 50 provisions, at least half of them are related to transitional period or technical assistance. So, there are only 25 S&DT provisions in existing WTO agreements that are directly linked to individual Members’ rights and obligations, accounting for 16.1% of the total. It is therefore fair to say, the overwhelming majority of current S&DT provisions are only pie in the sky. There has never been an almighty blank check.

“It is a long-standing consensus to make S&DT provisions more “precise, effective, and operational”, which is also a commitment across WTO Agreements. That is the very reason why developing members requested to discuss more than 200 ‘Implementation Issues’ aiming at rebalancing the imbalanced rules from the Uruguay Round, and G90 put forward their written proposals. I fully endorse the statement made by the Ambassador of South Africa. Actually, recalling the past 20 years, G90 has been compromising by reducing their 88 original requests, to 25 in Nairobi, and to 10 in Buenos Aires, demonstrating their utmost sincerity and restraint. Such reduction is not because their request was wrong, rather it is because they do hope all Members could be engaged and thus show flexibility.
For the current 10 proposals, some are to fill the loopholes of existing provisions, such as proposing procedural arrangement to invoke Article 18 of GATT; some are to restore good practices in multilateral rules, such as treating subsidies granted by LDCs and developing members facing certain constraints as non-actionable subsidies according to Article 8 of ASCM; some are to allow developing members to have longer time-frames for transitions or comments, such as granting 180 days for members facing capacity constraints to make comments on SPS measures notified by developed members, whereas the current practice is 90 days; some are to urge developed members to honor their already-committed obligations, including technology transfer. G90 has made comprehensive responses both orally and in writing to all questions from members on their proposals. However, no progress has been made due to certain Members’ reluctance to engage.

“Mr. Chairman, the WTO is a rule-based organization. If we want to win back people’s confidence in this organization, the most fundamental thing is to treat existing rules and implement promised commitments, with respect and awe. To make existing S&DT provisions “more precise, effective and operational” is the clear commitment and unfinished mission of all members, which is also the most urgent task in the area of development. I call upon all members to show our sincerity by meaningfully engaging in the discussion of the G90 proposal and carefully responding to practical concerns of developing members, rather than wasting time and resources on no outcome debates.

“Mr. Chairman, since China was mentioned specifically, I would like to make a comment to respond. China standing against to the differentiation of developing members does not mean we want to enjoy the same favorable treatment as small economies and LDCs. What we want is only to safeguard our institutional right of S&DT.

“In practice, according to our accession agreement, China has 14 specific S&DT provisions among all 155 articles, accounting only for 9%. Among the 14, 6 provisions are traditionally “obligations” of the developed members, such as providing translations of documents in WTO official languages upon request, only 8 provisions are so called meaningful “rights”, such as relatively higher tariffs for certain goods.

“Even in such circumstances, China always shows restraint in invoking S&DT provisions. Obviously, China did not request to have the same S&DT as Benin, Liberia, Kenya or Pakistan, which was proclaimed by the United States. On the contrary, as a large trading nation, we recognize the responsibility China should bear. Our approach is to address different issues according to their specific situations and make contributions within our capability. As we did in the ITA expansion negotiations, China is the largest contributor among all the participants. We will continue to do that in the future.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Source: Ministry of Commerce website, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the World Trade Organization, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 6 and 7) October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml.

The two documents that are the basis of agenda item 6 are embedded below.

W757R1

W764R1

Market-Oriented Conditions

The U.S. with support from Japan and Brazil and with concurrence of the EU put forward again the importance for market-oriented conditions to the global trading system. Not surprisingly, China led the opposition. Below are the formal statements of the U.S., EU and China on agenda item 7, “Importance of Market-Oriented Conditions to the World Trading System, Joint Statement by Brazil, Japan, and the United States (WT/GC/W/803/Rev.1)

Statement of U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

“The United States, Brazil, and Japan have requested this agenda item to continue addressing the importance of market-oriented conditions to the global trading system.

“As a result of our work together, Brazil, Japan, and the United States have released a joint statement (WT/GC/W/803/REV.1). The statement reflects the importance we attach to market-oriented conditions for the world trading system and further elaborates the draft General Council decision circulated earlier this year.

“The joint Brazil-Japan-U.S. statement reflects our shared belief in the core principles of the WTO, to include that market-oriented conditions are fundamental to a free, fair, and mutually advantageous world trading system.

“We affirm a number of criteria that reflect the market-oriented conditions and disciplines to which our own enterprises are subject.

“And, we affirm that all Members’ enterprises should operate under these conditions to ensure a level playing field for our citizens, workers, and businesses.

“When Brazil and the United States first introduced the joint statement in July, we invited the support and engagement of Members who wish to become co-sponsors.

“We are pleased to report that, since that time, we have been able to hold consultations with a number of supportive Members. We were also pleased to welcome Japan’s decision to become a co-sponsor of the joint statement, and we are thankful for their efforts to engage with other Members on this important matter. The views that we have heard in small group discussions confirm that the joint statement reflects our shared values as WTO Members.

“We will continue to invite supportive Members to participate in one of our small groups as the discussions intensify.

“We see this discussion as necessary in the context of achieving meaningful WTO reform. To achieve such reform, WTO Members must continue moving toward – and not away from – more open, market-oriented policies and conditions.

“But as was made clear in recent G20 discussions, and reflected in the Riyadh Initiative Annex to the Trade Ministers’ Communique, not all WTO Members agree that “market-oriented policies” is a principle of the WTO.

“One Member in particular could not reaffirm the principles of the Marrakesh Declaration or even bring itself to reference the Declaration, and went on to dispute that its accession commitments tied it to any market-oriented policies.

“The usefulness of the recent G20 exercise was to clearly articulate this division in the Membership, and that some do not agree with the core values of the institution. This crystalizes for us the importance of reaffirming those core values.

“The Brazil-Japan-U.S. joint statement recalls that the WTO was established to promote Member economies’ participation in a world trading system ‘based on open, market-oriented policies and the commitments set out in the Uruguay Round Agreements and Decisions’.1

“The market-based reforms that GATT parties and acceding Members undertook during that process helped to ensure that their participation was indeed based on open, market-oriented conditions. These Members’ reform efforts demonstrated their commitment to an international trading system that depends on the operation of market-oriented conditions in each of our economies.

“Ensuring that market-oriented conditions exist for market participants is critical to realizing the benefits of the international trading system that come from our mutual commitment to these rules. This common foundation is necessary to ensure a level playing field for all Members.

“Some Members have argued that our efforts to affirm the importance of market-oriented conditions are a pretext for questioning Members’ choice of different economic models. They argue that the WTO provides no basis for discussing those choices.

“However, that is not the discussion we are proposing to have, and these Members may have misunderstood our purpose. What we have argued is that market-oriented conditions provide a level playing field and therefore are necessary conditions for fair trade. And, we have not heard any Member argue for a different position. Do any Members really believe that fair trade can result when special advantages are given to domestic entities under these conditions?

“Take, for example, the joint statement elements on financing and investment. Where a Member’s economic conditions generally ensure market-determined financing and investment decisions, it would mean that receipt of state-directed or politically-directed financing confers an
unfair advantage. This is not a question of debating different economic models, but rather reflects a shared understanding of fair play.

“To this end, the Brazil-Japan-U.S. joint statement affirms that Members’ enterprises should operate under market-oriented conditions and notes the elements that indicate and ensure those conditions for market participants. We encourage Members to review these elements in detail as our discussions advance.

“As we see it, the continued relevance of the WTO will depend on whether it can deliver on the promises of a world trading system based on open, market-oriented policies. The success of our reform efforts will depend on our ability to ensure the fundamental premise of free, fair, and mutually advantageous trade remains intact.

“1.Marrakesh Declaration of 15 April 1994, fifth preambular paragraph.”

U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, WTO General Council Meeting, October 13, 2020, item 7, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/10/13/statement-by-ambassador-shea-at-the-wto-item-7/.

Statement of EU Amb. Joao Aguiar Machado:

“IMPORTANCE OF MARKET-ORIENTED CONDITIONS TO THE WORLD TRADING SYSTEM – JOINTSTATEMENT BY BRAZIL, JAPAN, AND THE UNITED STATES

“The EU has repeatedly stated that market-oriented conditions are central to allowing a level-playing field. EU has also repeatedly expressed its concerns with non-market-oriented policies and practices that have resulted in distortions to the world trading system.

“The role of the WTO – and therefore the role of all of us, as Members – is to ensure that there are effective rules in place to eliminate these distortions and to ensure a level-playing field. There are clearly gaps in the WTO rulebook that do not enable us to do so. These gaps must be addressed through the negotiation of new or updated rules to address the issues raised in the statement of the United States and its co-sponsors.”

EU Statements by Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado at the General Council meeting, 13 October 2020, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/86935/eu-statements-ambassador-jo%C3%A3o-aguiar-machado-general-council-meeting-13-october-2020_en.

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 7:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

“It is true that the multilateral trading system is built on the basis of market economy, and all the WTO rules reflect the prevailing practices of market economy and are binding on all Members. There is also no doubt that in the past 40years, China persistently deepens its reform and opening up to the world in the direction of market economy, which is exactly the basis of our accession to the WTO and the reason for our firm support for the multilateral trading system.

“However, the challenge we are facing is not what Marrakesh Declaration says, but what some Members are doing. By the way, with regard to Marrakesh Declaration, when we talk about open and market-oriented policies, we should not forget Article 5, which I quote “Ministers recall that the results of the negotiations embody provisions conferring differential and more favorable treatment for developing economies, including special attention to the particular situation of least-developed countries”. Those words are equally important. Unfortunately, now some Members have selective amnesia.

“I have no intention to repeat what I have said at the previous meeting that ‘common sense issues like market orientation do not need to be discussed at the General Council’, and simply dismiss the whole discussion. Albert Einstein, a scientist who had worked in Bern, once said, ‘Success is equal to hard work plus correct method plus less empty talk’. Chinese people have also believed in ’empty talks harm the country’ since ancient times. So, my questions are: what is the purpose of this proposal? what are the follow-up measures to be taken in the next step? What puzzles me even more is that, at this moment, if we cannot prevent a Member’s government from forcing foreign companies to sell their equities and technology to its national companies in any way, how can we sit here comfortably and discuss and tell the world what the market orientated conditions are?

“Mr. Chairman, we need to bear in mind that for more than three years, we have failed to take effective actions to stop unilateralist and protectionist measures that undermine the market rules from raging around the world, and this organization we work for has been widely criticized for falling short of such actions. We should feel ashamed. However, at least, we could still argue that it is not because we do not want to, but because we are not capable enough. But now, why should we talk empty about the market-oriented conditions to give more reasons for the international community to laugh at us, for being not only incapable, but also naive?

“When a principle or a system is broken, what we should do is to take concrete actions to try to fix it rather than verbally repeating the importance and correctness of the rules to show the innocence of someone who broke the rules.

“Ambassador Shea once said that ‘when the state puts its thumb – or even its fist – on the scale to distort competition and drive preferred outcomes to benefit certain domestic actors, that is unfair.’ I couldn’t agree with him more about that. But it is a common sense that if you ask others to do something, you should do it first.

“Let me give you some specific examples. When a country, on the grounds of national security, arbitrarily and frequently imposes tariffs on foreign goods or deprives foreign services of market access, that is unfair. When a country uses tariffs as a leverage to force its trading partners to concede in trade negotiations, the market is distorted. When a country blatantly violates fundamental trade rules and at the same time blocks the independent and neutral adjudications, the level playing field is gone. Instead of chanting the empty slogan of ‘market-oriented conditions’, it’s better for us to take concrete actions to address the above wrongful practices which undermine the fair competition and market-oriented conditions.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Source: Ministry of Commerce website, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the World Trade Organization, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 6 and 7) October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml.

The joint document discussed is embedded below.

W803R1

Conclusion

The WTO is in crisis. None of its three core functions are operating as intended. The negotiating function is barely operational for various reasons including the move by many Members to try to achieve through litigation what they haven’t pursued or achieved through negotiations. The excesses of the Appellate Body has led to its temporary inoperability.

Moreover, the changing reality of competition internationally is that many WTO Members who have claimed developing country status have rapidly developed yet have not generally denounced special and differential treatment nor have they taken up greater liberalization commitments commensurate with their level of economic development. S&DT is treated as a perpetual right versus a temporary assist for Members with demonstrable needs. Self-selection is not the norm in other international organizations and makes no sense where not rooted in factual criteria which are reviewed over time with countries which advance accepting full obligations as appropriate.

The rise of countries like China which have many aspects of their economies which create distortions not covered by existing WTO rules calls out for leadership by those countries to work within the system to adopt new rules so that all trade distorting practices are addressable within the system. China appears intent of ensuring that the WTO is not able to address its acts, policies and practices which distort trade but which are not presently addressable by WTO agreements.

Similarly, the functioning of the WTO Committees in terms of notifications and review is problematic in at least many of the Committees. Without timely, complete and accurate information, trading partners are unable to understand how other Members are conducting themselves and where potential problems may exist. Subsidies notifications have been an area of particular concern but it is not the only area.

The recent General Council meeting showed the continuing deep divide of core reform concerns of the United States and others. A WTO incapable of reform will drift into irrelevance.

With the selection process of the next Director-General starting the last round of consultations on Monday, October 19, WTO Members not only need to decide who will lead the Secretariat but whether the WTO is important enough to have Members come together on the common vision of the organization and develop a willingness to find a road forward. The odds of success seem small at the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTGCM185

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

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

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

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement by Australia on COVID-19 and dispute settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement — First six months data on U.S. exports (March-August 2020) covered by the purchase commitments show China needing to triple purchases in next six months to meet first year commitments [Updated Oct. 11, 2020]

U.S. August export data were released earlier this month. While there are some improvements in some categories of merchandise exports in August, China remains far behind its overall commitments in the U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement. as As reported in prior posts, both China and the U.S. have taken steps to implement parts of the Phase 1 Agreement that took effect on February 14, 2020. The big question mark on the Phase 1 Agreement has been whether the agreement to increase imports from the United States is likely to be met by China. Prior posts on the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement can be found here: September 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – How is China Doing to Meet Purchase Commitments for the First Year; a Review of U.S. Domestic Exports through July 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/12/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-how-is-china-doing-to-meet-purchase-commitments-for-the-first-year-a-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-july-2020/; August 8, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement – review of U.S. domestic exports through June 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/08/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-june-2020/; July 10, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement – limited progress on increased U.S. exports to China (through May), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-limited-progress-on-increased-u-s-exports-to-china-through-may/; June 5, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Deal is Failing Expanded U.S. Exports Even Before Recent Efforts by China to Limit Certain U.S. Agriculture Exports as Retaliation for U.S. Position on Hong Kong, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/05/u-s-china-phase-i-deal-is-failing-expanded-u-s-exports-even-before-recent-efforts-by-china-to-limit-certain-u-s-agriculture-exports-as-retaliation-for-u-s-position-on-hong-kong/; May 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Agreement – some progress on structural changes; far behind on trade in goods and services, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/12/u-s-china-phase-i-agreement-some-progress-on-structural-changes-far-behind-on-trade-in-goods-and-services/; January 19, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement – Details on the Expanding Trade Chapter, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/19/u-s-china-phase-1-agreement-details-on-the-expanding-trade-chapter/; January 15, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement Signed on January 15 – An Impressive Agreement if Enforced, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/15/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-signed-on-january-15-an-impressive-agreement-if-enforced/.

An unusual aspect of the Phase 1 Agreement is agreement by China to increase imports from the United States of various categories of goods and services during the first two years of the Agreement with 18 categories of goods grouped in three broad categories (manufactured goods, agriculture and energy) and five services categories. Chinese imports of goods and services from the United States under the Agreement are supposed to increase by $76.7 billion in the first year over levels achieved in 2017 and in the second year by $123.3 billion over 2017 levels. The categories and tariff items included in the goods categories are reviewed in Annex 6.1 of the Agreement and the attachment to Annex 6.1. In the confidential version of the agreement, growth levels are provided for each of the 23 categories of goods and services.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected trade flows for most countries including both China and the United States and while bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated since the signing of the Phase 1 Agreement, the U.S. continues to report that China intends to honor its purchase commitments in this first year. Article 6.2 of the Agreement defines the time period for the purchase commitments as being January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021. So the first year is calendar year 2020. However, since the Agreement took effect in mid-February, my analysis has focused on the period since the agreement went into effect (for statistics, from March 1, 2020). Including January and February data makes the achieving of first year objectives even more improbable as monthly U.S. domestic exports to China would have to be more than four times (4.07) the monthly average in January-August (compared to 2.41 times the monthly average if looking just at March-August) to meet a first year goal of $184.009 billion (which assumes U.S. exports of products not covered by Annex 6.1 are at 2017 levels).

A six month review of progress on the overall Phase 1 Agreement by the U.S. and China was held by phone on August 24, 2020, with U.S. noting that both parties are committed to ensuring the success of the agreement, including the purchases of U.S. goods.

As reviewed in earlier posts, some goods categories have data issues on the U.S. side (aircraft (orders and deliveries) show $0 exports for the entire period between 2017 and July 2020). Moreover, Amb. Lighthizer has testified to Congress that China has made some large agricultural purchases for shipments later in the year that don’t show up in the U.S. export data at the present time, although there are some increases in soybeans reported in August. Similarly, U.S. export data on services are available quarterly for some of the relevant categories and annually for certain information. However, services trade data with China for 2020 are not yet available. Total U.S. exports of services in the first half of 2020 to all countries was down 14.83%. Travel services were down more sharply, 46.32%. While the Phase 1 Agreement has large increases in U.S. services exports in the first year of the agreement ($12.8 billion over 2017 levels), the data doesn’t presently exist to measure progress on services under the Phase 1 Agreement, though it is believed that China is far behind on its commitments to increase U.S. exports of services.

Looking just at U.S. domestic export data for goods to China for the period March – August 2020, China is far behind meeting the ambitious purchase commitments made with the United States for the first year of the Agreement. It is even further behind if the January-August period is considered.

Looking at total U.S. domestic exports to China for the period March-August 2020, U.S. exports were $48.534 billion ($8.089 billion/month) compared to $55.019 billion in 2017 ($9.170 billion/month). These include both products covered by the Annex 6.1 commitments and other products. For the January-August 2020 period total U.S. exports were $61.051 billion ($7.631 billion/month) compared to $73.379 billion in 2017 ($9.172 billion/month).

Total 2017 U.S. domestic exports of goods to China were $120.1 billion. The Phase 1 Agreement calls for increases on a subset of goods of $63.9 billion in the first year. Thus, the target for the first year of the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is U.S. exports to China of $184 billion if non-subject goods are exported at 2017 levels.

Other U.S. domestic exports not covered by the 18 categories in Annex 6.1 were $49.026 billion in 2017 (full year). For the period March – August, 2020 figures for the 18 categories have increased 8.92% from comparable levels in 2017 (with a large increase in August, as March-July had shown 4.19%). Non-covered products (which face significant tariffs in China based on retaliation for US 301 duties) have declined 37.85%, and total exports to China are down 11.79%. Looking at January – August, figures for the 18 categories declined 2.09% while other U.S. domestic exports were down 36.98% from comparable levels in 2017.

Thus, the first six months since the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement went into effect suggest that U.S. domestic exports of the Annex 6 goods will be $78.663 billion if the full year shows the same level of increase over 2017 for each of the 18 categories of goods; non-covered products would be $30.469 billion, for total U.S. domestic exports to China of $109.132 billion. This figure would be far below 2017, slightly below 2018 and 15.98% above 2019. It is obviously dramatically below the target of $184.0 billion. The same is true if one looks at January-August 2020 which suggest full year 2020 exports of Annex 6 goods of $68.527 billion, other exports of $30.896 billion, for total domestic exports in 2020 of $99.423 billion even further behind 2017 and 2018 and a smaller increase from the depressed 2019 data.

Even accepting the steep decline in non-covered goods using March-August as the relevant data, the first year should result in total U.S. domestic exports of $165.452 billion if the increase in covered goods is achieved — an amount 51.61% greater than current trends for total U.S. exports. To achieve that level of U.S. exports in the September 2020-February 2021 period, U.S. domestic exports of the 18 categories of goods in Annex 6.1 would have to be $101.589 billion ($16.931 billion/month) an amount that is 3.04 times the monthly rate of exports of the 18 categories to China in the March – August 2020 period ($5.566 billion/month).

If one uses January-August for comparison and for other US exports, 2020 should $165.879 billion as the commitment level which is higher than estimated 2020 figures based on the first eight months of 66.84%. With only four months data remaining in 2020, U.S. exports of goods covered by Annex 6.1 would have to be $93.430 billion or $23.357 billion/month which is 4.50 times the average of $5.194 billion of the January-August period.

Chinese data on total imports from all countries (in U.S. dollars) for January-August show a decline of 5.2% from the first eight months of 2019. http://english.customs.gov.cn/statics/report/monthly.html. General Administrator of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Total Export & Import Values, August 2020 (in USD). China’s imports from the U.S. were down 2.9% during the same time period, but show imports from the U.S. substantially larger than U.S. domestic exports ($78.241 billion vs. $61.051 billion, though Chinese imports would be CIF value vs. FAS value for U.S. exports and may include U.S. exports to third countries or territories that end up in China).

The 18 product categories included in Annex 6.1 of the Phase 1 Agreement show the following for March-August 2017, March-August 2020 and rate of growth for the first year of the Agreement versus full year 2017 (figures in $ million):

Product categoryMarch-August 2017March-August 2020% change 2017-2020 March-August$ Value needed in next six months to reach 1st year of Agreement vs. projected 1st year
manufactured goods
1. industrial machinery $5,489.8
$6,216.7

+13.24%
2. electrical equipment and machinery
2,153.6

$2,415.2

+12.15%
3. pharmaceutical products $1,215.5 $1,560.0
+20.11%
4. aircraft (orders and deliveries)* NA NA NA
5. vehicles $5,537.8
$2,490.4
-55.03%
6. optical and medical instruments
$1,579.8

$1,724.1

+9.13%
7. iron and steel
$621.3
$265.3
-57.30%
8. other manufactured goods $5,203.6 $6,959.6+33.75%
Total for mfg goods
$21,801.5

$21,531.1

-1.24%

$54,026.1**
Agriculture
9. oilseeds $1,676.7 $1,448.3 -13.62%
10. meat $290.4 $1,568.7+439.10%
11. cereals $782.6 $1,118.5+42.92%
12. cotton $427.8 $876.1+104.81%
13. other agricultural commodities
$2,326.9

$2,011.6

-13.55%
14. seafood $635.0 $386.3 -39.16%
Total for agriculture
$6,140.0

$7,409.5

+20.68%

$25,942.2
Energy
15. liquefied natural gas
$80.9

$397.3

+391.26%
16. crude oil $1,475.5 $3,298.4+123.55%
17. refined products
$902.2

$732.4

-18.82%
18. coal $258.2 $25.6 -90.10%
Total for energy
$2,716.3

$453.6

+63.93%

$21,620.3
Total for 1-18$30,658.2$33,394.2 +8.92% $101,588.6**
  • HS 8802 for aircraft shows no U.S. domestic exports to China for any month in the 2017-August 2020 period based on U.S. Census data as compiled by the U.S. International Trade Commission’s data web. U.S. export data don’t show orders just shipments.
  • The Phase 1 increase for manufactured goods and for all goods is overstated to the extent that the dollar value of increased purchases include aircraft, since U.S. domestic export data are not showing any shipments to China.

If one used January-August, manufactured goods were down 2.89% from 2017 levels and require $48.138 billion to be exported in the remaining four months of 2020 to reach the first year commitments ($12.035 billion/month). For agricultural goods, U.S. exports were down 6.86% from 2017 levels and require $23.744 billion to be exported in the remaining four months of 2020 to reach the first year commitments ($5.936 billion/month). On energy, U.S. exports were up 16.32% over 2017 levels and require exports of $21.547 billion in the remaining four months to reach first year commitments ($5.387 billion/month). For all Annex 6.1 goods, U.S. exports in the January-August period were down 2.09% with additional exports to meet first year commitments equal to $93.430 billion ($23.357 billion/month).

China has recovered more quickly from COVID-19 economic challenges than has the U.S. However, as reviewed above, their total imports from all countries (and from the United States) are down in the first eight months of 2020. Thus, whether China will or can expand imports from the U.S. to the extent envisioned by the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement in the first year of its implementation is yet to be seen, but seems highly unlikely despite the position taken by the U.S. and by improved purchases of some U.S. goods in August.

Conclusion

As reviewed in prior posts, the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is a potentially important agreement which attempts to address a range of U.S. concerns with the bilateral relationship and obtain somewhat better reciprocity with the world’s largest exporter. The Phase 1 Agreement has left other challenges to a Phase 2 negotiation which has not yet begun and will not begin before 2021 at the earliest.

While there has been some progress on non-trade volume issues that are included in the Phase 1 Agreement as reviewed by USTR following the six month review call between the parties, there has been very little forward movement in expanding U.S. exports to China in fact. Indeed with the sharp contraction of U.S. exports of products not included in Annex 6.1 of the Phase 1 Agreement, the current trend lines will have U.S. total exports of goods to China coming in lower than was true in either 2017 or 2018 and only somewhat higher than the very depressed 2019 figures. More importantly, the trend line of U.S. domestic exports would result in China missing its first year target for purchases of U.S. goods by $56.32 – 74.88 billion (if use March-August) or by $66.46-84.58 (if use January-August). By back loading purchases of various U.S. agricultural products, China has projected to the U.S. greater efforts to meet purchase targets, and yet has done relatively little to effectuate expanded imports from the U.S. ahead of Presidential elections, now just a little more than three weeks away.

With the process of selecting a new Director-General for the World Trade Organization now down to selecting between the two candidates who have advanced to the final round of consultations, it is unclear when and if the WTO will be able to engage in meaningful reform efforts such that the large bilateral concerns between the U.S. and China can be brought back under the WTO or whether the world is in for many years of bilateral tensions with actions outside of the system the norm and not the exception.

Thoughts on the Geneva Trade Week session entitled “WTO Dispute Settlement – Where Do We Stand?”

The Graduate Institute of Geneva and other groups have organized an ambitious week of programs that started on September 28 and carries on through October 2 with both various plenary sessions and with breakout sessions where multiple events are happening during the same time period.

On Monday, September 28, after an opening plenary on rethinking trade at 1 p.m., there were three ninety minute breakout sessions at 3:00 p.m., including a session on WTO Dispute Settlement – Where Do We Stand? The dispute settlement session was organized by Gabrielle Marceau of the WTO Secretariat and the University of Geneva. The current Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, H.E. Dacio Castillo of Honduras served as moderator of a panel that included five other Ambassadors/Permanent Representatives to the WTO and two highly respected international trade professionals. Specifically, the panel consisted of EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado, Canadian Ambassador Stephen de Boer, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea, Mexican Ambassador Angel Villalobos Rodriguez and Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen. Ms. Claudia Orozco who had been part of the Colombia Mission, the most frequently selected panelists in WTO disputes and now an arbitrator in the MPIA (Multi-Party Interim Arbitration Arrangement to which 24 WTO Members have signed up pending the resolution of the WTO impasse) was a sixth panelist. Mr. Jorge Miranda, a Senior International Trade Adviser for Cassidy Levy Kent LLP in Washington, D.C., a past Rules Division official and a frequent writer and speaker on WTO dispute settlement was the seventh panelist.

It was an impressive panel with certain understandable limitations. WTO Members at a public event like this will provide a good overview of their existing positions on the topic but are not going to provide clarity of where solutions may be if different from what has been presented previously by their government. Not surprisingly, none of the Ambassadors deviated from that expected framework of comments. Similarly, the observations of panelists who are not speaking for WTO Members can be helpful in identifying possible paths forward but obviously only if Members opt to proceed in one or more of the suggested routes.

I start this post by looking at the positions stated by each panelist in their opening statement, their comments about other statements and their answers to questions. I then present some observations about the positions taken and whether Members are merely talking past each other or testing their priorities against the practical realities that surround the WTO dispute settlement system.

Opening Statements

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

The first panelist to speak was Ambassador de Boer of Canada. He identified three themes to his comments: (1) the key role played by the dispute settlement system in the WTO; (2) the importance of the Appellate Body (AB) in that system; and (3) the role of the Multi Party Interim Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) at the current time.

Amb. de Boer reviewed the elements of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) adopted as part of the Uruguay Round package that came into force in 1995 when the WTO commenced. The DSU provided for binding dispute settlement absent a negative consensus. This was a major improvement over the GATT dispute settlement approach where the losing party could block adoption of a panel decision. Canada is a very strong supporter of the rule of law. Amb. de Boer commented that it is not surprising that panels may err. The two-tier dispute settlement process is designed to address possible erroneous panel interpretations by appeal to the Appellate Body.

At the present time, the lack of a functioning Appellate Body makes the WTO system more uncertain. First, a party or parties unhappy with a panel decision can file an appeal which, with the AB not having three members, means the appeal is into a void where no outcome is possible until the restoration of the AB. If one is left with just panel decisions, there is a higher risk of erroneous decisions which in turn makes the system more uncertain for business. In Canada’s view, the fact that a Member may disagree with specific decisions is not a reason to undermine the dispute settlement system. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Hence timeliness of the dispute settlement system is important.

On timeliness, Canada would note that much more of the delay in disputes is at the panel stage. Delays flow from increased complexity of case. Canada believes that dispute settlement reform needs to include a review of timeliness of both panels and the AB.

Canada’s priority is to find multilateral solutions to the dispute settlement system which would of course include the United States.

Canada was pleased to participate in the creation of the MPIA, which now has 24 Member participants.

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

Amb. Machado started by noting that the WTO’s dispute settlement system is not in a good place and is essentially paralyzed. While all Members do not agree on how we got here, we need to agree on where we go from here.

The top priority for the EU is to find a solution to the impasse. The EU supported the Walker proposal (Amb. David Walker, NZ, serving as a facilitator to the General Council in 2019). It proved not to be sufficient. The EU is open to meaningful reform. However, Members need to move forward not backwards in terms of the type of reform considered.

It is important that agreed rules of the WTO are enforceable. This is critical for predictability and certainty in the system.

For the EU, any reformed dispute settlement system must be binding, two-tiered, and guarantee impartiality of adjudicators.

The EU agrees that panels and the Appellate Body are not courts and that panelists and AB members are not judges. It is the role of WTO Members, not adjudicators, to establish new rules.

On the MPIA, it is the intent of the 24 Members participating to establish an interim mechanism to preserve a second-tier dispute settlement step while the AB is inoperable. The MPIA is open to the participation of all Members, is temporary in nature and is not an attempt at reform of the WTO AB which would require involvement of all Members. However, there are enhancements including the use of a pool of arbitrators.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

Amb. Shea reviewed that there is little doubt where the United States stands on the dispute settlement system. Over three years in Dispute Settlement Body meetings, the U.S. has reviewed how the Appellate Body has violated the DSU both procedurally and substantively. Then USTR in February of this year put out a 174 page report on the Appellate Body of the WTO [https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Report_on_the_Appellate_Body_of_the_World_Trade_Organization.pdf] which pulled the U.S. concerns together in a single document.

The U.S. was very active in the Walker process in 2019. Unfortunately, very little of what the U.S. offered in comments on the draft proposal was taken on board in what was presented to the General Council. The U.S. has raised questions about the utility of the proposals since much of the language put forward was simply a repetition of what is already in the DSU which has been disregarded by the AB. We don’t have answers to why the AB disregarded the specific DSU language limiting the role of the AB or why it felt free to disregard the limits on its authority.

The AB is not an international court, and AB members are not judges. Role of the AB is not to create a body of jurisprudence but rather simply to make recommendations to help the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) resolve a given dispute. The AB’s role is limited.

Unfortunately, some Members see the AB as an independent international court and the AB members as judges who have the ability to create jurisprudence.

On the MPIA entered into by Canada, the EU, China and others, they have incorporated into an arbitration process some of the worst aspects of the AB practices including awards that are precedential, arbitrators engaging in fact finding and more.

The U.S. fundamentally differs on the role of the Appellate Body from that approach and from the approach of those viewing the AB as a type of court.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece by USTR Robert Lighthizer, he proposed a single-stage dispute process similar to commercial arbitration with a process to put aside erroneous decisions. What do other panelists think of that approach?

In the meantime, the WTO dispute settlement system continues to function. There have been eight panel requests made in the last five DSB meetings. Parties are considering how to handle panel reports, such as by agreeing not to appeal panel reports. The central objective of the dispute settlement system remains the same — to resolve a dispute between Members.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos’s comments were short and quite dispirited. He indicated that he was not optimistic for the future of the WTO dispute settlement system based on Amb. Shea’s comments. Amb. Villalobos feels that the dispute settlement system has become a “zombie”.

In talking about efforts in 2019 to address U.S. concerns with the Appellate Body, Amb. Villalobos noted that a large number of Members had come forward with proposals to deal with various aspects of U.S. concerns and that had resulted in the Walker proposal in late 2019 to the General Council which the U.S. had prevented from being adopted to address a range of U.S. concerns.

The impasse on the Appellate Body has led many countries including Mexico to come together in the MPIA. But the MPIA is intended to be temporary only.

Amb. Villalobos believes the WTO will have a more difficult road in the future to restore the two-tiered dispute settlement system.

While the dispute settlement system has been viewed by many as the crown jewel of the WTO, the present situation may be the beginning of the end for the crown jewel.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang views the Appellate Body and the WTO’s dispute settlement system as being on shaky ground. He is not optimistic that Members can reach agreement on substantive issues. However, that doesn’t mean that Members can’t work at improving the system.

When he looks at some of the concerns raised, such as issuing reports/decisions in 90 days, the problem is not entirely the fault of the Appellate Body. There have been a large number of appeals, many more than was envisioned when the WTO was created. Appeals are much more complicated. Thus, Members share some of the “blame”.

Is overreach a problem? Yes for many countries including China. Amb. Zhang cited the cases involving export duties where the Appellate Body viewed China did not have the right to put forward Art. XX defenses. In his view, Amb. Zhang believes that all negotiators know that there are ambiguous provisions in many agreements. These ambiguities have to be addressed in appeals and obviously are problems for the AB.

No matter how serious problems may be with the Appellate Body, the AB has solved many problems for parties which have improved certainty and predictability.

Going back to the system as it was in the 1990s would be problematic as rules will have no enforcement teeth. This lack of enforceability will hurt negotiations going forward.

Ms. Claudia Orozco, International Trade Law Advisor and Arbitrator for MPIA

Ms. Orozco believes that there is a serious crisis, not of the Appellate Body only, but of the dispute settlement system at the WTO and therefore of the rule of law.

The WTO dispute settlement system is intended to ensure that commitments under WTO Agreements are binding on all parties and that disputes are resolved by third party adjudicators.

The current challenges around the Appellate Body are a serious risk to the dispute settlement system and is leading to reduced use of the dispute settlment system.

A second consequence is likely to be erosion of the monitoring function within the WTO if Members can’t resolve the Appellate Body issues. The purpose of monitoring is to understand actions of trading partners. Greater information on actions can result in disputes if problems can’t otherwise be resolved. Where there is no binding dispute settlement system, Members will likely be less focused on notifications.

The third consequence of the AB impasse will be the erosion of the negotiating function, as there will less interest in new rules if they cannot be enforced.

In short, the impasse if not resolved, will affect the credibility and relevance of the WTO.

Are there solutions? Ms. Orozco believes Members need to look at the history of the WTO over the last twenty-five years. In her view, the AB’s role needs to be narrowed down as 25 years of history show that panels typically don’t make major errors of interpretation which was the intended function of the AB. Thus, questions for Members should include:

— how to narrow the focus of the AB;

— what changes are needed to permit the AB to meet the 90 day deadline;

— based on problems in the first 25 years, what type of experience should AB members have (e.g., experience with disputes in the WTO; experience in implementation of agreements);

–should more than three members of the AB participate in appeals where issues are of first impression;

–what is the role of the AB Secretariat vs. the role of AB members (e.g., should there be rotation of AB Secretariat staff).

The WTO dispute settlement system is critical to commercial players where predictability and certainty are key. Lack of predictability and certainty harm willingness to invest and to trade.

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Mr. Miranda stated that the Appellate Body has made some outstanding achievements but has made major errors in the trade remedy area. The errors coupled with the AB refusal to reconsider legal issues. Without a change in approach, it is hard to see progress.

Mr. Miranda’s comments reflect his views as a co-author in a paper [Jorge Mirand and Manuel Sanchez-Miranda, “How the WTO Appellate Body Drove Itself Into a Corner,” https:ssrn.com/abstract=3596217].

Mr. Miranda reviewed two of the five cases reviewed in the paper showing the serious errors by the Appellate. The first was the fasteners case [European Communities – Definitive Anti-Dumping Measures on Certain Iron or Steel Fasteners from China, WT/DS397/AB/R, adopted 28 July 2011] where the AB addressed an issue that was not part of the terms of reference and had not been briefed by the parties. This was a major problem as the issue addressed would potentially be subject to a dispute at the WTO.

A second case was a subsidy case and involved the interpretation of the term “public body” [United States – Definitive Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties on Certain Products from China, WT/DS379/AB/R, adopted 25 March 2011]. Mr. Miranda’s comments focused on the fact that most public bodies in the context of countervailing duty investigations are commercial enterprises. The AB’s decision requires the existence of governmental powers to regulate, control or supervise, but ignored the entrepreneurial functions mentioned in the Subsidies and Countervailing Measure Agreement (Art. 1.1(a)(1)) where no other authority is required.

While Mr. Miranda recognizes the fact that all adjudicators can err, the problem with the WTO AB is its inflexibility and refusal to reconsider interpretations in later cases regardless of arguments put forward.

Mr. Miranda reviews the U.S. system of stare decisis and ability of court’s to reconsider prior decisions in certain circumstances. He also reviews the Mexican system where there need to be multiple decisions on the same issue before there is precedent.

By contrast, the Appellate Body views its interpretation as cast in stone at the first decision. He believes the AB needs to be more flexible in how it views prior decisions/interpretations.

Reactions to Opening Statements of Other Panelists

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

Amb. Machado reiterated the EU view that the AB is not a court. The EU view is that it is in the interest of the WTO membership that rulings are of high quality and that the rulings have consequences. Thus, to the EU, it is important to have a two-tier dispute settlement system so parties can address legal errors in any panel report. The EU is open to discuss how best to get a two-tier system back.

Amb. Machado believes that it is unfair to claim that the MPIA incorporates the worst elements of the AB. The MPIA results in arbitration decisions. The MPIA is not an attempt to create AB reform. Since the MPIA is an interim arbitration process while awaiting the return of the AB, it is understandable that the parties to the MPIA drew on the AB, which is the only second-tier system that has existed over the last 25 years. While the MPIA parties have introduced efficiencies in how MPIA operates, this is not an attempt to reform the AB as any reform would need all Members.

At end of the day, the EU needs a system that is efficient, binding, independent and of the highest quality.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos sees fragmentation of approach facing the WTO dispute settlement system — the MPIA for some; other approaches for others. The fragmentation may last a long time. If so, such fragmentation will weaken the appetite to negotiate, and the increased uncertainty and unpredictability will weaken investment and trade.

Amb. Villalobos noted that a large percentage of disputes are resolved at the consultation stage and that a sizeable portion of cases that do go forward to the panel stage are resolved without appeal.

There are typically not good alternatives for Members to WTO dispute settlement. Regional trade agreements often don’t have dispute settlement on trade remedies (though USMCA between the U.S., Mexico and Canada does) and typically don’t have strong Secretariats.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang noted that the paralysis of the AB is a major challenge to the trading system. Binding rulings from impartial adjudicators are important for predictability and certainty. Regional free trade agreements and any dispute settlement contained therein cannot replace the WTO.

In looking at the path forward, the accountability of the AB can be addressed through peer review and oversight by the WTO Members.

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Regional agreements can’t compete with the WTO dispute settlement system. None have an Appellate Body.

The fact that there are problems with the WTO dispute settlement system, in Mr. Miranda’s opinion, is not a major issue.

On the issue of oversight, there should be a way to address without affecting the independence and impartiality of the AB.

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

It is important to go back to first principles. Members placed great importance on certainty. Fact that any Member believes it didn’t get the right result in a given dispute is not a basis to abandon the system. In a November 2016 statement by then Chairman of the Appellate Body, Thomas Graham, he noted that overreach is in the eye of the beholder. [Thomas Graham, 22 November 2016, Speaking Up: The State of the Appellate Body, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news16_e/ab_22nov16_e.pdf%5D. The dispute settlement system is different than individual disputes or cases.

The fact that there continue to be some disputes filed is not a sign that the system is well. The impasse will have an effect on negotiations.

Canada is willing to talk about change but needs an effective and enforceable system.

Ms. Claida Orzco, International Trade Law Advisor and MPIA Arbitrator

There is agreement that the crisis is very problematic. We must remember that everything the WTO does is for the private sector which needs certainty and predictability.

It is important to solve the problem. That includes looking at how to achieve decisions within 90 days, limiting the role of the AB to focus on issues relevant to a dispute’s resolution, identifying the relevant the credentials for AB Members.

As the AB was created to correct manifest errors in legal interpretations, history over the last 25 years shows that is not a significant problem. This implies, Members can reduce the role of the AB.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

The WTO membership needs to understand that there is a problem with the operation of the dispute settlement system. Efforts of the U.S. over the last three years has finally gotten a recognition by many that there are problems. So that is some progress.

Some Members view the role of the AB as that of a court with the ability to establish rules. The U.S. does not view the AB as a court and views rule making as the sole responsibility of the WTO Members.

While Canada has talked about the need for certainty, the U.S. views certainty as the AB completing its work in 90 days, not investigating facts, and not creating obligations.

While some view the current situation as undermining the ability to negotiate, the United States has viewed the operation of the Appellate Body as leading Members to litigate rather than negotiate.

On the issue of precedent, in 1996, the AB indicated its decisions were not precedential. Twelve years later in 2008, it viewed its decisions as precedential absent cogent reasons.

The U.S. disagrees that the AB is a higher source in dispute settlement. The AB has a limited role only.

In 2020, Thomas Graham gave his farewell speech as an Appellate Body member at Georgetown and listed areas where in his experience the Appellate Body was acting like a court. [see https://nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wto.org%2Fenglish%2Ftratop_e%2Fdispu_e%2Ffarwellspeechtgaham_e.htm&data=02%7C01%7C%7C892aebd466894f3d774908d86571205c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637370883824924668&sdata=QPkC0ep1OHLIwTtUPpDgTAWV9cfx%2FoDB812iMg%2FrTKk%3D&reserved=0]

Answers to Questions

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

In responding to a question about why a two-tier system of dispute settlement is necessary since other organizations make due with a single tier, Amb. Machado stated that a two-tier system of dispute settlement is important in the WTO since disputes are often dealing with national legislation. The second level of review is needed to review potential errors of law, so Members can go back to their legislatures for domestic changes to bring themselves into compliance with WTO obligations.

In looking at the length of time to resolve disputes, Amb. Machado noted that disputes have become very complex which has contributed to the delays. Members need to take some responsibility to reduce the number of issues in appeals versus the historic approach.

While the EU will discuss reforms, the EU will not agree to have the dispute settlement go back to the GATT system.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos responded to a question on likely effect of the current impasse by stating that with no Appellate Body, the appetite of Members for new rules will be reduced.

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

Amb. de Boer indicated that Canada doesn’t view the AB as a court or members as judges.

Canada believes any reforms to the dispute settlement system can only look forward; specifically, reforms of the dispute settlement system can’t look at past decisions.

Amb. de Boer reiterated his opening statement point that delay in the dispute settlement system is not limited to the AB process and so reform should look at the entire dispute settlement system to ensure timely reports and decisions.

Looking at USTR Liighthizer’s Wall Street Journal article, Amb. de Boer stated that it appears to be the first expression of what U.S. wants. Going back to the GATT system seems to be Amb. Lighthizer’s objective.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang stated that a two-tiered system of dispute settlement was adopted in the Uruguay Round as a response to problems with the GATT system of resolving disputes. Amb. Zhang indicated that 90% of Members believe the WTO needs a two-tier system for disputes.

On the question of the recent panel decision on U.S. tariffs imposed on China pursuant to a section 301 investigation, China agrees with the panel report that the U.S. actions violated MFN obligations. China urges the U.S. to bring its actions into conformance with its obligations.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

In response to an inquiry about why Members would negotiate new rules where enforcement is not guaranteed, Amb. Shea noted that the U.S. (and many other Members) are actively engaged in negotiations, whether multilateral (fisheries subsidies) or plurilateral (e-commerce). Thus, it is possible for negotiations for new rules to proceed in the current circumstances.

Ms. Claudia Orozco, International Trade Law Advisor and MPIA Arbitrator

Ms. Orozco noted that the concern if rules are not enforceable is that there would be less interest in negotiating new rules. Her hope was that that concern would not materialize.

On a question about the Secretariat, Ms. Orozco noted that some reforms, like rotation of personnel at senior position, time limits for Secretariat personnel might be useful as in the past the head of the AB Secretariat had served longer than any AB member. The WTO also needs oversight of the AB by Members and some form of response where a problem arises and repeats itself (e.g. repeated failure to complete reports in 90 days).

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Mr. Miranda took the view that any type of adjudicatory system would have the adjudicators looking back at what they had done previously. Key, in his view, is to have more flexibility than the AB has shown as to relevance of prior decisions.

Observations

As an outside observer, I provide some comments for what they are worth.

  1. While stating that they don’t view the AB as a court or AB members as judges, the EU and Canada do not identify how that point of agreement with the United States translates into a view of AB reports. If not a court, presumably the AB is not to create law or rules. Yet that is what the AB has repeatedly done. Should the prior reports of the AB have any value? Any value other than their pursuasiveness would seem inappropriate.

2. Wouldn’t the issue of overreach be addressed in part by clarifying what is meant by creating rights or obligations? For example, many of the overreach issues of concern to the U.S. (and possibly others) flow from gap filling, construing silence or adopting a single interpretation on ambiguous language. Clarifying the language in DSU 3.2 and 19.2 to indicate that examples of creating rights or obligations would include gap filling, construing silence or providing a single interpretation of ambiguous language would thus increase certainty and predictability and leave rulemaking to the WTO Members as intended.

3. Ms. Orozco stated that the AB role should be reduced as typically panels have not made manifest errors in legal interpretation based on a review of the first twenty-five years of decision. The AB was done at the end of the Uruguay Round negotiations and was largely a safeguard against wildly erroneous decisions by a panel if adoption of reports was to be automatic. Does the experience of the first 25 years reduce the need for a two-tier system? Reasons for wanting a two-tier system going forward include automaticity of adoption, independence of adjudicator, opportunity to correct errors from a panel report. But automaticity need not be tied to having a two-tier system. Particularly where purpose of dispute settlement is to help find a resolution to the dispute between parties versus an effort to create law through “clarifying” agreements, a single level could be made automatic. There is nothing about a single level of dispute settlement that doesn’t permit independence (whether panels are staffed as they are now or through a different approach as has been suggested by some). Even the opportunities to correct errors could be addressable in a single-tier if there were a process (such as suggested by USTR Lighthizer) for addressing erroneous decisions.

4. Both Canada and the European Union talk about any reform process as being forward looking only and not addressing the harm caused by the long history of AB deviation from obligations. Since the entire purpose of the dispute settlement system is to resolve disputes to permit a restoration of rights and obligations of Members, the notion that a system which has changed the rights and obligations of Members over 25 years cannot be addressed as part of reform is at least bizarre. There is no question that it is easier to simply adopt changes to the DSU and move forward but that basically legitimizes a wide range of erroneous decisions which have significantly changed the balance of rights and obligations for many Members. While the challenge of finding a path to address the past as part of the reform is real, there are undoubtedly ways to do so. I had suggested one approach in a prior post. See July 12, 2020, WTO Appellate Body reform – revisiting thoughts on how to address U.S. concerns, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/12/wtos-appellate-body-reform-revisiting-thoughts-on-how-to-address-u-s-concerns/.

5. The concern about wrongly decided Appellate Body reports is real and not really addressed by most of the panelists. Amb. Lighthizer in his Wall Street Journal piece has a proposal which would change the system to one-tier resembling commercial arbitration and with an ability of Members to correct erroneous decisions. This proposal may reflect U.S. concerns that other WTO Members haven’t meaningfully addressed the problem of erroneous AB decisions (whether overreach or faulty legal analysis). See August 24, 2020:  USTR Lighthizer’s Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal – How to Set World Trade Straight, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/24/ustr-lighthizers-op-ed-in-the-wall-street-journal-how-to-set-world-trade-straight/. If one looks at Mr. Miranda’s paper, there is little doubt that there are decisions from the AB that are pretty clearly wrongly decided. Efforts in the AB reform process to confirm that there are no precedents doesn’t move the ball very far where prior decisions remain as a body for review without means to get the AB to recognize its mistakes in subsequent cases, for the WTO Membership to correct the AB or through other means.

6. The concept that the current situation will adversely affect willingness of Members to negotiate is interesting particularly when juxtaposed with the last twenty-five years of very limited success in negotiations at the WTO. So while there may be some merit in the concern (which is a supposition at this point), it is hard to imagine a less productive negotiating function than what has existed with a functioning dispute settlement system over the last 25 years. The U.S. view that the current system and willingness of the AB to create rights that can’t be found in the agreements is factually the more compelling. I have travelled to Geneva over the last thirty years and have been told in private by virtually every major WTO Member that they know there are issues that before the WTO they would have teed up for negotiations, but because of the activity of the AB, they chose to see if they could get through dispute settlement even though knowing their trading partners had never agreed to what was being sought. So in my mind, there is no doubt that a major contributor to the dysfunction of the negotiating function at the WTO has been the willingness of the Appellate Body to create rights and obligations that cannot be found in the Agreements that sovereign states agreed to.

7. On the MPIA, while there is understanding by all Members that the MPIA is intended to be temporary, there is little doubt that the MPIA includes aspects of the AB that the U.S. has viewed as very problematic. While the EU professes that there is no effort at reform in the MPIA, the MPIA includes aspects that the EU may want as reforms to the dispute settlement system. Finally, other Members have found other approaches to handle disputes in an era when the AB is not functioning. While that is not true for all disputes, the Members choosing to appeal into a void include the EU, a participant of MPIA, on a panel decision adverse to its interests brought by the Russian Federation. See August 29, 2020,  WTO Dispute Settlement Body meeting of August 28, 2020 – how disputes are being handled in the absence of reform of the Appellate Body, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/29/wto-dispute-settlement-body-meeting-of-july-28-2020-how-disputes-are-being-handled-in-the-absence-of-reform-of-the-appellate-body/.

Conclusion

The program on WTO Dispute Settlement – where do we stand? was an interesting update from a number of the major WTO Members, the Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body and two well respected private sector advisers.

While all seem to recognize that the United States has serious concerns that it has articulated for decades but has spelled out in detail in the last three years, there has been little movement on the substantive issues during the last fifteen months. The gap between having a binding system that resolves disputes between parties but doesn’t create jurisprudence and a binding system that creates jurisprudence is wide. While many talk the talk that the Appellate Body is not a court and its members are not judges, there hasn’t been an apparent active effort to translate that into a framework to compare with the U.S. view of the role of the system.

Without a willingness to actually have the Appellate Body serve the very limited role for which it was created, the future for the WTO dispute settlement system will likely look like the hodgepodge of approaches that are presently in play.

WTO reform — a push by the Secretariat for engagement by the Members; articulation of EU priorities

Background

The WTO has been struggling to restore its relevance in a rapidly changing global market but with limited success due to the challenges facing its negotiating arm. Those challenges are accentuated by the major tensions between three of the largest Members (U.S., EU and China) with the U.S. and EU having fundamental differences on the role of dispute settlement and with the US and EU and Japan having deep concerns about the trade distorting policies of China that are not adequately addressed by current WTO rules. The need for broad reform seems to be recognized by many WTO Members, though priorities for reform vary widely by Member or groups of Members. The WTO is working through its selection process for a new Director-General following the early departure of the last Director-General, Roberto Azevedo. The candidates vying for the Director-General slot have faced many questions on how they would help promote reform and deal with long festering issues. The distrust within the WTO membership generally and between the largest Members in particular resulted in the Members being unable to agree on an acting Director-General, so the WTO is operating without a Director-General at the present time though in a statement today to the G20 Trade Ministers, Deputy Director-General Alan Wm. Wolff, is listed as “Joint Acting Director-General”.

A push by the Secretariat for greater engagement by Members in the reform process

Because the WTO is a member-driven organization, the key to reform is for Members to come forward with proposals, for the membership to discuss proposed reforms, and for Members to look for areas where there are common interests or shared expectations.

The Secretariat can encourage Members to engage. At the present time, Deputy Director-General Wolff (DDG Wolff) has been making numerous statements to different groups encouraging engagement to move the reform process forward and highlighting the role the WTO can play in environmental and development of circular economies.

Specifically, between September 17 and today, September 22, DDG Wolff has given virtual statements to five groups. The first three were on September 17 and were to Business Europe on trade and climate change, to the Economic Times Packaging Virtual Summit (India) on packaging issues in trade including plastics pollution and moving to circular economies, and to the World Knowledge Forum in Korea on trade disputes between major trading powers and calling on all countries to work to improve WTO rules and recognizing that even where there are major differences between Members, there are common interests as well. See DDG Wolff: “Trade policies have a huge potential to support climate action,” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_18sep20_e.htm; DDG Wolff: WTO members addressing implications of plastics pollution, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw2_17sep20_e.htm; DDG Wolff: Time for all countries to work to improve the rules of multilateral trade, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_17sep20_e.htm. The conclusion from the statement to the World Knowledge Forum gives a good summary: “As for the WTO, the demands are clear. It is time to consider needed reforms, to bring to life the negotiating forum that the founders of the WTO envisaged, to find a way forward to a single agreed binding dispute settlement system that all can support, and to strengthen the institution more generally. The support of the largest Members along with their trading partners will be necessary to succeed. Crises have in the past opened up new opportunities for making progress in building the world trading system and can do so now again.”

On September 21, DDG Wolff made comments to the Trade Law Center for Southern Africa. DDG Wolff: WTO reform crucial to restoring confidence in the trading system, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_21sep20_e.htm. His statement was entitled, “A WTO fit for the 21st century trade governance”. The following excerpt goes through some of the reform issues that are already being teed up:

“The last major update of the WTO rule book took place during the Uruguay Round. These negotiations were concluded in Marrakesh in April 1994, just as the world was beginning to hear of the internet. The world has changed over these last 25 years in ways that could scarcely have been imagined. Not only has technology revolutionized how we trade but even the main actors in the global economy have changed with new groundbreaking economic and business models.

“Ongoing WTO reform efforts will be crucial to restoring confidence in
the system’s ability to meet the needs of its users and adapt to changing
economic realities. However, the full range of challenges as well as
opportunities that the WTO’s membership faces cannot, and will not, be addressed overnight. More proposals need to be tabled and discussed, on how to update the WTO to enhance its effectiveness and assure that it evolves alongside changes in world trade.

“Trade rules will have to adapt to economic transformations such as the
fourth industrial revolution, characterized as the advent of ‘cyberphysical
systems’ involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines. If they do not, the likely outcome is unilateral action and fragmentation, which means unpredictability and higher costs for business, especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). International cooperation can offer a path forward to a global economy where everyone can participate and benefit.

“Currently, WTO members are progressing on multiple fronts. At the multilateral level, they are working to reach an agreement that would limit fisheries subsidies and contribute to the health of our oceans. They are looking at how to liberalize and reduce distortions in agriculture trade.

“At the same time, groups of WTO members are considering potential
future rules on investment facilitation, e-commerce and on domestic
regulations that can unnecessarily obstruct services trade. These ‘joint
statement’ initiatives, as they are called, address issues at the heart of the
21st century world trade. They also represent a quiet revolution in the
way governments negotiate at the WTO. Like-minded members are free
to pursue issues of interest; the initiatives are open to all Members, but
no Member is required to join. As one example, the e-commerce talks,
bring together 82 members, accounting for around 90% of global trade.
Establishing joint rules of the game would facilitate electronic transactions and digital trade and could help manage wider tensions over technology.

“WTO Members must deliver on both the multilateral front and the joint
initiatives as these are vital for the future of the system. For the road
ahead, the WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference, next year in Kazakhstan, will be a key landmark. It must deliver credible agreements and map the way for further reforms.” [Emphasis added]

And then today, September 22, DDG Wolff spoke to the G20 trade ministers urging them to step up engagement on WTO reform. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_22sep20_e.htm. DDG Wolff’s statement is reproduced below:

“Thank you, Chair. 

“This is a time of great challenges for the world trading system as well as of great opportunities.

 “World trade has fallen by 18% compared to last year.

“Shortfalls in key medical supplies persist, despite icreased production – and increased trade. Preliminary figures indicate that global trade in products such as personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and ventilators grew by close to 30% in the first half of the year.

“While some trade restrictions have already been rolled back, particularly with respect to foodstuffs, the pandemic is far from over and economic challenges will persist.

“The roll-back of trade restrictions may already be losing momentum.

“Government support needed to fight the economic downturn could end up distorting competitive conditions and fueling future trade tensions.

“However, fresh opportunities also exist.   

“The WTO’s Members are well-advanced in the process of selecting a new WTO Director-General. 

“Renewed engagement of the WTO’s Members can ensure that the WTO is fully ready to meet the challenges of a changing global economy.

“As the pandemic continues, emergency trade-restrictive measures should be reviewed through the lens of the G20’s criteria that existing measures are, in fact, targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary; members should begin to unwind those that are no longer absolutely necessary. 

“Existing negotiations to modernize the WTO’s rules to meet the challenges of the global digital economy and to provide for sustainable development should be brought to a successful conclusion.

“The process of systemic reform, called for by the G20 leaders and trade ministers, should begin in earnest with WTO Members deliberating concrete proposals, restoring the WTO to its intended place

“where negotiations are successfully concluded;

“where disputes are settled within a universally accepted structure; 

“actively served by a strong, dedicated, professional Secretariat. 

“In an era of political and economic stress, the WTO must be made fit for purpose.  It must be seen to deliver fairness to all who participate in or are affected by global commerce. 

“A robust, sustained and inclusive economic recovery requires open and predictable international trade, supported by a well-functioning world trading system.  

“Spurred by the determination expressed by you as trade ministers, informed by the Riyadh Initiative, under a new leader, the WTO can fulfill its promise.”

Will Members Come Forward With Proposals and Work for Reform?

As reviewed in prior posts, there have been many proposals for reform floated by individual Members and there are important initiatives underway either multilaterally (fisheries subsidies) or plurilaterally (Joint Statement Initiatives). The U.S., EU and Japan have been working for several years on proposals dealing with industrial subsidies, state owned enterprises and forced technology transfer. No proposals on these topics have yet been submitted by these Members.

The U.S. and others have presented proposals for improved transparency on notifications. The U.S. has pushed for changes to which Members are entitled to special and differential treatment and has pushed for addressing whether economies that are not market economies can be disciplined within the WTO under the existing rules. The U.S. has also shut down the Appellate Body based on longstanding concerns with deviations by the Appellate Body (AB) from the limited mandate provided the AB by the Dispute Settlement Understanding. The U.S. has also raised concerns about the structure of bound tariffs noting the high rates of many Members with rapid rates of economic development, but the U.S. has not made a specific proposal to address its concerns on this matter as of yet.

Other proposals from other Members have also been made.

In remarks made by the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis on September 21 at the informal meeting of EU trade ministers, Mr. Dombrovskis outlined the EC’s objectives for the WTO including reform. The link to Mr. Dombrovskis’ speech is here, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_20_1720:

“Let me start with the WTO, which is currently selecting its new Director General.

“The discussions today have shown strong agreement amongst ministers that the EU needs a Director General, who is capable of managing a profound reform of the organisation.

“This reform should focus on three main things:

“1. Fixing the dispute settlement system,

“2. Reinitiating global trade negotiations,

“3. Addressing the current challenges of international trade, in particular sustainability and the need for a level-playing field.

“To be credible, the new leader of the WTO:

“1. must enjoy the trust of WTO members and

“2. be able to present balanced views that reflect the diverse nature of the WTO Membership.

“The EU will view the remaining five candidates in this light.”

The three broad categories of reform that the EU supports were discussed at some greater length in EC President von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech earlier this month. The trade elements of the speech were reviewed in an earlier post. See September 18, 2020:  Trade elements of EC President von der Leyen’s State of the Union address at the European Parliament plenary on 16 September 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/18/trade-elements-of-ec-president-von-der-leyens-state-of-the-union-address-at-the-european-parliament-plenary-on-16-september-2020/.

There should be a joint statement from the G20 trade ministers later today which presumably will similarly reemphasize the need for moving WTO reform forward.

What isn’t clear is whether the collective understanding of the need for reform will actually result in serious reform efforts in the coming years. The large differences in views of Members, the serious lack of trust among Members, and the apparent lack of an ongoing common vision of the purpose of the WTO are major impediments to forward movement, just as they have been in the last two decades.

Conclusion

All of the candidates to become the next Director-General of the WTO understand the need for major reform to maintain or restore the WTO’s relevance. The WTO Secretariat continues to do its support part to articulate the value and need for reform and to encourage Members to conclude negotiations that are underway and to come forward with concrete proposals for the membership to discuss and consider.

While there are many proposals for reform that have been presented, Members have put proposals forward on a somewhat ad hoc basis and without a more formal process for compiling and considering the proposals. The major economies are at very different positions on many reform agenda items that have been identified, though there is some commonality among at least several of the majors on a few reforms. Other than fisheries subsidies and some of the Joint Statement Initiatives, other reforms seem unlikely to occur in the next several years. If that proves to be correct, the WTO will likely suffer a continued drift towards irrelevance.

WTO Director-General selection process — what do results from first round of consultations suggest are key criteria for WTO Members in next Director-General?

Last week, five of eight candidates advanced to the second round of consultations when the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council reviewed with the membership the results of the first round of consultations. The second round of consultations starts this week. WTO Members’ preferences in the second round will result in the field being reduced from five to two candidates before the third round selects the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members. The selection process should end by November 7, 2020

Can anything be gleaned from the results of the first round results?

  1. The three candidates who did not advance

The three candidates eliminated were Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico, Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

Dr. Seade has had personal involvement with the GATT during the Uruguay Round and was not only Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT but then a Deputy Director-General of the GATT at the end of the Uruguay Round and one of the original Deputy Directors-General when the WTO was set up in 1995.

Mr. Mamdouh similarly has had a long and distinguished history with the GATT and WTO that stretches back to the Uruguay Round and continued in various capacities within the Secretariat ending with a sixteen year stint as Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division.

Thus, if one was putting primacy on technical expertise or a deep understanding of the origins of the WTO (arguably relevant to current crisis issues like the impasse over the Appellate Body), then one would have expected both of these individuals to get past the round one consultations. As they didn’t, it follows that depth of technical capability was not a driving consideration for Members in the first round of consultations.

Although Dr. Seade has held various government positions including Under Secretary for North America and chief negotiator for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement), he has never served as a Minister (Secretary) in the Mexican government. Moreover, Mexico, while part of North America, is typically referred to as part of Latin America. Since the last Director-General was from Brazil (also included in “Latin America”), this fact could have been viewed as a negative for Dr. Seade.

For the enormous history that Mr. Mamdouh has had with the WTO, he never served as either an Ambassador or took the position of Minister for the Egyptian government. Thus, to the extent Members were putting primacy on candidates who had served in a high political position for their host government, Mr. Mamdouh would have been viewed as not meeting that criteria.

Amb. Ulianovschi served both as Moldova’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (including being Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the WTO) and later served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thus, he has both familiarity with WTO issues and had a prior senior political position. Since Moldova is part of Europe and most Directors-General of the GATT and WTO have been from Europe, this could have been viewed as a negative for Amb. Ulianovschi (though the same was also true for Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom who has advanced to the second round of consultations).

2. The five candidates who have advanced to round two

Of the five candidates who have advanced, all have served as a Minister in their home government with four — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom having served two terms or in two different Minister positions. The fifth, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea is the current Minister for Trade in Korea.

The differentiation between those who advanced and those who didn’t thus seems to hinge in significant part of the perception of political weight a candidate would bring based in part on the senior government role each has played. While Amb. Ulianovschi of Moldova did not advance and yet was a Minister, his being from a European country may have been the distinguishing factor. He was also the youngest candidate by more than a decade which may have been another factor for some.

Moving into the second round of consultations, what considerations may influence who makes the next cut?

The Chairman of the General Council indicated that WTO Members viewed all eight candidates as highly qualified and respected. This means for many Members the important factors may be less about the qualifications but more about geographical diversity of the membership. The Procedures adopted at the end of 2002 for the selection of Directors-General has a paragraph dealing with the representativeness of candidates (WT/L/509 at para. 13):

“Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

As there has not been a Director-General from Africa or from the Middle East and only one from Asia, geographical diversity could have aided four of the five candidates who advanced to the second round of consultations.

In addition, no GATT or WTO Director-General has been a woman to date. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gender equality (SDG 5). Three of the candidates who have advanced are female. A fourth, Dr. Liam Fox, committed to ensuring that half of the senior WTO Secretariat would be women if he were selected as the next Director-General.

While all eight candidates indicated their preference for the selection to be of the best qualified candidate, it is certainly likely that other criteria will weigh in the second and third round consultation process which leads to the selection of a single candidate.

The three women candidates

Among the three women candidates, H.E. Mohamed has a proven track record on trade within the WTO and as Chair of the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial. H.E. Yoo’s career has been entirely in trade, and she has dealt with each of the U.S., China and the EU in her trade capacity for Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has never been Minister of Trade though her role (twice) as Minister of Finance for Nigeria included some trade-related areas (customs, trade facilitation) and she had a distinguished career at the World Bank and is now active in various organization relevant to the recovery from COVID-19 such as GAVI (focused on getting vaccines to countries in need).

Obviously two of the three women candidates have serious trade/WTO backgrounds. The third is often viewed as having the largest political profile. Depending on how large the preference is for a strong leader with significant political experience or a strong leader with significant understanding of the trade problems before the WTO, this could lead to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and H.E. Mohamed as being the top two women candidates or H.E. Mohamed and H.E. Yoo filling that role.

Possible wild cards that could hurt one or two of the women candidates are (1) the ongoing Japan-South Korea conflict that H.E. Yoo has been involved in; (2) China’s view towards H.E. Yoo if concerned about whether China will maintain a Deputy-Director General slot going forward if an Asian candidate is selected as the next Director-General; (3) the late disclosure that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a dual Nigerian-U.S. citizen and whether that is problematic for China or other Members.

The two remaining male candidates

It is unlikely that Dr. Fox makes it to the third round based simply on the Paragraph 13 indication of importance of geographical diversity and the long history of European Directors-General. He would bring a unique viewpoint to the Director-General position being the only candidate who has repeatedly stood for election in his country. His commitment to ensure half of the senior WTO Secretariat are women may also be a plus for him if only one of the women candidates advances.

Similarly, unless the membership decides that what they want as a Director-General is someone who will move the organization to a more business-like functioning approach, it is unlikely that H.E. Al-Tuwaijri makes it past round two. He has the advantage of being from an area (Middle East) that has not had a Director-General. Moreover, he has worked closely with G20 countries which could be a plus if only one of the women candidates advances to round three.

Likely outcome of Round Two Consultations

The second round of consultations starts on September 24 and concludes on October 6. At the meeting of the Heads of Delegation that follows the close of the consultations (probably October 8), it is likely that H.E. Amina C. Mohamed and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala advance to the third round of consultations.

Who will likely emerge as the sole remaining candidate after Round Three?

If H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala advance beyond round two, the selection of a candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members in round three will depend on whether Members prefer a candidate who has a record of achieving results in the WTO or prefer a candidate with a large record of in-country reform and of achievement within the World Bank and ability to focus Members on post COVID-19 recovery needs.

Either would be an interesting choice and would bring great energy to what will be a very challenging job at a time of multiple crises for the WTO and concerns about its continued relevance. Based on what seems to have mattered in Round One of the consultations, I would predict that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General with the one caveat of whether her dual citizenship with the U.S. in addition to her home country of Nigeria becomes problematic in fact. If the caveat applies, then look for H.E. Amina C. Mohamed to be the next Director-General.

Trade elements of EC President von der Leyen’s State of the Union address at the European Parliament Plenary on 16 September 2020

State of the union speeches in countries are typically a time for optimism with a review of the challenges that are presently being addressed and a host of policy initiatives to take the country in the direction the Executive believes is important. The European Commission’s President von der Leyen presented her State of the Union 2020 Address earlier this week before the European Parliament. The Address lays out the vision the Commission has for the road forward to “building the world we want to live in”.

The starting part of the address deals with COVID-19 and the EU response and actions needed to prevent the same type of challenges in the future. When the address turns to moving Europe forward, the first topic is the efforts to address climate change, focusing on the European Green Deal and various initiatives to make the Green Deal operative and effective. Other areas of focus include digital with attetion to data, technology and infrastructure.

President von der Leyen then turns to the need for collaboration to address global issues such as the pandemic citing both sharing of protective equipment to countries in need and the EU effort to set up fund “research on vaccines, tests and treatments for the whole world.” “Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them.”

The EU supports cooperating in international bodies whether the UN, the WTO or the WTO. The EC President recognizes the pressing need to “revitalize and reform the multilateral system” and wants the EU to lead reforms in both the WTO and WHO.

On China, EC President von der Leyen notes the complicated relationship and the need for China to live up to its commitments in areas like climate change. “There is still hard work to do on fair market access for European companies, reciprocity, and overcapacity. We continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment partnership.”

On the topic of trade generally, the EC President had this to say:

We will continue to believe in open and fair trade across the world. Not as an end in itself – but as a way to deliver prosperity at home and promote our values and standards. More than 600,000 jobs in Europe are tied to trade with Japan. And our recent agreement with Vietnam alone helped secure historic labour rights for millions of workers in the country.

We will use our diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference – such as designating maritime protected areas in the Antarctica. This would be one of the biggest acts of environmental protection in history.

We will form high ambition coalitions on issues such as digital ethics or fighting deforestation – and develop partnerships with all like-minded partners – from Asian democracies to Australia, Africa, the Americas and anyone else who wants to join.

We will work for just globalisation. But we cannot take this for granted. We must insist on fairness and a level playing field. And Europe will move forward – alone or with partners that want to join.

“We are for example working on a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

“Carbon must have its price – because nature cannot pay the price anymore.

“This Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism should motivate foreign producers and EU importers to reduce their carbon emissions, while ensuring that we level the playing field in a WTO-compatible way.

“The same principle applies to digital taxation. We will spare no effort to reach agreement in the framework of OECD and G20. But let there be no doubt: should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system that provides long-term sustainable revenues, Europe will come forward with a proposal early next year.

I want Europe to be a global advocate for fairness.” [Emphasis in original]

The full text of President von der Leyen’s Address is embedded below.

State_of_the_Union_Address_by_President_von_der_Leyen_at_the_European_Parliament_Plenary

The State of the Union — WTO Reform Priorities for the EU and Potentially Problematic Priorities

While EC President von der Leyden indicates she wants the EU to lead reform in both the WTO and the WHO, there is no set of agenda items identified as such in the State of the Union. That said, there are many areas addressed within the State of the Union where WTO reforms could be helpful. One can start with keeping markets open for the movement of goods and services during pandemics. Other pandemic response issues are more relevant to possible reforms at the World Health Organization.

The EU has been an active participant in the plurilateral negotiations on digital trade at the WTO and the Address’s focus on digital issues supports the need for completing those negotiations.

Similarly, the central place of addressing climate change and implementing the European Green Deal suggest that the EU would support greater activity in the Trade and Environment Committee as well as its work on the Paris Agreement on emissions reductions. Moreover, the carbon tax issue mentioned in the Address may require WTO negotiations to ensure WTO consistency or result in serious WTO disputes and possible unilateral responses by trading partners.

EC President von der Leyen’s discussion of the EU’s bilateral relationship with China raises issues on “fair market access, reciprocity and overcapacity”. This presumably includes the EU’s efforts with the US and Japan to address industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfer and more.

Finally, the digital services tax issue, while potentially being addressed within the OECD and G20 has the potential to result in serious trade consequences with the United States if not resolved to the U.S.’s satisfaction.

Conclusion

The European Union is a critical global player in trade and many other areas. The State of the Union Address by EC President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary given on Wednesday this week lays out a comprehensive set of objectives for Europe, many of which have trade implications.

While the EU has an important role in the WTO, time will tell whether its desire to lead the reform process plays out. While it views itself as having been a constructive player in the Appellate Body impasse, as viewed from the U.S., the EU is one of the largest reasons for the departure of the Appellate Body from its agreed-to mandate. While the EU led a number of Members to create an interim arbitration system, from the U.S. perspective, the interim system attempts to shift arbitration to being a pseudo Appellate Body and is more objectionable in some respects than the now dysfunctional Appellate Body.

With the need for comprehensive reform of the WTO understood by most delegations, constructive leadership by any of the Members is certainly welcome. Hopefully, the EU will be such a leader in 2021.