China

Is it time for a new approach to bilateral trade with China?

Press accounts last week reviewed new record merchandise trade surpluses for China with the world and a growing trade surplus with the United States despite the Section 301 tariffs and other actions which reduced the bilateral trade deficit in 2019 and 2020 from the figures in 2018. See Reuters, China posts record trade surplus in Dec and 2021 on robust exports, January 14, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/currencies/chinas-exports-imports-grow-more-slowly-december-2022-01-14/ (“The trade surplus hit $676.43 billion in 2021, the highest since records started in 1950, up from $523.99 billion in 2020, according to data from the statistics bureau.” “China’s hefty trade surplus with the United States, a key source of contention between the world’s two biggest economies, hit $39.23 billion in December, widening from $36.95 billion the month before, but below this year’s high of $42 billion in September.”). While U.S. trade data are not yet available for December, the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China for eleven months of 2021 was $319.151 billion, suggesting full year deficit with China of more than $358 billion — reversing the declining deficits of the last several years with China.

For the U.S., 2021 will be the first year where the trade deficit in goods exceeds $1 trillion dollars. So while the U.S. has significant deficits with a number of countries, for the Biden Administration and Congress, the most concerning aspect of the deficit is the effect of distortions flowing from China’s economic system, one that is at odds with the U.S. market-based system and not consistent with WTO basic principles.

I have in prior posts reviewed the incompatability of the Chinese economic system with WTO norms. I have also provided the views of a former WTO Deputy Director-General on the importance of convergence of economic systems as opposed to coexistence, and the views of trade officials in the U.S. and EU on challenges posed by Chna’s economic system. See, e.g., December 11, 2021:  20 Years of China’s Membership in the WTO — a brief critique, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/11/20-years-of-chinas-membership-in-the-wto-a-brief-critique/; October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/; April 8, 2021:  USTR 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers — areas of concern with a focus on China, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/ustr-2021-national-trade-estimate-report-on-foreign-trade-barriers-areas-of-concern-with-a-focus-on-china/; March 31, 2021:  “Blowing up the trading system” — Clyde Prestowitz’s suggested way for the world to move forward in light of China’s economic system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/blowing-up-the-trading-system-clyde-prestowitzs-suggested-way-for-the-world-to-move-forward-in-light-of-chinas-economic-system/; March 29, 2021:  China and the WTO – remarks by Dennis C. Shea to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/29/china-and-the-wto-remarks-by-dennis-c-shea-to-the-coalition-for-a-prosperous-america/; January 17, 2021, USTR on January 14, 2021 released its 2020 report to Congress on China’s WTO compliance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/17/ustr-on-january-14-2021-releases-its-2020-report-to-congress-on-chinas-wto-compliance/; November 10, 2020:  The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/; 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/; July 25, 2020:  A new WTO without China?  The July 20, 2020 Les Echos opinion piece by Mogens Peter Carl, a former EC Director General for Trade and then Environment, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/25/a-new-wto-without-china-the-july-20-2020-les-echos-opinion-piece-by-mogens-peter-carl-a-former-ec-director-general-for-trade-and-then-environment/.

As has been reviewed in annual USTR reviews of China’s compliance with WTO commitments, the challenges faced by China’s trading partners are many and largely unaddressed despite efforts through dispute settlement, through bilateral negotiations and otherwise. The U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement resulted in minimal affirmative movement in U.S. exports to China and there are open issues in terms of China’s implementation and enforcement of other commitments. See, e.g., Peterson Institute for International Economics, December 23, 2021, US-China phase one tracker: China’s purchases of US goods, As of November 2021, https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/us-china-phase-one-tracker-chinas-purchases-us-goods. While there were increases in U.S. exports to China over 2017 levels in 2020 and 2021 for agriculture, manufactured goods and energy, there were large declines for non-covered goods, so that there was relatively little actual overall progress on merchandise trade and large declines in services trade. See, e.g., USITC data web, U.S. total exports to China (2017, $130.0 BN; 2018, $120.2 BN; 2019, $106.4 BN; 2020, $124.5 BN; 2021 (11 mos.) $137.7 BN); U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, NOVEMBER 2021, January 6, 2022, https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/Press-Release/current_press_release/ft900.pdf (Exhibit 20b).

Options

Obviously for nations facing the challenges of dealing with the distortions flowing from China’s economic system, one can attempt to work through the WTO and seek reforms that will address at least some of the major distortions. The U.S., EU, Japan and others are attempting that in the areas of industrial subsidies, state owned and controlled entities and other areas. The prognosis for movement is limited in the near term and even in the middle or long-term as long as China is committed to maintaining its system. Plurilateral negotiations on Joint Statement Initiatives also offer some hope for certain areas, assuming China is a participant and actually implements obligations undertaken.

Plurilateral trade agreements, such as CPTPP, could be another option. China has applied and would have to undertake some significant reforms to enter. The real question would be whether those changes would change the underlying disconnect between the state system pursued by China and market disciplines followed by many others.

Others have argued for major countries withdrawing from the WTO and setting up a system where China is either not a member or must become a market economy in fact to participate. Arguably if the EU and US were to join the CPTPP and seek further modifications, and if China’s application were not accepted until China’s system were significantly modified, this would be an option. A suggestion from the former EC Trade Commissioner is for the EU and U.S. to join the CPTPP. See PIIE’s Cecilia Malmstrom, The EU should use its trade power strategically, January 4, 2022, https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/eu-should-use-its-trade-power-strategically (“The European Union should also seek to enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and convince the United States to do the same. The European Union already has agreements with most members of the CPTPP, but an FTA would signal the European Union’s readiness to strengthen global trading rules with its partners.”).

The United States has pursued a strategy of strengthening various tools to address discrete issues with China and working with China to have them honor their existing WTO and bilateral agreements. Presumably that approach will continue to be pursued, but the downside of such an approach without more is the long time delay to meaningful change which means ongoing harm to the U.S. industrial base, workers and communities.

Warren Buffett in 2003 and again in 2016 advocated for a system of issuing import certificates to exporters equal to the value of the exports which certificates could be sold, etc. and which would result in a trade balance in goods. See, e.g., Fortune, Warren Buffett: Here’s How I Would Solve the Trade Problem,
April 29, 2016, ttps://fortune.com/2016/04/29/warren-buffett-foreign-trade/. His idea was to address the trade deficit overall and not focus on trading partners whose economic systems don’t mesh with the U.S. model. But an approach vis-a-vis selected countries pending the necessary economic reforms would be a narrower option and more focused on the underlying concern.

Last month in the Harvard Business Review, an article by Thomas Hout argued for a cap and trade system with China. See Harvard Business Review, Thomas Hout, A New Approach to Rebalancing the U.S-China
Trade Deficit, December 20, 2021, https://hbr.org/2021/12/a-new-approach-to-rebalancing-the-u-s-china-trade-deficit. The cap and trade approach is similar to Warren Buffett’s idea but limited to trade with China, as the author notes.

“Such a cap-and-trade system for imports from China would be much like the one for greenhouse gas emissions in various parts of the world. The beauty of this system is its insulation from political favoritism and bureaucracy: Market forces would determine who buys licenses and what gets imported. The cap’s level can be managed relative to a target such as GDP or the size of the trade deficit.” The author suggests flexibility in its implementation to limit any disruptions to U.S. businesses.

Conclusion

The Biden Administration has put its initial efforts into addressing domestic competitive needs such as the infrastructure legislation and the Build Back Better bill. At the same time, the Administration has been reviewing how the U.S. should be dealing with China across a broad array of issues including trade.

A multifaceted approach will certainly be needed. While the U.S. has pursued various multifaceted approaches in the past, China’s decision not to abandon state direction and control requires a recognition that global trade principles alone will not ensure fair trade conditions for U.S. companies either in the U.S., in China or in third countries.

In such a situation, considering a cap and trade system for trade with China and encouraging our major market-based trading partners to do the same would seem an important tool for achieving greater sustainability in our trade relationship with China.

How to Make Trade Work for Working Men and Women in 2022 — changing the status quo is needed but unrealistic in the near future

In prior posts, I have reviewed how the existing global trading system is not working as intended because of the massive distortions created by different economic systems (in particular, the presence and growth on state directed economies). See, e.g., October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/ (“Trade and the WTO have obviously been highly beneficial to China and to many other Members. Nonetheless, China has been working hard not to have its economic system evolve to a market-based one. It has generally not pursued liberalization that benefits all versus favoring China. It insists on coexistence vs. convergence. It uses the consensus system to prevent evaluation of its practices which distort trade It has limited transparency of its actions and has engaged in actions against individual Members that are retaliatory and coercive. As the world’s largest exporter, China has a critical role in global trade. But the dangers Amb. Wolff has outlined in his speech where market principles and convergence are not the core values are manifesting themselves in the world marketplace as countries look for alternative approaches to deal with China’s trade distortions. Amb. Wolff’s speech outlines a number of ways that China can improve the functioning of the WTO and exhibit leadership in WTO reform. His speech is an important one which hopefully has had a receptive audience in China. Unfortunately, while there are some identified actions that China may take, it is unlikely that China will do anything to address the critical differences that its economic system poses to the survival of the global trading system.”); October 8, 2021: The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/08/the-gap-between-wto-activity-and-the-needs-of-businesses-and-workers-for-the-international-trading-system/ (“The challenges at the WTO flow from some historical challenges (the preference of India to see no agreements imposing obligations on them, now supported by South Africa and others), from the growing divergence in views as to the purpose of the WTO, from the increased importance of non-market economies in the global trading system and the current failure of existing rules to address their distortions to global trade flows and competition, and the inability of a consensus system with 164 Members to move forward in a timely manner, if at all.”); May 1, 2021:  Alan Wolff’s vision for saving the WTO — aspirational but is it achievable?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/01/alan-wolffs-vision-for-saving-the-wto-aspirational-but-is-it-achievable/; March 31, 2021:  “Blowing up the trading system” — Clyde Prestowitz’s suggested way for the world to move forward in light of China’s economic system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/31/blowing-up-the-trading-system-clyde-prestowitzs-suggested-way-for-the-world-to-move-forward-in-light-of-chinas-economic-system/, March 29, 2021:  China and the WTO – remarks by Dennis C. Shea to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/29/china-and-the-wto-remarks-by-dennis-c-shea-to-the-coalition-for-a-prosperous-america/; March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/.

The Biden Administration has been advocating a worker centric trade policy and has advanced domestic policies intended to improve U.S. competitiveness. But the challenges for working men and women in a trading system that doesn’t operate in fact on market principles and doesn’t have effective tools for addressing quickly distortions can be seen in the conflicts that arise when trade actions are taken by a single country. Remedies imposed (such as duties, quotas, etc.) will help the harmed industries and workers, although based on the level of difficulty of achieving a remedy, may occur only after the industry and its workers have suffered isignificant harm (layoffs, plant closings, reduced investment, etc.). At the same time, downstream users who have to compete with products from producers in other countries who have access to the distortively priced products view themselves as harmed by conditions of fair trade being imposed on inputs.

When a country like China engages in massive distortions through state direction, subsidization and other means, global excess capacity of extraordinary amounts can put global competitors in a long term struggle to survive despite not having caused the excess capacity. The Trump Administration imposed Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum to address U.S. national security concerns about the sectors with the primary cause of the problem being China’s actions and the global reactions to massive excess capacity. Similarly, long standing concerns about a range of practices by China led to the Trump Administration’s Section 301 investigation in 2018 and action when China did not address the U.S. concerns (with retaliation and counter actions following).

While many countries filed WTO disputes in 2018 on the 232 actions of the U.S. and a number of countries retaliated without WTO authorization (many claiming U.S. was a safeguard action permitting at least some retaliation immediately) and China challenged the 301 action, and the U.S. filed challenges to the retaliation taken by trading partners, those disputes remain before panels at the beginning of 2022, with indications that panel reports will issue during the first half of 2022 (232 challenges) or second half of 2022 (cases on retaliation).

The Biden Administration has continued both sets of remedies though has come up wth alternatives to tariffs for steel and aluminum with certain trading partners (EU, Japan in negotiations).

Because users of products subject to Section 232 or 301 tariffs look at the short term issue of cost competitiveness (and the consequences to their businesses and workers), importers have pursued broader product exclusions from tariffs or an end to the tariffs altogether. As has been true over the last three years, such efforts have support from some members of Congress.

Thus, conflict exists among different groups within the United States but flows directly from the massive market distortions flowing from activities by some countries for which there are no existing remedies. While seeking changes in global trading rules is an important avenue for change, such change will take years (a decade or more in all likelihood) to achieve, if any resolution is actually possible. The steel and aluminum sectors have been seeking a global solution to the massive excess capacity problem caused by China and others for years now with no demonstrable progress.

For workers in the industries directly affected by the massive distortions, they have been promised a trading system where trade will be guided by market principles and where distortions can be addressed through trade defense instruments or other tools or where temporary relief from imports can take place to address significant problems. Very clearly, the trading system has not ensured a level playing field in fact and has not addressed the massive distortions that exist for countries with state-controlled or directed economies like China. This has put an unreasonable burden on workers and their employers to pursue trade remedies in a system where there is no compensation for past harm and relief is not available until jobs are lost, companies have shuttered factories, reduced investment including in R&D.

A recent letter to the U.S. Congress from the United Steelworkers International President Thomas M. Conway on various duties (301, 232 and other) lays out the frustrations of working men and women who are in the direct line of attack from trade distortions abroad and their need for relief from such practices. The letter is embedded below.

USW-letter-to-Hill-re-301-and-232-relief

The USW is a former client of my firm before my retirement. As a result, I am aware of the extraordinary effort they take to preserve jobs from the effects of market distortions in a wide array of manufacturing sectors in the U.S. The USW understandably views efforts to undermine trade actions to address distortions or to protect national security as contrary to the interests of working men and women.

While 232 and 301 relief have been subject to exclusion processes in the U.S., for users, such processes will work only when applicants are actually attempting to work with domestic producers or third country producers for alternative sources of supply (for either immediate supply or for supply in the coming months/years) and only where frivolous requests carry some costs for the applicant. Exclusions should only continue until an alternate source or sources of supply are found and shouldn’t frustrate efforts of domestic producers and their workers to expand offerings. The existence of a lower price from China or others should not be the basis for an exclusion where a domestic producer is producing or will product the specific product of interest.

The challenge for the United States and other WTO Members is to adopt rules that deliver a level playing field in fact, that prevent massive global excess capacity, that permit defensive action to be taken before plants are closed, workers laid off, investments postponed or cancelled and R&D reduced, and that compensate companies and workers injured by dumping, subsidization and other distortive practices to reduce the incentive to engage in such practices.

The WTO and Member governments can’t be surprised at the lack of support for the trading system from many working men and women when a fundamental promise of the system is not kept — competition based on market principles with remedies to address distortions in a timely manner. The WTO has never been able to move quickly. Many issues simply never get addressed because of the consensus system and the lack of agreement on fundamental purpose and principles by the existing 164 Members. Thus, one should expect continued concern among working men and women with the ability of the WTO to deliver market based competition with effective remedies for distortions.

China’s “bullying” of Lithuania — a repeating story inconsistent with WTO rules

While China portrays itself as a champion of the global trading system and the WTO rules, it has a long history of misusing WTO provisions and cutting off market access to punish countries that take actions that China objects to. In a prior post, I reviewed the actions of China against Australia — actions that China has pretended were not occurring or simply reflected product quality issues or unfair trade actions by Australia. See December 22, 2020:  China’s trade war with Australia – unwarranted and at odds with China’s portrayal of itself as a strong supporter of the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/22/chinas-trade-war-with-australia-unwarranted-and-at-odds-with-chinas-portrayal-of-itself-as-a-strong-supporter-of-the-wto/.

Members have raised concerns about lack of transparency and discriminatory practices in various fora at the WTO including during the recent Trade Policy Review of China (hearing held on October 20 and 22, 2021), as captured in the Chair’s concluding statement. See WTO news release, TRADE POLICY REVIEW: CHINA, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 20-22 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp515_crc_e.htm (“Some Members also voiced concerns over a general increase in non-transparent and discriminatory measures and practices in China, sometimes in response to political disagreements with other trading partners. They urged China to take measures to end non-transparent and discriminatory measures.”).

Similarly, in the January 2021, USTR 2020 Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance (pages 7-8), USTR provided a review of a number of concerns including retaliation, intimidation and lack of transparency. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2020/2020USTRReportCongressChinaWTOCompliance.pdf

“China has been a particularly bad actor when it comes to trade remedies. While the use of trade remedies in a manner consistent with WTO rules is an important tool for protecting domestic industries
from unfair and injurious trade practices, China has made a practice of launching antidumping (AD) and
countervailing duty (CVD) investigations that appear designed to discourage its trading partners from the
legitimate exercise of their rights under WTO rules. This type of retaliatory conduct is not typical of WTO
members, nor is it a legitimate basis for seeking AD and CVD relief. Moreover, when China has pursued
AD and CVD investigations under these circumstances, it appears that its regulatory authorities have tended to move forward with the imposition of duties regardless of the strength of the underlying legal claims and evidence. The United States’ three successful WTO cases challenging the duties imposed by China on imports of U.S. grainoriented electrical steel (GOES), U.S. chicken broiler products, and U.S. automobiles offer telling examples of this problem. Indeed, China’s poor behavior does not always stop after an adverse WTO ruling. In two of the three WTO cases brought by the United States on trade remedies, China did not implement the WTO’s recommendations, and the United States was forced to bring Article 21.5 compliance proceedings to secure China’s compliance.

“China’s retaliatory use of trade remedies highlights another unique issue that WTO members face when
dealing with China – the threat of reprisal. It is no secret that foreign companies are hesitant to speak
publicly, or to be perceived as working with their governments to challenge China’s trade policies or
practices, because they fear retaliation from the Chinese state. A study by one U.S. industry association noted that foreign companies confidentially have reported receiving explicit or implicit threats from Chinese government officials – typically made orally rather than in writing – about possible retaliatory actions that could have severe repercussions for a company’s business prospects in China. At the same time, it is also no secret that China threatens more vulnerable WTO members to dissuade them from speaking publicly against China.

“A further persistent problem is China’s inadequate transparency. China disregards many of its WTO
transparency obligations, which places its trading partners at a disadvantage and often serves as a
cloak for China to conceal unfair trade policies and practices from scrutiny. For example, for the first 15
years of its WTO membership, China failed to notify any sub-central government subsidies to the WTO,
despite the fact that most subsidies in China emanate from provincial and local governments. The magnitude and significance of this problem is illustrated by the five WTO cases that the United States has brought challenging prohibited subsidies maintained by China. While those cases involved hundreds of subsidies, most of the subsidies were provided by sub-central governments. The United States was able to bring those cases only because of its own extensive investigatory efforts to uncover China’s opaque subsidization practices. Most other WTO members lack the resources to conduct the same types of investigations. Today, China continues to shield massive sub-central government subsidies from the scrutiny of WTO members. Together with other non-market practices, these subsidies contribute to the serious excess capacity problems that plague industries like steel, aluminum, solar panels, and fishing and devastate global markets and foreign competitors. Industrial plans such as Made in China 2025, which reportedly targets 10 sectors in China with hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, inevitably will create a new wave of industries with severe excess capacity to the detriment of China’s trading partners.

“For years, the United States has urged China to change the behaviors described above and become a
responsible member of the WTO. In the future, the United States will continue this effort. The United States also will continue to use the WTO dispute settlement mechanism as an enforcement tool as
appropriate and will continue working through WTO committees and councils and other WTO bodies to
seek effective actions to curb problematic Chinese policies and practices.”

The Chinese actions against Lithuania and indirectly against the European Union and United States

Last year, China embargoed imports from Lithuania after a warming of relations between Lithuania and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei). There are many articles on the row between China and Lithuania, but China’s political concerns about Lithuania’s actions towards Taiwan have led it to put pressure on European and U.S. companies in China to cut off using Lithuanian parts as well as embargoing imports from Lithuania and from other countries where products include Lithuanian components. See, e.g., Politico, China’s trade attack on Lithuania exposes EU’s powerlessness; Companies from several EU countries that depend on Lithuanian supply chains are now finding they face blockades at Chinese ports, December 16, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/china-trade-attack-on-lithuania-exposes-eu-powerlessness/ (“As Lithuania sought to deepen diplomatic ties with Taiwan over recent months, Beijing has moved to make an example of Vilnius by flexing its massive trade muscle and stopping imports of Lithuanian goods. Business organizations told POLITICO that China’s embargo is now hitting manufactured goods from other EU countries — such as France, Germany and Sweden — that are dependent on Lithuanian supply chains.” “A China-based business executive told POLITICO that Beijing is putting pressure on EU businesses to stop importing Lithuanian products. The executive explained that two German companies in the auto industry had parts stopped at Chinese ports in recent days because they were manufactured in Lithuania. Some of these components could take years to be replaced with trusted alternative suppliers, he added.”); Bloomberg, Europe Raises China-Lithuania Trade Dispute With WTO Chief, December 9, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-09/europe-raises-china-lithuania-trade-dispute-with-wto- chief#:~:text=The%20EU%20raised%20Lithuania’s%20claim,denied%20it’s%20blocking%20Lithuania’s%20exports (“The European Union raised its concerns over a growing dispute between member state Lithuania and China to the World Trade Organization as efforts by the bloc to get information from Beijing have been rebuffed.” “‘The EU is informed that Lithuanian shipments are not being cleared through Chinese customs and that import applications from Lithuania are being rejected,’ the EU’s trade chief, Valdis Dombrovskis, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.”).

Typically, the Chinese government has hidden behind claims of faulty products, have denied intimidation or failing to grant import licenses. See, e.g., Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on December 22, 2021, question from The Paper and answer by Zhao Lijian https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/202112/t20211222_10474336.html:

The Paper: During the phone call with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on December 21, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he noted public reports that China’s customs authorities are not clearing Lithuanian shipments or shipments with Lithuanian components, and that they are rejecting import applications from Lithuania. He said that such measures appear to constitute economic coercion. The US underscored its support for Lithuania and the commitment to work with like-minded countries to push back against China’s coercive diplomatic and economic behavior. What is China’s comment?

“Zhao Lijian: The Lithuanian side bears the sole responsibility for the severe difficulties in China-Lithuania relations. The claim that China’s authorities ‘are not clearing Lithuanian shipments’ and that ‘they are rejecting import applications from Lithuania’ is not true. If companies face technical problems in exporting certain products to China, they can report to competent Chinese authorities through normal channels.”

Nonetheless, Chinese media understand the embargo applied by China against Lithuanian goods and other goods incorporating Lithuanian components. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, China snubs EU efforts to mediate in Lithuania row, as trade embargo worsens, 9 December 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3159086/china-snubs-eu-efforts-mediate-lithuania-row-trade-embargo.

The U.S. has announced its support for Lithuania and the European Union in seeking to end the bullying and coercion. See, e.g., USTR press release, Readout of Ambassador Katherine Tai’s Call With Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, January 5, 2022, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2022/january/readout-ambassador-katherine-tais-call-lithuanian-foreign-minister-gabrielius-landsbergis; U.S. Department of State Press Release, Secretary Antony J. Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at a Joint Press Availability, January 5, 2002, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-german-foreign-minister-annalena-baerbock-at-a-joint-press-availability/. The USTR readout and an excerpt from Secretary Blinken during the joint press conference are copied below.

“January 05, 2022

“WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today spoke with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and expressed the United States’ continuing strong support for Lithuania in the face of economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“Ambassador Tai emphasized the U.S. commitment to working with the European Union and its Member States to address coercive diplomatic and economic behavior. They discussed the importance to addressing our shared challenges through a close, transatlantic partnership that embraces and reflects U.S. and EU jointly-held values, which can be supported in part through the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council. Ambassador Tai and Minister Landsbergis both noted that the United States and the EU, as democratic market economies, share a number of core values and principles that we need to defend internationally.

“Ambassador Tai and Minister Landsbergis agreed to stay in regular communication to strengthen the U.S. – EU and U.S. – Lithuanian economic relationship and to continue to address the PRC’s economic coercion.”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:

“The foreign minister and I also discussed China. Germany and the United States agree on the importance of transatlantic coordination on China because it poses a significant challenge to our shared values; to the laws, rules, and agreements that foster stability, prosperity, and freedom worldwide. We also agreed that together, we will continue to build, across the board, an affirmative vision for the future because fundamentally, this is about what we’re for together, not what we’re against.

“Having said that, we have immediate concern about the Government of China’s attempts to bully Lithuania, a country of fewer than three million people. China is pushing European and American companies to stop building products with components made in Lithuania or risk losing access to the Chinese market, all because Lithuania chose to expand their cooperation with Taiwan.

“Here again, this isn’t just about Lithuania, but about how every country in the world should be able to determine its own foreign policy free from this kind of coercion. And the United States will work with our allies and partners, including Germany, to stand up against intimidation like this from China by strengthening our economic resilience, diversifying our supply chains, and countering all forms of economic blackmail. And we’ll continue to stand together against flagrant human rights abuses by the Government of China and advocating for universal human rights around the world.”

China responded to the U.S. statements of support for Lithuania viewing such support as an effort to create a wedge between China and Taiwan. See, e.g., NPR, China lashes out at U.S. for supporting Lithuania in feud with Beijing over Taiwan, January 6, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/01/06/1070856065/china-lashes-out-at-us-for-supporting-lithuania-in-feud-with-beijing-over-taiwan.

China’s actions undermine integrity of WTO system and promote retaliation

While many WTO Members may take actions that are inconsistent with WTO obligations over time, the WTO is premised on Members’ commitment to compliance, transparency to permit trading partners to understand and, where appropriate, challenge Member policies, laws, regulations, practices and actions. While non-trade issues are relevant in most/all bilateral relationships, the WTO is premised on Members not taking trade actions that are inconsistent with WTO obligations for political reasons.

China’s practice of taking punitive actions against trading partners where it disagrees with actions taken by such trading partners, hiding the fact and denying the existence of such actions, intimidating companies invested in China or exporting to China and misusing WTO trade defense tools and standards as a means of retaliation is clearly contrary to a rules based approach to trade embodied by the WTO.

Uncorrected, such actions encourage large trading partners to consider unilateral retaliation options as is happening now in the European Union. See Politico, France eyes quick anti-China action to bail out Lithuania in trade war, January 6, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/france-china-measures-lithuania-new-trade-weapons/ (“France wants the EU to punch back quickly to stop China holding the bloc hostage in a snowballing trade conflict over Lithuania.” “The EU has plans to roll out a new trade weapon called an ‘anti-coercion instrument’ to retaliate in precisely these kinds of cases but that fresh legislation could take years to fully enter into force and Paris is signaling that action over Lithuania would be needed well before that. When asked whether Paris would push for EU action to resist Beijing before the anti-coercion instrument is ready, a senior French government official on Thursday told POLITICO: ‘Yes. We will take measures very quickly.'”).

Presumably, like minded Members (e.g., U.S., EU, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others) will be looking at what types of WTO reforms would have a better chance of minimizing the type of bullying and economic coercion being practiced by China. The real question is whether such reforms can be adopted and whether they could be effective. Any such reforms are years away in a best case situation. Until then, one should expect continued flouting of WTO rules by China when it finds such actions politically attractive.

The Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations — the recent USTR Report

The Russian Federation became the 156th Member of the WTO on August 22, 2012. Since the accession of the Russian Federation, eight other countries have acceded, the last on July 29, 2016 with 23 additional countries in the queue at the WTO. Like other WTO Members, the Russian Federation goes through periodic Trade Policy Reviews (“TPR”) as part of the WTO’s effort to ensure transparency in Member policies and to permit Members to raise questions on policies and practices of each other. The first TPR for the Russian Federation was conducted in 2016. See TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 24 August 2016, WT/TPR/S/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY
RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 24 August 2016, WT/TPR/G/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION Revision, 6 December 2016, WT/TPR/S/345/Rev.1; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, 25 November 2016, WT/TPR/M/345; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, MINUTES OF THE MEETING, Addendum (written questions and replies), 19 December 2016, WT/TPR/M/345/Add.1; TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 28 AND 30 SEPTEMBER 2016, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp445_crc_e.htm.

The second TPR was conducted in 2021 with the two day meeting with Members happening on October 27 and 29, 2021. See TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 22 September 2021, WT/TPR/S/416; TRADE POLICY REVIEW, REPORT BY RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 22 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/416; TRADE POLICY REVIEW MECHANISM, COMMUNICATION FROM THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE TRADE POLICY REVIEW BODY, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Arrangements for Review Meeting, 6 October 2021, WT/TPR/466; TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 27 and 29 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp516_crc_e.htm; EU Statement at the Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, 27 October 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/106279/eu-statement-trade-policy-review-russian-federation-27-october-2021_en; Statement by H.E. Ambassador LI Chenggang at the 2nd Trade Policy Review of Russia, http://wto.mofcom.gov.cn/article/meetingsandstatements/202111/20211103214021.shtml.

While the Russian Federation is not an important trading partner of the United States, because of the geopolitical relationship for the last many decades, the U.S. Congress has required an annual report on the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations since Russia’s accession in 2012. The ninth such report was released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on December 21, 2021. See USTR Press Release, USTR Announces 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 21, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/december/ustr-announces-2021-report-implementation-and-enforcement-russias-wto-commitments; United States Trade Representative, 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 2021, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/WTO/2021%20Report%20on%20Russia’s%20WTO%20Compliance.pdf.

Today’s post reviews some of the USTR findings but starts with some background information on the Russian Federation and a look at the recent Trade Policy Review for the country.

Background information on the Russian Federation

The CIA World Factbook provides a lot of information on countries. The entry for the Russian Federation was last updated on December 17, 2021. See CIA, World Factbook, Russia, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/russia/. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Russian Federation:

o is the largest country by land area (and roughly 1.8 times as large as the USA);

o has borders with fourteen countries (Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland and Ukraine);

o has a coastline of 3,653 km;

o has the ninth largest population in the world (142,320,790 as of July 2021 est.);

o had a negative population growth rate in 2021 (-0.2%, placing it 207th on population growth);

o has a low birth rate (9.71 births per 1000 population, or 193rd in the world)

o has a high literacy rate (99.7% of those 15 years of age or older);

o had relatively low GDP growth in 2017-2019 (1.34% – 2.54%) or 160th in the world

o has low public debt (15.5% of GDP in 2017);

o has large foreign exchange reserves and gold (6th largest);

o is the world’s second largest producer and exporter of crude oil;

o is the world’s 3rd largest producer of refined petroleum products and 2nd largest exporter;

o is the world’s 2nd largest natural gas producer and largest exporter.

The CIA World Factbook has a great deal more information but the above are some examples of data on the Russian Federation.

Despite the Russian Federation’s high levels of education and abundant natural resources, the country in 2022 is rated by the World Bank as only an upper middle-income country (2020 GNI per capita of between $4,096 and $12,695). See World Bank Country and Lending Groups, Country Classification, July 1, 2021, https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups. Russia in 2020 had a per capita GNI in current U.S. dollars of $10,690 which ranked the Russian Federation 74th. See World Bank, GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$) – Russian Federation, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=RU

Because so much of the economy is driven by the gas and oil sectors, increasing prices for both in 2021 led to strong growth in GDP in the Russian Federation, although growth is expected to moderate in 2022 and 2023. See World Bank, Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation Build, Says World Bank Report, December 1, 2021,https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/12/01/amidst-strong-economic-rebound-in-russia-risks-stemming-from-covid-19-and-inflation-build-says-world-bank-report.

The World Trade Organization provides useful information on each Member in various publications including its annual Trade Profiles. The 2021 publication shows that in 2020, the Russian Federation accounted for 1.89% of world merchandise exports and 1.35% of world merchandise imports. Total Russian Federation exports were $332.227 billion and its total imports were $240.380 billion. Its five largest export markets were the European Union (41.3%), China (13.4%), Belarus (5.1%), Turkey (5%) and the Republic of Korea (3.8%). The Russian Federation’s five largest trading partners for imports into the Russian Federation were the European Union (34.2%), China (21.9%), Belarus (5.5%), the United States (5.4%) and Japan (3.6%).

As noted, fuels and mining products are the largest exports — 59.1% of total Russian exports in 2020 with petoleum oils (crude and refined) accounting for$189.176 billion (49.49%). Coal ($15.987 billion) and natural gas ($9.501 billion) are the next largest export products.

The Russian Federation accounts for a smaller shares of the export trade in commercial services — 0.95% of global exports and a slightly larger share of imports of commercial services, 1.38%. The European Union accounts for the largest share of commercial service exports from the Russian Federation (35.9%) and 47.5% of the Russian Federation’s imports of commercial services. The U.S. accounts for 6.5% of Russia’s exports of commercial services and 4% of imports of such services into the Russian Federation. China is the third largest importer of Russian commercial services (6.2% of Russia’s exports) and 3.7% of Russia’s imports.

See World Trade Organization Trade Profiles 2021 at 298-299, October 2021,https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/trade_profiles21_e.pdf.

WTO Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation in 2021

While the minutes to the 2021 TPR of the Russian Federation and the written questions and replies are not yet available, the Secretariat review along with the Russian Federation write-up are available as is the concluding statement of the chairman of the review on the Russian Federation. Both the EU and China’s statements on October 27 at the review are also available.

For brevity, the Chair’s concluding comments and the statement of the European Union (as the largest trading partner for the Russian Federation) are copied below. Both follow norms for the WTO by identifying areas where the Member being reviewed has made contributions to the system and then follows with particular concerns of some other Members. First the concluding remarks by the Chairperson on 29 October 2021. TRADE POLICY REVIEW: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, Concluding remarks by the Chairperson, 27 and 29 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp516_crc_e.htm

“Concluding remarks by the Chairperson

“The second Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation has allowed us to better understand and discuss recent developments regarding trade, economic, and investment policies in the Russian Federation. 57 delegations took the floor, which demonstrates the importance Members attach to the review of the policies and practices of the Russian Federation. 1,017 advance written questions were submitted by Members, with additional questions submitted during and following the first day of our meeting.

“I would like to thank the delegation of the Russian Federation, headed by Ms Ekaterina MAYOROVA, Director of the Department of Trade Negotiations, Ministry of Economic Development, for their constructive participation in this exercise.

“I would like to express my gratitude to our discussant, His Excellency Ambassador Didier CHAMBOVEY of Switzerland, for his insightful remarks touching on macroeconomic and other developments, remaining trade and trade-related challenges, and the role the TPRM can play in overcoming these.

“I would like to thank the delegations that took the floor for their valuable contributions to this Review. Members commended the Russian Federation for its stable and resilient economic performance since the previous Review in 2016, including measures taken to stabilize the banking sector. They particularly stressed the effective macroeconomic and monetary policies undertaken, and the demonstrated resilience to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to volatile energy markets. Some Members commented on policies aimed at diversifying the economy and addressing structural impediments to economic growth.

“Members also positively noted a number of policy reforms undertaken by the Russian Federation affecting, among others, trade facilitation, import tariffs and export duties, competition policy, protection of IPRs, and supporting MSMEs. Regarding trade facilitation, Members highlighted reforms to improve customs procedures and requirements in areas such as risk management, automation, electronic documents, and reducing clearance times.

“While Members appreciated the overall reduction in MFN tariffs, they nevertheless encouraged the Russian Federation to further simplify the tariff structure. Members expressed the hope that the Russian Federation would continue to deepen the reforms and to ensure that any new policies, regulations, and reforms would be in line with its WTO commitments.

“Many Members stressed the Russian Federation’s strong involvement in, and support of, the multilateral trading system. They highlighted the constructive engagement of the Russian Federation in the discussions around WTO reform, preparations for MC12, fisheries subsidies negotiations, the four Joint Statement Initiatives, and trade and gender.

“Regarding the JSI on Services Domestic Regulations, some Members encouraged the Russian Federation to swiftly submit its draft schedule of commitments. Members also encouraged the Russian Federation to complete its process of accession to the Agreement on Government Procurement in the near future.

“Members expressed their desire for the Russian Federation to continue its leadership role at the WTO. In this regard, they welcomed the stated commitment by the Russian Federation to the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core.

“Some Members also commended the Russian Federation for its support to developing countries, for example, through the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. In this regard, Members also emphasized the importance of trade preferences under the Generalized System of Preferences.

“Import substitution, localization policies, and local content requirements, especially in the context of public procurement, were issues raised by many Members. They were particularly interested in the impact such policies can have on trade, FDI, productivity, and the integration of the Russian Federation into global value chains. Members encouraged the Russian Federation to review such policies in light of WTO principles and the process of its accession to the Agreement on Government Procurement. For some Members, these policies were representative of a broader set of policies that they perceived as discriminatory and reducing predictability, transparency, and competition.

“Members commended the Russian Federation for the reforms undertaken to improve the business and investment environment, for example, the introduction of a “regulatory guillotine” mechanism, and the establishment of key conditions for electronic commerce. Members also expressed concerns regarding the remaining challenges in this area.

“Thus, in addition to the recent increase in restrictions on FDI, Members identified several factors as potentially having a negative effect on the conditions of doing business in the Russian Federation. These include governance and other rule-of-law issues, the dominant position of the State in key sectors of the economy and the lack of transparency regarding state-owned enterprises, the existence of a high degree of concentration in certain sectors, and the use of various subsidies in favour of domestic firms. Concerns were voiced in relation to developments in specific services sectors, including financial services and maritime transport.

“While many Members expressed appreciation for the numerous notifications submitted, they nevertheless encouraged the Russian Federation to further improve the timeliness and completeness of its notification record, mentioning in particular notifications related to state trading enterprises, licensing procedures, agriculture, and technical regulations applied at the national level.

“Sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical regulations have also received much attention in this Review. Thus, for example, several Members raised issues regarding inspection procedures for meat imports and the ‘Track and Trace’ regime. Some Members expressed concerns regarding the application of measures that they consider were not based on international standards, unsupported by scientific evidence, and without adequate transparency. Some Members stressed the need for more clarity regarding the relationship between EAEU rules and rules applied at the national level.

“Other issues of interest for some Members included the introduction of export bans on agricultural and wood products, the imposition of temporary export restrictions and the increased use of export tariff rate quotas since the beginning of the pandemic, and measures relating to transit.

“This Trade Policy Review was characterized by open and constructive discussions around the Russian Federation’s trade and trade-related policies. As highlighted by the Russian Head of Delegation, the discussant, and many Members, the TPRM represents an opportunity to improve policies going forward.

“I therefore hope that the authorities will find the questions, comments, and experiences shared during this Review useful in their efforts to review and design their policies. Members look forward to receiving the answers to outstanding questions from the Russian Federation within one month, at which point the Review will be successfully concluded.”

A number of the concerns raised were also raised in the 2016 review, indicating limited if any improvement on important issues (e.g., import substitution, localization policies, and local content requirements). Others reflect actions by the Russian Federation following the start of the pandemic (“the introduction of export bans on agricultural and wood products, the imposition of temporary export restrictions and the increased use of export tariff rate quotas since the beginning of the pandemic, and measures relating to transit.”).

The European Union raised many of these same issues in its statement at the TPR meeting on October 27, 2021. As the largest trading partner of the Russian Federation, the concerns raised likely reflect the broadest understanding of problems with the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations. EU Statement at the Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, 27 October 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/106279/eu-statement-trade-policy-review-russian-federation-27-october-2021_en

“Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

“The EU welcomes this second Trade Policy Review of the Russian Federation, almost a decade since itsaccession to the WTO. We welcome the delegation of Russia, led by Ms. Ekaterina Mayorova (Director of theDepartment of trade negotiations, Ministry of Economic Development) and thank the Discussant, Ambassadorof Switzerland H.E. Didier Chambovey, for his remarks.

“The EU is the main trade partner of the Russian Federation, both for goods and for services, and its main source of foreign direct investment, with some 75% of total inward FDI. Bilateral trade in 2020 represented some 4.8%of EU foreign trade in goods, down from 6% at the time of the previous TPR.

“Back in 2016, at its first Trade Policy Review, the EU had emphasized that Russia’s WTO accession represented an opportunity for its modernisation. A chance to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on raw materials and commodities, but equally to adjust its judicial and legal framework to bring in a more dynamic and responsive market. The European Union continues to hold that belief.

“Over the last few years, Russia’s efforts to play a constructive role in various areas in the WTO have not gone unnoticed – be it in its involvement in the Joint Statement Initiatives, or in its general support to achieve a meaningful MC12 including through its openness towards WTO reform in order for the organization to remain strong and credible. The EU looks forward in making progress in the different Joint Statement Initiatives, and in particular concluding the Domestic Regulation JSI in the margins of MC12. We hope that Russia will be in the position to submit their schedule of specific commitments as soon as possible, noting that the schedules of all participants are an essential component for a successful conclusion of this negotiation.

“However, the Russian Federation needs to redouble its commitment to the WTO. Today, we regret to
note that since its accession the Russian authorities have expanded, rather than reduced, the scope of its import substitution policy without any realistic furthering their pretended aim of localisation. This not only has a negative effect on trade with the EU but is done in most cases to the direct detriment of Russian consumers.

“In addition, the arguments used by the Russian authorities to justify protectionist policies namely that they are a direct consequence of the sanctions of individual economies on the Russian Federation – are questionable in our view. These Russian policies started immediately after Russia’s WTO accession and predate the political tensions that Russia highlights.

“Some of the specific questions tabled by the EU better explain the underlying concerns that we have. Allow me to highlight some:

“Several questions target the contradiction between the aspiration of the Russian Federation to become a member of the Government Procurement Agreement, and the reality of its practice. The ability of foreign bidders to participate in government procurement has been obstructed or effectively denied through
a growing body of regulations granting advantages to domestic products via price preferences, quotas, or exclusion of foreign goods and services.

“A large part of the Russian state’s presence in the economy – up to 20% of Russian GDP — corresponds to state-owned enterprises providing products and services in a commercial context. Despite the applicable WTO rules in this area, the Russian Federation has introduced such a growing body of restrictions as to make the participation of foreign bidders in tenders uneconomic, or a practical impossibility.

“As to export restrictions – under the rationale of preventing illegal logging and supporting domestic forest-based industries – the Russian Federation has announced a ban on the export of unprocessed wood from 2022. It remains unclear how the Russian Federation intends to reconcile these measures
with the schedule of its concessions, which include export tariff-rate quotas in some of the categories of wood covered by the announced ban.

“One primary mission of the WTO is to facilitate transparency. For this, a reliable notification practice is
imperative. The Russian Federation’s performance in this area leaves much to be desired. For example,
Russian Federation notifications in the area of technical barriers to trade have concerned only
Eurasian Economic Union-level measures. A number of Russian Federation national measures falling within the scope of the TBT Agreement entered into force without any notification whatsoever to the WTO, including those regarding the wines and spirits sector. Not a single measure adopted at the national level has been notified to the WTO.

“The same can be said about the exclusive rights in the area of foreign trade granted to certain entities
in the Russian Federation including, for example, for the export of natural gas. The Russian Federation
has failed, since its accession, to notify a single state-trading enterprise to the WTO. At the same time, around 50% of the EU’s imports from the Russian Federation are sold by a single export monopoly of natural gas. Let me also remark that, beyond its non-notification, this fact sits uneasily with the overall principles of the WTO, and in our view also with the long-term interests of Russia.

“To conclude, the EU welcomes the Russian Federation’s commitment in its report to an open, non-discriminatory and transparent multilateral trading system, and for a reform aimed at preserving the WTO’s role in maintaining and developing new trade rules. We commend this as a good foundation for the necessary efforts that Russia should undertake to abide by the spirit and the letter of its WTO commitments, and to build a more open, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment.

“Thank you.”

USTR’s 9th Report to Congress on the Russian Federation’s Compliance with WTO obligations

USTR Katherine Tai’s press release on the latest USTR report on the Russian Federation’s compliance with WTO obligations summarizes concerns that the U.S. has more than nine years after the Russian Federation became a WTO Member.

“USTR Announces 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments

“December 21, 2021

“WASHINGTON – The Office of the United States Trade Representative today released its ‘2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Commitments.’

“‘This Report provides an overview of Russia’s continued departure from the guiding principles of the World Trade Organization, such as non-discriminatory practices, more open trade, predictability, transparency, and fair competition,’ said Ambassador Katherine Tai. ‘Failure to follow WTO norms, rules, and commitments puts American workers and businesses at an economic disadvantage and prevents them from competing on a level playing field. USTR will continue to work with like-minded partners and use the tools of the WTO to hold Russia accountable for its behavior in the multilateral trading system.’

“The Report highlights areas in which USTR has raised concerns about Russia’s compliance with its WTO
commitments, including:

“‘Russia continues to adopt and implement localization measures to provide preferential treatment to both domestically produced goods and services.’

“‘In the agriculture sector, Russia maintains non-science-based import restrictions and refuses to recognize other countries’ guarantees on exporting facilities.’

“‘Russia’s import substitution strategies for the IT sector, such as the ‘Digital Economy of the Russian Federation,’ also raise additional national treatment and import substitution concerns.’

“‘As economies around the world were forced to retract and retrench in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Russia exacerbated those trends by extending its control over the Russian economy and tightening restrictions on trade.’

“Background

“This report was prepared pursuant to section 201 of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-208), which requires the U.S. Trade Representative to submit a report to the Committee on Finance of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives describing the commitments that Russia made upon entering the World Trade Organization on August 12, 2012, and assessing the extent to which Russia has implemented those commitments after 9 years of WTO membership.”

The USTR report is 62 pages in length and reviews an array of areas where the Russian Federation undertook commitments on acceding to the WTO and provides the USTR evaluation of whether there has been implementation to date. See 2021 Report on the Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments, December 2021, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/WTO/2021%20Report%20on%20Russia’s%20WTO%20Compliance.pdf. The table of contents (pages i-ii) reviews the topics reviewed and is copied below.

Implementation and Enforcement of Russia’s WTO Commitments
Contents
I. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
II. Executive Summary ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2
III. Russia and the Customs Union/Eurasian Economic Union ………………………………… . 5
IV. Russia in the World Trade Organization ………………………………………………………………. 6
V. Import Regulation ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
A. Tariffs and Border Fees ………………………………………………………………………………………. 7
B. Customs Fees…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 9
C. Customs Valuation …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 9
D. Trade Facilitation …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10
E. Trading Rights …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11
F. Quantitative Restrictions …………………………………………………………………………………… 12
G. Import Licensing ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 13
H. Trade Remedies ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 15
VI. Export Regulation ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 16
VII. Agriculture …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 18
A. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures …………………………………………………………………. 18
B. Domestic Supports and Export Subsidies ……………………………………………………………. 24
VIII. Internal Policies Affecting Trade ……………………………………………………………………….. 26
A. Non-Discrimination ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26
B. Industrial Policy, Including Subsidies …………………………………………………………………. 29
C. State-Owned, -Controlled, and -Trading Enterprises …………………………………………….. 31
D. Pricing Policies ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 33
E. Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessments ……………………………. 34
F. Government Procurement ………………………………………………………………………………….. 37
IX. Services ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 39
A. Financial Services ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 40
B. Telecommunications ………………………………………………………………………………………… 41
C. Computer and Related Services …………………………………………………………………………. 41
D. Distribution Services ………………………………………………………………………………………… 43
E. Audio-Visual and Media Services ………………………………………………………………………. 43
X. Intellectual Property Rights ………………………………………………………………………………….. 44
A. Legal Framework …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 44
B. Enforcement ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 47
XI. Investment ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 50
A. Trade-Related Investment Measures …………………………………………………………………… 50
B. Special Economic Zones …………………………………………………………………………………… 53
XII. Rule of Law………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 53
A. Eurasian Economic Union …………………………………………………………………………………. 53
B. Transparency …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 54
C. Judicial Review ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 56
XIII. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 57

A portion of the Executive Summary section reveals U.S. concerns with Russia’s implementation of obligations. The excerpt (from pages 3-5) is copied below.

” Over the past year, Russia has continued its trajectory of an economy moving away from the guiding principles of the WTO: non-discrimination, freer trade, predictability, transparency, and fair competition. Rather, Russia maintains restrictive at-the-border measures, institutes behind-the-border measures to inhibit trade, and implements an industrial policy seemingly driven by the guiding principles of import substitution and forced localization.

“Russia maintains tariffs ranging from 25 percent to 40 percent on various industrial products imported from the United States in retaliation against tariffs imposed on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum articles under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended. Russia also maintains a near complete ban on imports of agricultural goods from the United States and other WTO Members. Russia also continues to apply quantitative restrictions or outright bans on certain agricultural exports.

“In addition to these border measures, Russia maintains various behind-the-border measures that interrupt the smooth flow of global trade, such as outmoded import licensing requirements and a mandatory labeling regime. In 2021, Russia introduced yet another regime to monitor products, a traceability regime, that requires tracking consignments of goods (as opposed to individual goods subject to the mandatory labeling regime) through the chain of commerce in Russia. In the agriculture sector, Russia maintains non-science-based import restrictions and refuses to recognize other countries’ guarantees on exporting facilities.

“Compounding these at-the-border and behind-the-border restrictions, Russia continues to adopt and implement localization measures to provide preferential treatment to both domestically produced goods and services. In response, the United States, often working with other WTO Members, has raised concerns about Russia’s import substitution plans, subsidies (including those contingent on use of domestic over imported content), preferential taxes, preferential pricing mandates, prohibitions on purchasing imported goods and services, and domestic purchasing requirements, among others.

“The United States has also continued to raise concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency, manifested, for example, in its refusal to notify a single state trading enterprise and its delay (or complete refusal) to provide written answers to questions about its import substitution policies. The United States, joined by other WTO Members, will continue to remind Russia of its transparency obligations.

“The United States has urged Russia to meet its commitments with regard to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. In particular, the United States has reviewed Russia’s implementation of WTO commitments on data exclusivity, pharmaceutical patent protection, and collective management organizations. Moreover, Russia’s record on enforcement remains weak.

“Since early 2014, the U.S. Government has curtailed its bilateral engagement with Russia in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, limiting USTR’s ability to raise directly with Russia our concerns about the trajectory of its trade policies. The sequestration resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic further limited engagement with Russian officials. Nevertheless, the interagency team of Russia specialists in the U.S. Government continued to monitor and evaluate Russia’s trade and investment policies and practices, and where and when possible, USTR continues to raise concerns in WTO meetings and on the margins of committee and council meetings to hold Russia accountable for its actions. As it has to date, if the United States finds that Russia’s actions appear to be inconsistent with its WTO commitments. The United States will investigate and use all appropriate means to resolve the matter and keep Russia’s markets open to U.S. exports.”

The Russian Federation’s reaction to U.S. report

The Russian Federation has rejected U.S. claims of non-implementation and calls attention to sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the U.S. and EU. See Tass Russian News Agency, ‘Beyond absurdity’: Diplomat slams US claims about Russia’s import substitution, December 24, 2021, https://tass.com/economy/1380631.

The Road Forward

Most of the concerns raised by the United States in its latest report on the Russian Federation’s implementation of WTO commitments mirror concerns that have been raised by the European Union and presumably others in the latest TPR of the Russian Federation. Moreover, some of the concerns have persisted since the Russian Federation first joined the WTO in 2012 as reflected in the first TPR from 2016 and earlier USTR reports to Congress on the Russian Federation’s implementation of WTO commitments. It is unclear whether the Russian Federation has any intention of addressing these longstanding and more current concerns.

The Chairman of the TPR for the Russian Federation in his concluding remarks and the EU Ambassador in his statement during the TPR highlighted areas where the Russian Federation has made positive contributions to the WTO such as in the fisheries negotiations and a number of the Joint Statement Initiatives and in supporting WTO reform. Thus, the Russian Federation has the potential to make some meaningful contributions in the areas where it is contributing. Such contributions will hopefully continue in 2022.

While Russia is treated as a market economy by the U.S. and the EU in trade remedy cases, the reality is that a large portion of Russia’s economy remains state owned or state directed. Such state ownership and direction are fundamentally at odds with the multilateral trading system and the concept of a level playing field. WTO reform is likely critical to address distortions caused by state ownership and control. While the Russian Federation is supportive of reform, it is unlikely to support meaningful reform on the state-owned/directed sector.

In addition, the many behind the border restrictions reviewed above simply contribute to the lack of meaningful access to the market of the Russian Federation for many WTO Members and have led to the size of the Russian Federation’s trade surplus. There does not appear any likelihood that the Russian Federation will meaningfully address these issues.

Perhaps the biggest unknown in 2022 is whether potential actions by the Russian Federation vis-a-vis one of its neighbors (Ukraine) will be implemented. The U.S., EU and others will certainly impose expanded sanctions against the Russian Federation if there is further encroachment by the Russian Federation into Ukraine. A souring of political relations would also likely cause a broader fallout for the trading system.

Whether the Russian Federation will be a meaningful contributor to supporting the global trading system is solely in the hands of the Russian Federation. 2022 is likely to be a year where the Russian Federation has some positive contributions but fails to address the longstanding concerns.

Forced labor and trade — U.S. Congress passes legislation to address China’s treatment of Uyghurs

In prior posts I have reviewed how concerns over perceived human rights abuses (particularly forced labor) have trade implications. See, e.g., April 27, 2021:  WTO and forced labor in cotton — Commentary by Amb. Dennis Shea, former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/27/wto-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-commentary-by-amb-dennis-shea-former-deputy-u-s-trade-representative/; March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/; January 25, 2021:  Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021:  Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/.

There have been a number of reports generated by various groups over the years on the depth of the human rights problems in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the treatment of ethnic minorities — particularly the Uyghurs. See, e.g., Australian Strategic Policy Institute and International Cyber Policy Centre, Uyghurs for sale, ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang (authors Vicky Xiuzhong Xu with Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro, Nathan Ruser), Policy Brief Report No. 26/2020, https://ad-aspi.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/2021-10/Uyghurs%20for%20sale%2020OCT21.pdf?VersionId=zlRFV8AtLg1ITtRpzBm7ZcfnHKm6Z0Ys.

The U.S. State Department releases an annual report on Human Rights issues in other countries, including China. The 2020 report on China contains the following excerpts relevant to the human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Region and the question of forced labor.

“CHINA 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT

“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“* * *

“Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

“Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other members of predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only ‘re-education’ training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy; pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members, and censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; forced labor and trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

“* * *

“Section 7. Workers’ Rights

“* * *

“b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

“The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law provides a range of penalties depending on the circumstances, including imprisonment, criminal detention, administrative blacklisting, and fines. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law was not effectively enforced.

“The PRC used state-sponsored forced labor in detention camps, prisons, and factories in and outside Xinjiang.

“There is evidence of forced labor exacted by the use of force, threats of detention or other abusive practices against workers laboring in the camps, large industrial parks, and residential locations in Xinjiang. There are also reports of individuals ‘graduating’ from ‘vocational training centers’ and then being compelled to work at nearby facilities or sent to factories in other parts of China.

“China’s State Council issued a white paper on employment and labor rights in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on September 17, 2020, in which it acknowledged that the Chinese Government has provided ‘vocational training’ to an average of 1.29 million workers in Xinjiang every year from 2014 to 2019.

“Xinjiang government documents indicate the existence of a large-scale PRC government plan, known as the ‘mutual pairing assistance’ program, where 19 cities and provinces, mostly in eastern China, have established factories in Xinjiang. There is significant risk that these factories are using camp labor and other exploitative labor practices.

“Persons detained in internment camps in Xinjiang (see section 6) were subjected to forced labor. The detainees worked in factories producing garments, hair accessories, and electronics and in agricultural production, notably picking and processing cotton and tomatoes. In March an Australian Strategic Policy
report stated the PRC government transferred Uyghur and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang to technology, clothing, and automotive factories across the country; conditions for many transferred workers strongly suggested forced labor. A New York Times investigation published on April 15 stated some Chinese companies used forced labor to produce personal protective equipment. In December a Center for Global Policy report detailed the PRC’s coercive labor training and transfer schemes that led to forced labor of nearly half a million people in the Xinjiang cotton harvest.

“A December 2020 Jamestown report used evidence from public and nonpublic Chinese government and academic sources indicating that labor transfers of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to other regions and other provinces are part of a state-run scheme to forcibly uproot them, assimilate them, and reduce their population. Using Chinese government documents, the report estimates that up to 1.6 million transferred laborers are estimated to be at risk of being subjected to forced labor as a result of the government policy that intends to ‘displace’ populations deemed ‘problematic’ by the government.

“Chinese-flagged fishing vessels subjected workers from other countries to forced labor. On August 26, an Indonesian social media outlet posted a video of three Indonesian fisherman pleading for rescue from a PRC-flagged fishing vessel. The fishermen claimed they were subjected to physical violence, forced to work 20-hour days, and not paid for their work.

“Although in 2013 the NPC officially abolished the re-education through labor system, an arbitrary system of administrative detention without judicial review, numerous media outlets and NGOs reported forced labor continued in prisons as well as drug rehabilitation facilities where individuals continued to be detained without judicial process. An August, Epoch Times article stated prison labor was used in apparel, artificial flowers, and cosmetic production in Shenyang, Liaoning. There were reports of forced labor in other provinces in the production of items such as bricks, coal, and electronics.

“Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.”

U.S. Department of State, CHINA 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT, pages 1, 78, 81-82 (March 2021 updated in November), https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/china/.

U.S. law for more than 90 years has banned the importation of goods made with forced labor. The problem of forced labor is not limited to China and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in recent years has taken action to deny entry to imports from a number of countries of goods suspected of being made with forced labor. See, e.g., Testimony of Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, JD, Executive Director, Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, Before the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, The Global Challenge of Forced Labor in Supply Chains: Strengthening Enforcement and Protecting Workers, Wednesday July 21, 2021, https://waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/democrats.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/documents/Witness%203%20Jennifer%20Rosenbaum%20Testimony.pdf (citing various USCBP Withhold Release Orders under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 on products from Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkmenistan, Malaysia as well as China).

With the broader concern about the perceived extreme human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and reports of dozens of multinationals apparently “benefitting” from forced labor of Uyghurs, Congress held hearings in 2021 and in December passed legislation directed at improving the enforcement of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 including creating a presumption of use of forced labor for products coming from Xinjiang Province. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act heads to Biden’s desk, December 16, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act-heads-biden%E2%80%99s-desk.

The U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement on December 16th about the legislation going to the President.

“This bill represents our country’s commitment to protecting human dignity and leading the fight against forced labor. We have a moral and economic imperative to eliminate this practice from our global supply chains, including those that run through Xinjiang, China, and exploit Uyghurs and other ethnic
and religious minorities.

“This fall in London, the G7 trade ministers released a Joint Statement affirming our belief that there is no place for forced labor in a rules-based multilateral trading system. By passing this bill with strong, bipartisan support, the United States can set an example for the world to follow.

“I am grateful to Congress for its leadership and look forward to continuing this necessary work with our trading partners and allies to ensure every worker is treated with respect and dignity – no matter where they live.”

USTR Press Release, STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR KATHERINE TAI ON THE PASSAGE OF THE UYGHUR FORCED LABOR PREVENTION ACT, December 16, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/december/statement-ambassador-katherine-tai-passage-uyghur-forced-labor-prevention-act.

The bill as passed by the House and Senate is enclosed below. It is expected that President Biden will sign the legislation in the coming days.

uyghur-forced-labor-compromise

The legislation consists of six sections. The first is a statement of policy including the strengthening the porhibition against importation of goods made with forced labor, leading international efforts to end forced labor, coordinating with Canada and Mexico implementation of Art. 23.6 of the USMCA prohibiting the importation of goods manufactured with forced labor, working to end human trafficking, regarding the prevention of atrocities as in the U.S. national interest, and addressing gross violations of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through diplomatic channels, multilateral institutions, by using all authorities available to the U.S. government including visa and financial sanctions, export restrictions and import controls.

Section 2 details a strategy to enforce Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (prohibiting the importation of goods made through forced labor in Xinjiang). There will be opportunity for public comments, a public hearing and development of a strategy by the Formed Labor Enforcement Task force (established by Sec. 741 of the USMCA Implementation Act) in consultation with the Department of Commerce and the Director of National Intelligence. The strategy will include elements that assess the risk of importing prohibited goods from Xinjiang and procedures to be implemented to reduce the risks, a factual description of various practices in China on forced labor including a list of entities using forced labor or working with the government on forced labor, a list of products made with such labor, a list of entities that exported such goods to the U.S., information on third parties using such goods, a list of high-priority sector (including at a minimum cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon) and other matters including additional resources needed by USCBP to enforce the law and guidance to importers. Within 180 days of enactment of the legislation, the strategy report shall be submitted to the appropriate Congressional Committees. The strategy will be updated annually.

Section 3 creates a rebuttable presumption that imports of goods mined, produced or manufactured in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is produced with forced labor. There are exceptions but CBP needs to submit a report to appropriate Congressional Committees within 30 days after determining an exception applies. The section takes effect 180 days after enactment of the legislation.

Section 4 deals with having a diplomatic strategy to address forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Secretary of State will submit a strategy within 90 days to the appropriate Congressional Committees including plans to enhance bilateral and multilateral coordination among other matters.

Section 5 deals with sanctions relating to forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The President is to identify any official of China’s Government who is determined to be responsible for serious human rights abuses in connection with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and shall impose sanctions on such individuals.

Section 6 sunsets Sections 3-5 eight years after enactment or when the President determines the Chinese Government has ended the human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is earlier.

Comments

Historically, human rights issues have not been viewed through a trade lense. Many human rights abuses are not easily addressed through trade and may have marginal trade effects. That is not true of the issue of forced labor which affects the costs of goods and services where such labor is involved either in an end product or service or in an upstream product or service.

The United States under the Biden Administration is working to address some of the trade distortions flowing from forced labor as can be seen in the ongoing Fisheries Subsidies negotiations. The human rights issues reportedly flowing from treatment of Uyghur and other minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have caused concerns in many countries. Treasury, Commerce, Customs and Border Protection are all taking actions to address trade distortions caused by forced labor whether from China or elsewhere. The legislation sent to the President last week (that will likely be signed by President Biden by the end of the year) is an important step in raising awareness and trying to address the underlying situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

While China is reacting negatively and now has legislative tools to take retaliation (regardless of WTO inconsistency), the U.S. and other countries have to address the human rights problems flagged in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and ensure that trade distortions from forced labor are neutralized.

20 Years of China’s Membership in the WTO — a brief critique

On December 11, 2001, China became the 143rd Member of the WTO. There is little doubt that China has benefitted from Membership, and that global trade has been heavily influenced by China’s rapid growth. There have been numerous programs marking the milestone of 20 years including yesterday’s (December 10) high level forum at the WTO and a joint program by the Washington International Trade Association and the Asia Society Policy Institute on December 9.

A WTO press release reviews the High-Level Forum event and summarizes views of the major participants. See WTO Press Release, High-Level Forum marks 20 years of China’s WTO membership, 10 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/acc_10dec21_e.htm. The full statement of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was made available as well. See Remarks by DG Okonjo-Iweala, 20 Years of China’s WTO Membership: Integration & Development — High-level Opening session (virtual), 10 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno19_e.htm. The DG’s statement lays out many of the positive developments for China from membership and notes the belief of some other WTO Members that China can and needs to do more, a position commented on by former DG Pascal Lamy and by former USTR negotiator Wendy Cutler. A portion of DG Okonjo-Iweala’s statement is copied below.

“For the WTO, welcoming China marked a significant step towards becoming a truly ‘world’ organization. Over a fifth of the world population — 1.3 billion producers and consumers — gained full entry into the multilateral trading system.

“For other WTO members, China’s accession meant the promise of more predictable and mutually beneficial trading relations with a large and fast-growing economy.

“Accession to the WTO is never easy, and China’s accession process was particularly demanding. China requested to resume its status as a contracting party to the GATT in 1986 — 15 years before its eventual accession to the WTO. Over that time, China and its partners together:

“Convened 38 Working Party meetings;

“Reached 44 bilateral market access agreements, the terms of which went on to be multilateralized; and

“Produced over 750 pages of legal text that spell out China’s WTO commitments.  

“The reforms China was asked to make could not have been easy at the time, requiring difficult changes by Chinese policymakers and within the Chinese economy. But looking back, China’s determination to pursue WTO membership as the cornerstone of its economic liberalization strategy has been fully vindicated.

“China has become the textbook case for how global trade integration can drive growth and development. The country’s economic rise has lifted millions out of poverty, not only within China but also in China’s trading partners across the developing world.

“In 2001, China’s GDP was $1.3 trillion. By 2020, it had reached $14.7 trillion. This is really an astonishing improvement. China’s economy has performed well through the pandemic, and the IMF expects Chinese output to grow by 8% in 2021 and by 5.6% in 2022. China is now by some margin the world’s largest manufacturing producer and exporter.

“People in China have seen dramatic increases in living standards. Per capita incomes, in purchasing power terms, have risen from around US$3,400 in 2000 to US$16,200 today in 2020. Extreme poverty has all but been eliminated.

“China is a major destination for foreign direct investment, and has become a significant source of outward investment itself . The stock of FDI in China has risen 10-fold – from about 200 billion US dollars in the year 2000 to close to 2 trillion US dollars in 2020. Meanwhile, China’s stock of outward FDI has soared to 2.3 trillion US dollars, 84 times higher than at the time of its accession.”

The December 9th virtual event hosted by WITA and ASPI had interviews with former USTR Charlene Barshevsky and Minister Long Yongtu (former Vice Minister and Chief Negotiator for China’s Accession). There were also remarks by Amb. Xiangchen Zhang one of the current Deputy Director-Generals and a past Permanent Representative of China to the WTO. There was also a panel of experts from various organizations, many of whom served at USTR at one time or another. The link for the video of the event can be found in WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Volume 250, December 10, 2021. See https://www.wita.org/event-videos/china-wto-20-years/. Based on the deep concerns within the United States on dealing with a host of ongoing systemic problems with China, one of the questions addressed by the panelists and by Amb. Barshevsky was whether it was a misstake for the United States to support China’s accession to the WTO in 2001. Most U.S. speakers supported China’s accession although various concerns were expressed.

A brief critique

Neither event explored to any extent challenges posed by China’s accession or ongoing economic system and behavior. This is perhaps not surprising at the WTO where the event was more celebratory in nature even if cautions were raised by non-Chinese speakers.

But the WITA/ASPI virtual event also tended to overlook many of the core problems. Amb. Barshevsky provided a misleading choice the U.S. and others had back in 2001. The choices were not limited to accession or no accession as suggested by Amb. Barshevsky. The third option that could have been pursued would have been consistent with accessions for most other countries — continue negotiations until China’s system was basically consistent with WTO requirements.

Specifically, For most countries seeking accession, the process goes on until existing Members are comfortable that the acceding Member’s economic and legal system is largely consistent with WTO norms. This was not true of the decision to let China into the WTO in 2001. A longer accession process could have ensured that the reforms needed were in fact undertaken and implemented.

While China had undertaken many reforms prior to accession, there were so many remaining issues needing to be addressed that a variety of special rules were imposed on China to permit Members to monitor China’s progress in the necessary massive remaining reforms and limit damage to other Members while the reforms took place. While most protocols of accession are a few pages at most, China’s protocol (including Annexes) was 102 pages. See ACCESSION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, Decision of 10 November 2001, WT/L/432. China greatly resented the China-specific provisions that were included in the Protocol (the annual trade policy review for the first eight years and a final one at year ten; the special safeguard provisions and the articles dealing with special rules while China’s economy remained state-controlled). China worked to block implementation of the “discriminatory” provisions and largely refused to permit the annual trade policy reviews to be conducted as they should have been and discouraged trading partners from pursuing special safeguard cases.

The core issue for the U.S. and others with China was whether China would adopt the far reaching reforms that would be needed to have China’s economy operate on market principles. While China had made some changes prior to joining and made others after joining, the core issue troubling many WTO Members in 2021 is the massive distortions that occur in a wide range of industries through state involvement, control and direction. As former Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff has raised on a number of occasions, the multilateral trading system requires convergence of economic systems not coexistence. See October 16, 2021:  What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/16/what-role-china-could-play-in-wto-reform-possibilities-are-real-but-chances-of-a-positive-role-are-not/; November 10, 2020:  The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/. Ensuring convergence would have been possible during the accession process if continued. It is nearly impossible after accession where a Member refuses to pursue that path as is the case with China.

The same could be said for problems with transparency of subsidy regimes, problems with human rights issues affecting trade, the proliferation of products subject to export taxes, forced technology transfer and many more topics of ongoing concern to U.S., EU and other businesses. See, e.g., March 24, 2021:  When human rights violations create trade distortions — the case of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/24/when-human-rights-violations-create-trade-distortions-the-case-of-chinas-treatment-of-the-uyghurs-in-xinjiang/. Monitoring progress prior to accession could have significantly reduced the problems that have plagued Members for the last twenty years.

And there are, of course, other troubling issues of China’s participation in the WTO, such as their use of threats, coercion and punitive conduct towards countries who make statements or take positions with which China disagrees. The problems Australia has faced from China on a wide range of products is but one example. See, e.g., December 22, 2020:  China’s trade war with Australia – unwarranted and at odds with China’s portrayal of itself as a strong supporter of the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/22/chinas-trade-war-with-australia-unwarranted-and-at-odds-with-chinas-portrayal-of-itself-as-a-strong-supporter-of-the-wto/. Similarly, their use of retaliation without WTO authorization is another serious problem in their actions and undermines the international rule of law.

So bottom line, China has been a Member of the WTO for 20 years and has benefitted enormously from its membership. But its different economic system and failures on a host of transparency and other obligations and its willingness to abuse other Members through threats, coercion and unauthorized retaliation are major reasons the WTO is in trouble. China’s behavior is also causing many historic supporters of liberalized trade to rethink options.

As the world marks the 20th anniversary of China’s joining the WTO, it is important to understand just how far from the objective of accession on terms that would ensure a level playing field reality has proven to be. Without a change in approach by China, the road forward for the multilateral trading system is uncertain at best.

Conclusion of Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation — a win for the WTO and services trade

For an organization seeking to regain relevance and facing continued delays in holding its 12th Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel from increased COVID-19 cases, the conclusion of the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on Services Domestic Regulation through the issuance of a declaration on December 2 was an important accomplishment. Sixty-seven WTO Members agreed to a reference paper and a process for amending services schedules for the participants over the next months with benefits accruing to all WTO Members and with transition periods for developing and least developed countries. See Declaration on the Conclusion of Negotiations on Services Domestic Regulation, 2 Deember 2021,WT/L/1129 (includes Annex 1, Reference Paper on Services Domestic Regulation, 26 November 2021, INF/SDR/2 and Annex 2S, Schedules of Specific Commitments, 2 December 2021, INF/SDR/3/Rev.1). The 67 WTO Members participating the JSI reportedly account for 90% of services trade. The 67 countries are Albania, Argentina, Australia, Kingdom of Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, European Union (and member states), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

According to the WTO press release on the completion of negotiations, the aim of the JSI was “slashing administrative costs and creating a more transparent operating environment for service providers hoping to do business in foreign markets.” WTO Press Release, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, 2 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm.

It is the first agreement at the WTO barring discrimination between men and women. WT/L/1129 at 10 (Annex I, para. 22(d), development of measures — “such measures do not discriminate between men and women.”).

The WTO and OECD released a short paper looking at the benefits to global services trade through a successful conclusion to the JSI on services domestic regulation. The study estimated that savings to service providers and their customers would be around $150 billion/year. See World Trade Organization and OECD, Services Domestic Regulation in the WTO: Cutting Red Tape, Slashing Trade Costs and Facilitating Services Trade, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_26nov21_e.pdf. The four “key messages” in the study (page 1) are copied below.

“Key messages

“• Improving business climate: At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the Joint Initiative on Services
Domestic Regulation will conclude negotiations on a set of good regulatory practices with a focus on procedural aspects of licensing and authorization procedures for services suppliers. By enhancing the transparency, efficiency, and predictability of regulatory systems, the disciplines on services domestic regulation that the Joint Initiative has negotiated will address the practical challenges that affect the ability of businesses and suppliers to operate.

“• Facilitating services trade: Building on efforts to identify and disseminate good regulatory practice, an
increasing number of “new generation” trade agreements have moved beyond the removal of quantitative restrictions and discriminatory measures to include a comprehensive set of disciplines largely equivalent to those developed by the Joint Initiative. At the same time, economies at all levels of income have also implemented reforms with a view to making their regulatory environment more trade facilitative for services businesses.

“• Lowering trade costs and generating broader trade benefits: Through the full implementation of the
disciplines on services domestic regulation, economies can lower trade costs and reap substantial trade
benefits: annual trade cost savings could be in the range of USD 150 billion, with important gains in financial services, business services, communications and transport services. Moreover, a positive correlation between the implementation of services domestic regulation measures and services trade by all four modes of supply, as well as a more active engagement of economies in global value chains, hints to even broader economic benefits.

“• Widespread gains beyond participants: Exporters from all WTO members will benefit from the improved regulatory conditions when they trade with participants of the Joint Initiative. However, significantly larger benefits will accrue to WTO members that are implementing the disciplines themselves in their internal regulatory frameworks.”

The study provides a summary of improved disciplines the 67 WTO Members have identified in the reference paper. The improved disciplines are grouped under transparency, legal certainty and predictability, regulatory quality and facilitation. See id at 2.

While the estimated savings once fully implemented is small in comparison to global services trade ($150 billion of 2019 estimated trade of $6.1 trillion (2.6%)(UNCTAD, 2020 Handbook of Statistics, page 33, data for 2019, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/tdstat45_en.pdf) as noted in the WTO press release, it is the first update of WTO rules on services in more than a quarter century. The negotiations had three co-chairs — Costa Rica, Australia and the European Union. Part of the EU’s statement by Ambassador Aguiar Machado from the December 2 meeting and announcement of the declaration is provided below. See Services Domestic Regulation Joint Initiative Meeting to conclude the negotiations (co-hosted by Costa Rica, the European Union and Australia), 2 December 2021, Geneva, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/brazil/108266/services-domestic-regulation-joint-initiative-meeting-conclude-negotiations-co-hosted-costa_en.

“Today, we are following up on a joint commitment we collectively took two years ago in Paris to finalize the negotiations that had started with the Joint Statement of Buenos Aires in 2017. Since then, several new Members have joined the group and a tremendous amount of work has been done by our negotiators under the valued Chairmanship of Costa Rica. In particular, warm welcome to the Philippines and Bahrain who joined our negotiations most recently.

“We are here today to conclude our negotiations in this JSI and on the Reference Paper with domestic regulation disciplines. This step will allow us to commence our respective domestic procedures required for the certification of our improved schedules of commitments, which will give legal effect to the negotiated disciplines.

“The work on services domestic regulation is of critical importance. It is the first WTO deliverable in the area of trade in services since a very long time. Our additional commitments for domestic regulation will benefit all other WTO Members by giving them the reassurance that we will apply good regulatory and administrative practices also to their service suppliers. 

“Good regulatory practices are crucial for the well-functioning of today’s economy. I believe that the clear rules on transparency and authorisation in the area of services – that were agreed as part of this initiative – will facilitate trade in services significantly. Especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises who do not have the same resources and experience to cope with complex processes as their larger competitors.

“The services sector has been hit hard by the pandemic – as other parts of our economy. The adoption and implementation of the disciplines of the reference paper will reduce trade costs for service suppliers substantially and thus help the sector in its recovery. It is a sector where women entrepreneurs often play an important role. The reference paper recognises this role by ensuring non-discrimination between men and women in authorisation processes. This is the first rule of this kind in the WTO.

“Delivering on the WTO services agenda is a long overdue objective we all have. Since Buenos Aires, we have collectively developed a pragmatic approach to negotiations. We have allowed groups of interested Members to advance negotiations on some important issues – through open, inclusive and transparent processes.

“Today, we prove that this plurilateral approach can lead to tangible results. This demonstrates that the Joint Initiative model is a viable one. A large and diverse group of WTO Members can work together towards a common objective, overcome their differences, show flexibility and agree on tangible results that are important for businesses and consumers.

“I believe that this Joint Initiative can be a source of inspiration for work in other areas, allowing interested Members to move ahead while ensuring that the outcome, in its substance and its form, remains supportive of and strengthens the multilateral trading system.”

Since the collapse of the Doha Development talks in 2008, the reality has been that most progress on trade talks have taken place in bilateral, and plurilateral settings. The sole meaningful exception was the completion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement which hopefully will be supplemented by a completion to the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations in the near future. Stating at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial, many WTO Members have started Joint Statement Initiatives to seek progress on important issues facing the trading system.

As noted in earlier posts, India and South Africa (WTO Members who are not participating in any of the Joint Statement Initiatives) have raised objections to the use of JSIs to update rules claiming such approaches are inconsistent with existing WTO requirements. See, e.g., November 17, 2021:  The role of plurilaterals in the WTO’s future, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/17/the-role-of-plurilaterals-in-the-wtos-future/.

The view of the participants in the services domestic regulation JSI is that existing WTO provisions permit the updating of service schedules by Members. The reference paper will apply to those who have participated or who later accept the reference paper. New obligations taken on by the 67 Members are applied by them on an MFN basis to all WTO trading partners.

The Declaration on Services Domestic Regulation and actions to implement it will be an early test of whether the WTO can proceed to update rules through open plurilaterals. While one can expect continued objections from India and South Africa, the path to renewed relevancy for the WTO will almost certainly run through finding room for open plurilaterals.

WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides useful information in analyzing vaccine equity

On November 22, 2021, the WTO and IMF announced and released their COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker. See WTO News Release, WTO, IMF launch Vaccine Trade Tracker, 22 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_22nov21_e.htm. While the data on access to vaccines is not as granular as the UNICEF COVID Vaccine Dashboard, the new tracker provides data under six topics: summary, exports (options being by producing economy or by supply arrangement type), imports (options being by income group or by continent), total supply (options being by producing economy or by vaccine type), supply to continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America) and vaccination status (options being by income group and by continent). Data in the initial release are through October 31, 2021. Income groups are the World Bank’s groupings — Low income, lower-middle income, upper middle income and high income.

In recent posts I have noted that much of the discussion on vaccine equity focuses on access and affordability but doesn’t necessarily help understand widely different outcomes for countries or territories that are at the same stage of economic development. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. The WTO-IMF Tracker doesn’t include the identification of countries/territories within income groups but rather reports on the entire grouping. The World Bank’s 2020 listing is the most recent. See World Bank, GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$), https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD; November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/.

Of the listed producing countries involved in exports of COVID-19 vaccines all are WTO Members. The EU, USA, Japan and Republic of Korea are listed as high income countries by the World Bank though Korea has treated itself as a developing country at the WTO. China, the Russian Federation and South Africa are included as upper middle income countries by the World Bank based on per capita GNI, though both China and South Africa claim developing country status at the WTO. India is listed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank and claims developing country status at the WTO. There is a small amount of exports from other countries not broken out by individual country n the WTO-IMF tracker.

On total supply (“Total supply contains both exported and domestically delivered doses), China is the largest producing country with a total supply of 4.0811 billion doses of which 1.3294 billion doses have been exported. The European Union is the second largest producer with a total supply of 1.7077 billion doses producers of which 876.5 million have been exported. India is the third largest producers with total supply of 1.3608 billion doses of which just 66.0 million doses have been exported. The United States is fourth with total supply of 941.1 million doses and exports of 300.8 million doses. Others have much smaller total supplies and exports.

The vast majority of exports have been through bilateral deals (77.5%). The second largest source of exports has been doses contracted via COVAX (8.1%). Because of several major problems COVAX experienced from suppliers — the largest being the shut down of exports from India for much of 2021 — COVAX has been unable to supply the large volume of vaccine doses in 2021 to low income and lower middle income countries that had been planned on. The third largest source of exports was donations via COVAX (7.5%), followed by direct donations from producing countries to receiving countries (6.1%) and supply via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (“AVAT”)(0.8%).

The vaccination status data (item six in the Tracker) is helpful in identifying regions with the greatest needs as well as the breakout by World Bank income level. However, because of the lack of granularity to the individual country or territory, the data don’t help understand the large differences between members in the same continent or in the same income grouping.

By continent, all continents except Africa have received more than 50 courses of doses per 100 people (with North America the highest at 81.4 and Europe at 76.2). Africa was just 11.2 courses per 100 people. All but Africa have more than 50% of the population with at least one dose administered. Africa was just 8.7%. And all but Africa have more than 40% of the population fully vaccinated. Africa was only 5.8%. Thus, there is a need to expand availability of vaccine doses to most African countries

When vaccination status is examined by income level, high income and upper middle income countries and territories have much larger vaccination rates than lower middle income and low income. On courses of vaccines per 100 people, high income countries were at 89.5, upper middle income countries averaged 74.8, lower middle income countries were at just 34.8 and low income countries were at just 7.0. Similar discrepancies exist on percent with at least one dose administered and percent fully vaccinated. The inability of COVAX to receive the volumes of doses contracted for in 2021 and the slowness of donations for richer countries are certainly core reasons for the differences in doses for lower middle income and low income countries.

Yet there are major discrepancies among countries or territories in the same continent or same income grouping. I identified a few in yesterday’s post. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. For example, Morocco is classified as a lower middle income country by the WTO but had the highest level of administered vaccines/100 people in Africa (136.5 (assumed to be 68.25 courses of doses/100 people)) while South Africa, classified as an upper middle income country had a rate of administered vaccine doses less than 1/3 that of Morocco (41.4 (assumed to be 20.7 courses of doses/100 people). Similarly, two low income countries as classified by the World Bank have drastically different administered doses despite nearly identical per capita GNIs and both being countries in Africa. Specifically, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people.

Conclusion

The WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides very useful information, although much is at a continent or income group level. It appears likely that the tracker will be updated only monthly. If not being considered, the designers of the new tracker should provide a link to a data base that provides the type of data shown in the aggregate for each country or territory. Such data would permit a better understanding of differences within continents and within income groups and potentially improve the ability to improve vaccine equity moving forward. It is also possible to update the tracker more frequently than once a month, though some charts, etc. are fine with monthly updates. .

Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

An area of focus the last two years at the WTO has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included various statements from Members, monitoring by the Secretariat of export and import actions either impeding or expediting the flow of medical goods and services, and various proposals for actions to address the pandemic or for future preparation. The proposal for a waiver from various TRIPS obligations from India and South Africa (and now supported by a range of countries) is one proposal. A number of countries (Ottawa Group) have put forward a proposal for a trade and health initiative to permit a more rapid response by WTO Members in the future. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN,
KENYA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND, 24 November 2020, WT/GC/223; November 27, 2020:  The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. The WTO Director-General and the Members have engaged in a number of meetings with other multilateral organizations and the private sector exploring options for expanding production of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding distribution to countries in need.

Amb. David Walker of New Zealand has been tasked to work with Members to see if a declaration on trade and health can be agreed to at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on November 30.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, provided his thoughts on likely outcomes at the 12th Ministerial during a WITA virtual event on November 18th and opined that a declaration on trade and health was likely only if there was some resolution of the waiver proposal for vaccines. See PIIE, Alan Wm. Wolff, Defining Success for MC12, 18 November 2021, Presented at WITA, slides 5, 7, 10-11. Slide 10 is presented below.

I have written before on the challenges of the waiver of TRIPs obligations proposal put forward by India and South Africa. See, e.g., November 2, 2020:  India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

The EU and some others have not agreed to a waiver but have focused on making compulsory licensing more effective. See, e.g., DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION ON THE TRIPS AGREEMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PANDEMIC, COMMUNICATION FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION TO THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS, 18 June 2021, IP/C/W/681.

Thus, the outcome on trade and health heading into the Ministerial is uncertain. See WTO News Release, Members to continue discussion on a common COVID-19 IP response up until MC12, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_18nov21_e.htm.

A driver behind the waiver proposal has been the limited availability of vaccines to least developed and some developing countries. Vaccine equity is the shorthand term for the concerns about availability and affordability of vaccines for all people. While the issue of availability and access is complicated and beyond just WTO competence, the world’s vaccine manufacturers have ramped up capacity and production, governments have belatedly gotten involved in expanding donations and some of the major bottlenecks to getting vaccines to COVAX in 2021 appear to be resolved going forward, though many LDCs and developing countries will not get large volumes of vaccines until 2022.

The pandemic and the challenges of ramping up production and ensuring access to all people has been the subject of dozens of my prior posts. See, e.g., October 12, 2021: See WTO Information Notes on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Potential Bottlenecks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/12/wto-information-notes-on-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-potential-bottlenecks/; September 27, 2021:  Global efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution — an all hands on deck effort being led by the U.S. and EU with active support of many governments and others, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/27/global-efforts-to-expand-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-distribution-an-all-hands-on-deck-effort-being-led-by-the-u-s-and-eu-with-active-support-of-many-governments-and-others/; May 6, 2021:  COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/06/covid-19-vaccines-role-of-wto-and-developments-at-may-5-6-2021-general-council-on-trips-waiver/.

Prior to 2021, global capacity for all vaccines was estimated at 5 billion doses/year. In 2021, COVID-19 vaccine production alone will be around 10 billion doses. As of November 20, 2021, UNICEF’s COVID Vaccine Market Dashboard shows 8.624 billion doses delivered to countries and territories of which COVAX deliveries were 524 million (and 565 million delivered or cleared for shipment). https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (visited on November 20, 2021).

Administration of vaccine doses to populations has been less than doses delivered. Data from Blomberg’s COVID Vaccine Tracker as of November 19, 2021 9:34 a.m., shows 7.63 billion doses administered. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (visited November 20, 2021). From the Vaccine Tracker data, there are a large number of countries or territories (95) that have administered 100 or more doses to every 100 people in the country. As major vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna need two shots, and as some countries have started supplying boosters, data are not necessarily comparable across countries in terms of percentage of people vaccinated. But the doses administered per 100 people is a reasonable measure of equitable distribution. A review of the data do show large differences in administration of doses. However, which countries or territories have administered large numbers of doses/100 people is not tied to a country or territory having vaccine production capacity, nor is it tied to level of income in the country or territory.

For example, the top ten countries or territories for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Bloomberg report were:

Gibraltar, 279.2 doses/100 people

Cuba, 244.2 doses/100 people

Chile, 207.5 doses/100 people

Maldives, 204.8 doses/100 people

UAE, 201.6 doses/100 people

Bahrain, 191.7 doses/100 people

Uruguay, 190.7 doses/100 people

Malta, 185.9 doses/100 people

Cayman Islands, 183.7 doses/100 people

Seychelles, 182.7 doses/100 people

China ranked 16th at 172.1 doses/100 people; the United States ranked 66th at 134.0/100 people; EU members were generally greater than 100 doses/100 people but had several member states below that (Bulgaria at 45.4 doses/100 people; Romania at 73.0 doses/100 people) and had an overall average of 138.7. Morocco had the most doses/100 people for a country from Africa — 136.5.

Twenty-eight countries or territories have administered between 75 and 99.4 doses/100 people (including India at 84.6 doses/100 people); twenty-three countries or territories have administered between 50 and 73 doses/100 people (including Rwanda at 65.2 doses/100 people and Botswana at 52.8 doses/100 people); twenty-two countries or territories have administered between 25 and 47.1 doses/100 people (including South Africa at 41.4 doses/100 people); thirty-three countries or territories have administered between 0.2 and 18.7 doses/100 people.

Obviously, there are a large number of countries (including some developed countries) where vaccines administered are far too limited. For many developing and LDC countries with low numbers of doses administered, the failure of supplies to be delivered to COVAX for shipment is certainly a significant cause. India’s need to keep vaccine doses at home was a major cause of the shortfall to COVAX in 2021, but not the only reason.

Belatedly larger volumes of vaccine doses are making it to those in greatest need. The increases flow from a combination of increased production volumes globally, India resuming exports, increases in donations from a number of countries and more. For example, the UNICEF data on deliveries shows that there have been some significant increases in doses available to the countries or territories with very low doses administered levels. For example, Nigeria shows only 4.6 doses/100 people administered in the Bloomberg vaccine tracker data. The UNICEF vaccine market dashboard shows roughly three times the number of doses delivered to Nigeria as are reported administered (29.689 million vs. 9.254 million). Benin has 1.968 million doses delivered and just 0.347 million administered (2.9/100 people). It is also true for countries receiving doses from COVAX with higher existing doses administered. For example, Zimbabwe which had 42.3 doses administered per 100 people in the Bloomberg data showed nearly twice as many doses delivered in the UNICEF data as had been administered (11.322 million doses delivered vs. 6.31 million doses administered).

What the two reports suggest is that while vaccine equity is a real issue, the causes of the very different experiences of different countries or territories in the same general area are complex and not easily or completely understood by the current discussion. For example, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people. Similarly, Morocco had a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,980 and COVID vaccines administered of 136.5/100 people. In comparison, South Africa with a much higher per capita GNI in 2020 ($5,410) had COVID vaccines administered at less than 1/3rd the rate of Morocco – 41.4 vs.136.5/100 people. Nigeria, with a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,000 had administered only 4.6 COVID vaccines/100 people.

Thus, those working on improving vaccine equity need to identify and address the other causes besides vaccine production and availability through COVAX in the coming months.

I paste below the data from the Bloomberg COVID Vaccine Tracker ranked in descending order of COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of November 19, 2021.

Countryvaccines

The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO

In prior posts I have reviewed efforts by the United States and others to have the WTO membership modify who is entitled to special and differential treatment in light of the rapid changes in economic capabilities of a number of countries who have classified themselves as “developing” countries at the WTO under the self-designation approach that has characterized the GATT and now the WTO. See, e.g., December 14, 2020:  WTO December 14th Heads of Delegation meeting – parting comments of U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/14/wto-december-14th-heads-of-delegation-meeting-parting-comments-of-u-s-ambassador-dennis-shea/; August 13, 2020 [updated August 27]:  The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  eligibility for special and differential treatment/self selection as a developing country, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/13/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-eligibility-for-special-and-differential-treatment-self-selection-as-a-developing-country/; February 15, 2020: The U.S. Modifies the List of Developing and Least Developed Countries Under U.S. Countervailing Duty Law, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/15/the-u-s-modifies-the-list-of-developing-and-least-developed-countries-under-u-s-countervailing-duty-law/; December 28, 2019: WTO Reform – Will Limits on Who Enjoys Special and Differential Treatment Be Achieved?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/12/28/wto-reform-will-limits-on-who-enjoys-special-and-differential-treatment-be-achieved/.

The issue is one of importance because of the concern that many Members who have economically advanced to be fully internationally competitive or internationally competitive in significant areas of goods or services are not opening their markets to a level commensurate with their actual stage of development. A number of Members have indicated that they will not seek Special and Differential treatment in new agreements while maintaining rights under existing ones. The U.S., the EU and others have sought a more factual basis for any entitlement to differential treatment.

On November 10, 2021, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (“CTD”) See WTO News Release, “Development issues should be at the heart of work at the WTO“— DG Okonjo-Iweala, 10 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/devel_10nov21_e.htm. The press release starts with an overview of the importance of development in the overall WTO mission,

“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the key role that trade plays in economic development during a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) on 10 November. She stressed that development is a priority for the WTO and that the CTD plays an important role in addressing the development dimension in the multilateral trading system.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the work of the WTO is important for developing and least  developed countries (LDCs),  hence, it is critical for the WTO to deliver on issues of importance to them. Trade is a significant driver for economic growth and poverty reduction and ultimately for development, she added.”

The press release later has a statement that “The Secretariat presented the findings of its latest report concerning the participation of developing economies in global trade.” The latest report is PARTICIPATION OF DEVELOPING ECONOMIES IN THE GLOBAL TRADING SYSTEM, NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT, 28 October 2021, WT/COMTD/W/262.

The problem with the note from the Secretariat and the functioning of the Committee on Trade and Development and other aspects of the WTO work is that developing countries in the note is treated as all Members so designating themselves and hence provides little useful information on the role of countries in actual need of assistance. Data in the note is skewed by information on developing Asia — an area that includes China, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). On pages 8-9 of the Secretariat note, the major “developing” country traders are reviewed. The top 15 developing country exporters in 2020 were Chins (34.0%), Republic of Korea (6.7%), Mexico (5.5%), Singapore (4.8%), Chinese Taipei (4.6%), United Arab Emirates (4.2%), Viet Nam (3.7%), India (3.6%), Malaysia (3.1%), Thailand (3.0%), Brazil (2.8%), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2.3%), Turkey (2.2%), Indonesia (2.1%), South Africa (1.1%), other (16.4%). The top 15 importer developing countries included all of the top exporters with the exception of South Africa (Hong Kong, China was the 15th largest importer).

The World Bank provides Gross National Income per capita for most countries/territories (China blocks provision of data for Chinese Taipei). The latest data are for 2020 and include the following ranges for the four categories of World Bank countries:

Low income countries, less than $1,048/capita GNI

lower middle-income economies, $1,048-4,095/capita GNI

upper middle-income economies, $4,096-12,695/capita GNI

high income economies, $12,696 or more/capita GNI.

China in 2020 had a per capita GNI of $10,610; Singapore had a 2020 per capita GNI of $54,920; Republic of Korea had a 2020 per capita GNI of $32,860; Chinese Taipei had a per capita GDP in 2021 of $33,402; Mexico had a 2020 per capita GNI of 8,480; the United Arab Republic had a 2019 per capita GNI of $43,470; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $21,930; Hong Kong, China, had a 2020 per capita GNI of $48,630; Thailand had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,050; Malaysia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $11,230; Turkey had a 2020 per capita GNI of $9,030; Brazil had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,850.

See New World Bank country classifications by income level: 2021-2022, July 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/new-world-bank-country-classifications-income-level-2021-2022; World Bank Country and Lending Groups, ← Country Classification, https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups; GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$) – China, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=CN (lists all countries); Wikipedia, Economy of Taiwan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Taiwan.

There is obviously no justification in high income economies receiving special and differential treatment as though they are developing countries in fact. Thus, data for Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be in the developing country data base. Similarly, China and Malaysia with per capita GNIs above $10,000 and purchasing power parity gross national income per capita (2019) above the minimum high income economy threshold ($16,790 for China; $28,830 for Malaysia) shouldn’t be eligible for special and differential treatment as a general rule. Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and Mexico while below $10,000 per capita GNI in 2020 have 2019 per capita purchasing power parity GNI higher than the high income economy threshold ($14,890 for Brazil; $26,840 for Mexico; $18,570 for Thailand; $27,660). There is no apparent logic in having these countries have automatic rights to special and differential treatment.

The Secretariat, of course, cannot change the classification of Members. But the lack of a rational standard for determining appropriateness of receiving special and differential treatment undermines the functioning of the WTO and permits countries who have succeeded at rapid economic development from assuming full obligations of WTO membership. The problem also results in statistical reports that are largely meaningless.

In a consensus based system like the WTO, the road to rationality will be long at best with many WTO Members who should have accepted full obligations by now continuing to hide behind the self-selection process to claim lesser obligations.

WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations — a second revised text from November 8 holds out hope for a deal by MC12; how realistic is the hope?

After twenty years of negotiations on fisheries subsidies, WTO Members are just weeks away from another “hard” deadline for concluding the talks — the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference being held in Geneva November 30-December 3. On November 8, the Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules released a second revision to the draft text of a fisheries subsidies agreement along with a detailed explanatory note on the changes made from the first revision and the road ahead. See Negotiating Group on Rules – Fisheries Subsidies, Revised Draft Text, 8 November 2021, TN/RL/W/276/Rev. 2 and Fisheries Subsidies, Revised Draft Text, Chair’s Explanatory Note Accompanying TN/RL/W276/Rev.2, 8 November 2021, TN/RL/W/26/Rev.2/Add.1.

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, the Chair of the negotiations, gave a summary of next steps in his conclusion. Paragraph 148 provides the challenge ahead:

“148. Regarding next steps, where we need to go from here is simple: we have to genuinely negotiate. We have only three weeks left until MC12 and only two weeks before we need to send something to Ministers through the General Council. Our objective before then is to collectively evolve this draft text ideally into a completely clean text, or at least as clean as possible with only
one or two issues left for our Ministers to decide. As I communicated to you in my e-mail of 4 November, and as has been the plan since we resumed our work following the summer break, we now will need to meet very frequently – essentially every day – starting tomorrow, to review everything together clause-by-clause.”

The WTO Members have a lot at stake in terms of whether an agreement can finally be achieved. In the WTO press release about the release of the revised text, the importance of getting to the finish line is alluded to by the Director-General. The agreement is in fulfilment of one of the UN Sustainable Development Goal subitems, 14.6, although the WTO already missed the completion date of 2020. See WTO News, Revised fisheries subsidies text kicks off intensified negotiations ahead of MC12, 8 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_08nov21_e.htm.

“The Director-General told members she has been engaging with political leaders, including at the highest levels, to get their support for a successful conclusion to the 21-year-long negotiations.

“‘The eyes of the world are really on us,’ she said. ‘Time is short and I believe that this text reflects a very important step toward a final outcome. I really see a significant rebalancing of the provisions, including those pertaining to special and differential treatment, while, at the same time, maintaining the level of ambition.’

“Members are scheduled to hold daily meetings on the basis of the latest draft text, with the goal of providing ministers a clean draft before MC12.

“Under the mandate from the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in 2017 and the UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, negotiators have been given the task of securing agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.”

A review of the revised draft and the Chair’s explanatory text show a large number of issues where strong differences remain, many provisions still in brackets, some alternative texts provided and other challenges all of which need to be largely resolved within two weeks. See, e.g., Art. 3.3, alternatives for type of proof and process needed for a finding that a vessel or operator has engaged in “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”; Art. 3.8, period that developing countries can provide subsidies and distance from shore for the fishing activities; Art. 4.4, similar bracketed provisions for subsidies for developing countries regarding overfished stocks; Art. 5.1(i), prohibited subsidies contingent upon or tied to fishing and related activities beyond the subsidizing Member’s jurisdiction; Art. 5.3, alternatives for disciplines on subsidies to vessels not flying the flag of the subsidizing Member; Art. 5.4, exceptions for developing countries including duration of exception and area from shore to which it applies; Art. 6.2, exceptions for LDC Members; Article 7, technical assistance and capacity building; Art. 8.2(b), whether to include notification requirements by Members of “any vessels and operators for which the Member has information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labour, along with relevant information to the extent possible”; Art. 8.5, notification requirements of any regional fisheries management organization or arrangement (RFMO/A); Art. 9.1, institutional arrangements; Art. 9 and 10 (dispute settlement) more broadly; Art. 11.1 and 11.5 from final provisions.

The detailed description from the Chair of the changes made and major differences that remain confirms that the effort to get to a final agreement will be daunting. The Chair’s proposed path forward includes using several Friends of the Chair to help address a range of open issues. But it also includes daily meetings including in different configurations and the inclusion of officials from capital remotely.

Challenges facing Members include some of the broader reform issues raised by the U.S. and others. Various special and differential treatment provisions (“S&D provisions) apply to “developing countries” as well as LDCs. “Developing Country is a matter of self-selection, meaning many WTO Members claim such status despite not needing S&D to be competitive. The U.S., EU and others have raised concerns with the need to refocus S&D on those actually needing assistance. Are the qualifiers on the S&D provisions sufficient to see that major subsidizers like China and others are not eligible to avoid disciplines? Similarly, can the effort of some “developing countries” to seek S&D for decades possibly make sense if the Agreement is to achieve sustainability of wild caught fish and if there are few restrictions on who is a developing country?

The U.S. has had deep concerns about the use of forced labor on fishing vessels. See The Use of Forced Labor on Fishing Vessels, Submission of the United States, 27 May 2021, TN/RL/GEN/205. The revised draft text agreement contains only one of three proposed modifications to the draft text proposed by the U.S. to better address concerns about forced labor, and that provision (Art. 8.2(b)) is opposed by some Members, presumably those whose fleets are known or suspected of using forced labor. More broadly, will a final text result in meaningful reforms on fisheries subsidies or be so compromised that the agreement offers at best partial disciplines.

With the world watching and with the opportunity to restore at least partially the relevance of the WTO as a forum for trade negotiations, WTO Members have two weeks to get a near finished text agreed, with less than two weeks after that for Members to agree to a meaningful final text to ensure a successful 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. Let’s hope that the WTO Membership can rise to the occasion.

WTO reform — distortions to market access and the need for better information

The WTO’s role in international trade requires timely, accurate and complete information on a wide range of matters covered by existing agreements and the willingness of Members to permit the gathering of information on topics which affect or may affect international competition. While information in some Committees is relatively timely, accurate and complete, many Members have failed to provide information required under existing agreements and have prevented the gathering by the Secretariat of information on topics of potential importance to the functioning of the global trading system and whether certain actions or modes of economic activity operate to create market distortions and distortions in trade patterns. Areas where information has been particularly deficient have been the areas of subsidy notifications both under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Meausres (“ASCM”) and under the Agreement on Agriculture.

A number of countries have proposed improved transparency requirements as part of the identification of needed WTO reforms. See, e.g., PROCEDURES TO ENHANCE TRANSPARENCY AND IMPROVE COMPLIANCE WITH NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS UNDER WTO AGREEMENTS COMMUNICATION FROM ARGENTINA; AUSTRALIA; CANADA; CHILE; COSTA RICA; THE EUROPEAN UNION; ISRAEL; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND;
NORWAY; THE PHILIPPINES; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UNITED KINGDOM; AND THE UNITED STATES, 14 September 2021, JOB/GC/204/Rev.7, JOB/CTG/14/Rev.7.

Some countries have attempted to address the perceived inadequacies of subsidy notifications through counternotifications. See USTR, United States Details China and India Subsidy Programs in Submission to WTO, October 2011, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2011/october/united-states-details-china-and-india-subsidy-prog (“U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced today that the United States has submitted information to the World Trade Organization (WTO) identifying nearly 200 subsidy programs that China has failed to notify as required under WTO rules. Information was also submitted on 50 subsidy programs in India not previously notified. Through these actions at the WTO, the United States is seeking the prompt provision of detailed information and data from China and India regarding the operation of these subsidy programs. ‘The situation was simply intolerable,’ said Ambassador Kirk. ‘Every member of the WTO is required to come clean on its subsidy programs on a regular basis. China has not notified its subsidy programs in over five years. India only recently filed its first notification in almost ten years, and even then notified only three of the many subsidy programs we know to exist. Because China and India have failed to meet their respective obligations, we had to act – as we are entitled to under the WTO rules – and provide the voluminous information we have developed regarding subsidy programs in these two countries.’)(emphasis added); WTO news release, Concerns grow about slippage in subsidy notifications, 25 April 2017, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/scm_25apr17_e.htm (“The United States and the European Union questioned China about what they alleged were some 160 government subsidies or grants listed in the annual reports of six of the largest Chinese steel producers (G/SCM/Q2/CHN/70) which were not included in China’s WTO subsidy notifications. The United States also quizzed China about the non-notification of other alleged subsides in sectors such as steel, aluminium and fisheries, as well as the non-notification of subsidies under China’s ‘Internationally Well-Known Brand’ programme.  On fisheries, the United States said China had failed to notify 44 subsidy measures, including tax exemptions for certain operations such as deep water fishing ‘ identifying over 470 Chinese subsidy measures that were not notified to the WTO.”);  WTO News, Members express concerns on lack of transparency at WTO subsidies committee meeting, 27 April 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/scm_27apr21_e.htm.

Organizations like the OECD have historically developed trade policy reports that look at subsidies and distortions in agriculture, fossil fuels and fisheries. In recent years, the OECD has done some sector specific reports based on public data on distortions in international markets from subsidies in the aluminum and semiconductor value chains. See OECD (2019-01-07), “Measuring distortions in international markets: the aluminium value chain”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 218, OECD Publishing, Paris.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/c82911ab-en; OECD (2019-12-12), “Measuring distortions in international markets: The semiconductor value chain”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 234, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/8fe4491d-en. The OECD press releases on the two trade policy reports contain information on the reports and historical activity of the OECD.

“Measuring distortions in international markets: the aluminium value chain

“This report builds on the OECD’s longstanding work measuring government support in agriculture, fossil fuels, and fisheries in order to estimate support and related market distortions in the aluminium value chain. Results show that non-market forces, and government support in particular, appear to explain some of the recent increases in aluminium-smelting capacity. While government support is commonly found throughout the aluminium value chain, it is especially heavy in the People’s Republic of China and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Looking across the whole value chain also shows subsidies upstream to confer significant support to downstream activities, such as the production of semi-fabricated products of aluminium. Overall, market distortions appear to be a genuine concern in the aluminium industry, and one that has implications for global competition and the design of trade rules disciplining government support.” ttps://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/trade/measuring-distortions-in-international-markets-the-aluminium-value-chain_c82911ab-en.

“Measuring distortions in international markets: The semiconductor value chain

“This report builds on the OECD’s longstanding work measuring government support in agriculture, fossil fuels, fisheries, and more recently in the aluminium value chain in order to estimate producer support and related market distortions in the semiconductor value chain. Results for 21 large firms operating across the semiconductor value chain indicate that total government support has exceeded USD 50 billion over the period 2014-18. Government support provided in the form of below-market debt and equity appears to be particularly large in the context of the semiconductor industry and concentrated in one jurisdiction. Other types of support identified include support for R&D and investment incentives, which benefitted all firms studied in this report. The report also discusses the implications that these findings have for trade rules, and in particular for subsidy disciplines in a context of growing government involvement in semiconductor production and poor transparency of support measures.” https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/trade/measuring-distortions-in-international-markets_8fe4491d-en.

The 28th Global Trade Alert Report, Subsidies and Market Access

Earlier this week, Simon Evenett and Johannes Fritz released the 28th Global Trade Alert Report entitled “Subsidies and Market Access, Towards an Inventory of Corporate Subsidies by China, the European Union, and the United States.” https://www.globaltradealert.org/reports/gta-28-report. It is an important contribution to the development of a data base of possible government subsidies by the three largest trading nations or blocs. The report has used information from government sources but not the subsidy notifications filed with the WTO. The report claims to have inventoried “18,387 corporate subsidies awarded by China, the EU, and the USA since November 2008.” (page 5)

“Our study should not be read as implying that China, the European Union, and the United States are the only jurisdictions that award subsidies to organisations engaged in business; the Global Trade Alert database currently contains a total of 5,977 subsidy policy changes and awards implemented by other nations.” (Page 5) Many countries provide domestic subsidies on industrial goods and such subsidies are not presently limited by the WTO ASCM although where such subsidies cause distortions or injury to a trading partner, there are potential remedies. Many countries also provide subsidies on agriculture whether reported to the WTO or not, and there is no tracking of what, if any, subsidies are provided by WTO Members to the service industries.

At present, there are no WTO disciplines on service industries receiving subsidies whether domestic or export. Yet, the report released on Monday indicates that “a total of 4,564” of the subsidy actions catalogued “involved the transfer of state resources to service sector firms” with 12.66% to financial service sector firms (578). The service subsidy findings in the report suggest that service subsidies (in number) are more than twice the number of agricultural subsidy items catalogued (2,171) and 42% of the number found for manufacturing companies (10,814). Page 6. Agricultural subsidies are the most actively controlled in the WTO (by the WTO Agreement on Agriculture). There are limited restrictions on manufacturing subsidies under the ASCM and some disciplines on subsidies to the civilian aircraft sector for signatories to the separate plurilateral agreement. And none on subsidies to services providers. I have written in the past on the irrationality of the different subsidy disciplines under the WTO on agriculture, manufactured goods and services. See, e.g., November 23, 2020:  WTO subsidy disciplines – an update and coordination across areas is long overdue, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/23/wto-subsidy-disciplines-an-update-and-coordination-across-areas-is-long-overdue/. The report released yesterday provides a potential measure of why a comprehensive review of subsidy disciplines is needed by the WTO Members for all trade (goods and services).

Observations

  1. breadth of data

There have been many studies of subsidies in particular sectors or by particular governments over the years. Depending on the level of transparency in a country, publications on subsidy sources by a particular government are not unheard of. For example, in Canada there used to be annual reports on government subsidy programs put out by Statistics Canada. See Fraser Institute, Governments go subsidy-wild with $684 billion spent on subsidies since 1981, https://www.fraserinstitute.org/article/governments-go-subsidy-wild-684-billion-spent-subsidies-1981 (“Ever wonder how Canada’s net federal debt reached $671 billion by 2013? Or how net provincial debt among the provinces ended up at $509 billion that same year? Wonder no more. It’s partially due to massive subsidies to corporations, government businesses and even consumers that over three decades amounted to $684 billion. Statistics Canada once collected useful information about such taxpayer-funded government subsidies. The subsidies include funding for corporations (think selected automotive and aerospace companies), or Crown corporations like VIA Rail, or a government-owned ferry system to subsidize consumers’ ferry rides. Statistics Canada stopped tallying up the numbers in 2009 but by looking at what is available from 1981 (and adjusting for inflation to 2013 dollars to get apple-to-apple comparisons), some useful statistics pop out.”).

The usefulness of the 28th Global Trade Alert report is its focus on the three largest trading nations or blocks and a compilation of data points for a lengthy period of time (since 2008). The data base is also available for evaluation. There is partial data for other countries in the data base as well.

Missing is an evaluation of how many of the inventoried items are covered by notified subsidy programs by Members to the WTO. While there are concerns about completeness of notifications and timeliness of notifications, it would have been helpful to flag how many of the items would be covered by the notifications.

Similarly, while the report lays out what it treats as a subsidy, there are likely areas where clarification would be helpful. For example, on export financing, the U.S. has long been a participant in the OECD undertaking on export credits. Yet, of the 5,962 “subsidies” identified by the report, more than 1500 were from U.S. Eximbank. These are not likely prohibited export subsidies. So presumably, any loan from U.S. Exim was treated as a domestic subsidy. Whether that would be factually accurate is an open question. Similarly, more than 1,000 of the subsidy items are actions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the U.S. has reported every year operating within the limits of its obligations under the WTO, the relevance of the notices would presumably be simply in cataloging subsidies provided. It is not clear how the information would be an improvement on what is reported by the U.S. to the WTO Committee on Agriculture.

2. Rise in trade remedy cases –a reaction to global excess capacity and a source of information on distortions to trade

Countervailing duty investigations by national authorities on imports from a particular country can reveal information on the type and level of subsidies. Much of the information developed in an investigation may not be otherwise publicly available. And GATT Contracting Parties and, now, WTO Members have been able to challenge perceived subsidy practices at the WTO under various agreements.

The 28th Global Trade Alert report notes the increase in CVD investigations and in WTO disputes on subsidies and CVD cases. While the observation is correct that there are more cases in the last decade or so, it is unclear that the authors explored the information from the CVD investigations to determine the extent of subsidy practices in particular industries which may vary considerably from the sources they used. Having been a trade practitioner for 40 years, it is clear particularly for countries like China that there are many programs that are not flagged in corporate documents as having been used and many other state interventions which distorted competition that are not available from public sources in China. Indeed, in at least one CVD case in the U.S., documentation was submitted by a petitioner indicating that the Chinese government was ordering companies not to cooperate — hence minimizing the understanding of subsidy practices in particular sectors in China. Moreover, many of the cases brought involve sectors where China’s (and other countries’) policies resulted in massive global excess capacity.

China has been the subject of 176 of 431 CVD investigations brought by WTO Members since 2008. 285 OF 632 CVD investigations since 1995 involved base metals products of base metals (e.g., steel and aluminum), with higher numbers in recent years. Chemicals, plastics, rubber products were the subject of 127 additional cases since 1995, with more cases in recent years. All of these sectors reflect problems of global excess capacity.

Historically, GATT Contracting Parties were all market economies. Thus, there has never been any question that market economy countries or territories often use domestic or export subsidies. This was true under the GATT and now under the WTO. What is different in 2021 and since 2001 is that with non-market economies like China now in the WTO and with their combination of massive government intervention in the domestic market, industry plans, government funding, tolerance of IP theft, limitations on operations of foreign companies, export restrictions on raw materials and other identified distortions of competition, distortions in global markets have gotten much worse.

Many sectors have found themselves characterized by massive global excess production capacity, often largely driven by China, including in sectors where China has no inherent competitive advantages such as aluminum or steel. Indeed, China has identified sectors where it acknowledges massive excess Chinese capacity since at least 2007. With limited transparency, China will note closed capacity in these sectors but will seldom acknowledge additions to capacity being made at the same time. I testified before the U.S.-China Commission in February 2016 on the problems flowing from the massive global excess capacity created by China’s economic system and multitude of distortions to market forces. See HEARING ON CHINA’S SHIFTING ECONOMIC REALITIES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES, HEARING BEFORE THE
U.S.-CHINA ECONOMIC AND SECURITY REVIEW COMMISSION, ONE HUNDRED FOURTEENTH CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2016 at 92-100 (statement of Terence P. Stewart), https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/transcripts/February%2024,%202016_Hearing%20Transcript.pdf; see also Rui Fan, ‘‘China’s Excess Capacity: Drivers and Implications,’’ Stewart and Stewart, June 2015 (cited in USCC 2016 annual report at 104, 116, 134). Excerpts from my prepared statement to the USCC are copied below.

“Generally, an economy that follows state planning has the ability to pour resources into industries on a scale that doesn’t reflect underlying demand patterns or that overshoots actual demand trends. In the past several decades, a massive amount of industrial capacity has been added in China in a large number of manufacturing sectors to enhance the competitive position of the country and to provide employment to large numbers of people, many in state-owned enterprises. These actions have created massive disequilibrium in China and globally in various important manufacturing sectors. This imbalance was exacerbated by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and recession and has again surfaced as a destabilizing force amidst slowing global demand. In fact, the US and many other countries are suffering the consequences of China’s actions as seen in the closure of aluminum smelters and steel mills and the layoff of thousands of workers.

“Indeed, the scope of the excess capacity in certain major industries is extraordinary by any measure and flows from state planning, funding and subsidization on a massive scale. The central government of China has recognized that the problem is a serious one and has been trying to deal with it, often with little actual effect as planned capacity closures are undermined by local
governments focused on creating or maintaining employment and by central government efforts to add capacity in the western part of the country. So mandated closures have in many sectors been more than offset by other capacity additions in the country.1

“However, with the recent and increasingly slowing internal growth in China, the increasing capacity overhang in China is
creating very real problems for Chinese companies and their international competitors. These capacity increases in a time of declining global demand are destabilizing global markets as exports have increased in some cases by 100% in short periods. The result is depressed global prices for products and waves of dislocations around the world as producers in other markets shift product to export2 as they lose market share at home. Ultimately, China must play a leadership role in the global economy to help find a way to rebalance supply and demand in each of these sectors. While it is doing so, the sectors will be depressed around the world with companies, workers and their local communities paying the price for the massive excess capacity created and maintained by the Chinese economic system.

“Because there are no multilaterally agreed rules to address situations of massive global excess capacity in a rapid or comprehensive manner, Chinese action now to get rid of excess capacity is critical to preventing the serious global dislocations caused by overcapacity in many critical industrial sectors. Otherwise market economy producers will respond to the market signals
flowing from the excess capacity that prices are unsustainable by closing plants, writing off assets and laying off workers even if the plants being closed are in fact internationally competitive.3

“For example, in the aluminum sector, western aluminum producers have been closing aluminum smelters in many parts of the world because of the depressed prices caused in large part by China’s massive excess capacity and inventories of product overhanging the market. In the US, six aluminum smelters have closed or been announced as closing in the last six months, leaving the US with a capacity back at 1950s levels. Yet China has no natural competitive advantage in the production of aluminum and environmentally its production is not desirable being largely coalpowered for energy. Nonetheless, China has expanded its aluminum capacity from 1.75 million tons in 1996 to an estimated 36 million tons in 2015.4 And in 2014 alone, Chinese excess capacity was estimated at more than 10 million tons.5 China now accounts for more than half of the world’s aluminum smelting capacity (52.3% vs. 7.9% in 1996).6

“Meanwhile, US capacity has declined by 52 percent from 4.2 million tons in 1996 to 2 million tons in 2015 and will be much
smaller in 2016 following the announced closures or planned closures of six smelters since September 2015 (one million tons).7
Thousands of aluminum workers in the US have lost or are losing their jobs. America now has less than 3 percent of the world’s primary aluminum production capacity and will have less than 2 percent in 2016.8

“The global steel sector is also in crisis.9 China’s steel capacity has skyrocketed from 145 million tons in 2000 to more than 1 billion tons today (some estimates are as high as 1.4 billion tons) with excess capacity of as much as 40% – equal to the total capacity in the US, EU and Japan.10

“The problem of excess capacity in the steel sector has been studied for a number of years within the OECD,11 has been the subject of bilateral discussion between the US and China12 as well as the EU and China. Over the past few years, the Chinese have announced a series of production cuts with little or no actual net reductions in steel capacity to date. The government of China has announced in recent weeks a program to close 100-150 million tons of capacity in the steel sector over the next five years13 – a huge sum of capacity if actually achieved but as little as one fourth of what is needed in fact.

“Companies harmed by globally depressed prices and rising import levels can seek relief through trade remedies.14 However, for products like aluminum or steel, problems often reflect loss of export markets (China or third country) as well as loss of one’s home market. Trade remedies are generally available for import problems. WTO cases can be brought for loss of third country
markets or loss of the market by the subsidizing country but require the willingness of the home government to bring such a case. However, existing WTO rules do not provide members with quick and effective means to address excess capacity.

“1. See, e.g., Biman Mukherji, Rising Chinese Production Keeps Lid on Aluminum Prices, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2015 (noting that, since 2010, Chinese producers have closed 3 million tons of annual aluminum production capacity but have added an additional 17 million tons of capacity), http://www.wsj.com/articles/rising-chinese-production-keeps-lid-on-aluminum-prices1447186082 (requires subscription). See also Aluminum producers staggering as factories lack orders, http://china.org.cn/business/2013-08/27/content_29835483.htm; China’s aluminum glut set to continue, http://asia.nikkei.com/Markets/Commodities/China-s-aluminum-glut-set-to-continue.

“2 Will China Finally Tackle Overcapacity?, http://blogs.piie.com/china/?p=3857; OECD China Economic Survey (March 2015),
http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/China-2015-overview.pdf.

” 3 The US Trade Representative’s Office, in its December 2015 Report on China, summarized the problem of excess capacity:

“Excess Capacity

“Chinese government actions and financial support in manufacturing industries like steel and aluminum have contributed to massive excess capacity in China, with the resulting over-production distorting global markets and hurting U.S. producers and workers in both the United States and third country markets such as Canada and Mexico. While China recognizes the severe excess capacity problem in the steel and aluminum industries, among others, and has taken steps to try to address this problem, there have been mixed results.

“From 2000 to 2014, China accounted for more than 75 percent of global steelmaking capacity growth. Currently, China’s capacity alone exceeds the combined steelmaking capacity of the European Union (EU), Japan, the United States, and Russia. China has no comparative advantage with regard to the energy and raw material inputs that make up the majority of costs for steelmaking, yet China’s capacity has continued to grow exponentially and is estimated to have exceeded 1.4 billion metric tons (MT) in 2014, despite weakening demand domestically and abroad. While China’s steel production is slowing and China may
produce approximately 2 to 3 percent less steel in 2015 than in 2014, steel demand in China is projected to decrease 5 percent this year. As a result, China’s steel exports grew to be the largest in the world, at 93 million MT in 2014, a 50-percent increase over 2013 levels, despite sluggish steel demand abroad. In 2015, there is rising concern that China’s steel exports are still growing and may have increased 25 percent in the first ten months of 2015, as compared to the same period in 2014.

“Similarly, monthly production of aluminum in China doubled between January 2011 and July 2015 and continues to grow. Large new facilities are being built with government support, including through energy subsidies. China’s aluminum excess capacity is contributing to a severe decline in global aluminum prices, harming U.S. plants and workers.

“Excess capacity in China – whether in the steel industry or other industries like aluminum – hurts U.S. industries and workers not only because of direct exports from China to the United States, but because lower global prices and a glut of supply make it difficult for even the most competitive producers to remain viable. Domestic industries in many of China’s trading partners have continued to respond to the effects of the trade distortive effects of China’s excess capacity by petitioning their governments to impose trade remedies such as antidumping and countervailing duties.

“2015 USTR Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance (December 2015) at 12-13, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2015-
Report-to-Congress-China-WTO-Compliance.pdf.

“4 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 1998 and 2016, http://minerals.er.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/050398.pdf;
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2016-alumi.pdf. See also Attachment 2 (chart and table
showing China’s aluminum capacity).

“5 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2016, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2016-alumi.pdf.

“6 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 1998 and 2016, http://minerals.er.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/050398.pdf;
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2016-alumi.pdf.

“7 Id.

“8 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2016, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/aluminum/mcs-2016-alumi.pdf.

“9 See generally, Surging Steel Imports Put Up To Half A Million U.S. Jobs At Risk, Terence P. Stewart, Elizabeth J. Drake,
Stephanie M. Bell, and Jessica Wang (Stewart and Stewart), and Robert E. Scott (The Economic Policy Institute),
http://www.epi.org/publication/surging-steel-imports/#iv.-the-future-of-the-domestic-steel-industry-depends-on-effective-traderemedy-enforcement.

“10 See Attachment 2 (chart and table showing China’s steel capacity). See also .Developments in Steelmaking Capacity of NonOECD Economies, http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/industry-and-services/developments-in-steelmaking-capacity-of-non-oecdcountries_19991606; China’s excess crude steel still a problem, http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/China-sexcess-crude-steel-still-a-problem.

“11 See, e.g., OECD, Steelmaking Capacity, http://www.oecd.org/sti/ind/steelcapacity.htm.

“12 The United States and China engaged in discussions regarding excess capacity in the steel sector at the SE&D meeting in July
2014 and regarding the steel and aluminum sectors at the JCCT meeting in November 2015. See USTR December 2015 Report
on China, at 104-105, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2015-Report-to-Congress-China-WTO-Compliance.pdf.

“13 China to cut steel capacity by 100-150 mln tonnes in 5 years, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-
02/04/c_135075575.htm.

“14 Pain Spreads From China’s Excess Production, http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/07/16/pain-spreads-from-chinasexcess-production/ (noting that “China’s vast excess capacity makes it the biggest target of [trade] sanctions”).”

Conclusion

For the WTO to regain full relevance, its rule book needs to be updated to reflect both the current developments in world trade but also to ensure that all trade distortions are addressable in a meaningful and timely way by Members. A review of subsidy disciplines is certainly an important topic (including finalizing the GATS to address how subsidies will be handled for services). But there are many other distortions that are not currently fully or even partially addressable within the WTO in a meaningful way. State owned and invested enterprises are a growing factor in a number of countries and can seriously distort trade flows and competition. Government policies that restrict exports of inputs have had dramatic skewing effects on where downstream producers invest. State supported or sanctioned industrial espionage skews competition and drastically reduces the cost of production in countries that permit the theft. Economies that don’t function on market principles fundamentally distort market outcomes and invite use of non-WTO tools to address resulting distorted outcomes. And the WTO has no rules for addressing quickly any sector with massive global excess capacity.

Efforts to get greater transparency, completeness and timeliness in notifications are obviously a necessary and important element of WTO reform. Reports like that put out as the 28th Global Trade Alert report can be an important source of additional information to help WTO Members understand the extent of practices that may be of concern to themselves or others. However, in 2021, the array of market distortions pursued by governments like China (and others) are far broader than simply government subsidies. A road forward must include an analysis and update or creation of rules for all such distortions.

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

In yesterday’s post, I reviewed the fact that beginning with WTO Trade Policy Reviews in October 2021, the WTO press releases on the reviews were not including information that has historically been included, importantly the full Secretariat Report and the Government Report of the Member going through the review. See October 20, 2021:  WTO reduces transparency of Trade Policy Reviews — what is the possible justification?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/20/wto-reduces-transparency-of-trade-policy-reviews-what-is-the-possible-justification/. The structure of the press releases was also changed, and the press releases no longer refer to the minutes or the written questions and answers which prior to October had been noted as likely to be released in about six weeks and to which links to the releases had been added once the documents were released.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I received word from folks at the WTO that there was no intention to reduce the transparency of TPR events, and they were reviewing what might have happened in the Korea and China reviews. Last evening, I was informed that the problem had been discovered and corrected. The posted press releases for the Korea and China reviews were updated to include links to the full reports of both the Secretariat and the Government being reviewed. See WTO press release, Trade Policy Review: China, 20 and 22 October 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp515_e.htm (adding links to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, CHINA, 15 September 2021, WT/TPR/S/415 (209 pages) and to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY CHINA, 15 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/415 (27 pages)); WTO press release, Trade Policy Review: Republic of Korea, 13 and 15 October 2021,https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp514_e.htm (adding links to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY THE SECRETARIAT, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, 8 September 2021,WT/TPR/S/414 (229 pages) and to TRADE POLICY REVIEW REPORT BY REPUBLIC OF KOREA, 8 September 2021, WT/TPR/G/414 (15 pages)).

The corrections made by the WTO Secretariat are obviously appreciated by the public who follows WTO activities. It is welcome news that the problem on TPR documents was inadvertent and not intentional. WTO Members have over the last 25 years taken many actions which have significantly reduced transparency in a range of areas which I have reviewed in prior posts. See, e.g., November 12, 2019: The Continued Problem of Inconsistent Transparency at the World Trade Organization, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/12/the-continued-problem-of-inconsistent-transparency-at-the-world-trade-organization/. The Secretariat, of course, becomes captive to those actions with the result that many Secretariat generated documents (e.g., compilation of proposals) that used to be public are often not today. Thus, the public should be concerned about reduced transparency at the WTO and flag problems where identified.

On the Trade Policy Review press releases, the Secretariat should also note that the language of the press releases for Korea and China remain modified from prior releases in that there is no indication as to when minutes or written questions and answers will be available. I assume based on the communications from WTO personnel, that both the minutes and written questions and answers will be released as well in a few months. If not, then my concerns from yesterday on reduced transparency would remain. While such documents trail the release of the full reports, they are critical documents as well to understand concerns with any Member’s trade policies. Historically, the Secretariat would update the press release so that those following reviews could easily find the minutes and written questions and answers when released by simply looking at the press release. I would encourage the Secretariat to see that such information is added back into notices going forward and, if not done immediately for Korea and China, added at the latest when the documents are released.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

In prior posts, I have reviewed the challenges facing the WTO as it approaches the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva at the end of November, beginning of December. See, e.g., October 8, 2021: The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/08/the-gap-between-wto-activity-and-the-needs-of-businesses-and-workers-for-the-international-trading-system/; September 18, 2021: The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Late November – early December 2021 — the struggle for relevance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/18/the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference-in-late-november-early-december-2021-the-struggle-for-relevance/; May 10, 2021:  World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/10/world-trade-organization-possible-deliverables-for-the-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-november-30-december-3-2021/.

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

WTO Reform

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

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

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

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

Trade and Health

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

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

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

Services and Investments


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

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

Government Support and Level Playing Field

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

Trade and Environmental Sustainability

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

MSMEs

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

Conclusion on G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Consider the history of this system.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

Comments on USTR Tai’s statement on the WTO

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The challenges at the WTO flow from some historical challenges (the preference of India to see no agreements imposing obligations on them, now supported by South Africa and others), from the growing divergence in views as to the purpose of the WTO, from the increased importance of non-market economies in the global trading system and the current failure of existing rules to address their distortions to global trade flows and competition, and the inability of a consensus system with 164 Members to move forward in a timely manner, if at all.

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

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

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

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

“WTO Reform

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

“2. Put market access back on the agenda

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

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

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

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

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

“8. Create a crisis management protocol for future crises

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

“Trade and Health

“10. Ensure trade policies facilitate vaccine manufacturing and distribution

“11. Creation of a Health Market Information System

“12. Adopt cooperative ways to speed up vaccine production

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

“Trade and environmental sustainability

“14. Finalise the fisheries subsidies negotiations

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

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

“17. Deal with carbon leakage in a multilateral way

“Trade and the digital economy

“18. Accelerate the e-commerce negotiations

“19. Develop market access provisions for the digital economy

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

“21. Create an enabling legal environment for paperless trade

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

“Trade and inclusivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely U.S. Trade Approach Short Term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

86 Fed. Reg. at 53,278.

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

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

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

WTO issues

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

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

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