European Union

How severe is the food security challenge?

The lead story in the New York Times on May 24, 2022 had the following headline — Live Updates: World Leaders Call for Action to Free Trapped Ukrainian Food. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/05/24/world/russia-ukraine-war (“Russia’s blockade of seaports and attacks on grain warehouses have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets. Western officials are accusing Russia of using food as a weapon.”). The article reviews presentations made at the World Economic Forum this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UN World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley.

EC President von der Leyen’s statement at Davos is copied in part below (section dealing with food security) and includes both the EU view on the challenges being faced as well as steps the EU is taking to try to reduce the severity of the food insecurity crisis. See European Commission, Special Address by President von der Leyen at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 24 May 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_22_3282.

“We are witnessing how Russia is weaponising its energy supplies. And indeed, this is having global repercussions. Unfortunately, we are seeing the same pattern emerging in food security. Ukraine is one of the world’s most fertile countries. Even its flag symbolises the most common Ukrainian landscape: a yellow field of grain under a blue sky. Now, those fields of grain have been scorched. In Russian-occupied Ukraine, the Kremlin’s army is confiscating grain stocks and machinery. For some, this brought back memories from a dark past – the times of the Soviet crop seizures and the devastating famine of the 1930s. Today, Russia’s artillery is bombarding grain warehouses in Ukraine – deliberately. And Russian warships in the Black Sea are blockading Ukrainian ships full of wheat and sunflower seeds. The consequences of these shameful acts are there for everyone to see. Global wheat prices are skyrocketing. And it is the fragile countries and vulnerable populations that suffer most. Bread prices in Lebanon have increased by 70%, and food shipments from Odessa could not reach Somalia. And on top of this, Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail – holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support. This is: using hunger and grain to wield power.

“And again, our answer is and must be to mobilise greater collaboration and support at the European and global level. First, Europe is working hard to get grain to global markets, out of Ukraine. You must know that there are currently 20 million tons of wheat stuck in Ukraine. The usual export was 5 million tons of wheat per month. Now, it is down to 200,000 to 1 million tons. By getting it out, we can provide Ukrainians with the needed revenues, and the World Food Programme with supplies it so badly needs. To do this, we are opening solidarity lanes, we are linking Ukraine’s borders to our ports, we are financing different modes of transportation so that Ukraine’s grain can reach the most vulnerable countries in the world. Second, we are stepping up our own production to ease pressure on global food markets. And we are working with the World Food Programme so that available stocks and additional products can reach vulnerable countries at affordable prices. Global cooperation is the antidote against Russia’s blackmail.

“Third, we are supporting Africa in becoming less dependent on food imports. Only 50 years ago, Africa produced all the food it needed. For centuries, countries like Egypt were the granaries of the world. Then climate change made water scarce, and the desert swallowed hundreds of kilometres of fertile land, year after year. Today, Africa is heavily dependent on food imports, and this makes it vulnerable. Therefore, an initiative to boost Africa’s own production capacity will be critical to strengthen the continent’s resilience. The challenge is to adapt farming to a warmer and drier age. Innovative technologies will be crucial to leapfrog. Companies around the world are already testing high-tech solutions for climate-smart agriculture. For example, precision irrigation operating on power from renewable; or vertical farming; or nanotechnologies, which can cut the use of fossil fuels when producing fertilisers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

“The signs of a growing food crisis are obvious. We have to act urgently. But there are also solutions, today and on the horizon.

“This is why – again, an example of cooperation – I am working with President El-Sisi to address the repercussions of the war with an event on food security and the solutions coming from Europe and the region. It is time to end the unhealthy dependencies. It is time to create new connections. It is time to replace the old chains with new bonds. Let us overcome these huge challenges in cooperation, and that is in the Davos spirit.”

The New York Times article provides excerpts from Mr. Beasley’s comments. “’It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,’ said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. ‘If we don’t get the port of Odesa open, it will compound our problems.’ Calling the situation ‘absolutely critical,’ he warned, ‘We will have famines around the world.’”

The UN World Food Programme has a press release on its webcite that addresses the food security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. See UN World Food Programme, Failing to open Ukrainian ports means declaring war on global food security, WFP Chief warns UN Security Council, 19 May 2022, https://www.wfp.org/news/failing-open-ukrainian-ports-means-declaring-war-global-food-security-wfp-chief-warns-un. The release is copied below.

“NEW YORK – The UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, addressed the United Nations Security Council today on the impact of the war in Ukraine on global food security. Here are selected highlights from his remarks:

“’We truly are in an unprecedented crisis. Food pricing is our number one problem right now, as a result of all this perfect storm for 2022. But by 2023 it very well will be a food availability problem. When a country like Ukraine that grows enough food for 400 million people is out of the market, it creates market volatility, which we are now seeing.

“’In 2007 and 2008, we all witnessed what happened when pricing gets out of control. There were over 40 nations with political unrest, riots and protests. We’re already seeing riots and protesting taking place as we speak. Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru… We’ve seen destabilizing dynamics already in the Sahel from Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad… these are only signs of things to come. And we have enough historical experience to understand the consequences when we failed to act. When a nation that is the breadbasket of the world becomes a nation with the longest bread lines of the world, we know we have a problem.

“’As the Secretary General clearly spoke, we’re now reaching about 4 million people inside Ukraine. In fact, we’re scaling up to 900,000 on cash-based transfers as we speak. That will put liquidity back into the marketplace, but that does not solve the problem outside of Ukraine. That’s why we’ve got to get these ports running. We’ve got to empty the silos so that we can help stabilize the food crisis that we’re facing around the world.

“’Truly, failure to open those ports in Odesa region will be a declaration of war on global food security. And it will result in famine and destabilization and mass migration around the world.

“’Leaders of the world, it’s time that we do every possible thing that we can to bring the markets to stability because things will get worse, but I do have hope. We averted famine. We averted destabilization over the past many years because many of you in this room stepped up and we delivered. And we can do that again. But we’ve got things that have to happen. Getting the ports open, stabilizing the markets, increasing production around the world. We’ll get through this storm, but we must act and we must act with urgency.’”

See also, reliefweb, War in Ukraine: WFP renews call to open Black Sea ports amid fears for global hunger, originally posted on May 20, 2022, updated May 22, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/war-ukraine-wfp-renews-call-open-black-sea-ports-amid-fears-global-hunger#:~:text=The%20World%20Food%20Programme%20(WFP,of%20lives%20%E2%80%93%20around%20the%20world (“In impassioned pleas to the specially convened ‘call to action’ group on 18 May, attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Beasley added: ‘The silos are full. Why are the silos full? Because the ports are not operating … It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine, this is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak’”.).

As reviewed in earlier posts, there are production issues on grains in a number of other countries flowing from heat or draught or low inventories. Challenges in other countries are complicating the ability to substitute products from other countries for the large volumes not being shipped from Ukraine. See May 16, 2022:  Wheat prices spike following Indian export ban, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/16/wheat-prices-spike-following-indian-export-ban/; May 15, 2022:  India bans exports of wheat, complicating efforts to address global food security problems posed by Russia’s war in Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/15/india-bans-exports-of-wheat-complicating-efforts-to-address-global-food-security-problems-posed-by-russias-war-in-ukraine/; April 19, 2022:  Recent estimates of global effects from Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/19/recent-estimates-of-global-effects-from-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; April 19, 2022:  Recent estimates of global effects from Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/19/recent-estimates-of-global-effects-from-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/.

While many countries are expressing the desire to help out in the crisis and while the WTO and other multilateral organizations are taking or talking about some actions that are available to them, the crisis is likely to significantly worsen in the coming months as there is little likelihood that Russia will permit the reopening of the Black Sea ports to Ukrainian wheat and other products. The crisis will likely exceed the level of the challenges from the 2007-2008 period and will reduce global GDP growth, including forcing some areas into recession, will increase starvation and malnurishment and result in increased political instability in a number of countries around the world. Expect larger parts of the global community to view Russia as a pariah state. While trade is an important part of the answer, the war started by Russia is not controllable by global trade rules in fact. We are in for a challenging period with much of the harm born by those least able to handle the harm being inflicted.

Less than five weeks to the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference — what are likely deliverables?

On May 9-10, the WTO held a General Council meeting which followed an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and Heads of Delegation meeting from May 4. The meetings resulted in a series of news releases from the WTO focusing on the Director-General’s views on areas for focus for the upcoming Ministerial as well as initial reactions from Members to the paper put forward following negotiations between the European Union, United States, India and South Africa on what, if any, modifications to TRIPS obligations were needed to help WTO Members address the COVID-19 pandemic. See WTO News Release, General Council, Members welcome Quad document as basis for text-based negotiations on pandemic IP response, 10 May, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_10may22_e.htm; WTO News Release, General Council, DG Okonjo-Iweala urges WTO members to “meet the many challenges of our time”, 9 May 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_09may22_e.htm; WTO News Release, Trade Negotiations Committee, DG Okonjo-Iweala: Members can deliver results at MC12 despite challenging circumstances, 4 May 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/tnc_04may22_e.htm.

The Director-General highlighted at the May 4 informal TNC and Heads of Delegation meeting a possible list of achievables by the 12th Ministerial Conference in the difficult political and economic environment that Members find themselves in.

“One potential MC12 deliverable is a WTO response to the current and future pandemics, including intellectual property issues, where members will discuss possible elements of a compromise at a time to be determined by the Chair of the TRIPS Council, the DG said. Other potential deliverables include concluding an agreement on fisheries subsidies, achieving outcomes on agriculture and making progress on reforming the WTO in addition to various initiatives members are taking forward, she added.

“The Director-General pointed to the threat of a global crisis in food security, with prices for food, fertilizer and energy rising sharply from already high levels.  She suggested members could use MC12 as a platform to take actions on these issues separately from the ongoing agriculture negotiations.”

A WTO Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The WTO achieving a response to the COVID-19 pandemic became more likely with the release of the draft text from the EU, US, India and China. I reviewed the main changes from the earlier draft in a recent post. May 4, 2022:  Access to vaccines – the public release of the text from the U.S., EU, India and South Africa to the full WTO Membership for consideration by the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/04/access-to-vaccines-the-public-release-of-the-text-from-the-u-s-eu-india-and-south-africa-to-the-full-wto-membership-for-consideration-by-the-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-prop/. While Members were not ready to sign off on the draft language and were awaiting instructions from capitals on positions to take, it is clear that the text will be the basis for negotiations. Moreover, as reflected in the WTO press release on the May 10 General Council session, China indicated it would not avail itself of the flexibilities on vaccines in the proposal. As reviewed in my May 4th post, China’s action will facilitate agreement on the text as it will permit adoption of language that makes the provisions available to all developing countries but encourages countries with strong export capabilities to not avail themselves of the provisions. China has self-identified itself as a developing country, but has been the largest manufacturer and exporter of COVID-19 vaccines, The U.S. and EU had drafted language that would have excluded China’s eligibility (as the only developing countries with exports of more than 10% of global totals in 2021). China’s position permits broader eligibility, hence avoiding what China would view as discriminatory language aimed at it. The implicit quid pro quo for using the broader language was China indicating it would not utilize the provisions.

However, there are remaining issues needing resolution in the draft text including whether diagnostics and therapeutics will be included in the provisions immediately versus subject to a separate determination to include within six months. And there is the broader set of issues including transparency, export restrictions, trade facilitation important to many countries as part of any WTO response to the pandemic. The European Union reviewed its views on the broader issues during the General Council meeting. See European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69,

Item 4. A. WTO RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC – REPORT BY THE CHAIR

“The European Union thanks the Facilitator for his report.

“The European Union has been a strong proponent of the WTO response to the pandemic from the onset of discussions that members had in this forum. We argued for a holistic approach, which would encompass all the necessary elements of the response, including intellectual property.

Now that we have made a substantial step forward in the TRIPS Council, it is high time we had a fresh look at other elements of the pandemic, such as transparency, export restrictions, or trade facilitation. The “strategic pause” allowed us to reflect deeper on how to move the process forward and arrive at a multilateral outcome demonstrating that the WTO can meaningfully contribute to a response to the crisis and learn from it. In that regard, we also note the statement of Brazil in document WT/GC/W/845 on various aspects of the response to the pandemic.

“The European Union and the United States have invested great efforts into allowing progress towards a credible outcome. We have reached a common understanding on the minimum or the landing zone that could be the final outcome in a number of areas, acknowledging that other Members have additional issues of interest that they would like to see reflected in the text. Our new compromise paper presents the essentials of the Walker text, which we value the most, in a condensed format. We are encouraged by the positive feedback we have received so far and we will take account of the comments received.

The new paper attempts to propose a balance that would be acceptable to all members. Even if slightly shorter on ambition than the Walker text, we believe that it still maintains the credibility of the WTO.

“As MC12 will start in a month time, we do not have the luxury of time. Our collective interest is to engage in a spirit of self-restraint and in a consensus-oriented mode.

We are hopeful that all members will be able to engage constructively so that we could all resume and promptly finalize the negotiating process before Ministers arrive in Geneva.

To get to a final agreement on a WTO response to the pandemic will require significant effort, but is looking hopeful at the moment.

Agriculture negotiations

While there has been a large agenda of items being discussed in agriculture, there are several possible deliverables besides a work program going forward. First, there has been agreement on tariff rate quota administration. See WTO News Release, General Council, General Council endorses final decision on Bali tariff rate quota underfill mechanism, 31 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_31mar22_e.htm; WTO Committee on Agriculture, REVIEW OF THE OPERATION OF THE BALI DECISION ON TRQ ADMINISTRATION REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON TO THE GENERAL COUNCIL, Addendum, G/AG/32/Add.1 (29 March 2022). G/AG/32/Add.1 is enclosed below.

32A1

It is unlikely that other aspects of the agriculture reform program will have concrete results by the 12th Ministerial with the possible exception of not blocking exports of agricultural goods to the UN World Food Programme. See WTO News Release, Agriculture Committee, MC12 outcome must help end hunger, improve food security, says chair, 27 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_02may22_e.htm; WTO, State of Play 13 December 2021, Agriculture negotiations, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bfagric_e.htm (topics include Public stockholding for food security purposes, Domestic support, Cotton, Market access, Special safeguard mechanism, Export prohibitions or restrictions, Export competition, Transparency).

Specifically, it is not clear that much progress has been made in 2022 on any of the topics being pursued. The last draft text from the Chair that has been released publicly dates from November 2021. COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION, REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON, H.E. MS GLORIA ABRAHAM PERALTA, TO THE TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE, TN/AG/50 (23 November 2021). The document is embedded below and basically lays out a work program on each topic going forward with an annex exempting food purchases by the UN World Food Programme from any export restrictions. Presumably some modified version of the November 2021 draft text will be presented to Ministers at the `2th Ministerial Conference.

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Food security flowing from Russian invasion of Ukraine

As reviewed in prior posts and reflected in the various WTO news releases, there is a current food security crisis flowing from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See, e.g., April 19, 2022:  Recent estimates of global effects from Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/19/recent-estimates-of-global-effects-from-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; March 30, 2022:  Food security challenges posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/30/food-security-challenges-posed-by-the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; WTO News Release, Agriculture Committee, MC12 outcome must help end hunger, improve food security, says chair, 27 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_02may22_e.htm. Multilateral organizations have been calling for swift action to address the food security concerns. WTO News Release, WTO and other organizations, World Bank, IMF, WFP and WTO call for urgent coordinated action on food security, 13 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/igo_13apr22_e.htm.

At this week’s General Council meeting there were two agenda items that addressed the food security issue. Item 8 and item 12. See WTO General Council, Proposed Agenda, WT/GC/W/846, 6 May 2022. Item 8 dealt with a document entitled “Joint Statement on Open and Predictable Trade in Agricultural and Food Products” and was presented by the United Kingdom. Signatories to the document included Albania; Australia; Canada; Chile; Costa Rica; European Union; Georgia; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Republic of Korea; Liechtenstein; Mexico; Republic of Moldova; Montenegro; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Singapore; Switzerland; The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Ukraine; United Kingdom and United States (51 WTO Members). The document is embedded below.

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A number of countries have imposed export restrictions which worsen the pricing spikes being experienced on key agricultural commodities where Ukraine is a major exporter. The action by the 51 WTO Members is an important step whether or not it will generate a consensus document by the 12th Ministerial Conference meeting or not.

The EU’s comments on item 8 are likely representative of those supporting maintaining open markets for agricultural products at the present time.

“Item 8 – JOINT STATEMENT ON OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS – REQUEST FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM

The European Union would like to thank the United Kingdom and other co-sponsors for their support in raising attention in the WTO to the global food security crisis that we see emerging.

The crisis triggered by Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and unjustified aggression against Ukraine, is not only a dramatic humanitarian crisis for Ukraine. It has increased food insecurity in many developing countries around the world.

We are witnessing a dramatic surge in food, fertilizer and energy prices, which exceed the levels reached during the last major food crisis in 2011, as well as risks to supply of staple commodities with immediate impacts on world food security and nutrition.

Let me be clear that any negative impact on agricultural production in Ukraine, and therefore on global food security, prices or availability of commodities on the world market is a result of the destabilising effects of the Russian aggression and military activities on Ukrainian soil.

The EU considers that the emerging food security challenges should be addressed as a priority at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.

We hope this plurilateral statement may help in focussing attention on the crucial importance of responding to these challenges.

The discussions in the recent food security seminar, including contributions from FAO, WFP and other organisations, were also useful.   

The plurilateral statement is also a  response to the call of  Director-General Okonjo-Iweala for coordinated actions in areas like export restrictions on food, and transparency, including transparency of stocks.

We call for unanimous support for a decision exempting World Food Programme humanitarian purchases from export restrictions. This would facilitate sourcing supplies by the WFP in these critical times. The EU expects the WTO and its members to act at this critical moment in order to help ensure open trade, strong rules, resilient markets, and less trade distortions.

The EU will remain engaged in negotiations towards MC12 for outcomes, which will provide a tangible response to the food security challenges.

European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69

Item 12 was a topic raised by the Russian Federation in its submission of 16 March 2022 (WT/GC/245) in which it alleges that the food security and other supply chain problems flow from sanctions imposed on Russia by various WTO members. See COMMUNICATION FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, WT/GC/245 (16 March 2022). The document is embedded below.

WTGC245

The countries imposing sanctions on Russia strongly disagree with Russia’s characterization of the causes for the food security challenge as the EU’s intervention at the General Council meeting makes clear.

Item 12 – TRADE-DISRUPTIVE PRACTICES OF CERTAIN MEMBERS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WTO – COMMUNICATION FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (WT/GC/245)

Let us be clear from the outset: it is the Russian army that has invaded the Ukrainian territory. We strongly condemn the illegal, unprovoked, unjustifiable aggression of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, which has brought catastrophic loss of life and human suffering in Ukraine and poses a direct threat to the European and international security order.

The Russian Federation’s hostile act is a blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order, the consequences of which have already extended well beyond Ukraine’s borders.

We are greatly concerned about the global trade consequences of the aggression; in particular as regards the supply of a number of commodities, including oil and gas, staple foods, and critical minerals.

The European Union also strongly specifically condemns Russia’s actions targeting Ukraine’s food supply and production. Credible reports highlighted that Russian forces are attacking and plundering grain silos in Ukraine as well as damaging and removing Ukrainian farm equipment. Furthermore, the closure of the Black Sea by Russian armed forces effectively blocks the exports of grains via Ukrainian seaports.

The food security situation is already dramatic for those directly involved in Ukraine. The impact of the Russian aggression is however not just restricted to Ukraine and its citizens but is seriously challenging food availability in some vulnerable net food-importing countries in particular. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is thus jeopardizing the food supply to some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, and pushing millions of people into food insecurity.

The Russian Federation has now embarked on a further campaign of disinformation in the context of the WTO. In the face of this, the European Union, alongside our partners, deems it important to set the record straight for the benefit of the membership.

In a transparent manner, the European Union have issued a Joint Statement together with partners in relation to the trade measures that the European Union and other members are adopting towards Russia, including measures that deny the Russian Federation the benefits which the WTO Agreement provides, such as the benefit of the most-favoured nation treatment. The measures include export restrictions and import restrictions targeting the Russian Federation.

The European Union considers these actions necessary to protect its essential security interests within the meaning of the applicable security exceptions of the WTO Agreement. The purpose of these measures is to restore peace and security, in full respect of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence within its internationally recognised borders. Therefore, these measures are fully consistent with WTO rules.

The European Union would like to underline that the EU’s sanctions do not target the agricultural sector of the Russian Federation. The sanctions are primarily directed at the Russian Government, the financial sector and the economic elites. They target the ability to finance the Russian aggression against Ukraine and its people.

Therefore, the European Union, alongside our partners, strongly condemns Russia’s attempts at putting the blame on international sanctions for the global food security crisis that is directly caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its people.

“In this context, we are committed to helping Ukraine cope with the trade consequences of the aggression. We will seek to facilitate access and transit for imports from Ukraine to our markets and encourage Members to do likewise – including by eliminating tariffs and other restrictions to imports, facilitating the use of infrastructure and facilitating customs procedures in a manner commensurate with their capacity and consistently with WTO rules.

The European Union will continue to provide humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of Ukrainian civilians by securing their access to basic goods and services, notably food. The European Union will also help Ukrainian farmers to continue planting and growing cereals and oilseeds, much needed for themselves and for the world, and to facilitate their exports.

We call on the Russian Federation to immediately stop its military aggression in Ukraine, which is also the only way to stop the humanitarian and food security crisis.

European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69.

A number of WTO Members are providing temporary duty free treatment to goods from Ukraine besides the EU — Canada and U.K.. The U.S. has removed Section 232 tariffs on steel from Ukraine for the next year as well.

The EU is working to facilitate movement of Ukrainian agricultural products by land through EU member states. But the main challenges are the blockage of Black Sea ports by Russia and the reported theft of agricultural products and equipment from Ukrainian farms and depots. See, e.g., CNN, Russians steal vast amounts of Ukrainian grain and equipment, threatening this year’s harvest, May 5, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/05/europe/russia-ukraine-grain-theft-cmd-intl/index.html; Voice of America, Russian Blockade of Ukrainian Sea Ports Sends Food Prices Soaring, May 7, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/russian-blockade-of-ukrainian-sea-ports-sends-food-prices-soaring/6561914.html; Politico, EU plans to help Ukraine’s food exports dodge Black Sea blockade, EU farm chief warns Russia wants to portray itself as feeding the poor, while it destroys Ukraine’s farmland. May 10, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-plans-to-boost-ukraines-food-exports-black-sea-blockade/.

While many WTO Members will push for a WTO decision to bolster food security, it is unlikely that Russia and those engaging in export restraints will permit a consensus decision.

Fisheries Subsidies

While many Members and the WTO Director-General talk about delivering an agreement on fisheries subsidies, there has not been a lot of progress in recent months according to WTO news releases on meetings to review the issues. See, e.g., WTO News Release, Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies, Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations reports on consultations with members, 15 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/fish_15feb22_e.htm.

After more than 21 years of negotiations, there is obviously a feeling that Members need to reach agreement. However, considering the entrenched positions of some and the current geopolitical situation, any agreement is likely to be modest in actual effect. I have reviewed developments in the negotiations in prior posts. See, e.g., https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/fish_15feb22_e.htm.

WTO Reform

Much has been written on WTO reform in recent years. What is important to WTO Members varies although most support the need for reform. Changes to reinvigorate the negotiating function, improving transparency, agricultural reform, addressing dispute settlement concerns of the U.S. and others, addressing industrial subsidies (and subsidies more broadly), state-owned and state-invested enterprises, problems of global excess capacity in various industries, special and differential treatment, compatability of state-directed economies with WTO rules are just a handful of issues important to some Members. I have addressed some of these topics in prior posts. See, e.g., April 28, 2022:  WTO Reform and the 12th Ministerial Conference — What Is likely on Dispute Settlement?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/28/wto-reform-and-the-12th-ministerial-conference-what-is-likely-on-dispute-settlement/; April 23, 2022:  The WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva the week of June 13, 2022 — What can be expected in the current geopolitical environment?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/23/the-wtos-upcoming-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-the-week-of-june-13-2022-what-can-be-expected-in-the-current-geopolitical-environment/; February 14, 2022:  Dispute Settlement Reform at the WTO — What Needs to Precede Negotiations?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/14/dispute-settlement-reform-at-the-wto-what-needs-to-precede-negotiations/.

There will likely be a document identifying some areas for future negotiations with a timeline of the 13th Ministerial as the target date for completion of the analysis. The level of ambition agreed up is not likely to be high in the current environment. Certainly, there won’t be agreement on tackling core issues such as the need for convergence of economic systems. While I would expect dispute settlement to be included, there has been no real movement by Members to come to grips with underlying U.S. concerns. Without that happening, there will likely be little chance of an agreed reform package by the 13th Ministerial.

There could also be a decision on transparency at the 12th Ministerial. See, e.g., General Council agenda item 9 and JOB/GC/204/Rev.9 (document from 50 Members). The latest version of the proposed decision is embedded below. The key to movement is eliminating any “penalties” for noncompliance and addressing concerns of some developing countries and LDCs on the challenges they face (capacity building, assistance, etc.). Those seem to be addressed in the latest draft, so hopefully agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.

JobsGC204R9

Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs)

As reviewed in prior posts, there has been good progress in a number of the JSIs which are essentially open plurilaterals. A few have results which will be presented at the 12th Ministerial. Others have ambitions to be concluded in the next year or so. See, e.g., April 23, 2022:  The WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva the week of June 13, 2022 — What can be expected in the current geopolitical environment?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/23/the-wtos-upcoming-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-the-week-of-june-13-2022-what-can-be-expected-in-the-current-geopolitical-environment/ (“There are a host of Joint Statement Initiatives that are at various stages of progress on a plurilateral basis, with India and South Africa raising objections to plurilateral agreements being part of the WTO without consensus agreement. See, e.g., April 14, 2022:  Challenging China’s Trade Practices — What Role for the WTO?,  https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/14/challenging-chinas-trade-practices-what-role-for-the-wto/ (“Ongoing JSI include those on electronic commerce, investment facilitation for development, plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade, services domestic regulation, informal working group on MSMEs, and trade and environmental sustainability.  The WTO issues periodic press releases on developments in the talks.  See, e.g., JOINT INITIATIVE ON E-COMMERCE, E-commerce negotiators seek to find common ground, revisit text proposals, 21 February 2022,  https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/jsec_23feb22_e.htm (hoping to have convergence on majority of issues by end of 2022)(86 WTO Members participating accounting for 90% of e-commerce trade including China, U.S. and most other major countries);  INVESTMENT FACILITATION FOR DEVELOPMENT, Investment facilitation negotiators take steps to assess needs of developing countries, 15 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/infac_23feb22_e.htm (looking to complete by end of 2022)(over 100 WTO Members participate including China and most developed countries, but not the U.S.); INFORMAL DIALOGUE ON PLASTICS POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE PLASTICS TRADE, Plastics dialogue emphasizes need for international collaboration, cooperation, 30 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/ppesp_31mar22_e.htm  (70 Members participate including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.); Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm (67 Members participated including China, the U.S. and other major developed countries); . MICRO, SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED ENTERPRISES (MSMES), Working group on small business welcomes three more members, 8 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/msmes_08feb22_e.htm (94 participants including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.).”).

India, Namibia and South Africa have raised issues with whether such plurilateral agreements can be made part of the WTO body of agreements without consensus. See THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, Revision, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1 (30 April 2021). While that question will not likely be resolved at the 12th Ministerial Conference, important progress is being made on the JSIs.

Moratorium on Imposing Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions

During prior Ministerial Conferences there was agreement both on Members holding off on non-violation nullification and impairment cases under the TRIPS Agreement and also agreement to extend the moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. WTO Members have already agreed to extend til the 13th Ministerial the ban on non-violation TRIPS cases. But a number of developing countries are seeking to end the moratorium on customs duties citing studies on loss of government revenue from the moratorium and the increased importance of electronic commerce.

Some Members have also expressed concern about the JSI on e-commerce in light of the ongoing work program on e-commerce within the WTO.

In the briefing note on e-commerce on the WTO webpage from January 11, 2022, the following is a discussion of activities in 2020 and 2021 on the topics.

“In summer 2020, WTO members put forward proposals on the implications of the moratorium, its scope, the definition of electronic transmissions and the implication of the moratorium on revenue loss for developing countries. This discussion is part of the broader developmental aspect of e-commerce: developing and least-developed countries face various challenges related to e-commerce, such as connectivity, infrastructure and capacity to implement policies related to e-commerce.

“The General Council continued to review progress in the Work Programme based on reports submitted by the chairs of the relevant WTO bodies. The General Council Chair convened a Structured Discussion under the Work Programme in July 2021. The discussion focused on three themes: electronic transmissions, imposition of internal non-discriminatory taxes on electronic transmissions, and e-commerce challenges and opportunities particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a subsequent submission in November 2021, some members outlined that it is necessary to have more clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions, consensus on the scope of the moratorium and an understanding of the impact of the moratorium in order to enable the WTO members to take an informed decision at MC12 on whether or not to extend the moratorium on customs duties.

“In November 2021, a group of WTO members put forward a proposal that contains draft ministerial text for possible adoption by ministers at MC12 for the extension of the moratorium and continuing the reinvigoration of the work programme. Views of members vary and consultations led by the General Council chair continued ahead of the conference scheduled to start on 30 November.”

It is likely that the moratorium will be extended to the 13th Ministerial but it will likely be a late agreed topic and will be coupled with a “reinvigorated” WTO work program on e-commerce and a likely lack of agreement on the role of plurilaterals moving forward.

Conclusion

At a time of tremendous trade challenges globally, the WTO continues to struggle to demonstrate its relevance to addressing current issues. The large number of Members, the very different perspectives on what they look to the WTO to provide, the emergence of economically important Members with economic systems not really compatible with existing WTO rules, the consensus based system and many other factors make restoring relevance for many of the current challenges a daunting task. The geopolitical crisis flowing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has both expanded the challenges and made resolution through the WTO more difficult.

The WTO Director-General is urging Members to achieve results at the 12th Ministerial even if less ambitious than might have been possible in a different environment. As the above review suggests, a modest package is possible but not at all certain. There is very little time to close the gaps and get a meaningful package ready. Let’s hope that Members can rise to the occasion.

Access to vaccines – the public release of the text from the U.S., EU, India and South Africa to the full WTO Membership for consideration by the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

In a post from March 17, 2022, I had reviewed a draft of language under consideration by the U.S., EU, India and South Africa meant to be reviewed by the full WTO Membership once agreement was reached by the four WTO Members. March 17, 2022:  Possible Compromise on Access to Vaccines — draft understanding between EU, US, South Africa and India, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/17/possible-compromise-on-access-to-vaccines-draft-understanding-between-eu-us-south-africa-and-india/.

On May 3, 2022, the WTO’s Director-General forwarded to the Chair of the TRIPS Council the text (including brackets) as forwarded by the four Members for consideration by the full Membership through the TRIPS Council. The Trips Council held an informal meeting on May 3. The Chair of the TRIPS Council released the text to the membership in a public document. See Communication from the Chairperson, IP/C/W/688 (3 May 2022). The document (including note from the Director-General and the two page document (“TRIPS COVID-19)) is embedded below.

W688

There are only two changes from the draft document reviewed in mid-March. The first is the most important and concerns the definition of “an eligible member” contained in footnote 1. Originally, footnote 1 consisted of the following – “For the purpose of this Decision, developing country Members who exported more than 10 percent of world exports of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2022 are not eligible Members.” From public data, this language would have excluded China from being an eligible Member. In the footnote 1 forwarded to the Membership on May 3, there are two bracketed sentences, the second of which is what was in the earlier draft. The other bracketed option would make all developing countries “eligible Members” — “[For the purpose of this Decision, all developing country Members are eligible Members. Developing country Members with capacity to export vaccines are encouraged to opt out from this Decision.]” Should China opt out of the Decision, the resulting potentially eligible countries would be the same. The opt out language could also arguably get additional Members who have significant vaccine producing and exporting capacity to voluntarily opt out as well (e.g., India).

The second change is the bracketing of paragraph 3.(a) with an additional footnote indicating that “This paragraph is under further consideration as to whether to keep or delete.” The paragraph (which is unchanged from the earlier draft other than the addition of brackets) reads,

“(a) [With respect to Article 31(a), an eligible Member may issue a single authorization to use the subject matter of multiple patents necessary for the production or supply of a COVID-19 vaccine. The authorization shall list all patents covered. In the determination of the relevant patents, an eligible member may be assisted by WIPO’s patent landscaping work, including on underlying technologies on COVID-19 vaccines, and by other relevant sources. An eligible Member may update the authorization to include other patents.]”

It was reported that China was pushing to be included in the small group discussions and took exception to the footnote 1 language which would exclude only it. Presumably the alternative bracketed language in footnote 1 is designed to address China’s concerns. However, it is less likely that the U.S. will accept a final package if China doesn’t opt out of the decision.

Consistent with the earlier draft, the Decision, if adopted would remain in effect for either three or five years (numbers are braketed alternatives).

Many NGOs have raised concerns about the lack of immediate coverage of therapeutics and diagnostics. Paragraph 8 continues to read, “No later than six months from the date of this Decision, Members will decide on its extension to cover the production and distribution of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.” Thus, a decision on coverage of therapeutics and diagnostics will occur, absent a change in language in the text, by the end of 2022, if the decision is adopted.

If the text is accepted by the WTO membership (or modified in ways acceptable to all), then there should be an agreed WTO response to the pandemic at the 12th Ministerial. For reasons noted in recent posts, the value of such a response will be more in the other aspects of the response (keeping markets open, limits on export restraints, transparency, etc.) than on the document dealing with access to vaccines via TRIPS actions. See, e.g., May 1, 2022:  Financial Times article from May 1, 2022 reaffirms current excess capacity for COVID-19 vaccines, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/01/financial-times-article-from-may-1-2022-reaffirms-current-excess-capacity-for-covid-19-vaccines/; April 30, 2022:  World Trade Organization 12th Ministerial Conference — the possible response to the COVID-19 pandemic amid the declining demand for vaccines, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/30/world-trade-organization-12th-ministerial-conference-the-possible-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic-amid-the-declining-demand-for-vaccines/. Nonetheless, an agreed response, including the vaccine TRIPS provisions, would be an important accomplishment in the current times.

World Trade Organization 12th Ministerial Conference — the possible response to the COVID-19 pandemic amid the declining demand for vaccines

One of the hoped for outcomes from the upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva June 12-15, 2022 is a possible agreed outcome on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic including some action on intellectual property issues. See, e.g., WTO News Release, DG Okonjo-Iweala concludes US mission, 28 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/dgno_28apr22b_e.htm (“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala met on 28 April with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to discuss prospects for the upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference, the WTO’s response to the pandemic including intellectual property, reform of the organization, the looming food shortage crisis and disruptions to global supply chains.”).

I have previously reviewed the possible elements of the response to the pandemic and a not finalized draft intellectual property document among the European Union, United States, India and South Africa. See, e.g., March 17, 2022:  Possible Compromise on Access to Vaccines — draft understanding between EU, US, South Africa and India, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/17/possible-compromise-on-access-to-vaccines-draft-understanding-between-eu-us-south-africa-and-india/; 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/.

Equitable access to vaccines has been a matter of concern to many countries and the focus of the effort by India and South Africa to obtain a waiver from TRIPS obligations for vaccines, therapeutics and more for a period of years to address the pandemic.

There has been dramatic increases in production capacity for existing vaccines with significant efforts to expand production in developing countries including low income countries. See, e.g., February 21, 2022:  The EU – AU Summit and the promise of a resolution to the WTO pandemic response package, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/21/the-eu-au-summit-and-the-promise-of-a-resolution-to-the-wto-pandemic-response-package/; February 16, 2022:  Building Vaccine Capacity in Africa – Exciting News from BioNTech, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/16/building-vaccine-capacity-in-africa-exciting-news-from-biontech/.

The WHO has set the objective of getting 70% of the world’s population vaccinated by this summer, a goal that should be achievable based on production capacity. Unfortunately, it is clear that for low income countries generally and for Africa as a continent, the 70% target will not be met. It is also not likely that lower middle income countries will reach the target either. The WTO-IMF vaccine information available from the WTO webpage is currently updated through the end of March 2022. See WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker, Last updated: 28 April 2022, Table 6, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_trade_tracker_e.htm. Specifically when examined on an income level basis (World Bank definition), low income countries have only 12.0% of their population fully vaccinated (15.2% with at least one dose); lower middle income countries have 48.4% of their population fully vaccinated (57.3% with at least one dose). These rates compare to 72.6% of Upper middle income countries’ populations being fully vaccinated and 73.2% of high income countries’ populations. On a continent-wide basis, Africa has only 15.3% of its population fully vaccinated; Oceania is at 62.3%; North America is at 62.7%; Europe is 65.1%;, Asia is 67.8%; and South America is 73.0%.

Shockingly, data on a monthly basis show total supply declining in each of the first three months of 2022 compared to December 2021 and, in fact, below every month since June 2021. March 2022 appears to be roughly 1/3 of supply from December 2021. WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker, at Table 4. This decline in volume is despite new vaccine producers of vaccines being approved and UNICEF’s tracking of capacity showing 2022 ranging from 16.8-20.9 billion doses versus the 2021 rate of 11.5 billion. UNICEF, COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard, accessed 4-30-2022, https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard.

Since last fall, there have been news stories about countries with low vaccination rates not being able to accept all deliveries scheduled. See, e.g., Reuters exclusively reports South Africa delays COVID vaccine deliveries as inoculations slow, November 24, 2021, ttps://www.reutersagency.com/en/reutersbest/article/reuters-exclusively-reports-south-africa-delays-covid-vaccine-deliveries-as-inoculations-slow/ (“Reuters exclusively reported that South Africa has asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to delay delivery of COVID-19 vaccines because it now has too much stock, as vaccine hesitancy slows an inoculation campaign. About 35% of South Africans are fully vaccinated, higher than in most other African nations, but half the government’s year-end target. It has averaged 106,000 doses a day in the past 15 days in a nation of 60 million people.”).

The causes can vary from vaccine hesitancy (which can be higher in countries with low death rates such as much of Africa), to challenges with distribution (particularly to rural parts of countries), to weak health care infrastructure and more.

Moderna, one of the major mRNA vaccine producers, had its annual shareholders meeting on April 28, 2022. One of the shareholder initiatives voted on was whether the company should generate a Report on Feasibility of Transferring Intellectual Property. The proposal was rejected by over 3/4th of the votes. But in a document released by the company, there is a description of the large volume of production that has not been accepted or delayed and the resulting reduction of production that Moderna is going through because of a lack of demand. See Moderna, Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines, April 28, 2022, https://s29.q4cdn.com/435878511/files/doc_news/2022/04/Access-Statement_4.28_817am.pdf. A section of the document pertaining to COVAX and the Africa Union is copied below.

Committing Vaccines to COVAX and the African Union

“Beginning in the summer of 2020, the Moderna team was engaged with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on behalf of the COVAX Facility, hoping to secure a commitment from them to procure a significant number of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. An agreement was not reached until April 2021, though we were pleased to commit up to 500 million doses to COVAX – a number that was subsequently increased to 650 million doses. Similarly, we were proud to reach an agreement with the African Union to supply 110 million doses, which we were prepared to start delivering as early as the fourth quarter of 2021. In each case, we offered these vaccines at our lowest price, and in the latest agreements the price for each of these organizations was $7 per 100 μg dose.

“Despite our efforts, ultimately COVAX and the African Union deferred or declined hundreds of millions of doses of Moderna’s vaccine. While we were prepared to deliver tens of millions of doses to the African Union in December 2021, they asked us to delay delivery, noting that they did not have the means of distributing them. They also declined to exercise an option for 60 million doses that were available to them in the second quarter of this year.

“Similarly, COVAX has declined options for over 320 million doses that Moderna was prepared to deliver in 2022, noting that they have ample access to vaccines. And even for those doses where COVAX submitted a firm order covering the first and second quarters, they have asked to defer delivery. As a result, Moderna is incurring significant costs as it winds down relationships with outside manufacturers who were engaged to produce these declined doses.

“Asking Moderna to transfer intellectual property to local manufacturers—as the Oxfam America proposal suggested—when hundreds of millions of doses are being declined and already operating manufacturing plants are being idled will do nothing to accelerate the end of the pandemic. It would also require diverting Moderna personnel already engaged in manufacturing with other partners, or who are working on other initiatives, including the company’s Global Health strategy as described below.

The document in its entirety is embedded below.

Access-Statement_4.28_817am-1

The WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker in its table 4 on total supply shows that supply by all or nearly all major COVID vaccine producers has declined on a monthly basis since December 2022 including for Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinopharm, Moderna, J&J, Sputnik and other. Thus, the reduction in production is not limited to mRNA products or to just Moderna. The table from the current WTO-IMF Vaccine Trade Tracker is copied below.

So the challenges of vaccinating the world against the COVID-19 pandemic continue but are not driven in 2022 by availability of the vaccine or even access to the vaccine. Neither waiver of TRIPS obligations nor easier compulsory licensing of the COVID-19 vaccines will solve the underlying ongoing issue of vaccinations.

The draft intellectual property document being worked on by the EU, U.S., India and South Africa that when signed off on by those four will need to be considered by the WTO Membership as a whole, is limited to vaccines, with therapeutics and other elements of goods needed to address the pandemic potentially addressable in six months after an agreement. If the draft agreement among the four (actual language has not been finalized and reportedly has not been signed off on by the U.S., India and South Africa) is the intellectual property part of the WTO’s response to the pandemic, its relevance, if any, will be how Members might look at future pandemics and actions by WTO Members. Its utility for the COVID-19 pandemic is at the most very limited with more capacity than demand in 2022 and with the major drivers of nonvaccination this year not being availability of vaccines. This means that while there will be potentially symbolic relevance to the IP portion of the package, the meat of the response will be in the areas of keeping markets open, limiting export restraints, improved transparency, etc.

The WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva the week of June 13, 2022 — What can be expected in the current geopolitical environment?

The COVID-19 pandemic has twice delayed the 12th Ministerial Conference from its original date in June 2020. Assuming the Ministerial Conference in fact takes place the week of June 13, 2022 (and isn’t delayed by a new surge in COVID-19 infrections or by other complications), there will have been a four and a half year delay from the 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in late 2017. Ministerial conferences are intended to be held every two years. Considering the challenges facing the World Trade Organization, many will be looking to see if this year’s Ministerial can help restore the WTO’s relevancy. The effort to get positive results at the 12th Ministerial Conference has been complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The list of challenging issues is long. Fisheries Subsidies is the only new multilateral agreement under discussion. While it is nearing the finish line, negotiations have been ongoing for more than twenty years, and it is unclear the level of ambition that will be agreed to if negotiations are concluded.

There are a range of agriculture issues that have been under discussion for years. The topics under discussion include public stockholding for food security purposes, domestic support (subsidies other than export subsidies), cotton, market access, special safeguard mechanism, export prohibitions or restrictions, export competition and transparency, See WTO Briefing Note, Agriculture Negotiations, State of Play 13 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bfagric_e.htm. In the most recent WTO press notice on the agriculture negotiations is from March 23, 2022 and notes the challenges from the Russian invasion. See WTO, Agriculture negotiators chart path towards MC12, 23 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_21mar22_e.htm (“WTO agriculture negotiators met on 21 March to discuss the way forward ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which is now scheduled to take place the week of 13 June. The chair of the agriculture negotiating group, Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta (Costa Rica), noted the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on global food markets and the agriculture negotiation environment. She asked members to prepare for intensive negotiations and use the remaining time wisely so as to achieve pragmatic, meaningful outcomes at MC12.”).

The WTO Members have also been seeking to reach agreement on a response package to the COVID-19 pandemic, including on whether some form of waiver or other action is needed on intellectual property rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. See, e.g., March 17, 2022:  Possible Compromise on Access to Vaccines — draft understanding between EU, US, South Africa and India, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/17/possible-compromise-on-access-to-vaccines-draft-understanding-between-eu-us-south-africa-and-india/; February 21, 2022:  The EU – AU Summit and the promise of a resolution to the WTO pandemic response package, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/21/the-eu-au-summit-and-the-promise-of-a-resolution-to-the-wto-pandemic-response-package/; February 16, 2022:  Building Vaccine Capacity in Africa – Exciting News from BioNTech, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/16/building-vaccine-capacity-in-africa-exciting-news-from-biontech/.

There are a host of Joint Statement Initiatives that are at various stages of progress on a plurilateral basis, with India and South Africa raising objections to plurilateral agreements being part of the WTO without consensus agreement. See, e.g., April 14, 2022:  Challenging China’s Trade Practices — What Role for the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/14/challenging-chinas-trade-practices-what-role-for-the-wto/ (“Ongoing JSI include those on electronic commerce, investment facilitation for development, plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade, services domestic regulation, informal working group on MSMEs, and trade and environmental sustainability.  The WTO issues periodic press releases on developments in the talks.  See, e.g., JOINT INITIATIVE ON E-COMMERCE, E-commerce negotiators seek to find common ground, revisit text proposals, 21 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/jsec_23feb22_e.htm (hoping to have convergence on majority of issues by end of 2022)(86 WTO Members participating accounting for 90% of e-commerce trade including China, U.S. and most other major countries);  INVESTMENT FACILITATION FOR DEVELOPMENT, Investment facilitation negotiators take steps to assess needs of developing countries, 15 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/infac_23feb22_e.htm (looking to complete by end of 2022)(over 100 WTO Members participate including China and most developed countries, but not the U.S.); INFORMAL DIALOGUE ON PLASTICS POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE PLASTICS TRADE, Plastics dialogue emphasizes need for international collaboration, cooperation, 30 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/ppesp_31mar22_e.htm  (70 Members participate including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.); Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm (67 Members participated including China, the U.S. and other major developed countries); . MICRO, SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED ENTERPRISES (MSMES), Working group on small business welcomes three more members, 8 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/msmes_08feb22_e.htm (94 participants including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.).”).

There are many issues that have been raised as potential subjects for WTO reform including dispute settlement, industrial subsidies, state-owned and state-invested enterprises, excess capacity, transparency and many others.

With the U.S., EU, U.K., Japan, Canada and others seeking to reduce the role the Russian Federation can play in multilateral and plurilateral organizations while its war against Ukraine continues, it is unclear what progress will be made on the trade agenda at the WTO ahead of the 12th Ministerial. For example, G7 countries, the EU and others have suspended most favored nation status on goods and services from the Russian Federation. March 20, 2022:  Banned imports, higher tariffs, other actions by trading partners as Russia and Belarus lose most favored nation treatment by G-7 countries and EU during the conflict in Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/20/banned-imports-higher-tariffs-other-actions-by-trading-partners-as-russia-and-belarus-lose-most-faovered-nation-treatment-by-g-7-countries-and-eu-during-the-conflict-in-ukraine/.

They have also announced that they are removing the Russian Federation from the WTO Developed Countries Coordinating Group. See March 5, 2022:  Joint letter from European Union and United States on removing the Russian Federation from the WTO Developed Countries Coordinating Group, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/05/joint-letter-from-european-union-and-united-states-on-removing-the-russian-federation-from-the-wto-developed-countries-coordinating-group/.

Russia’s President Putin has indicated that he wants a revised WTO strategy by June 1 to deal with sanctions imposed by western countries. See Reuters, Russia to update its strategy in World Trade Organization amid sanctions, says Putin, April 20, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-update-its-strategy-world-trade-organization-amid-sanctions-says-putin-2022-04-20/ (“Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that ‘illegal’ restrictions on Russian companies by Western states ran counter to World Trade Organization rules and told his government to update Russia’s strategy in the WTO by June 1. Speaking at a government meeting on the country’s metals industry, Putin said that Western countries had banned Russia from buying components needed to produce rolled metal, steel sheets and other products.”). It is unclear if that “revised strategy” will include blocking consensus in the WTO on topics being negotiated/discussed for the 12th Ministerial Meeting. Western countries have also opted to walk out of meetings when Russian delegates are participating/speaking. See, e.g., NPR, Janet Yellen and other finance ministers walk out of G20 meeting as Russia speaks, April 20, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/04/20/1093841174/janet-yellen-crystia-freeland-canada-rishi-sunak-uk-g20-walk-out-russia (“Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other global financial leaders walked out of a G20 session as Russian officials were speaking on Wednesday in an effort to underscore Moscow’s isolation following the invasion of Ukraine.”).

Thus, the atmosphere for moving trade talks forward is clouded at best at the present time.

As prior Director-Generals have done for prior Ministerial Confernces, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been traveling the world seeking support from major countries to a successful Ministerial Conference. See, e.g., WTO news release, DG calls on Brazil’s support in preventing food crisis, seeks leadership towards MC12, 19 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/dgno_19apr22_e.htm (” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala concluded a two-day trip to Brazil on 18-19 April, her first to Latin America as head of the WTO, meeting government officials, parliamentarians and businesspeople. She thanked Brazil for its constructive role in the WTO, highlighted the country’s potential role in alleviating risks of a food security crisis linked to the conflict in Ukraine and acknowledged the government’s concerns about the difficulties in securing fertilizers. She also sought Brazil’s continued and strong support for multilateralism and a fruitful 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).”). The Director-General will be in Washington the week of April 25, 2022. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO director-general to visit Washington next week in lead-up to MC12, April 20, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-director-general-visit-washington-next-week-lead-mc12. The Inside U.S. Trade article reviews the tensions caused by the Russian invasion and the resulting uncertainty about what, if any, outcomes are possible for the 12th Ministerial Conference.

“Her conversations in Washington are likely to focus significantly on the waiver and on the upcoming 12th ministerial conference, set for the week of June 13 in Geneva. If all went according to plan, the ministerial gathering was to be the venue for delivering a long-awaited agreement on fisheries subsidies, a step forward on agriculture and a pandemic response package, including a compromise IP waiver.

“But the twice-postponed gathering is poised to be derailed once again – if not actually rescheduled – by political and diplomatic tensions arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Whether WTO members will be able to produce deals at MC12 is in doubt as the WTO has had to adapt to conducting its negotiations around the tensions. Okonjo-Iweala said last week that plenary meetings of the full membership have become more difficult to hold, with members opting instead for small-group or bilateral meetings.”

There have also been efforts to develop a factual background to support some elements of a possible WTO reform agenda. The U.S., EU and Japan have been working over the last few years on potential modifications to the current Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement to address some of the major distortions in industrial goods trade caused by China’s state-directed economy — industrial subsidies, state-owned and state-invested enterprises, global excess capacity. China has indicated a willingness to discuss subsidies if all subsidies (including agricultural subsidies) are included. On April 22, 2022, a report prepared by the staff of the IMF, OECD, World Bank and WTO was released. See IMF, OECD, World Bank and WTO, Subsidies, Trade, and International Cooperation, April 22, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/igo_22apr22_e.pdf; WTO news release, Greater international cooperation needed on subsidies data, analysis and reform — report, 22 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/igo_22apr22_e.htm. The Executive Summary of the report (pages 3-4) is copied below.

“Dealing constructively with subsidies in global commerce is central to G20 leaders’ goal of reforming and
strengthening the multilateral trading system. The growing use of distortive subsidies alters trade and
investment flows, detracts from the value of tariff bindings and other market access commitments, and
undercuts public support for open trade. Sharp differences over subsidies are contributing to global trade
tensions that are harming growth and living standards.

“There are good reasons why this issue, which has challenged policymakers for decades, should be addressed now. Among them: distinguishing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ subsidies is analytically and politically fraught, while the unilateral responses available to trading partners (such as ‘trade defense’ measures) are a limited deterrent. The renewed drive toward industrial policies to promote ‘strategic’ sectors may distort international competition, especially against smaller, fiscally constrained developing countries. With the frequency and complexity of distortive subsidies increasing, even as the need grows for active policies to address climate, health, food, and other emergencies, subsidies and the subsidies debate have brought significant discord to the trading system. The issue demands global attention and cooperation.

“Subsidies are common in all sectors, used by countries at all stages of development, take many forms, and affect all countries. Despite important gaps in our information about subsidies, the broad landscape is clear. Most merchandise trade occurs in products and markets in which at least one subsidized firm operates. National and sub-national entities provide subsidies through—to name a few forms—direct grants, tax incentives, and favorable terms for financing, energy, land, or other inputs. Many subsidies are explicitly aimed at the important task of correcting market failures and may do this well. Many others, however, are designed in ways that do little to advance their stated objective, or do so at high domestic cost or with harmful effects on the global commons and on other countries, notably the poorest and most vulnerable countries. International cooperation can reduce the overall use of subsidies and improve their design.

“Existing international rules provide a strong basis for regulating subsidies. International subsidy disciplines were progressively strengthened, notably in 1995 with the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and
Countervailing Measures and the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, although the agenda to negotiate
detailed subsidy rules for services has been largely set aside. Many major countries also adhere to the
disciplines of the OECD Export Credit Arrangement. Some recent free trade agreements have also gone
beyond WTO rules, containing, for instance, provisions disciplining the behavior of state-owned enterprises and more extensive lists of prohibited subsidies.

“Still, both longstanding and recently-exposed gaps remain in these international rules. Extensive trade distorting domestic farm subsidies are still allowed in many cases, and WTO members have yet to agree
special disciplines for harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing. The recognition of gaps is
shaped by such developments as the emergence of global value chains; digital markets and related network concentration effects; the global importance of economies in which the state plays a central role,
and of international SOEs; the urgent challenge of climate change; and the recognition that well-crafted
subsidies can be an important part of the public response to economic and health emergencies. These
developments make the issue of subsidies in the trading system both more complex and more urgent.
Investment incentives are widespread, often at sub-national levels where they can be hard to monitor.
Much of this debate occurs in the context of the industrial sector. This paper does not advocate particular
outcomes. However, international cooperation that delivers improved subsidy disciplines, improves
business certainty, and reduces trade frictions would be superior to unilateral actions and should be
expected to reduce their use.

“In many of these areas, better information, more extensive objective analysis, and regular dialogue can
help governments accelerate reform of their own subsidies and expedite negotiations toward improved
international disciplines. Careful, high-quality economic analysis is needed to understand not only how well current subsidy programs meet domestic policy objectives, and at what cost, but also how they spill over onto international markets and how they interact with international policy goals, like climate mitigation. That effort must improve the information available on existing subsidy programs and their effects, especially on trading partners. It should feed into a structured inter-governmental dialogue, informed by analysis, and lead to a more common perspective on the appropriate roles of subsidies that, in turn, facilitates the development of updated norms and standards. Improved transparency and analysis, more robust intergovernmental consultation, and strengthened international rules can be expected to reduce the use of harmful subsidies and to improve their design—leading to better outcomes with fewer negative effects at home or abroad.

“The international organizations (IOs) authoring this report can strengthen their individual and joint work to support governments in this endeavor. While the brunt of this work lies with finance ministries, trade
ministries, and sectoral and specialized agencies of national governments, international organizations have key roles to play. The four authoring institutions are examining ways to help, individually and jointly, such as by collecting, organizing, and sharing data, coordinating analytical work agendas to develop methodologies to assess the cross-border effects of different forms of subsidies, and supporting inter-governmental dialogues. This will involve reaching out to and working with other international institutions as well.”

The report also contains a list of some recent international reports relating to subsidies (Box 1 on page 6, copied below).

Box 1. Selected Recent International Reports Relating to Subsidies

“Noting that COVID-19 caused severe stress for tourism industries in the region and around the world, the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Economic Integration Report (ADB, 2021) examined measures to support tourism in selected ADB developing members. It draws positive lessons to help governments maintain critical levels of tourism infrastructure and to facilitate a rapid rebound in a sector that is key to many economies.

“Global Trade Alert set out to inventory subsidies of the “major players”—China, the EU, and the United States (Evenett and Fritz, 2021). It finds that in 2019, more than three-fifths of global goods trade was in products and on trade routes in which one or more subsidized Chinese, EU, or U.S. firms compete. When a major player introduces a new subsidy, the others usually respond within six months with their own subsidy.

“The 2021 FAO, UNDP, and UNEP report, A Multi-Billion-Dollar Opportunity: Repurposing Agricultural Support to Transform Food Systems, finds that some forms of support to agricultural producers are distortive and socially and environmentally harmful. It sets out a six-step guide for repurposing the provision of public goods and services for agriculture.

“The World Resources Institute 2021 report, Repurposing Agriculture Subsidies to Restore Farmland and Grow Rural Prosperity, likewise argues that public agricultural subsidies failed to achieve their stated objectives but that smart agricultural subsidies can restore degraded land and rural economies.\

“IMF (2020) advises governments on raising efficiency and managing other challenges related to SOEs—frequent recipients or providers of subsidies. It calls for global principles for multinational SOEs, noting that SOEs account for 20 percent of assets of the world’s largest 2,000 firms. Some IMF Article IV country reports have called for specific reforms of farm subsidies or industrial subsidies.

“As part of its ongoing work on agricultural support, OECD (2021a) provides country-comparable data and information and analyzes whether current support is helping to meet the triple challenge facing food systems (food security and nutrition, environmental sustainability, and livelihoods). OECD (2019a) and OECD (2019b) examine support received by the largest firms in the aluminum and semiconductor value chains; these reports shed light in particular on support provided through the financial system; current work also explores the environmental harm that can arise from subsidies.

“The case for international cooperation on subsidy disciplines was previously reviewed in WTO (2006), which also examined existing WTO subsidy disciplines. A recent World Trade Report (WTO, 2020) showed that international cooperation can shape the pursuit of digital development more effectively, while minimizing cross-border spillovers from national policies. WTO Trade Policy Reviews have triggered extensive discussions of subsidy policies in individual WTO members.

“Noting the growing role of the state in the context of COVID-19 and climate change, WEF (2021) calls for
international cooperation to tackle these global challenges and to address cross-border spillovers from state intervention. It outlines the current state of play and proposes ways forward across subsidies, state ownership and control, government procurement, investment screening, and trade remedies.”

The report from the four organizations was supported by a paper published from former WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wm. Wolff last week, part of a forthcoming book World Trade Governance: The Future of the Multilateral Trading System. See Peterson Institute for International Economics, Working Paper 22-6 WTO 2025, Alan Wm. Wolff, Enhancing Global Trade Intelligence, April 2022, https://www.piie.com/sites/default/files/documents/wp22-6.pdf.

At most the staff report and the paper from former DDG Wolff support the need for reexamining subsidy disciplines. Any such reexamination will take years to complete but could be part of an announced package of WTO reform topics to be addressed going forward if there is agreement on such a list. See also November 24, 2020:  Responding to a comment received on yesterday’s post, WTO subsidy disciplines – an update and coordination across areas is long overdue, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/24/responding-to-a-comment-received-on-yesterdays-post-wto-subsidy-disciplines-an-update-and-coordination-across-areas-is-long-overdue/; 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 week of June 13, 2022 and the 12th Ministerial Conference is just eight weeks away. It is unclear what, if any, package of documents will be ready for adoption/release during the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva. In a member driven organization with a consensus system being the norm outcomes among 164 Members with dramatically different interests are hard to achieve. Thus, there has been limited progress in the past Ministerials. The Russian war in Ukraine adds a layer of uncertainty to what can be achieved at the Ministerial Conference in June this year.

Additional trade and financial sanctions imposed on Russian Federation as evidence of atrocities in Ukraine by Russian soldiers mounts

As the Russian troops withdrew from around Kyiv, images of dead civilians in the town of Bucha led to further outrage among many countries resulting in a new round of trade and financial sanctions being imposed by the U.S., EU, U.K., Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The atrocities also led to a vote at the U.N. to suspend the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council. See White House, Statement of President Joe Biden on the UN Vote Suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council, April 7, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/07/statement-of-president-joe-biden-on-the-un-vote-suspending-russia-from-the-human-rights-council/.

Keeping up with all sanctions being imposed is challenging in light of the expanding set of actions being taken although different organizations have compiled lists. For example, Reuters posts a time and country based list in Tracking sanctions against Russia, https://graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-CRISIS/SANCTIONS/byvrjenzmve/. The version I reviewed was updated on April 8, 2022 and shows actions through April 7. “Reuters is tracking government sanctions and actions against Russia taken by large companies and organisations around the world in the lead up to and following its invasion of Ukraine.” Reuters shows sanctions imposed by 41 governments (viewing the EU as 27) and 99 actions taken by large companies and organizations.

A fact sheet released by the White House on April 6 summarizes actions being taken by the United States in light of the continuing Russian aggression and atrocities. The White House, FACT SHEET: United States, G7 and EU Impose Severe and Immediate Costs on Russia, April 6, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/06/fact-sheet-united-states-g7-and-eu-impose-severe-and-immediate-costs-on-russia/. The fact sheet is copied below.

“Today, the United States, with the G7 and the European Union, will continue to impose severe and immediate economic costs on the Putin regime for its atrocities in Ukraine, including in Bucha. We will document and share information on these atrocities and use all appropriate mechanisms to hold accountable those responsible. As one part of this effort, the United States is announcing devastating economic measures to ban new investment in Russia, and impose the most severe financial sanctions on Russia’s largest bank and several of its most critical state-owned enterprises and on Russian government officials and their family members. These sweeping financial sanctions follow our action earlier this week to cut off Russia’s frozen funds in the United States to make debt payments. Importantly, these measures are designed to reinforce each other to generate intensifying impact over time.

“The United States and more than 30 allies and partners across the world have levied the most impactful, coordinated, and wide-ranging economic restrictions in history. Experts predict Russia’s GDP will contract up to 15 percent this year, wiping out the last fifteen years of economic gains. Inflation is already spiking above 15 percent and forecast to accelerate higher. More than 600 private sector companies have already left the Russian market. Supply chains in Russia have been severely disrupted. Russia will very likely lose its status as a major economy, and it will continue a long descent into economic, financial, and technological isolation. Compared to last year, U.S. exports to Russia of items subject to our new export controls have decreased 99 percent by value – and the power of these restrictions will compound over time as Russia draws down any remaining stockpiles of spare parts for certain planes, tanks, and other resources needed for Putin’s war machine.

“As long as Russia continues its brutal assault on Ukraine, we will stand unified with our allies and partners in imposing additional costs on Russia for its actions. Today, the United States is announcing the following actions:

Full blocking sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank. This action will freeze any of Sberbank’s and Alfa Bank’s assets touching the U.S financial system and prohibit U.S. persons from doing business with them. Sberbank holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets and is systemically critical to the Russian economy. Alfa Bank is Russia’s largest privately-owned financial institution and Russia’s fourth largest financial institution overall.

Prohibiting new investment in the Russian Federation. President Biden will sign a new Executive Order (E.O.) that includes a prohibition on new investment in Russia by U.S. persons wherever located, which will further isolate Russia from the global economy. This action builds on the decision made by more than 600 multinational businesses to exit from Russia. The exodus of the private sector includes manufacturers, energy companies, large retailers, financial institutions, as well as other service providers such as law and consulting firms. Today’s E.O. will ensure the enduring weakening of the Russian Federation’s global competitiveness.

Full blocking sanctions on critical major Russian state-owned enterprises. This will prohibit any U.S. person from transacting with these entities and freeze any of their assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction, thereby damaging the Kremlin’s ability to use these entities it depends on to enable and fund its war in Ukraine. The Department of Treasury will announce these entities tomorrow.

Full blocking sanctions on Russian elites and their family members, including sanctions on: President Putin’s adult children, Foreign Minister Lavrov’s wife and daughter, and members of Russia’s Security Council including former President and Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people.  Some of them are responsible for providing the support necessary to underpin Putin’s war on Ukraine. This action cuts them off from the U.S. financial system and freezes any assets they hold in the United States.

The U.S. Treasury prohibited Russia from making debt payments with funds subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Sanctions do not preclude payments on Russian sovereign debt at this time, provided Russia uses funds outside of U.S. jurisdiction. However, Russia is a global financial pariah — and it will now need to choose between draining its available funds to make debt payments or default. 

Commitment to supporting sectors essential to humanitarian activities. As we continue escalating our sanctions and other economic measures against Russia for its brutal war against Ukraine, we reiterate our commitment to exempting essential humanitarian and related activities that benefit the Russian people and people around the world: ensuring the availability of basic foodstuffs and agricultural commodities, safeguarding access to medicine and medical devices, and enabling telecommunications services to support the flow of information and access to the internet which provides outside perspectives to the Russian people. These activities are not the target of our efforts, and U.S. and Western companies can continue to operate in these sectors in Russia. When necessary, relevant departments and agencies will issue appropriate exemptions and carveouts to ensure such activity is not disrupted.”

Similarly, the European Commission announced proposed additional sanctions (fifth round) on April 5 and agreed sanctions were announced by the Council of the European Union on April 8. See Press statement by President von der Leyen on the fifth round of sanctions against Russia, Strasbourg, 5 April 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_2281; Council of the EU Press release, 8 April 2022, EU adopts fifth round of sanctions against Russia over its military aggression against
Ukraine, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2022/04/08/eu-adopts-fifth-round-of-sanctions-against-russia-over-its-military-aggression-against-ukraine/; Official Journal of the European Union, L111, 8 April 2022. The Council’s statement is copied below.

“In light of Russia’s continuing war of aggression against Ukraine, and the reported atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Ukraine, the Council decided today to impose a fifth package of economic and individual sanctions against Russia.

“The agreed package includes a series of measures intended to reinforce pressure on the Russian government and economy, and to limit the Kremlin’s resources for the aggression.

“‘These latest sanctions were adopted following the atrocities committed by Russian armed forces in Bucha and other places under Russian occupation. The aim of our sanctions is to stop the reckless, inhuman and aggressive behaviour of the Russian troops and make clear to the decision makers in the Kremlin that their illegal aggression comes at a heavy cost.’ Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

“The package comprises:

“- a prohibition to purchase, import or transfer coal and other solid fossil fuels into the EU if they originate in Russia or are exported from Russia, as from August 2022. Imports of coal into the EU are currently worth EUR 8 billion per year.

“- a prohibition to provide access to EU ports to vessels registered under the flag of Russia. Derogations are granted for agricultural and food products, humanitarian aid, and energy.

“- a ban on any Russian and Belarusian road transport undertaking preventing them from transporting goods by road within the EU, including in transit. Derogations are nonetheless granted for a number of products, such as pharmaceutical, medical, agricultural and food products, including wheat, and for road transport for humanitarian purposes.

“- further export bans, targeting jet fuel and other goods such as quantum computers and advanced semiconductors, high-end electronics, software, sensitive machinery and transportation equipment, and new import bans on products such as: wood, cement, fertilisers, seafood and liquor. The agreed export and import bans only account for EUR 10 billion and EUR 5.5 billion respectively.

“- a series of targeted economic measures intended to strengthen existing measures and close loopholes, such as: a general EU ban on participation of Russian companies in public procurement in member states, the exclusion of all financial support to Russian public bodies. an extended prohibition on deposits to crypto-wallets, and on the sale of banknotes and transferrable securities denominated in any official currencies of the EU member states to Russia and Belarus, or to any natural or legal person, entity or body in Russia and Belarus,.

“Furthermore, the Council decided to sanction companies whose products or technology have played a role in the invasion, key oligarchs and businesspeople, high-ranking Kremlin officialsproponents of disinformation and information manipulation, systematically spreading the Kremlin’s narrative on Russia’s war aggression in Ukraine, as well as family members of already sanctioned individuals, in order to make sure that EU sanctions are not circumvented.

“Moreover a full transaction ban is imposed on four key Russian banks representing 23% of market share in the Russian banking sector. After being de-SWIFTed these banks will now be subject to an asset freeze, thereby being completely cut off from EU markets.

“In its conclusions of 24 March 2022, the European Council stated that the Union remains ready to close loopholes and target actual and possible circumvention of the restrictive measures already adopted, as well as to move quickly with further coordinated robust sanctions on Russia and Belarus to effectively thwart Russian abilities to continue the aggression.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine grossly violates international law and is causing massive loss of life and injury to civilians. Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and is targeting civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools and shelters. These war crimes must stop immediately. Those responsible, and their accomplices, will be held to account in accordance with international law. The siege of Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities, and the denial of humanitarian access by Russian military forces are unacceptable. Russian forces must immediately provide for safe pathways to other parts of Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid to be delivered to Mariupol and other besieged cities.

“The European Council demands that Russia immediately stop its military aggression in the territory of Ukraine, immediately and unconditionally withdraw all forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine, and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence within its internationally recognised borders.

“The relevant legal acts will soon be published in the Official Journal.”

As listed above, the Official Journal with the legal actions identified was published on April 8 (OJ L111).

The United Kingdom also took action on April 6 to expand sanctions. Government of the United Kingdom Press Release, UK imposes sweeping new sanctions to starve Putin’s war machine, 6 April 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-imposes-sweeping-new-sanctions-to-starve-putins-war-machine. The sanctions announced in the press release are listed below.

“Key sanctions announced today include:

“asset freezes against Sberbank and Credit Bank of Moscow. Sberbank is Russia’s largest bank and this freeze is being taken in co-ordination with the US

“an outright ban on all new outward investment to Russia. In 2020 UK investment in Russia was worth over £11 billion. This will be another major hit to the Russian economy and further limit their future capabilities

“by the end of 2022, the UK will end all dependency on Russian coal and oil, and end imports of gas as soon as possible thereafter. From next week, the export of key oil refining equipment and catalysts will also be banned, degrading Russia’s ability to produce and export oil – targeting not only the industry’s finances but its capabilities as a whole

“action against key Russian strategic industries and state owned enterprises. This includes a ban on imports of iron and steel products, a key source of revenue. Russia’s military ambitions are also being thwarted by new restrictions on its ability to acquire the UK’s world-renowned quantum and advanced material technologies

“and targeting a further eight oligarchs active in these industries, which Putin uses to prop up his war economy.”

Canada, Japan and Australia also announced additional sanctions. See Government of Canada, Canada announces it will impose additional sanctionson Russian and Belarusian regimes, April 4, 2022, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2022/04/canada-announces-it-will-impose-additional-sanctions-on-russian-and-belarusian-regimes.html; Reuters, Japan bans Russian coal imports, expels eight diplomats, April 8, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-considers-restrictions-coal-imports-russia-jiji-2022-04-07/; The Japan Times, Japan to expel eight Russians, including diplomats, as Kishida announces new sanctions, 8 April 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/04/08/national/japan-russia-expel-diplomats/ (“Kishida, however, announced a sweeping new round of sanctions, declaring that Japan will phase out imports of Russian coal, ban imports of Russian machinery, lumber and vodka, bar new investments in Russia and freeze assets held by major Russian lenders Sberbank and Alfa Bank. Japan will also freeze the assets of an additional 400 or so military personnel and lawmakers and some 20 military-related organizations, including state-run companies, Kishida said.”); Reuters, Australia to impose sanctions on 67 more Russians over Ukraine, April 7, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/australia-impose-sanctions-67-russians-over-ukraine-2022-04-07/; New Zealand to apply trade sanctions in response to Russian atrocities, April 6, 2022, https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/new-zealand-apply-trade-sanctions-response-russian-atrocities (“The Government have announced that they will apply 35% tariffs to all imports from Russia, and extend the existing export prohibitions to industrial products closely connected to strategic Russian industries. This is New Zealand’s most significant economic response to the Russian invasion to date. ‘The images and reports emerging of atrocities committed against civilians in Bucha and other regions of Ukraine is abhorrent and reprehensible, and New Zealand continues to respond to Putin’s mindless acts of aggression,’ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said. ‘Under the Russia Sanctions Act, New Zealand will apply tariffs across the board to all Russian imports, as well as ban the export of industrial products such as ICT equipment and engines, sending a clear message that New Zealand will not fund or support the Russia war machine,’ Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O’Connor said.”).

On April 8, President Biden also signed two Congressional bills into law, one suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus and one banning imports of oil, gas and coal from Russia (President Biden had already banned such imports). See White House, Bills Signed: H.R. 6968 and H.R. 7108, APRIL 08, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/legislation/2022/04/08/bills-signed-h-r-6968-and-h-r-7108/ (“On Friday, April 8, 2022, the President signed into law: H.R. 6968, the ‘Ending Importation of Russian Oil Act,’ which statutorily prohibits the importation of energy products from the Russian Federation; and H.R. 7108, the ‘Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act,’ which suspends normal trade relations with the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus and seeks to further leverage trade and human rights sanctions.”).

While major importing nations of Russian oil and gas have been unable or unwilling to date to cut off purchases of oil and gas, the level of economic and financial sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation and Belarus coupled with the withdrawal of major businesses (temporarily or permanently) from Russia are having significant negative effects on the Russian economy both short term and longer term. These effects coupled with the damage to the Ukrainian economy inflicted by the Russian war on Ukraine will have global effects. As reviewed in an earlier post, Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of various agricultural products. The war is both creating increased food insecurity and driving inflation on agricultural products which hurts all consumers but the poorest the hardest. See March 30, 2022:  Food security challenges posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/30/food-security-challenges-posed-by-the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/. Indeed, global food prices reached an all time high in March. UN News, Ukraine war drives international food prices to ‘new all-time high’, 8 April 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115852

The WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has indicated that global trade growth will be nearly 50% lower than previously projected for 2022 (2.5% vs. 4.7%) flowing from the war in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain issues. Sunday Observer, Ukraine war to halve global trade growth – WTO, 10 April 2022, ww.sundayobserver.lk/2022/04/10/business/ukraine-war-halve-global-trade-growth-wto. The war and individual countries reactions to Russia’s aggression are also likely to have longer term effects on global integration and supply chains. One is already seeing significant reductions in foreign investment flows into China. China’s actions or inactions towards Russia’s aggression may reduce foreign investor confidence in the Chinese economy as a place for investment at least for exports. A return to isolation of some countries from the larger global community is certainly afoot. The only question is whether states besides Russia and Belarus will be in the ostracized group.

With Russia continuing its aggression against Ukraine and with apparent scorched earth tactics being pursued, it is likely that the latest round of sanctions will not be the last. The strains on the global economy are likely to worsen in the coming months.

WTO Dispute Settlement in 2022 — to date (April 5, 2022) European Union is only WTO Member to file new disputes

With 2022 more than one quarter over, the European Union remains the only WTO Member to file a new WTO dispute this year, and it has filed five requests for consultation. The United States has spent the first fifteen months of the Biden Administration seeking resolution to long-standing disputes but to date has filed no new cases (2021-2022). China had filed a number of disputes in 2021 and is the subject of various disputes filed in the 2021-2022 including two of the EU cases this year.

Two of the five cases filed in 2022 by the EU were against China and are reviewed in prior posts. See February 21, 2022:  The European Union’s February 18, 2022 request for consultations with China over China’s “anti-suit injunctions” in intellectual property disputes and its failure to publish decisions and respond to EU inquiries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/21/the-european-unions-february-18-2022-request-for-consultations-with-china-over-chinas-anti-suit-injunctions-in-intellectual-property-disputes-and-its-failure-to-publish-decisions-and-respond/; January 27, 2022:  The European Union requests consultations with China at the WTO for restrictions on Lithuanian goods imposed by China, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/27/the-european-union-requests-consultations-with-china-at-the-wto-for-restrictions-on-lithuania-goods-imposed-by-china/. On the intellectual property dispute, Japan, United States and Canada have requested to join the consultations. On the EU’s challenge to China’s actions on goods from Lithuania, six other Members have sought to join the consultations — Australia, Taiwan, Japan, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.

The other three requests for consultations filed by the EU this year include one filed with the Russian Federation (DS608) concerning the exportation of wood products, one with Egypt (D609) concerning registration requirements relating to the importation of certain products and the latest one with the United Kingdom (DS612) concerning measures relating to the allocation of contracts for difference in low carbon energy generation.

The case against the Russian Federation deals with the termination of tariff-rate quotas on exports of wood products, other increases in export duties on wood products, reduction of the number of border crossing points for the exportation of wood products and the introduction of export restrictions or prohibitions on certain wood products by the Eurasian Economic Union. WTO inconsistencies alleged by the EU include Art. I:1, II:1(a), XI:1, XIII:1 of GATT 1994 and Paragraph 2, second sentence, of the Protocol on the Accession of the Russian Federation in conjunction with paragraphs 638, 668, and 1450 of the Report of the Working Party. WT/DS608/1/Rev.1, G/L/1434/Rev.1 (27 February 2022).

The request for consultations with Egypt involves challenges to Egyptian measures that apply to EU companies wishing to export to Egypt where registration requirements exist (29 categories of goods “including agricultural and food products, cosmetics, toys, textiles, garments, household appliances, furniture and ceramic tiles.”). The requirements are alleged to burdensome, non-transparent, costly and time-consuming and some registration applications have not been processed even after years. The Egyptian measures of concern raise questions about consistency with WTO GATT 1994 Articles XI:1, VIII:1(c), VIII:3, X:1, X:3(a); Art. 4.2 of the Agriculture Agreement and Articles 1.2, 1.5 3.3, 3.5(e) and 3.5(f) of the Import Licensing Agreement. WT/DS609/1, G/L/1425 (27 January 2022). The Russian Federation has sought to join consultations. WT/DS609/2.

The most recent request for consultations with the United Kingdom involves local content requirements for incentivised low carbon electricity generation projects (e.g., offshore wind). “The measures at issue described above appear to be inconsistent with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the covered agreements, in particular Article III:4 of the GATT 1994, inasmuch as, by incentivising applicants to commit to and implement an ambitious percentage of Untied Kingdom content of the allocation of CfD, they accord less favourable treatment to imported goods than to like domestic goods.” WT/DS612/1, G/L/1428 (30 March 2022).

Of the five cases, the two against China are probably the most important systemically. The case about retaliation by China against Lithuania addresses a recurring problem with China punishing WTO Members who take positions with which China disagrees, The intellectual property case as described in a prior post is important to prevent China from blocking IP rights holders from obtaining the benefits of IP that the TRIPS Agreement safeguards.

The Russian Federation case may proceed but is overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed by many countries, including by the EU. That said, the case deals with what appear to be clear violations of WTO obligations by Russia.

The case against Turkey is typical of a range of disputes over the years against countries who adopt a series of barriers to access to the market to protect domestic industries. While there can always be potentially relevant standards issues or health/safety issues, the actions of Egypt sound as though they simply slow down, limit or block import trade.

Finally, the case against the United Kingdom deals with the efforts of many countries to speed up adoption of renewable energy and reflect the important systemic issue of the interface between domestic incentives and WTO obligations on national treatment.

At the last Dispute Settlement Body meeting (March 28, 2022), many WTO Members continued to seek the reestablishment of a two tier dispute settlement process which the United States continues to block. See WTO News Release, Members continue push to commence Appellate Body appointment process, 28 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/dsb_28mar22_e.htm. The statements made appear to be identical or similar to those made over the last several years. The WTO news release on the meeting and the issue of the Appellate Body is copied below in relevant part.

“Appellate Body appointments

“Mexico, speaking on behalf of 123 members, introduced for the 52nd time the group’s proposal to start the selection processes for filling vacancies on the Appellate Body. The extensive number of members submitting the proposal reflects a common concern over the current situation in the Appellate Body which is seriously affecting the overall WTO dispute settlement system against the best interest of members, Mexico said for the group.

“The United States reiterated it was not in a position to support the proposed decision.  The US continues to have systemic concerns with the Appellate Body, which it has explained and raised over the past 16 years and across multiple administrations.  The US said it believes that WTO members must undertake fundamental reform if the dispute settlement system is to remain viable and credible.  The dispute settlement system can and should better support the WTO’s negotiating and monitoring functions, the US said, adding that it looked forward to further discussions with members on these important issues.

“Around 20 delegations (including the EU for its 27 members and Nigeria for the African Group) took the floor to reiterate the importance of the WTO’s two-tiered dispute settlement system to the stability and predictability of the multilateral trading system.  Several cited this issue as the top priority for reform of the organization and said the continued impasse was causing both commercial harm to members and systemic harm to multilateral trade.

“For the 123 members, Mexico again came back to say the fact a member may have concerns about certain aspects of the functioning of the Appellate Body cannot serve as pretext to impair and disrupt the work of the DSB and dispute settlement in general, and that there was no legal justification for the current blocking of the selection processes, which is causing concrete nullification and impairment of rights for many members.

“The DSB chair, Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana, noted the previous General Council chair has been working on the issue of restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement system within the context of preparations for the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference. She said she hoped members would be able to find a solution to this matter.”

I have reviewed in many prior posts the longstanding and well articulated concerns of the United States, concerns which have largely not been addressed in the process to date. See, e.g., February 14, 2020: USTR’s Report on the WTO Appellate Body – An Impressive Critique of the Appellate Body’s Deviation from Its Proper Role, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/14/ustrs-report-on-the-wto-appellate-body-an-impressive-critique-of-the-appellate-bodys-deviation-from-its-proper-role/

I have also in recent posts looked at individual disputes where the U.S. was the respondent and reviewed problems with the decisions. See, e.g., February 9, 2022:  The WTO Panel Report, UNITED STATES – SAFEGUARD MEASURE ON IMPORTS OF LARGE RESIDENTIAL WASHERS, WT/DS546/R (8 February 2022), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/09/the-wto-panel-report-united-states-safeguard-measure-on-imports-of-large-residential-washers-wt-ds546-r-8-february-2022/; January 27, 2022:  WTO Arbitration Report on China’s challenge to U.S. countervailing duty investigations — while retaliation is much smaller than China sought, core problems with original Appellate Body decision flags challenge to restoring the Dispute Settlement binding process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/27/wto-arbitration-report-on-chinas-challenge-to-u-s-countervailing-duty-investigations-while-retaliation-is-much-smaller-than-china-sought-core-problems-with-original-appellate-body-decision-flag/; December 29, 2021:  WTO Dispute Settlement — What the Recently Adopted Panel Report on United States – Antidumping and Countervailing Duties on Ripe Olives from Spain says about the existing dispute settlement system and about needed WTO reforms, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/29/wto-dispute-settlement-what-the-recently-adopted-panel-report-on-united-states-antidumping-and-countervailing-duties-on-ripe-olives-from-spain-says-about-the-existing-dispute-settlement-system-an/.

Thus, it is unlikely that the twice delayed 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva June 13-15 this year will resolve the impasse on the Appellate Body. While it is possible that a process may be agreed to to examine the root problems and formulate possible solutions as part of the WTO reform agenda, even that may be optimistic in the current environment.

Existing disputes continue to proceed, with various resolutions possible in cases even among countries who have not signed up to the Agreement on the Interim Arbitration Process, although two dozen panel reports have been “appealed” but cannot be heard until/unless an Appellate Body is reconsituted. Such appeals have been taken by a number of Members including by Members who are parties to the interim process (e.g., EU on a panel report of a challenge to a trade remedy proceeding against the Russian Federation). See, e.g., WTO Dispute Settlement, Appellate Body, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/appellate_body_e.htm (listing 24 cases where appeals are pending).

This Friday (April 8, 2022) , there is a Dispute Settlement Body meeting to consider a joint request by the Republic of Korea and the United States in the dispute involving UNITED STATES – SAFEGUARD MEASURE ON IMPORTS OF LARGE RESIDENTIAL WASHERS that would have the DSB adopt a decision that the panel report is adopted unless an appeal is filed by July 7, 2022 (essentially extending the time to appeal the panel report presumably to give the parties more time to consider a mutually acceptable resolution). WT/DS546/8 (29 March 2022).

So whether there is a resolution to the Appellate Body impasse or not, WTO Members have ongoing options to address trade concerns including through Committee work, bilateral interactions and disputes through the WTO or through FTAs.

.

Blockage of Accession of Belarus to WTO, additional sanctions on Russia and other recent developments

Extensive trade and financial sanctions have been imposed by the G-7 countries and EU and others on Russia and Belarus for Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine. The U.S., EU, United Kingdom, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others have imposed a series of actions. In meetings of the G-7, NATO and U.S.-EU this week, joint action to continue to pressure Russia and Belarus to cease hostilities in Ukraine was reviewed.

At the WTO, a number of Members notified the General Council that accession negotiations with Belarus would not continue. Belarus was described as “unfit” to be a Member. JOINT STATEMENT REGARDING THE APPLICATION FROM BELARUS FOR ACCESSION TO THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, COMMUNICATION FROM ALBANIA; AUSTRALIA; CANADA; EUROPEAN UNION; ICELAND; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MONTENEGRO; NEW ZEALAND; NORTH MACEDONIA; NORWAY; UKRAINE; UNITED KINGDOM AND UNITED STATES, 24 March 2022, WT/GC/246. The joint statement is embedded below.

246-1

While, as the joint statement notes, there has been no progress in the accession talks since 2000 based on events within Belarus, the joint statement makes clear that Belarus will not become a member of the WTO, certainly not in the foreseeable future.

The actions of Russia with the support from Belarus in invading Ukraine have led to a massive backlash and effort to remove or limit the role of Russia (and Belarus) in the global economy and in multilateral organizations. In previous posts, I have reviewed efforts by various countries to remove most favored nation treatment on Russia and Belarus. March 20, 2022:  Banned imports, higher tariffs, other actions by trading partners as Russia and Belarus lose most favored nation treatment by G-7 countries and EU during the conflict in Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/20/banned-imports-higher-tariffs-other-actions-by-trading-partners-as-russia-and-belarus-lose-most-faovered-nation-treatment-by-g-7-countries-and-eu-during-the-conflict-in-ukraine/. The G-7 and EU have limited access to funding for Russia from the IMF, World Bank and other institutions, are attempting to limit Russia’s role in the WTO. Additional sanctions were announced this week in Brussels. See FACT SHEET: United States and Allies and Partners Impose Additional Costs on Russia, March 24, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/24/fact-sheet-united-states-and-allies-and-partners-impose-additional-costs-on-russia/.

“Today’s actions include:

“Full blocking sanctions on more than 400 individuals and entities, including the Duma and its members,
additional Russian elites, and Russian defense companies that fuel Putin’s war machine.

“This includes:

“328 Duma members and sanctioning the Duma as an entity.

“Herman Gref, the head of Russia’s largest financial institution Sberbank and a Putin advisor since the 1990s.

“Russian elite Gennady Timchenko, his companies and his family members.

“17 board members of Russian financial institution Sovcombank.

“48 Large Russian defense state-owned enterprises that are part of Russia’s defense-industrial base and produce weapons that have been used in Russia’s assault against Ukraine’s people, infrastructure, and territory, including Russian Helicopters, Tactical Missiles Corporation, High Precision Systems, NPK Tekhmash OAO, Kronshtadt. We are targeting, and will continue to target, the suppliers of Russia’s war effort and, in turn, their supply chain.

“Establishment of an initiative focused on sanctions evasions.

“G7 leaders and the European Union today announced an initiative to share information about and coordinate responses related to evasive measures intended to undercut the effectiveness and impact of our joint sanctions actions. Together, we will not allow sanctions evasion or backfilling. As part of this effort, we will also engage other governments on adopting sanctions similar to those already imposed by the G7 and other partners.

“Continuing to blunt the Central Bank’s ability to deploy international reserves, including gold, to prop up the Russian economy and fund Putin’s brutal war.

“G7 leaders and the European Union will continue to work jointly to blunt Russia’s ability to deploy its international reserves to prop up Russia’s economy and fund Putin’s war, including by making clear that any transaction involving gold related to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation is covered by existing sanctions.”

This week President Biden noted the U.S. preference to have Russia removed from the G-20, although press accounts indicate such a move even if backed by the G-7 would be blocked by China and possibly others. See, e.g., Reuters, Russia’s G20 membership under fire from U.S., Western allies, March 22, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/poland-pushes-call-russia-be-excluded-g20-2022-03-22/; Reuters, Russia’s Putin gets Chinese backing to stay in G20, March 23, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russias-ambassador-indonesia-says-putin-plans-attend-g20-summit-2022-03-23/. If Russia is not excluded, it is unclear if G-7 Members and others might opt not to attend any G-20 meetings during the pendency of the war.

At the WTO, the joint statement to the General Council on the need of Members to take actions in light of the threats posed by Russia was followed by a response from Russia. The two documents are embedded below.

244

245

The two largest economic challenges from the war in Ukraine is escalating energy prices and food security flowing from the large percentage of global wheat shipments coming from Ukraine and Russia. While the U.S. and Canada have banned imports of oil and/or gas from Russia in recent weeks, that option is not immediately available to the EU countries. See March 9, 2022:  U.S. joins Canada in banning imports of Russian oil and gas; EU announces plan to drastically reduce reliance on Russian gas; United Kingdom will phase out imports of oil and gas from Russia by end of 2022; Australian oil companies stop purchasing Russian oil, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/09/u-s-joins-canada-in-banning-imports-of-russian-oil-and-gas-eu-announces-plan-to-drastically-reduce-reliance-on-russian-gas-united-kingdom-will-phase-out-imports-of-oil-and-gas-from-russia-by-end-of/ (“The European Commission announced a proposed ambitious program to diversify gas supplies and expand renewables to achieve a potential two-thirds reduction in dependence on Russian oil and gas by the end of 2022 for the European Union. The program, RePowerEU, was announced on March 8th and contains a number of documents.”).

The U.S. and the EU reached agreement on joint efforts to help reduce EU dependence on Russia energy which include U.S. commitments to export to the EU (or get third countries to export to the EU) a quantity of liquified natural gas equal to the LNG purchased from Russia in 2021 (15 BCM) and to ramp up exports to the EU of LNG in the coming years to 50 BCM. See Joint Statement between the United States and the European Commission on European Energy Security, March 25, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/25/joint-statement-between-the-united-states-and-the-european-commission-on-european-energy-security/; FACT SHEET: United States and European Commission Announce Task Force to Reduce Europe’s Dependence on Russian Fossil Fuels, March 25, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/25/fact-sheet-united-states-and-european-commission-announce-task-force-to-reduce-europes-dependence-on-russian-fossil-fuels/.

Because of the dependence of many countries on imports of grains from Ukraine and Russia, the war in Ukraine poses significant food security issues. The WTO’s Director-General has recently noted the potential for social unrest from food insecurity. See The Guardian, War in Ukraine could lead to food riots in poor countries, warns WTO boss, March 24, 2022. (“In an interview with the Guardian, the WTO director general expressed concern about the knock-on effects of Russia’s invasion – stressing the dependence of many African countries on food supplies from the Black Sea region.”).

The G-7 Leaders’ Statement on March 24, 2022 outlined their efforts to address the potential food security issues caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. See G-7 Leaders’ Statement, March 24, 2022, paragraphs 17 and 18, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/24/g7-leaders-statement/#:~:text=We%2C%20the%20Leaders%20of%20the,against%20independent%20and%20sovereign%20Ukraine.

“17. More immediately, President Putin’s war places global food security under increased pressure. We recall that the implementation of our sanctions against Russia takes into account the need to avoid impact on global agricultural trade. We remain determined to monitor the situation closely and do what is necessary to prevent and respond to the evolving global food security crisis. We will make coherent use of all instruments and funding mechanisms to address food security, and build resilience in the agriculture sector in line with climate and environment goals. We will address potential agricultural production and trade disruptions, in particular in vulnerable countries. We commit to provide a sustainable food supply in Ukraine and support continued Ukrainian production efforts.

“18. We will work with and step up our collective contribution to relevant international institutions including the World Food Programme (WFP), in parallel with Multilateral Development Banks and International Financial Institutions, to provide support to countries with acute food insecurity. We call for an extraordinary session of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to address the consequences on world food security and agriculture arising from the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We call on all participants of the Agriculture Markets Information System (AMIS) to continue to share information and explore options to keep prices under control, including making stocks available, in particular to the WFP. We will avoid export bans and other trade-restrictive measures, maintain open and transparent markets, and call on others to do likewise, consistent with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, including WTO notification requirements.”

It is clear that food security in the coming months will be an important focus within the WTO Committee on Agriculture. See WTO news release, Agriculture negotiators chart path towards MC12, 21 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_21mar22_e.htm (“Several members highlighted the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the negotiation process as well as the resulting threats to food security. Some members also highlighted the importance of transparency, called for food markets to be kept open, and urged members to refrain from imposing export restrictions. Delegations acknowledged the unprecedented challenges to global food security and stressed the need to deliver a comprehensive outcome on agriculture at MC12 that would place food security at the forefront. Many reiterated their clear support for a multilateral decision as soon as possible to waive food purchases by the World Food Programme (WFP) from any export restriction.”).

Comments

The war in Ukraine is leading to an isolation of the Russian Federation and Belarus and a rethinking of the global economic integration of the last thirty years. How large the retreat from global economic integration turns out to be will depend on various factors including the duration of the war, the extent to which some countries aid the Russian war effort and hence lead to a larger group of sanctioned countries, and the basic incompatibility of state-controlled/directed economies with the current global trading system architecture. The changes in supply chains, trade flows and investment decisions that have been made in the last month will have profound effects on global commerce going forward.

Short term, because of the disruption in grain production and shipments from Ukraine, there is an immediate challenge to food security which if not addressed effectively can have debilitating effects including societal upheaval in a number of developing countries as was seen in 2008-2009.

The WTO has an obvious role to play on the food security issue. Time will tell how many Members contribute to a meaningful solution on food security.

Possible Compromise on Access to Vaccines — draft understanding between EU, US, South Africa and India

Press articles and a release from the World Trade Organization indicate that the small group negotiations between the European Union, United States, India and South Africa have reached a compromise on the India-South Africa proposal for a broad waiver of TRIPS requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic and the European Union’s proposal for a different solution that wouldn’t constitute a waiver. See PoliticoPro, SCOOP: There’s a TRIPS waiver compromise. It’s been reached between EU, SA, India & US and currently only covers vaccines, March 15, 2022, https://twitter.com/ashleighfurlong/status/1503799100214583300; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, USTR: High-level TRIPS waiver talks yield compromise; text not yet agreed to, March 15, 2022,https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/ustr-high-level-trips-waiver-talks-yield-compromise-text-not-yet-agreed; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Okonjo-Iweala hails TRIPS compromise as industry remains opposed, March 16, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/okonjo-iweala-hails-trips-compromise-industry-remains-opposed; Washington Trade Daily, Details of TRIPS Waiver Compromise, March 17, 2022, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/abdf1d95-8d5b-4bb6-87e9-9ad73bcae287.pdf.

The agreement, which still requires final agreement on text by the small group and then consideration and acceptance by the full WTO Membership, is a staged one, applying first to vaccines and six months later (if subsequently agreed) to diagnostics and therapeutics. The agreement would apply to developing countries other than those who exported 10% or more of vaccines in 2021. Based on the WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker, the only developing country with 10% or more of global exports in 2021 was China. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_trade_tracker_e.htm.

By picking exports in 2021 as the test for eligibility for developing countries, India remains eligible for the proposed compromise simply because the country, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers and a country that had contracts to export huge quantities to many of the world’s poorest countries in 2021, closed off exports for much of 2021 because of internal needs.

Press reports have indicated that some other countries, like Brazil, are not eligible. If true, this would flow from something other than export volume (e.g., indication that it would not seek special and differential treatment going forward) as Brazil had a negligible share of global exports of COVID vaccines in 2021.

The WTO’s Director-General released a press statement on March 16 which is copied below. See WTO news release, Director-General Okonjo-Iweala hails breakthrough on TRIPS COVID-19 solution, 16 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/dgno_16mar22_e.htm

“World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today warmly welcomed the breakthrough among four WTO Members on a waiver of the Trade Related Intellectual Property agreement for the production of vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“’This is a major step forward and this compromise is the result of many long and difficult hours of negotiations. But we are not there yet. We have more work to do to ensure that we have the support of the entire WTO Membership,’ the Director-General said.

“While the agreement between the European Union, India, South Africa and the United States is an essential element to any final deal, she cautioned that not all the details of the compromise have been ironed out and that internal domestic consultations within the four members are still ongoing. Moreover, she stressed that work must commence immediately to broaden the discussions to include all 164 members of the WTO.

“’In the WTO we decide by consensus, and this has not yet been achieved. My team and I have been working hard for the past three months and we are ready to roll up our sleeves again to work together with the TRIPS Council Chair Ambassador Lansana Gberie (Sierra Leone) to bring about a full agreement as quickly as possible. We are grateful to the four Members for the difficult work they have undertaken so far,’ said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.”

Neither the EU nor the U.S. have released statements which is consistent with the apparent state of play of the negotiations in the small group. One of the parties or one of those private parties being consulted by WTO Members presumably has leaked the text which is available on Stats News. See Stat News, Ed Silverman, A compromise is reached on an intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines, but does it go far enough?, March 15, 2022, https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2022/03/15/covid19-vaccine-patents-wto/. The two page document is embedded below.

TRIPS-COVID-19-solution-document

Proponents and opponents of a TRIPS waiver responded quickly as reflected in press releases and other articles. See, e.g., KNOWLEDGE ECOLOGY INTERNATIONAL, QUAD’s tentative agreement on TRIPS and COVID 19, March 15, 2022, https://www.keionline.org/37544; In These Times, New “Compromise” on an IP Waiver for Covid Vaccines Is Worse Than No Deal, Activists Say, March 16, 2022, https://inthesetimes.com/article/wto-trips-waiver-intellectual-property-biden-vaccines-diagnostics-treatments; Devex, Devex Check Up: At last, a TRIPS waiver compromise. But who’s happy?, March 17, 2022, https://www.devex.com/news/devex-checkup-at-last-a-trips-waiver-compromise-but-who-s-happy-102844; InfoJustice, STATEMENT ON THE LEAKED COVID-19 TRIPS WAIVERPROPOSAL, Posted by
Sean Flynn, Mar 16, 2022, http://infojustice.org/archives/43947; Relief Web, MSF responds to potential compromise on the ‘TRIPS Waiver’, 16 March 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/msf-responds-potential-compromise-trips-waiver; U.S., Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Opposes Proposal at WTO to Waive Intellectual Property Rights , March 16, 2022, https://www.uschamber.com/intellectual-property/u-s-chamber-of-commerce-opposes-proposal-at-wto-to-waive-intellectual-property-rights; , International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, IFPMA statement on TRIPS discussion document, 16 March 2022, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/statement-ifpma-trips-discussion-document/.

The proponents of a waiver are basically unhappy with the compromise which is not a waiver but rather a modification to requirements under TRIPS Art. 31. They are also unhappy with the fact that only vaccines are covered initially and the fact that the draft agreement deals with patents only versus the broader array of intellectual property rights. The statement from Doctors Without Borders reflects the types of concerns from those wanting a broader agreement and is copied below.

“MSF responds to potential compromise on the ‘TRIPS Waiver’

“Compromise neglects COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics and fails to address intellectual property barriers beyond patents, but there’s still time to get it right

“Geneva, 16 March 2022

“– The European Union, India, South Africa and the United States are working on a possible compromise to address intellectual property (IP)barriers on COVID-19 medical products. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) acknowledges the efforts towards a final resolution, but notes that the text that was leaked today is far from being an IP ‘waiver’ for pandemic medical tools.

“MSF urges all World Trade Organization (WTO) members to be aware of the limitations of the leaked text. WTO members should work together to ensure that any agreement tackles the current barriers to accessing all COVID-19 medical tools, including treatments and diagnostics, and also addresses patents and non-patent barriers in an effective way.

“According to MSF’s initial analysis, key limitations of the leaked text include that it covers only vaccines, is geographically limited, and covers only patents and does not address other intellectual property barriers, such as trade secrets, which may cover critical information needed to facilitate manufacturing. Regarding compulsory licensing for patents on COVID-19 vaccines, the leaked text introduces unnecessary reporting requirements for WTO members that could undermine the effectiveness of the mechanism.

“The leaked text appears to leave the door open for possible inclusion of treatments and diagnostics at a later stage. But delaying the decision on treatments is unacceptable, as many people will have no access to generic antivirals and countries are paying high prices for access to lifesaving treatments like baricitinib due topatent monopolies that block more affordable generic versions.

“The leaked text also fails to cover all countries. It limits ‘eligible members’ to developing countries and only those who exported less than 10 percent of the world’sCOVID-19 vaccine exports in 2021, effectively excluding Brazil and China from being able to use the ‘waiver’.

“The proposed compromise would require authorisation by governments on a product-by-product basis, which was one of the shortcomings of the existing mechanism in a pandemic context and makes its use very cumbersome. There is also a new obligation to identify all patents covered by the authorisation, something not required today under WTO trade rules.

“MSF points again to our position underlining the necessary scope and duration of an effective TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19.

Dimitri Eynikel, EU Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign:

“‘While it is good to see the groundwork for a potential compromise on addressing COVID-19 intellectual property barriers, all WTO members should remain vigilant to the fact that this leaked text contains considerable limitations, and needs to be urgently improved.

“It is incredibly concerning that the leaked text currently only covers vaccines, but neither treatments nor diagnostics. Excluding treatments and diagnostics is acritical weakness, especially as access to COVID-19 treatments remains a significant problem in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, in part because of patent barriers and restrictive licensing deals controlled by pharmaceutical corporations. Excluding countries with significant manufacturing and supply capacity like Brazil is highly problematic as it arbitrarily blocks potential critical avenues to increase access to COVID-19 medical tools for low- and middle-income countries.

“‘The world needs effective solutions to the inequities in access for all COVID-19 medical tools witnessed in this pandemic. The good news is there is still room for governments to improve and make sure that any final agreement adequately addresses the remaining barriers now missing in the leaked text. We urge all WTO members to do so.’”

The pharmaceutical industry’s concerns basically follow their longstanding position that with the rapid increase in vaccine production in 2021 and ongoing in 2022, there is no need for the agreement and it sends the wrong message to innovators. The statement from the IPFMA is copied below.

Following reports on the status of informal discussions led by the WTO Secretariat with the European Union (EU), India, South Africa, and the USA, on 16 March 2022, biopharmaceutical companies reaffirm their position that weakening patents now when it is widely acknowledged that there are no longer supply constraints of COVID-19 vaccines, sends the wrong signal. 

“2022 kicked off with COVID-19 vaccine production from both developing and developed country manufacturers reaching 12 billion within a year of the first vaccine being authorized. Today industry is able to produce over a billion vaccine each month. COVAX is now fully meeting its commitments. Since the beginning of 2022, there has been broad consensus that the challenge now is how to get the vaccines into the arms of people who need them, rather than vaccine supply. When the IP TRIPS Waiver was first proposed in 2020, it was to the wrong solution to the problem of scaling up manufacturing of potential COVID-19 vaccines which at the time had not yet even been authorized. Now the problem of supply has been addressed thanks to unprecedented collaboration involving companies from industrialized and developing countries, the TRIPS Waiver is not only the wrong solution, it is also an outdated proposal, that has been overtaken by events.

“Weakening intellectual property (IP) will do nothing to help the scaling up of vaccine manufacturing. There is a broad consensus among experts that waiving patents would not add a single additional vaccine dose, because technology transfer goes far beyond the patent, is built on trust, know-how sharing and voluntary licensing. This is exactly what manufacturers have done on an unprecedented scale. As of now, there are 371 collaborations on vaccines manufacturing and 155 for therapeutics and, in addition, the multiple announcements of partnerships to improve geographical diversity of vaccine production, are proof in themselves that the proposed IP TRIPS waiver is unnecessary and irrelevant, at worst sends the wrong signal at the wrong time.

“The IP TRIPS Waiver proposals should be recognized for what they are – political posturing that are at best a distraction, at worse creating uncertainty that can undermine innovation’s ability to respond to the current and future response to pandemics. The current proposals should be shelved; and the focus should be directed, to admittedly more difficult actions that will change lives for the better: supporting country readiness, contributing to equitable distribution, and driving innovation (Ref Three priorities to urgently increase access to COVID-19 vaccines).”

Comments

Over the last eighteen months, I have posted regularly on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Indian and South African proposal for a broad TRIPS waiver. Following the recent European Union – African Union meeting in Brussels, it was clear that the EU was committed to finding a mutually agreeable solution with the countries of Africa in the coming months. Thus, the announcement of a breakthrough in the small group negotiations is not surprising. See February 21, 2022:  The EU – AU Summit and the promise of a resolution to the WTO pandemic response package, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/21/the-eu-au-summit-and-the-promise-of-a-resolution-to-the-wto-pandemic-response-package/.

Data gathered and published by various multilateral organizations confirm the enormous ramp up in both vaccine capacity and production. And there has been significant movement in increasing production of vaccines in more developing countries, including a number in Africa. See, e.g., February 16, 2022:  Building Vaccine Capacity in Africa – Exciting News from BioNTech, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/16/building-vaccine-capacity-in-africa-exciting-news-from-biontech/.

Articles also confirm that the challenge in low-income countries is now not access to vaccines but rather all of the other requirements to achieve much higher vaccination rates (including better access to testing). See, e.g., WHO, WHO Director-General’s remarks atSession 2 – Potential Opportunities for Innovation and Collaboration, 3 March 2022, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-remarks-at-session-2-potential-opportunities-for-innovation-and-collaboration-covid-19-dialogue-with-ministers-of-health-3-march-2022.

Thus, it is hard for me to find merit in the ongoing claims for a need for a broad TRIPS waiver or even the draft agreement at least as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic and equitable access to vaccines. WTO relevance requires addressing either current pressing issues or those that will continue to be present in the future. The draft agreement may meet the need for some compromise between Members like the EU and India, South Africa and other supporters of the waiver. However, the agreement doesn’t appear to serve a useful purpose by addressing current challenges (e.g., testing) or addressing a road forward for future pandemics.


A global trading system without the Russian Federation (and other autocratic states?) – what the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine may mean for global trade

The unprovoked invasion by the Russian Federation into Ukraine has led to the largest group of financial and economic sanctions by a large portion of the global community in modern times. Canada has withdrawn most favored nation treatment from Russia, a move that is being followed by the EU, United States and others. Russia has been excluded from the Developed Countries Coordinating Group within the WTO, and G-7 countries (and the EU) are working to ensure that multilateral organizations like the IMF and World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development cannot be used by Russia for loans. There are calls in some countries (e.g., the United States) to work to remove Russia from the WTO.

On March 11, 2022 two staunch supporters of the global trading system penned an article that appeared in The National Interest that raise a number of important questions including the following one —

“As the collective will grows to confront the destabilizing authoritarianism of Russia, as well as one of its strongest backers, China, what should become of the institutions that enabled their rapid integration into the post-Cold War world economy?” Rufus Yerxa and Wendy Cutler, No Longer Business as Usual at the World Trade Organization, March 11, 2022, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/no-longer-business-usual-world-trade-organization-201149. Amb. Yerxa is a former Deputy Director-General of the WTO and former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador to the GATT. Ms. Cutler is a former Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative who was deepely involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations for the United States and is the Vice President and Managing Director of the Asia Society Policy Institute. Both are lifelong supporters of a global trading system and the rule of law. The answer to the question posed appears in the next to last paragraph of the article.

“Indeed, the current crisis may lead the United States and like-minded members to chart a new trade future outside of the WTO framework, not necessarily abandoning the WTO entirely, but creating a new multilateral structure with deeper commitments among countries dedicated to free-market democracy. This may be the only leverage available to change the status quo.”

The article is surprising considering the authors but reflects the evolving concerns of many former trade negotiators that the global trading system is not functioning well because of the non-market economic system of some (particularly China) and now the unacceptable actions of the autocratic state of the Russian Federation. For example, in 2020 I reviewed an article by a former director general for trade for the European Commission that argued for the need for countries to leave the WTO and set up a separate multilateral trading system to exclude China since China was not moving to a market economy. 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/.

Many commentators, including me, have written on the need for a new trading order among countries with similar economic systems. See, e.g., 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/; January 16, 2022:  Is it time for a new approach to bilateral trade with China?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/16/is-it-time-for-a-new-approach-to-bilateral-trade-with-china/.

One possible approach to a parallel system with more ambitious and current rules among largely market economies would be an expansion of the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) to include the United States and European Union (neither of which has a current application — the U.S. having withdrawn under the Trump Administration) with acceptance of current applicants other than China. A former European Commissioner for Trade advocated the EU and US joining the CPTPP in an article for the Peterson Institute for International Economics in January this year. See Cecilia Malmstrom (PIIE), 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.”). Considering China’s record at the WTO and its coercive practices against some of the CPTPP members, it is hard to understand how the CPTPP members can accept China as a member in the coming years.

While neither the United States nor the European Union are looking to abandon the WTO, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is creating enormous tensions for many Members in dealing with the Russian Federation within the WTO, and there have been growing concerns about the inability of the WTO system to address the massive distortions to global trade created by the Chinese economic system. Reform at the WTO is difficult and typically requires consensus of existing Members. This presumably dooms reforms needed to bring China’s system into alignment with WTO principles including market orientation. While Members can decide to suspend most favored nation treatment, there is no obvious path to removing Russia as a member. Thus, continued challenges at the WTO are likely to continue in the months and years ahead.

The article last week from Amb. Yerxa and Ms. Cutler points to the growing concern about the survivability of the current system with rogue states like the Russian Federation and non-market economic actors like China. As the article concludes, “Responsible global leaders now confront a troubling reality: the old notion that countries who trade together are less likely to go to war has been laid to rest on Ukrainian soil. It can no longer be business as usual at the WTO.” What the current war in Ukraine means for the WTO remains unclear. The coming months will likely provide answers to the continued relevance of the WTO and the need for a separate system for democratic, market economies.

U.S. joins Canada in banning imports of Russian oil and gas; EU announces plan to drastically reduce reliance on Russian gas; United Kingdom will phase out imports of oil and gas from Russia by end of 2022; Australian oil companies stop purchasing Russian oil.

March 8, 2022 saw major announcements on new sanctions on the Russian Federation and/or Belarus from the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom and a continued exodus of major oil companies from Russian involvement.

In the United States, President Biden announced new actions in the form of an Executive order which bans –

“The importation into the United States of Russian crude oil and certain petroleum products, liquefied natural gas, and coal.

“* * *

“New U.S. investment in Russia’s energy sector, which will ensure that American companies and American investors are not underwriting Vladimir Putin’s eff orts to expand energy production inside Russia.
Americans will also be prohibited from financing or enabling foreign companies that are making investment to produce energy in Russia.”

The White House, FACT SHEET: United States Bans Imports of Russian Oil, Liquefied Natural Gas, and Coal, March 8, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/08/fact-sheet-united-states-bans-imports-of-russian-oil-liquefied-natural-gas-and-coal/.

The Executive Order reads in full –

“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,

“I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, hereby expand the scope of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 14024 of April 15, 2021, and relied on for additional steps taken in Executive Order 14039 of August 20, 2021, finding that the Russian Federation’s unjustified, unprovoked, unyielding, and unconscionable war against Ukraine, including its recent further invasion in violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter, further threatens the peace, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and thereby constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  Accordingly, I hereby order:

     “Section 1.  (a)  The following are prohibited:

“(i)    the importation into the United States of the following products of Russian Federation origin:  crude oil; petroleum; petroleum fuels, oils, and products of their distillation; liquefied natural gas; coal; and coal products;

“(ii)   new investment in the energy sector in the Russian Federation by a United States person, wherever located; and

“(iii)  any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a United States person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by this section if performed by a United States person or within the United States.

     “(b)  The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or license or permit granted prior to the date of this order.

     “Sec. 2.  (a)  Any transaction that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, causes a violation of, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.

     “(b)  Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.

     “Sec. 3.  Nothing in this order shall prohibit transactions for the conduct of the official business of the Federal Government or the United Nations (including its specialized agencies, programs, funds, and related organizations) by employees, grantees, or contractors thereof.

     “Sec. 4.  For the purposes of this order:

     “(a)  the term ‘entity’ means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization;

     “b)  the term ‘person’ means an individual or entity; and

     “(c)  the term ‘United States person’ means any United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States.

     “Sec. 5.  The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order.  The Secretary of the Treasury may, consistent with applicable law, redelegate any of these functions within the Department of the Treasury.  All executive departments and agencies of the United States shall take all appropriate measures within their authority to implement this order.

     “Sec. 6.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

“(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

“(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

     “(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

     “(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

                             “JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

“THE WHITE HOUSE,

    “March 8, 2022.”

Executive Order on Prohibiting Certain Imports and New Investments With Respect to Continued Russian Federation Efforts to Undermine the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, March 8, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/03/08/executive-order-on-prohibiting-certain-imports-and-new-investments-with-respect-to-continued-russian-federation-efforts-to-undermine-the-sovereignty-and-territorial-integrity-of-ukraine/.

The new prohibitions do not prevent honoring existing contracts in the next 45 days. President Biden reviewed that the steps were taken after consultations with allies realizing that many allies were not in a position to take identical action at the moment reflecting very different situations in terms of domestic production of oil and gas and dependency on imports from Russia. See The White House, Remarks by President Biden Announcing U.S. Ban on Imports of Russian Oil, Liquefied Natural Gas, and Coal, March 8, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/03/08/remarks-by-president-biden-announcing-u-s-ban-on-imports-of-russian-oil-liquefied-natural-gas-and-coal/ (“We’re moving forward on this ban, understanding that many of our European Allies and partners may not be in a position to join us.  The United States produces far more oil domestically than all of European — all the European countries combined.  In fact, we’re a net exporter of energy.  So we can take this step when others cannot. But we’re working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long-term strategy to reduce their dependence on Russian energy as well.”).

The United Kingdom announced that it would phase out imports of oil from Russia during 2022. See Financial Times, US and UK ban Russian oil and gas imports in drive to punish Putin, March 8, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/2e0b1d84-e595-4c5a-be4e-928417b9c7cc (“UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s government said it would phase out the import of Russian oil by the end of the year. Kwasi Kwarteng, UK business secretary, said the British government would organise an ‘orderly transition’ away from Russian oil imports. But Rishi Sunak, UK chancellor, told a cabinet meeting that consumers would pay a price for the ban, with lower-income households particularly hard hit. The UK is less dependent on Russia than much of mainland Europe, with Russian supplies making up 8 per cent of overall oil imports into the UK. Johnson is expected to make a statement later this week on reducing British imports of Russian gas.”).

The European Commission announced a proposed ambitious program to diversify gas supplies and expand renewables to achieve a potential two-thirds reduction in dependence on Russian oil and gas by the end of 2022 for the European Union. The program, RePowerEU, was announced on March 8th and contains a number of documents. The opening statement of Executive Vice-President Timmermans is copied below in part.

“Opening remarks by Executive Vice-President Timmermans

“* * *

“It is abundantly clear that we are too dependent on Russia for our energy needs. It is not a free
market if there is a state actor willing to manipulate it.

“The answer to this concern for our security lies in renewable energy and diversification of supply.

“Renewables give us the freedom to choose an energy source that is clean, cheap, reliable, and ours.
And, instead of continuing to fund fossil fuel imports and fund Russian oligarchs, renewables create
new jobs here in Europe.

“With the plan we outline today, the EU can end its dependence on Russian gas and repower Europe.
Fit for 55, once implemented, will reduce the EU’s total gas consumption by 30% by 2030. That’s
100 billion cubic meters of gas we will no longer need.

“Now, we will take it to the next level.

“By the end of this year, we can replace 100 bcm of gas imports from Russia. That is two-thirds of
what we import from them. This will end our over-dependency and give us much needed room to
maneuver. Two thirds by the end of this year.

“It is hard, bloody hard. But, it is possible, if we are willing to go further and faster than we have
done before.

“REPowerEU is our plan to make Europe independent from Russian gas.

“It is based on two tracks:

“First: we will diversify supply and bring in more renewable gases.

“With more LNG and pipeline imports, we can replace 60 bcm of Russian gas within the next
12 months.

“By doubling sustainable production of biomethane we can replace another 18 bcm, using
the Common Agricultural Policy to help farmers become energy producers.

“We can also increase the production and import of renewable hydrogen. A Hydrogen
Accelerator will develop integrated infrastructure and offer all Member States access to
affordable renewable hydrogen. 20 million tonnes of hydrogen can replace 50 bcm of Russian
gas.

“We will also start replacing natural gas with renewable gases. This, in sum, is the first pillar of
REPowerEU.

“In parallel, we must accelerate our clean energy transition. Renewables make us more
independent, and they are more affordable and reliable than the volatile gas market.

“So, we need to put millions more photovoltaic panels on the roofs of our homes,
businesses, and farms. We must also double the installation rate of heat pumps over the
next 5 years.

“This is low-hanging fruit. By the end of this year, almost 25% of Europe’s current electricity
production could come from solar energy.

“In addition to this, we need to speed up permitting procedures to grow our on- and offshore wind capacity, and rollout large-scale solar projects. This is a matter of overriding public interest.

“Some of these changes will not happen overnight, and that’s why we also need to prepare for next
winter.

“By October, gas storage facilities in the EU must be filled up to 90% capacity. And the Commission is
ready to support joint procurement of gas.

“Finally, and most importantly, we need to protect those who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

“Our plan today proposes several ways to help the most exposed households and businesses.

“Kadri will go through these in more detail.

“To conclude, RePowerEU is our plan to break our dependency on Russian gas, and to find freedom in
our energy choices.

“We can do it, and we can do it fast.

“All we need is the courage and grit to get us there. If ever there was a time to do it, it is now.

European Commission, Opening remarks by Executive Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Simson at the press conference on the REPowerEU Communication, Brussels, 8 March 2022.

See European Commission, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS, REPowerEU: Joint European Action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy, Strasbourg, 8.3.2022, COM(2022) 108 final.

While Australia does not appear to have announced a ban on imports of Russian oil into Australia, its two oil companies have announced cessation of procurement or lack of procurement from Russia. See Reuters, Australian refiners cease purchase of Russian crude oil, voice support for Ukraine, March 8, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/australias-viva-energy-cease-purchase-russian-crude-oil-2022-03-08/.

Other actions

While the U.S. Congress has bills pending before both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would remove normal trade relations status on Russia (i.e., end most favored nation treatment) and instruct the US Trade Representative to seek suspension or removal of Russia from the WTO, press reports indicate that with President Biden’s action on Russian oil, gas and coal, the Administration has asked for a different piece of legislation from Congress, one that wouldn’t (at least at present) address normal trade relations or Russia in the WTO. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, House drops push to strip Russia of PNTR at administration’s request, March 8, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/house-drops-push-strip-russia-pntr-administration%E2%80%99s-request. While Canada has suspended normal trade relations on goods from Russia and Belarus, U.S. inaction presumably reflects the focus of the U.S. and European allies on other sanction issues while seeking internal support for the step of suspending normal trade relations.

On March 9, 2022, the EU announced additional financial sanctions of Belarus and an expansion of individuals being sanctioned in Russia. See European Commission press release, Ukraine: EU agrees to extend the scope ofsanctions on Russia and Belarus, 9 March 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_1649. Most of the press release is copied below.

“The European Commission welcomes today’s agreement of Member States to adopt further targeted sanctions in view of the situation in Ukraine and in response to Belarus’s involvement in the aggression. In particular, the new measures impose restrictive measures on 160 individuals and amend Regulation (EC) 765/2006 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Belarus and Regulation (EU) 833/2014 concerning Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine. These amendments create a closer alignment of EU sanctions regarding Russia and Belarus and will help to ensure even more effectively that Russian sanctions cannot be circumvented, including through Belarus.

“For Belarus, the measures introduce SWIFT prohibitions similar to those in the Russia regime, clarify that crypto assets fall under the scope of “transferable securities” and further expand the existing financial restrictions by mirroring the measures already in place regarding Russia sanctions.

“In particular, the agreed measures will:

“Restrict the provision of SWIFT services to Belagroprombank, Bank Dabrabyt, and the Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus, as well as their Belarusian subsidiaries.

“Prohibit transactions with the Central Bank of Belarus related to the management of reserves or assets, and the provision of public financing for trade with and investment in Belarus.

“Prohibit the listing and provision of services in relation to shares of Belarus state-owned entities on EU trading venues as of 12 April 2022.

“Significantly limit the financial inflows from Belarus to the EU, by prohibiting the acceptance of deposits exceeding €100.000 from Belarusian nationals or residents, the holding of accounts of Belarusian clients by the EU central securities depositories, as well as the selling of euro-denominated securities to Belarusian clients.

“Prohibit the provision of euro denominated banknotes to Belarus.

“For Russia, the amendment introduces new restrictions on the export of maritime navigation and radio communication technology, adds Russian Maritime Register of Shipping to the list of state-owned enterprises subject to financing limitations and introduces a prior information sharing provision for exports of maritime safety equipment.

“In addition, it also extends the exemption relating to the acceptance of deposits exceeding €100.000 in EU banks to Swiss and EEA nationals.

“Finally, the EU confirmed the common understanding that loans and credit can be provided by any means, including crypto assets, as well as further clarified the notion of “transferable securities”, so as to clearly include crypto-assets, and thus ensure the proper implementation of the restrictions in place.

“Furthermore, the amendment introduces new restrictions.

“Furthermore, an additional 160 individuals have been listed in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.

“The listed individuals include:

“- 14 oligarchs and prominent businesspeople involved in key economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the Russian Federation – notably in the metallurgical, agriculture, pharmaceutical, telecom and digital industries -, as well as their family members.

“- 146 members of the Russian Federation Council, who ratified the government decisions of the ‘Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Donetsk People’s Republic’ and the ‘Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Luhansk People’s Republic’.

“Altogether, EU restrictive measures now apply to a total of 862 individuals and 53 entities.”

As Russia continues to escalate its hostilities in Ukraine, the U.S., EU, G7 and other countries continue to make clear that there will be major costs imposed on Russia for the unprovoked war. While many of the sanctions are financial, some are trade focused. The move away from Russian oil and gas and the restrictions on the export to Russia of materials and technology for the sector will significantly reduce Russian gross domestic product over time with so much of the economy currently tied to oil, gas and coal.

Joint letter from European Union and United States on removing the Russian Federation from the WTO Developed Countries Coordinating Group

With the Russian war in Ukraine intensifying, western countries and their allies continue to up the level of sanctions. My last three posts have looked at trade components of the sanctions imposed by a host of governments and what steps might occur at the WTO. See March 4, 2022:  Removal of MFN benefits for goods from Russia and Belarus — Canada moves first; Ukraine applies economic embargo on Russia; EU and US consider removal of MFN benefits, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/04/removal-of-mfn-benefits-for-goods-from-russia-and-belarus-canada-moves-first-ukraine-applies-economic-embargo-on-russia-eu-and-us-consider-removal-of-mfn-benefits/; March 2, 2022:  A former Appellate Body Chair argues WTO Members have the ability to remove the Russian Federation from WTO Membership; other proposals to strip MFN benefits from Russia and services restrictions, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/02/a-former-appellate-body-chair-argues-wto-members-have-the-ability-to-remove-the-russian-federation-from-wto-membership-other-proposals-to-strip-mfn-benefits-from-russia-and-services-restrictions/; February 28, 2022:  Trade sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/28/trade-sanctions-following-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/.

On March 4, 2022, the European Union and the United States forwarded a joint letter to the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council alerting the WTO that the other members of the Developed Countries Coordinating Group would no longer be including the Russian Federation in their deliberations on potential chairs of WTO bodies and committees.

The EU Mission to the WTO provided a tweet that included the joint letter. The tweet says, “EU 🇪🇺 and US 🇺🇸 informed the Chair of the WTO General Council today that Russia’s participation in the Developed Countries Coordinating Group of the WTO is suspended. Russia is an aggressor state that blatantly violates international law. #StandWithUkraine️”. https://twitter.com/EUmissionWTO

The letter is included below.

EU-US-letter-to-WTO-re-removal-of-Russia-from-developed-country-coordinating-group

Yesterday’s article in Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online reviews the limited effect of the action, particularly in light of the recent announcement of the slate of Chairs for committees and bodies. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, U.S., EU, others suspend Russia from WTO coordinating group, March 4, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/us-eu-others-suspend-russia-wto-coordinating-group (“The move will have little immediate impact, according to Inu Manak, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, because the WTO announced its committee chairs last month. However, she said, it sends a “fairly big signal,” as the members of the coordinating group are symbolically kicking Russia out of the influential club that chooses who leads discussions at the WTO.”).

Still in the offing is what additional trade actions — such as stripping Russia of most favored nation (“MFN”) tariff treatment, banning imports of Russian oil and gas, or attempting to expel Russia from the WTO — will be pursued or implemented. As noted in yesterday’s post, Canada has led on stripping Russia of MFN treatment and banning imports of Russian oil and gas. The U.S. and EU have one or both under consideration. It is unclear if other countries are considering one or both actions as well. None have yet endorsed the idea of expelling Russia from the WTO, though at least one former WTO Appellate Body Chair has opined that such an action could occur under WTO provisions. See March 2, 2022:  A former Appellate Body Chair argues WTO Members have the ability to remove the Russian Federation from WTO Membership; other proposals to strip MFN benefits from Russia and services restrictions, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/02/a-former-appellate-body-chair-argues-wto-members-have-the-ability-to-remove-the-russian-federation-from-wto-membership-other-proposals-to-strip-mfn-benefits-from-russia-and-services-restrictions/.

Yesterday’s action by developed countries in the WTO signals that actions within multilateral organizations will be part of the effort to get the Russian Federation to cease its unprovoked war with Ukraine. Considering the increasing levels of hostility, countries opposing the Russian and Belarusan actions need to speed up further sanctions.

Removal of MFN benefits for goods from Russia and Belarus — Canada moves first; Ukraine applies economic embargo on Russia; EU and US consider removal of MFN benefits

  1. Canada

Amid the global outcry at the actions of the Russian Federation in waging war on Ukraine, countries are reviewing options to increase the economic pain on Russia and Belarus which has permitted its country to be used for staging and other purposes. Canada acted on March 3, 2022 by removing both the Russian Federation and Belarus from receiving most favored nation treatment on any imports into Canada. See Department of Finance Canada, Canada cuts Russia and Belarus from Most-Favoured-Nation Tariff treatment, March 3, 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2022/03/canada-cuts-russia-and-belarus-from-most-favoured-nation-tariff-treatment.html; Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, Canada cuts Russia and Belarus from Most-Favoured-Nation Tariff treatment, March 3, 2022, https://deputypm.canada.ca/en/news/news-releases/2022/03/03/canada-cuts-russia-and-belarus-most-favoured-nation-tariff-treatment; Canada Border Services Agency, Order withdrawing the Most-Favoured-Nation status from Russia and Belarus, Customs Notice 22-02, https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/cn-ad/cn22-02-eng.html. The press releases contain the following explanation of the action being taken.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supported by Belarus, is a violation of international law and threat to the rules-based international order. Canada is taking further action to ensure those who do not support the rules-based international order cannot benefit from it.

“Today, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, announced that the Government of Canada has issued the Most-Favoured-Nation Tariff Withdrawal Order (2022-1), removing these countries’ entitlement to the Most-Favoured-Nation Tariff (MFN) treatment under the Customs Tariff.

“This Order results in the application of the General Tariff for goods imported into Canada that originate from Russia or Belarus. Under the General Tariff, a tariff rate of 35 per cent will now be applicable on virtually all of these imports. Russia and Belarus will join North Korea as the only countries whose imports are subject to the General Tariff.

“This measure is in addition to the many punitive actions that Canada and its allies have already taken against Russia and Belarus as a result of the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, including other trade restrictions under the Special Economic Measures Act.

“Quotes

“‘Today, I am announcing that Canada will be the first country to revoke Russia’s and Belarus’s Most-Favoured-Nation status as a trading partner under Canadian law. We are working closely with our partners and allies to encourage them to take the same step. Simply put, this means that Russia and Belarus will no longer receive the benefits – particularly low tariffs – that Canada offers to other countries that are fellow members of the WTO. The economic costs of the Kremlin’s barbaric war are already high, and they will continue to rise. Canada and our allies are united in our condemnation of President Putin and his war of aggression, and we are united in our support for the remarkable Ukrainians who are so bravely resisting his assault.’

“– The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

“‘It is the direct result of Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine that has triggered our government’s removal of the Most-Favoured-Nation Tariff (MFN) treatment on almost all imports from Russia and Belarus. Canada is stepping up by putting significant economic pressure on Russia, and is providing resources to Ukraine including military equipment and emergency humanitarian support. Canada remains resolute in our solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and we will continue supporting them as they fight to defend their freedom and democracy.’

“– The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business
and Economic Development”.

Later in the press release there is a list of other actions Canada has taken in response to the Russian war against Ukraine including the following.

“This measure complements other recent measures targeting trade with Russia and Belarus, which will come into force imminently, including the ban on crude oil imports from Russia and Belarus, announced on February 28, 2022, and the ban on Russian owned or registered ships and fishing vessels from Canadian ports and internal waters, announced on March 1, 2022.

2. Ukraine

Ukraine notified the WTO on March 2, 2022 that “Ukraine severed its diplomatic relations with the aggressor state, decided to impose a complete economic embargo and no longer apply the WTO agreements in its relations with the Russian Federation.” The Ukrainian letter to the Chairman of the WTO General Council is included below.

Letter-from-Ukraine-to-WTO-re-not-applying-WTO-obligations-to-Russia

3. United States

In the United States, withdrawal of MFN treatment is being considered by the Congress with bills introduced in both the House and the Senate as well as bills to ban imports of oil and petroleum products from Russia. See February 28, 2022:  Trade sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/28/trade-sanctions-following-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/ (reviewing H.R. 6835); see also S.3717 introduced by Senators Cassidy and Brown (“A bill to withdraw normal trade relations treatment from, and apply certain provisions of title IV of the Trade Act of 1974 to, products of the Russian Federation, and for other purposes”); S.3722 introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden (“a bill to withdraw normal trade relations treatment from, and apply certain provisions of title IV of the Trade Act of 1974 to products of the Russian Federation, and for other purposes”); S.3718 introduced by Senator Marshall and eight others (a bill to prohibit the importation of petroleum and petroleum products from the Russian Federation”). These bills are in addition to many others looking to impose additional sanctions on the Russian Federation.

While the U.S. has applied some sanctions on Belarus, at present the bills before Congress do not seek removal of MFN treatment from goods from Belarus. As Belarus is not yet a WTO Member (it is going through the accession process), there are not the same WTO considerations in removal of MFN treatment on goods from Belarus.

4. European Union

Press articles indicate that the EU is actively considering whether to remove MFN treatment for Russia. See, e.g., Bloomberg, EU Seeks to End Russia’s Most-Favored Nation Status at WTO, March 3, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-03/eu-seeks-to-suspend-russia-s-most-favored-nation-status-at-wto (“‘In reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the EU has adopted sweeping sanctions vis-a-vis Russia, which undoubtedly have a major impact on trade,’ European Commission Spokeswoman Miriam Garcia Ferrer said in an emailed reply to Bloomberg. ‘We are discussing options available to us in the WTO context. This includes the possibility of removing MFN treatment to Russia on the basis of the WTO national security exception.’”); Financial Times, Canada imposes tariffs on Russian imports by using WTO exemption, March 4, 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/88b1b680-cc23-4e69-ba2d-69c7d96910b0 (“Bernd lange, chair of the European parliament’s international trade committee, tweeted: ‘We cannot continue with business as usual in WTO when it comes to trade with Russia. One step could be to remove MFN status.'”).

The EU has been Russia’s largest trading partner, importing $188 billion worth of goods in 2021. See https://www.statista.com/statistics/1099626/russia-value-of-trade-in-goods-with-eu/. A large portion of EU imports from the Russian Federation are oil and gas. The Financial Times articles indicates that in 2020 more than two thirds of imports from Russia into the EU were oil and gas.

Comments

One can expect that there will be continuing efforts to increase the sanctions and trade costs on Russia and Belarus for the unprovoked war in Ukraine. Denying both countries MFN treatment can be expected by some countries. Canada’s lead hopefully will be followed by the U.S. and EU and others.

In a number of countries, informal bans on Russian goods, including oil and gas is already occurring. See, e.g., BBC News, Ukraine sanctions: UK dockers refuse tanker of Russian gas, March 4, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-kent-60619112.

The larger issue of whether WTO Members should exclude Russia from the organization is also attracting at least private sector comments. See, e.g., March 2, 2022:  A former Appellate Body Chair argues WTO Members have the ability to remove the Russian Federation from WTO Membership; other proposals to strip MFN benefits from Russia and services restrictions, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/02/a-former-appellate-body-chair-argues-wto-members-have-the-ability-to-remove-the-russian-federation-from-wto-membership-other-proposals-to-strip-mfn-benefits-from-russia-and-services-restrictions/; Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, Force Russia from WTO?, February 28, 2022, https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/force-russia-from-wto/.

Many countries have raised the conflict at the WTO during the recent February 23-24, 2022 General Council meeting and at the recent February 28, 2022 Dispute Settlement Body meeting. See, e.g., EU Statements at the General Council Meeting, 23 and 24 February 2022, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/111430/eu-statements-general-council-meeting-23-and-24-february-2022_en (“Thursday 24 February 2022 (morning), STATEMENT ON THE INVASION OF UKRAINE BY THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, We heard many Delegations talking about the tragedy to human lives brought about by the Covid pandemic. Today the tragedy is people being killed by the use of force following the invasion of Ukraine this morning. This is a sad day for Europe, a sad day for the world. The European Union strongly condemns this unjustified attack on Ukraine, an independent and sovereign State. This constitutes a gross violation of international law. In these dark hours, our thoughts are with the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives.“); Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body
Geneva, February 28, 2022, https://uploads.mwp.mprod.getusinfo.com/uploads/sites/25/2022/03/Feb28.DSB_.Stmt_.as_.deliv_.fin_.pdf “• Before addressing the present agenda item, the United States will comment on the atrocious situation that we see happening on the ground in Ukraine. • The United States stands with Ukraine. The United States condemns Russia’s further invasion of and continuing military assault against the sovereign nation and people of Ukraine, and condemns this violation of the core principles that uphold global peace and security. The United States will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country from this unprovoked attack and we commend the true and tremendous courage we are seeing from the Ukrainian people, the armed forces, and Ukrainian leaders. The United States has expressed its views before and after the UN Security Council vote and I refer Members to our previous official statements for more details.”).

While the WTO news releases include a statement from the Director-General on the Ukraine conflict, the press releases reviewing meetings where the Ukraine conflict has been raised by Members is silent on the issue being raised. See, e.g., WTO news release, WTO dispute panel to review Chinese complaint regarding Australian duties, February 28, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/dsb_28feb22_e.htm; WTO news release, WTO chairpersons for 2022, February 24, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres22_e/pr898_e.htm; WTO news release, WTO members agree on mid-June dates for reconvening MC12, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/mc12_23feb22_e.htm; WTO news release, WTO members initiate membership talks for Turkmenistan, February 23, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/acc_23feb22_e.htm.

It is not clear if major Members like the U.S. and EU will seek specific action against Russia within the WTO in the coming weeks or simply pursue any action unilaterally (or in coordination with certain other trading partners). Hopefully, concerned nations will see that Russia is held accountable at all multilateral organizations, including the WTO. One can assume that accession negotiations with Belarus will stop progressing until there is a satisfactory resolution of the conflict from the view of many of the existing WTO Members (other than the Russian Federation).

It is possible that WTO Members at least on a plurilateral basis will look at steps to facilitate medical and food assistance to Ukraine during the crisis. Such action is occurring and will certainly continue to occur by certain WTO Members outside of the context of the WTO, but the WTO has a role it could play. Similarly, the WHO recently took action to get 36 tons of medical supplies to the Polish border with Ukraine as the following tweet reviews. More can and should be done.

WHO-medical-assistance

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the world and involve trade elements for its resolution, so too the unprovoked war on Ukraine started by Russia and facilitated by Belarus is testing the world and needs a meaningful trade response as part of the effort to achieve a peaceful resolution.

The European Union’s February 18, 2022 request for consultations with China over China’s “anti-suit injunctions” in intellectual property disputes and its failure to publish decisions and respond to EU inquiries

The European Union has been pursuing a series of new disputes since the start of 2022. Three are listed in the WTO list of disputes. See DS610 China — Measures Concerning Trade in Goods and Services (27 January 2022); DS609 Egypt — Registration requirements relating to the importation of certain products (26 January 2022); DS608 Russian Federation — Measures Concerning the Exportation of Wood Products (20 January 2022)(replaced by a request for consultations filed on February 17, 2022).

On Friday, February 18, 2022, the European Union filed a second request for consultations with China and its fourth request this year, this one addressing China’s use of anti-suit injunctions to prevent parties seeking redress from intellectual property infringement by Chinese firms from seeking redress in non-Chinese jurisdictions. Chinese courts can impose penalties of 1 million RMB per day for violating anti-suit injunctions. In addition, many of the court decisions issuing the anti-suit injunctions are not publicly available. China has taken the position it is not obligated to publish the decisions or to provide them when requested by a WTO Member.

The EU reviews in its request for consultations four decisions affecting EU companies all involving patents in the high tech sector (e.g., patents relevant to aspects of 3G, 4G or 5G telecommunications). See EU Request for Consultations, Geneva, 18 February 2022. Because of the importance of the dispute, the full request for consultations is included below.

tradoc_160051

The European Commission’s press release on the request is copied below and reviews what the European Commission sees as important about the consultation request. See European Commission
Directorate-General for Trade, Press release, EU challenges China at the WTO to defend its high-tech sector, Brussels, 18 February 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_1103.

“The European Union is filing today a case against China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for restricting EU companies from going to a foreign court to protect and use their patents.

“China severely restricts EU companies with rights to key technologies (such as 3G, 4G and 5G) from protecting these rights when their patents are used illegally or without appropriate compensation by, for example, Chinese mobile phone manufacturers. The patent holders that do go to court outside China often face significant fines in China, putting them under pressure to settle for licensing fees below market rates. 

“This Chinese policy is extremely damaging to innovation and growth in Europe, effectively depriving European technology companies of the possibility to exercise and enforce the rights that give them a technological edge.

“Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade, said: ‘We must protect the EU’s vibrant high-tech industry, an engine for innovation that ensures our leading role in developing future innovative technologies. EU companies have a right to seek justice on fair terms when their technology is used illegally. That is why we are launching WTO consultations today.’

“Since August 2020, Chinese courts have been issuing decisions – known as “anti-suit injunctions” – to exert pressure on EU companies with high-tech patents and to prevent them from rightfully protecting their technologies. Chinese courts also use the threat of heavy fines to deter European companies from going to foreign courts.

“This has left European high-tech companies at a significant disadvantage when fighting for their rights. Chinese manufacturers request these anti-suit injunctions to benefit from cheaper or even free access to European technology.

“The EU has raised this issue with China on a number of occasions in an attempt to find a solution, to no avail. As the Chinese actions are, according to the EU, inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the EU has requested consultations at the WTO.

Next steps

“The dispute settlement consultations that the EU has requested are the first step in WTO dispute settlement proceedings. If they do not lead to a satisfactory solution within 60 days, the EU can request the WTO to set up a panel to rule on the matter.

Background

“The patents concerned by this case are standard-essential patents (SEPs). SEPs are patents that are essential in order to manufacture goods that meet a certain international standard. Because the use of the technologies protected by these patents is mandatory for the production of, for example, a mobile phone, patent owners have committed to licensing these patents to manufacturers under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. A mobile phone manufacturer should, therefore, obtain a license (subject to a license fee negotiated with the patent holder) for these patents. If a manufacturer does not obtain a licence, and/or refuses to pay, a patent holder can enforce these patents and get a court to stop the sales of the products incorporating that unlicensed technology.

“In August 2020, China’s Supreme People’s Court decided that Chinese courts can prohibit patent holders from going to a non-Chinese court to enforce their patents by putting in place an ‘anti-suit injunction’. The Supreme People’s Court also decided that violation of the order can be sanctioned with a €130,000 daily fine. Since then, Chinese courts have adopted four such anti-suit injunctions against foreign patent holders.”

Comments

The EU has been a strong backer of the WTO’s dispute settlement system. Launching four new disputes in the first two months of 2022 shows the EU’s continued intent to utilize the WTO dispute settlement system.

On the specific request for consultations filed last Friday with China, both the EU and China are parties to the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) that was agreed to by some WTO Members for handling further review of panel decisions while the Appellate Body is not operational. Thus, there will not be an appeal into the wind by either China or the EU from whatever decision flows from the dispute if a panel is sought later this year.

On the substance of the request for consultations, China has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with full transparency obligations at the WTO which is reflected in several of the issues raised by the EU (lack of public release of certain judicial decisions; failure to provide such information when requested by the EU). China’s failure to comply with transparency obligations is a major issue for trading partners in many areas of the WTO’s work.

More importantly, the actions of China in authorizing anti-suit injunctions is a major challenge to the proper functioning of intellectual property rights which should draw participation requests from many other WTO Members. China has been viewed by many as permitting/encouraging/supporting intellectual property theft — a view hotly denied by China. Letting Chinese courts prevent other courts around the world from evaluating patent infringement by Chinese companies or setting licensing fees is not consistent with WTO obligations and could obviously lead to abuse by the Chinese courts and substantial harm to innovative companies around the world.

The EU’s request for consultation is a very important first step in ensuring that China conforms to its obligations under the TRIPS Agreement. The fact that resolution will take years will permit Chinese companies to weaken intellectual property protection for years for innovative companies in other countries.

The EU – AU Summit and the promise of a resolution to the WTO pandemic response package

The sixth European Union – African Union summit took place last week in Brussels on February 17-18. The summit covered a broad array of topics including access to vaccines. It followed an event on vaccine equity in Africa hosted by BioNTech and the kENUP Foundation on the 16th which announced the schedule for shipping facilities to several African countries to produce mRNA vaccines in the second half of 2022. See February 16, 2022:  Building Vaccine Capacity in Africa – Exciting News from BioNTech, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/16/building-vaccine-capacity-in-africa-exciting-news-from-biontech/.

The Summit was an effort to have the two Unions form a new partnership, and for the EU to be the partner of choice for countries in Africa. The joint declaration from the summit is included below and reviews the broad areas of discussion and agreed actions to be taken by the two Unions following the Summit.

final_declaration-en

The discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing discussion on the WTO’s consideration of a response to the pandemic (both trade and intellectual property) was one of the important issues at the summit. The joint declaration discussion of the issue is copied below.

“The immediate challenge is to ensure a fair and equitable access to vaccines. Together we will support local and regional mechanisms for procurement, as well as allocation and deployment of medical products. The EU reaffirms its commitment to provide at least 450 million of vaccine doses to Africa, in coordination with the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) platform, by mid-2022. Contributing to this and complementing the actions of the AVATT, Team Europe has provided more than USD 3 billion (i.e. the equivalent of 400 million vaccine doses) to the Covax Facility and to vaccination on the African continent.

“Team Europe will mobilise EUR 425 million to ramp up the pace of vaccination, and in coordination with the Africa CDC, to support the efficient distribution of doses and the training of medical teams and the capacity of analysis and sequencing. We will also contribute in this context to the fight against health-related disinformation.

“Learning from the current health crisis, we are committed to supporting the full-fledged African health sovereignty, in order for the continent to respond to future public health emergencies. To this end, we support a common agenda for manufacturing vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, therapeutics and health products in Africa, including investment in production capacities, voluntary technology transfers as well as strengthening of the regulatory framework to enable equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

“The African Union and the European Union underlined the urgency of the WTOs contribution to the fight against the pandemic and to the recovery of the global economy, and commit to engage constructively towards an agreement on a comprehensive WTO response to the pandemic, which includes trade related, as well as intellectual property related aspects.”

The European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen statement at the press conference on February 18 provided the timeline for reaching agreement with the African Union on the WTO response package to the COVID-19 pandemic, including finding an acceptable path forward on intellectual property. The EU and AU will be meeting in the Spring to find a mutually acceptable solution. President von der Leyen’s comments at the press conference on this topic are copied below.

“And finally, from the health of our planet, to the health of our people. Europe is Africa’s number one
partner in the fight against COVID-19. And we will do even more. We are on the right track to reach
our goal to share at least 450 million vaccine doses by this summer. And indeed, together, we are
building up mRNA manufacturing capacity across Africa. I will not go in detail because we have
discussed that in the press conference this morning.

“But important is that we had a very good, intense, constructive discussion on the question of TRIPS
waiver and compulsory licencing. We share the same goal. We have different ways to reach that goal.
There must be a bridge between those two ways. And therefore, we have decided that the two
Commissions – the African Union Commission and the European Union Commission – will work
together. We will organise a College-to-College meeting here in Brussels, in spring. And at that time,
at the latest, we have to deliver a solution. This will be accompanied by the WTO, Director-General
Ngozi. And therefore, I always like it when a task is clear and defined. The task is set for the two
Commissions. The frame is clear, the goal is clear, we have to deliver.”

Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference following the 6th European Union-African Union Summit, Brussels, 18 February 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_1181.

The European Union has been working for most of the last year on moving towards significant vaccine production capacity being built in Africa. President von der Leyen’s statements at the start of the EU-AU Summit and her statement at the Vaccine Equity for Africa event on February 16 provide significant detail on actions the EU is taking to help Africa develop vaccine manufacturing capacity as well as address the build up of health care infrastructure on the continent. See Opening speech by President von der Leyen at the 6th European Union-African Union Summit, Brussels, 17 February 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_22_1142; Statement by President von der Leyen at the‘Vaccine Equity for Africa’ launch event, co-organised by BioNTech SE and the kENUP Foundation, 16 February 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_1105.

Parts of the February 16 speech are copied below.

“This year already, at least two of these container factories will move to Africa. To Rwanda and to Senegal, where I visited last week the Institut Pasteur de Dakar. Close cooperation is ongoing with South Africa’s Biovac Institute. And with our partners in Ghana. We are advancing in record time. Commercial production is set to begin in 2023. 

“The ‘Vaccine Equity for Africa’ project is only possible thanks to teamwork. Starting with Africa’s declared ambition to build its own vaccine production capacity. Teaming up with a European innovation champion such as BioNTech. Supported by the European Union and the African Union. Governments in Europe and Africa. And the UN system. This is how we emerge from the pandemic and build a stronger future for Africa and Europe.

“The initiative is first and foremost about vaccine equity. Vaccines from the new factories will be sold at not-for-profit prices, exclusively to African countries. They will be made in Africa, for Africa, with world-class technology.

“At the same time, this initiative can advance public health and industry, well beyond the pandemic. We know the mRNA technology is revolutionary. It holds promises for the fight against other diseases, like malaria and tuberculosis. BioNTech factories can be adjusted within weeks to make different vaccines. It could thus be an African-made solution to diseases that currently kill millions.

“This project is part of a larger ambition. By 2040, the African Union wants that 60% of the vaccines used on the continent are manufactured on the continent. The European Union fully supports that goal. Together with our Member States and financial institutions, we have committed over one billion euros in financing. To strengthen regulatory frameworks, and transfer skills and know-how. Because regional capacities are the cornerstone of global public health.

“And the project goes even beyond public health. Building this technological capacity in Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa – countries that are regional leaders in innovation – will strengthen the innovation ecosystem on the entire continent.”

Documents from the European Council and European Commission at the conclusion of the Summit provide the EU’s view of the healthcare portion of the summit and EU actions. See European Council, Council of the European Union, First technology transfer of mRNA vaccines: Working together to build new solutions, 18 February 2022, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/european-council/president/news/2022/02/18/20220218-mrna-vaccines-technology-transfer/ (“In the margins of the European Union-African Union Summit, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the first six countries that will receive the technology needed for the production of mRNA vaccines on the African continent. Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia all applied and have been selected as recipients. The announcement was made at a ceremony hosted by the European Council, France, South Africa and the WHO in the presence of the following leaders: Charles Michel, President of the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. President Macron, President Ramaphosa, President Sall, President Kenyatta, President Buhari, President Saïed and  President al-Sisi.”); European Commission, EU-Africa: Global Gateway Investment Package – Health, factsheet, 9 February 2022,https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/fs_22_870.

While vaccines and health issues were just one of a number of important topics reviewed during the Summit, it has been the focus of this post simply because the outcome and promised meeting in the Spring between the two Unions offers the hope of a resolution to the WTO’s ongoing negotiations on a pandemic response package — one that covers various trade actions as well as what, if any, actions are needed on intellectual property rights during a pandemic. While the member states of the EU and the AU are not the only parties with strong positions in the ongoing discussions at the WTO, it would seem likely that if the EU and AU are able to reach agreement on a package that will likely form the basis of a final resolution in Geneva.

With the WTO apparently discussing dates in June 2022 for rescheduling the 12th Ministerial Conference, the ability of the EU and AU countries to find a mutually agreeable solution to the intellectual property component of the pandemic response package could permit an agreed package to be accepted by WTO Members at the Ministerial Conference. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, World Trade Organization now eyeing June for 12th ministerial, February 18, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/world-trade-organization-now-eyeing-june-12th-ministerial. The announcement last week of the Spring effort to reach agreement may also help facilitate movement on fisheries subsidies at the WTO — a negotiation that has been ongoing for more than 20 years.

In short, the EU-AU Summit while covering a lot of ground on issues of importance to both Unions may also have created a path to forward movement at the WTO on the response to the pandemic and more ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference.

Actions by the US, EU, Quad (US, Japan, India, Australia), China and others should ensure that there are more than adequate vaccines available in 2022 to vaccinate all countries against COVID-19. Efforts by the WHO, GAVI, the U.S., EU and others are also likely to significantly increase the ability of countries in Africa to vaccinate their populations. Thus, the real benefit of resolving the WTO pandemic response at the 12th Ministerial will not be responding to COVID-19 but rather adopting rules and policies that will make the world more responsive to future pandemics.

We wish the EU and AU well in their upcoming negotiations.

Building Vaccine Capacity in Africa – Exciting News from BioNTech

BioNTech which has partnered with Pfizer in producing an mRNA vaccine to address COVID-19, issued a press release today (February 16, 2022) from Mainz, Germany outlining its development of modular mRNA manufacturing facilities and their intended deployment in Africa. See BioNTech, Press Release, BioNTech introduces first modular mRNA manufacturing facility to promote scalable vaccine production in Africa, 16 February 2022, https://investors.biontech.de/news-releases/news-release-details/biontech-introduces-first-modular-mrna-manufacturing-facility. Part of the press release is copied below.

” BioNTech SE (Nasdaq: BNTX, “BioNTech”) has taken a next step to improve vaccine supply in Africa. The
company has introduced its approach to establishing scalable vaccine production by developing and delivering turnkey mRNA manufacturing facilities based on a container solution. At a high-level meeting at BioNTech’s new manufacturing facility in Marburg and at the invitation of kENUP Foundation, the company presented the container solution named ‘BioNTainer’ to key partners.

“Attendees included President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(Africa CDC), and Svenja Schulze, the Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany. Together with BioNTech’s Co-Founders Prof. Ugur Sahin, CEO, and Prof. Özlem Türeci, CMO, and COO Dr. Sierk Poetting, they jointly discussed the infrastructure, regulatory and technological requirements to establish an end-to-end manufacturing network for mRNA-based vaccines in Africa.

“The manufacturing solution consists of one drug substance and one formulation module, each called a BioNTainer. Each module is built of six ISO sized containers (2.6m x 2.4m x 12m). This allows for mRNA vaccine production in bulk (mRNA manufacturing and formulation), while fill-and-finish will be taken over by local partners. Each BioNTainer is a clean room which BioNTech equips with state-of-the-art manufacturing solutions. Together, two modules require 800 sqm of space and offer an estimated initial capacity of for example up to 50 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine each year. The BioNTainer will be equipped to manufacture a range of mRNA-based vaccines targeted to the needs of the African Union member states, for example the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and BioNTech’s investigational malaria and tuberculosis vaccines, if they are successfully developed, approved or authorized by regulatory authorities.

“The capacity can be scaled up by adding further modules and sites to the manufacturing network on the African continent. One of the most critical parts of the manufacturing process is quality control, which includes all necessary tests for each finished vaccine batch. In partnership with local quality control testing labs, BioNTech will help to ensure the identity, composition, strength, purity, absence of product- and process-related impurities, as well as the absence of microbiological contamination of each produced batch.

“The establishment of the first mRNA manufacturing facility by BioNTech in the African Union is expected to start in mid-2022. The first BioNTainer is expected to arrive in Africa in the second half of 2022. Manufacturing in the first BioNTainer is planned to commence approximately 12 months after the delivery of the modules to its final location in Africa. BioNTech expects to ship BioNTainers to Rwanda, Senegal and potentially South Africa in close coordination with the respective country and the African Union. BioNTech will be responsible for the delivery and installation of the modules, while local organizations, authorities and governments will ensure the needed infrastructure. Partners in Ghana and South Africa could support the manufacturing with fill-and-finish capacities. BioNTech will work closely with local authorities to ensure compliance to relevant regulatory procedures of the national regulatory agencies in each partner country, and also coordinate where appropriate with relevant continental and international agencies, including WHO, Africa CDC, the African Medicines Agency (AMA), and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD).

“BioNTech will initially staff and operate the facilities to support the safe and rapid initiation of the production of mRNA-based vaccine doses under stringent good manufacturing processes (“GMP”) to prepare for the transfer of know-how to local partners to enable independent operation. Vaccines
manufactured in these facilities are expected to be dedicated to domestic use and export to other member states of the African Union at a not-for-profit price.”

While the announcement by BioNTech will not address the short-term 2022 production and distribution needs of COVID-19 vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries (WHO is urging the world to obtain 70% vaccination rates in all countries by summer 2022), the announcement adds to the momentum of creating manufacturing of vaccines (for COVID-19 and other needs) in Africa. See Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Is there Any COVID-19 Vaccine Production in Africa?, September 13, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/09/13/is-there-any-covid-19-vaccine-production-in-africa-pub-85320#:~:text=Africa%20manufactures%20less%20than%20one,have%20faced%20severe%20supply%20shortages (“Efforts are being made to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines on the African continent. As of September 2021, there are at least twelve COVID-19production facilities set up or in the pipeline across six African countries (see figure). African COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in the coming year could range from Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinovac vaccines. In South Africa, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, along with European partners, announced a 600 million euro ($710 million)financing package for Aspen Pharmacare. Aspen’s facility has already produced millions of doses and will ‘fill-and-finish’ (i.e. package imported vaccine substance) around 500 million Johnson & Johnson doses by the end of 2022. South Africa’s Biovac Institute has also agreed to accelerate fill-and-finish Pfizer vaccine manufacturing in Cape Town from 2022. In Senegal, the government—with Pfizer support from the United States and Europe—is building a $200million COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing facility with the Fondation Institut Pasteur de Dakar. This facility would represent the first on the continent to actually manufacture the substance of vaccines in parallel with fill-and-finish. Starting in November 2021, the Egyptian government will
produce Chinese Sinovac at a new Vacsera facility outside Cairo, with a planned capacity of
1 billion vaccines annually. And with two agreements for drug substance manufacturing and fill-and-finish of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Egypt may soon join Senegal in reducing Africa’s dependency on vaccine imports.”)

The BioNTech press release contains eleven quotes from government and business officials, including EC President Ursula von der Leyen, the Presidents of Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana and the African Union, the WHO Director-General, the Chancellor of the Republic of Germany and others. The full press release is attached below.

BioNTech-introduces-first-modular-mRNA-manufacturing-facility-to-promote-scalable-vaccine-production-in-Africa

The announcement by BioNTech is both exciting and important longer term for greater vaccine equity for various purposes. As noted in one of the many news articles on the announcement, Pfizer and BioNTech have also pledged to supply up to two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries during 2022. See Wall Street Journal, BioNTech Unveils Mobile Covid-29 Vaccine Factories for Developing World, February 16, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/biontech-unveils-mobile-covid-19-vaccine-factories-for-developing-world-11645007401; see also Reuters, BioNTech to ship mRNA vaccine factory kits to Africa, February 16, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/biontech-ship-mrna-vaccine-factory-kits-africa-2022-02-16/; Fortune, Pfizer partner BioNTech unveils container-based COVID vaccine factories that could start manufacturing doses in Africa this year, February 16, 2022, https://fortune.com/2022/02/16/pfizer-biontech-covid-vaccine-biontainers-inequality-africa-afrigen-who/. It is those efforts at getting doses produced in the front half of 2022 to low income and lower-middle income countries that will be most important in meeting the immediate goal of dramatically increasing vaccine rates in Africa and in other countries with current low vaccination rates.

As reviewed in a number of earlier posts, the progress being made in vaccine equity to address COVID-19 in 2022 will not be dependent on the outcome of the ongoing WTO consideration of whether TRIPS obligations should be waived for COVID-19 vaccines. Rather progress is dependent on expanded production, moving product to needed countries, work in countries to ensure the ability to distribute vaccines received and expanded funding of COVAX. See, e.g., January 30, 2022:  Recent National Public Radio story, “Africa may have reached the pandemic’s holy grail,” raises interesting questions on a country’s age distribution and ability to get past the pandemic stage with lower vaccination rates, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/30/recent-national-public-radio-story-africa-may-have-reached-the-pandemics-holy-grail-raises-interesting-questions-on-a-countrys-age-distribution-and-ability-to-get-past-the-pandemic-stage-wit/; January 23, 2022:  COVID-19 Omicron variant – hopeful signs of peaking in the U.S. and Europe; supply disruptions continue from zero tolerance policy in China, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/23/covid-19-omicron-variant-hopeful-signs-of-peaking-in-the-u-s-and-europe-supply-disruptions-continue-from-zero-tolerance-policy-in-china/; January 11, 2022:  WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/11/wto-efforts-to-address-the-covid-19-pandemic-the-january-10-2022-general-council-meeting-and-some-current-developments-of-interest/.

The WTO’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — will Members reach agreement by the end of February?

Throughout the current pandemic, the WTO has generated large amounts of information to help Members examine the response to the pandemic that would minimize disruptions and maximize availability of medical goods. See, e.g., WTO webpage and series of reports generated by the Secretariat (WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/index.htm; https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm. The WTO Secretariat provides periodic updates on reports as well as tracking import and export restrictions on medical goods and inputs. See, e.g., WTO news, WTO Secretariat updates members on COVID-19 reports and new tools, 28 January 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/nama_28jan22_e.htm.

With support from WTO Members, the WTO has worked with other multilateral organizations to promote a coordinated response. See, e.g., WTO press release, WHO, WIPO, WTO heads chart future cooperation on pandemic response, 1 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/igo_01feb22_e.htm; WTO press release, International organizations discuss how to improve access to COVID vaccines, countermeasures, 22 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_22dec21_e.htm (IMF, World Bank, WHO, WTO); WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker, Last updated: 17 January 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/vaccine_trade_tracker_e.htm.

Most WTO Members view agreeing on a multilateral response to the pandemic as of critical importance. This includes both addressing a host of non intellectual property issues [“These include issues relating to trade facilitation, export restrictions, regulatory coherence, transparency and monitoring, scaling-up of production and distribution on essential goods, services and crisis preparedness and resiliency, and coordination with relevant stakeholders, including international organizations and the private sector.”] and resolving whether there should be a waiver from some TRIPS obligations as requested by India, South Africa and supported by others. The WTO Secretariat put out a briefing note on the issue of trade and health looking at the state of play as of 6 January 2022. See Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 6 January 2022 (above quote is from the briefing note), https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bftrade_and_health_e.htm.

As I have reviewed in prior posts, the waiver of TRIPS obligations proposal from India and South Africa has been challenging for a number of Members to accept. See, e.g., WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/11/wto-efforts-to-address-the-covid-19-pandemic-the-january-10-2022-general-council-meeting-and-some-current-developments-of-interest/. The briefing note provides a good summary of the TRIPS waiver proposal and is copied below.

“TRIPS Council

“In parallel to the process facilitated by Ambassador Walker, members have been seeking convergence on how best to use the global intellectual property (IP) system to tackle COVID-19 in the context of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

“Waiver request

“Over the past year, members have engaged in discussions based on various texts. On 15-16 October 2020, India and South Africa introduced at the TRIPS Council document IP/C/W/669 requesting a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. The proposal has since been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group, the LDC Group, the Maldives, Fiji, Namibia, Vanuatu, Indonesia and Jordan.

“Since the introduction of the document, discussions have taken place in various formal and informal TRIPS Council meetings. Delegations have exchanged views, asked questions, sought clarifications and provided replies, clarifications, and information on the waiver request. On 21 May 2021, the co-sponsors issued a revised proposal which was circulated in document IP/C/W/669/Rev.1 and on 29 September 2021 they circulated a summary of their interventions in document IP/C/W/684.

“In the course of discussions on the revised waiver proposal, delegations have held focused discussions on the topics of scope, both from the perspective of products and of IP rights, on duration, implementation and the protection of undisclosed information.

“All delegations remain committed to the common goal of providing timely and secure access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all, but discussions have shown that disagreement persists on the fundamental question of whether a waiver is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of and access to vaccines and other COVID-related products.

“EU proposal

“In addition, a proposal (IP/C/W/681) for a draft General Council declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health in the circumstances of a pandemic, issued by the European Union, has also been discussed in meetings since its circulation on 21 June 2021.

“The European Union proposal, which is backed by other developed country members, calls for limiting export restrictions, supporting the expansion of production, and facilitating the use of current compulsory licensing provisions in the TRIPS Agreement, particularly by clarifying that the requirement to negotiate with the right holder of the vaccine patent does not apply in urgent situations such as a pandemic, among other issues.

“While recognizing that intellectual property rights (IPRs) should not stand in the way of deploying and creating capacity, or of ensuring equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics, several developed and developing members have cautioned that this can be attained while maintaining IP as the basis for incentivizing investment in innovation, and for licensing technology transfer, so that members can effectively fight new strains of COVID-19 and any future diseases and pandemics. Some are particularly concerned that waiving IP rights might undermine the existing efforts and arrangements for large scale production of vaccines that rely, in part, on the IP system.  

“State of play

“Since the General Council held on 7 October 2021,  members have held intense contacts in various configurations. Some members have noted encouraging exchanges at small group discussions and bilateral meetings which have helped to identify points of convergence on how to provide a common IP response to COVID-19. Others have said that further conversations that move the TRIPS Council towards evidence-based and pragmatic solutions should guide their discussions at this critical juncture.

“At a meeting of the TRIPS Council on 18 November, members formally adopted an oral status report for the General Council on 22-23 November indicating that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the revised waiver request. The TRIPS Council will therefore continue its consideration, including through small-group consultations and informal open-ended meetings, and report back to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement. In addition, the TRIPS Council will also continue in the same manner its consideration of the other related proposals by members.

“This means the TRIPS Council remains in session so that it  can continue to provide a forum for delegations to provide transparency on their ongoing talks, and to adopt any elements or solutions they may have found.”

Despite the postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference due to the increase in COVID cases from the omicron variant, WTO Members have indicated a desire to push ahead to resolve some matters, including the multilateral response to the pandemic. Last month, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged WTO Members to push forward and seek a resolution on the WTO’s response to the pandemic by the end of February this year. See WTO press release, Members discuss way forward in dedicated meeting on WTO pandemic response, 27 January 2022,https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_27jan22_e.htm (“WTO members met on 27 January to discuss the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The informal meeting convened by the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, looked at issues related to cross-border trade flows and the proposal to waive certain intellectual property protections related to COVID-19 countermeasures. Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on members to move swiftly to try and reach a comprehensive outcome by the end of February.).

One week later according to press reports, Amb. Castillo called for a “strategic pause” in the formal negotiations on a WTO response to permit WTO Members to discuss their differences with each other outside of the full group format. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, General Council chair: WTO pandemic package talks need ‘strategic pause’, February 4, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/general-council-chair-wto-pandemic-package-talks-need-%E2%80%98strategic-pause%E2%80%99.

Observations

The chances of a final resolution on a pandemic response package by the end of February seem remote if not nonexistent at the present time. The United States is reportedly not actively engaged and has raised some concerns with the export restraint portion of the package. There seems little likelihood that the EU and others supporting an approach other than TRIPS waiver will agree to a waiver, while those supporting a waiver don’t seem inclined to accept an alternative approach.

There are a number of reasons why a waiver is unlikely to be accepted. First, vaccine equity in 2021 had more to do with India’s failure to export the volumes of vaccines contracted with COVAX than any other single cause although slowness in shifting supplies from countries with surplus product was also an issue. In 2022, there will be sufficient supplies of vaccines for the entire world, and there have been major commitments by major countries to supply large volumes of doses to countries in need. UNICEF tracks capacity to produce COVID vaccines and shipments of vaccines. Around 11 billion doses were shipped globally (including in-country) in 2021 and projections for shipments in 2022 range from 16.8-20.9 billion doses. See COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard, 5 February 2022, doses delivered collectively, 11.771 billion, https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard; forecasted COVID-19 vaccine supply availability, 2022 (low estimate 16.8 billion doses; base estimate, 18.7 billion doses; high estimate 20.9 billion doses) (under capacity tab), A waiver of TRIPS obligations would be unlikely to change the quantity of vaccines available for shipment in 2022, so seems unnecessary to address vaccinating the world’s population in 2022.

Second, multilateral efforts and efforts of some pharmaceutical companies has resulted in a rapid expansion of production capacity around the world as the above figures confirm. Even where pharmaceutical companies have not licensed their vaccine technologies, there have been independent breakthroughs including on mRNA vaccines. See, e.g., Reuters, In world first, South Africa’s Afrigen makes mRNA COVID vaccine using Moderna data, February 4, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/world-first-safricas-afrigen-makes-mrna-covid-vaccine-using-moderna-data-2022-02-03/ (“CAPE TOWN, Feb 3 (Reuters) – South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics has used the publicly available sequence of Moderna Inc’s (MRNA.O) mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to make its own version of the shot, which could be tested in humans before the end of this year, Afrigen’s top executive said on Thursday. The vaccine candidate would be the first to be made based on a widely used vaccine without the assistance and approval of the developer. It is also the first mRNA vaccine designed, developed and produced at lab scale on the African continent.”).

Third, recent press articles indicate that some countries with very low vaccination rates have nonetheless developed significant antibodies in their populations due to prior waves of infections of COVID-19. With lower average age of populations, COVID-19 has had less severe consequences on their populations, such that there is a belief they are moving to an endemic situation with COVID-19. See my recent post, January 30, 2022:  Recent National Public Radio story, “Africa may have reached the pandemic’s holy grail,” raises interesting questions on a country’s age distribution and ability to get past the pandemic stage with lower vaccination rates, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/01/30/recent-national-public-radio-story-africa-may-have-reached-the-pandemics-holy-grail-raises-interesting-questions-on-a-countrys-age-distribution-and-ability-to-get-past-the-pandemic-stage-wit/.

All of the above suggests that the case for a waiver, at least at this time, is not strong, which will likely keep opposition of the EU and others strong.

The WTO has served as a depository for information on the types of restrictions and has permitted Members to encourage limiting restrictions on access to critical medicines and inputs. It has also developed reports helpful to Members to understand existing barriers or restrictions as well as to do outreach to the private sector for a better understanding of bottlenecks in production and distribution ramp-ups. The WTO in conjunction with other multilateral organizations has helped generate information to better inform the needs of countries for assistance and develop more coordinated efforts at support.

The WTO Members may yet be able to reach agreement on a response to the pandemic that will not only help with the current pandemic but establish a common frame of reference of dealing with future pandemics in a more effective manner that promotes greater equity. It is just unlikely to happen in the next 23 days.

WTO negotiations on agriculture — slow if any progress to date

When the Uruguay Round was concluded, the Agreement on Agriculture included provision for periodic renewed negotiations to improve market access and address market distortions. See Agreement on Agriculture Art. 20. Negotiations started in 2000 and then were folded into the Doha Development Agenda in 2001. While there have been some important accomplishments — including an agreement for eliminating export subsidies at the Nairobi Ministerial in 2015 (EXPORT COMPETITION, MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 19 DECEMBER 2015, WT/MIN(15)/45, WT/L/980) — the divisions between Members has meant limited progress first during the Doha negotiations and in the years since 2008 in preparation for periodic Ministerial Conferences.

While eight topics are being pursued in ongoing negotiations, the current Chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Gloria ABRAHAM PERALTA (Costa Rica), has put out two texts in 2021, the latest of which from late November essentially calls for most topics to be the subject of ongoing negotiations aiming for resolution by the 13th Ministerial Conference (presumably December 2023 or later). The eight topics are public stockholding for food security purposes, domestic support, cotton, special safeguard mechanism, export prohibitions or restrictions, export competition, cotton and transparency (a cross-cutting issue). See COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION, REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON, H.E. MS GLORIA ABRAHAM PERALTA, TO THE TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE, 19 November 2021, TN/AG/50 (23 November 2021). Only Annex I presents a hoped for agreement on not blocking exports to the World Food Programme as doable by the now postponed 12th Ministerial Conference.

The latest draft, is much more limited than the July 2021 draft (COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION, DRAFT CHAIR TEXT ON AGRICULTURE, 29 July 2021, JOB/AG/215 (29 July 2021) reflecting widely divergent positions by Members on many of the proposed steps put forward by the Chair. The July document is 27 pages in length (20 of proposed text) and compares to a 16 page document in November (7 pages of text). Both pale in comparison to the text being considered during the Doha Development Agenda. See REVISED DRAFT MODALITIES FOR AGRICULTURE, TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, 6 December 2008 (120 page document). On topic after topic, the Chair indicated that her discussions with delegations indicated an inability to come to closure quickly, hence proposals for work programs to go forward. See, e.g., TN/AG/50 at 4 (domestic support), para. 2.6 (“2.6. Taking into account the limited time left until MC12, and the persistent differences over how to discipline TDDS, it is clear that Members will be unable to achieve a substantive outcome at the Conference involving agreement on concrete modalities for the reduction of TDDS entitlements. I continue to believe, however, that MC12 can benefit all Members by delivering a useful step forward in the domestic support reform process that would set the direction for work after the Conference. I also believe that it is our collective duty to make every effort to find a way forward in this important area where an outcome is long overdue. I therefore suggest Members establish modalities by MC13 to substantially reduce trade-distorting domestic support by the date to be agreed upon by Members, coupled with some guiding principles and improved transparency requirements.”); at 5 (market access), para. 3.4 (“3.4. On the issue of applied tariff transparency, some Members remain concerned about logistical constraints or the implications of the proposed decision for possible legislative changes that it might necessitate. I sensed the reluctance of those Members to consider a definitive agreement at MC12, even on a ‘best endeavour’ or voluntary basis. Accordingly, I have proposed that Members’ work in this area continues in the Committee on Market Access, anchored by their sharing of current national practices when changing applied tariffs, and with a view to developing a non-exhaustive list of good practices for national customs authorities.”); at 5 (export competition), para. 4.2 (“4.2. Most of the discussions addressed the question of transparency, including a post-MC12 work programme and the possibility of encouraging Members to provide export data with the support of the Secretariat if deemed necessary.”); at 5-6 (export prohibitions or restrictions), paras. 4.5-5.8 (concerns of some re World Food Programme Annex, proposed work program on transparency); at 7 (cotton), para. 6.6 (“6.6. On the other hand, other Members considered that agreement on modalities for reductions by MC12 was out of reach in light of the short time left, the remaining strong divergence in positions, and the overall level of ambition for an agricultural package at MC12. The draft text therefore aims at finding a possible way forward reflecting Members’ commitment to continue the negotiations with a view to agreeing on modalities for the reduction of trade-distorting domestic support for cotton, in accordance with the mandate to address cotton ambitiously, expeditiously, and specifically, while also taking into account the overall context of the agriculture negotiations.”); at 7 (special safeguard mechanism), para. 7.1 (“7.1. Several developing Members attach importance to an outcome on SSM at MC12, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, given the deep divergence among Members on some fundamental aspects of the SSM negotiations, including on the issue of linkage with market access, it has become apparent that a substantive outcome on SSM at MC12 – even in a limited or temporary setting – is increasingly unlikely. In these circumstances, and taking into consideration the current technical deficit in the SSM negotiations, my revised text proposes that Members engage in targeted thematic discussions post-MC12 to address this aspect – as my July draft text did as well. Technical elements of the SSG may inform these discussions to facilitate timely agreement on the numerous highly technical parameters of an SSM, including on scope, triggers and remedies. My draft revised text also proposes that the General Council makes recommendations on this matter to MC13 for the consideration of Ministers.”); at 8 (public stockholding for food security purposes), para. 8.6 (“8.6. My assessment that it would be extremely difficult to achieve a permanent solution at MC12 was not shared by some developing country Members, who insisted that I forward this issue to Ministers for their consideration and decision.6 Several Members strongly objected to this proposed course of action, notably due to the lack of detailed technical work on elements for a permanent solution and the absence of parallel progress on domestic support. Consequently, given the stalemate, my recommendation to Ministers is for the adoption of a work programme with a view to agreeing on a permanent solution by MC13. I also propose that the General Council regularly reviews progress in these negotiations. Given the importance attached to the PSH issue by several developing country Members, Ministers may, if they so wish, consider revisiting it, bearing in mind the significant divergent positions as outlined above, among the Membership.”).

Given the postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference because of the COVID pandemic, some of the time pressures reflected in the documents from the Chair of the Agriculture Negotiations are reduced. Yesterday, January 24, 2022, there was an informal meeting of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session. While there is no WTO press release on the meeting as of this post, press articles indicate that there was a split between agricultural exporting countries and others who were willing to work with the revised text and those calling for rejecting the revised text (India, the African Group, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group and China). See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO members debate fate of agricultural negotiating text, January 24, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-debate-fate-agricultural-negotiating-text. The United States has viewed agriculture negotiations as having potential to achieve short term agreement on transparency issues. The press reports indicate WTO Members are nowhere near a significant agriculture package for Ministers to consider whenever the 12th Ministerial occurs and obviously won’t achieve an early harvest ahead of the Ministerial.

Observations

Few topics are as important to as many WTO Members as the topic of agriculture. Despite the importance of the issue to populations around the world, governments have starkly different views of where WTO negotiations should go. India, South Africa and others have pushed for reducing obligations assumed during the Uruguay through proposals on public stockholding and special safeguard mechanisms. Major agricultural exporters have focused on market access liberalization and reduction of export and domestic subsidies. The U.S., EU and others have had concerns about the lack of transparency of many Members agricultural systems and the failure of timely and complete notifications. China, India and others have not wanted limits on special and differential treatment to developing countries and have not supported the level of differentiation between developing and least developed countries that is being proposed by the Chair.

The inability to move broad-based agricultural reform and liberalization forward at the WTO despite ongoing negotiations since 2000 is a good example of the breakdown of the WTO system to achieve results through negotiations. The 2008-2009 financial crisis and the ongoing COVID pandemic with resulting significant export prohibitions or restrictions of some agricultural products have not resulted in long term solutions or rules even on this limited issue. It is hard to see multilateral progress in the coming months or even years in the agriculture space on many of the present issues. This will place ongoing pressure on countries with agriculture export or import interests to explore regional or bilateral arrangements. It also undermines the ability of the world to meet UN sustainability goals.

Without a common vision of the goals for the WTO, WTO Members are likely to continue talk past each other rather than move forward together. These challenges are complicated by the different economic systems of major players, some of which are incompatible with the WTO system.

The concept that negotiations can go on for decades is plainly unacceptable if the WTO is to maintain relevance. Unfortunately, the path forward to relevance is unclear at best.

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.

WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest

As the world enters the third full year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO continues to seek both a response to the current challenges and a path forward for future pandemics. India, which along with South Africa (and later support from other countries), has sought since October 2020 a waiver from certain intellectual property protections provided under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in late December 2021 sent a letter to the General Council Chair of the WTO seeking a virtual ministerial meeting to address the WTO response to the pandemic. This followed the postponement of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel flowing from the increase in COVID cases from the omicron variant.

The WTO press release on the General Council informal meeting held on January 10, 2022 to explore India’s request put a largely positive spin on the meeting, although press accounts suggest that there was push back from many other WTO Members to holding such a virtual Ministerial for various reasons, including lack of progress in developing an agreed text on any TRIPS waiver, need to address other pressing issues and the challenges of doing a Ministerial meeting virtually based on last year’s experience. See WTO news release, General Council discusses India’s call for virtual ministerial meeting on pandemic response, 10 January 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_10jan22_e.htm (” General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) convened the 10 January meeting in response to India’s recent proposal to hold a virtual Ministerial Conference on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a proposed waiver of relevant intellectual property protections. At the meeting, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged WTO members to urgently step up their efforts, suggesting that with the requisite political will, members can in the space of the coming weeks reach multilateral compromises on intellectual property and other issues so that the WTO fully contributes to the global response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.”); Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO members reluctant to hold virtual ministerial on TRIPS waiver, January 10, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-reluctant-hold-virtual-ministerial-trips-waiver (“India’s bid to schedule a virtual ministerial meeting focused on the proposed waiver of some intellectual property obligations to fight the pandemic did not win the support of other World Trade Organization members on Monday, as they raised concerns about the virtual format as well as with a lack of progress in the negotiations.”). While the U.S. was reportedly favorably disposed to such a meeting with greater clarifications, the European Union statement noted all of the issues raised in the Inside U.S. Trade article. See also The Hindu, WTO General Council discusses India’s call for holding virtual Ministerial meet on COVID-19 pandemic response, 11 January 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/business/wto-general-council-discusses-indias-call-for-holding-virtual-ministerial-meet-on-covid-19-pandemic-response/article38231454.ece.

While the U.S., under the Biden Administration, has stopped posting on the U.S. Mission website their statements at meetings other than the Dispute Settlement Body (unclear if this is due to a policy change or simply the lack of a Deputy USTR confirmed by the Senate), the EU is posting their statements on their Geneva website. See EU Statement at the General Council Informal Meeting, 10 January 2022, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/109489/eu-statement-general-council-informal-meeting-10-january-2022_en. The entirety of the EU statement is copied below.

“Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

“For the European Union, the WTO needs to put in place a process that is conducive to progress on all topics of the MC12 agenda.

“Of course, the European Union shares the view that the response to the pandemic is important. However, we need to be careful that a focus on this part of the MC12 agenda must not lead to a loss of momentum on the other key components, which are equally essential to the revitalisation of the organisation – such as the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, agreeing on a way forward on agriculture, and finalising the Ministerial Declaration with a strong commitment on WTO reform – and this, building upon the work done by you, Chairman [Chairman of the General Council], in the run-up to the Ministerial meeting in November. These elements are all essential for the credibility and viability of this organisation. WTO reform is also essential from a health perspective. We need an efficient and effective organisation if we are going to be in a position to act decisively in the case of future pandemics.

“Before any decision to call a virtual Ministerial meeting and topics to be decided, we believe the WTO Director General and the Chair of the General Council should hold consultations with Members, to assess the way forward on all four issues that I referred to.

“As regards trade and health, the aim should be to seek consensus on the way forward both on intellectual property and on the Declaration and Action Plan. As regards the latter, Ambassador Walker’s draft text should be the basis for such consultations. And as regards intellectual property rights, consultations should continue with a view to identifying a text on which the WTO Membership can agree.

“Any virtual Ministerial should take place only once there is a consensus both on intellectual property rights and on the Declaration and Action Plan on the wider pandemic response. Only a comprehensive trade response to the pandemic can make a difference and address the identified bottlenecks as regards the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines such as restricted access to raw materials and other inputs as well as complex supply chains. Agreeing on the comprehensive elements contained in the Walker text will be important not only to tackle Covid-19, but also to address future pandemics.

“If we want to take forward work on all elements of the MC12 agenda, we must have a credible process in place.

“In summary, the European Union is open to consider the proposal by India and to reach an agreement on all aspects of the response to Covid-19 as quickly as possible. However, in the European Union’s view, it is premature to decide at this point in time on either the principle or on the date for such a virtual meeting.”

Thus, while the Director-General is pushing Members for an early resolution of the pandemic response (including any TRIPS waiver), the path forward looks certain to take significantly more time than a few weeks to reach agreement.

The WTO has added a page to its website entitled “Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. The page accessed today states “State of Play – 6 January 2022” — i.e., before the informal General Council meeting on January 10th. However, it provides a good overview of what has been proposed and differences that exist on the waiver issue. See Briefing Note, State of Play 6 January 2022, Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bftrade_and_health_e.htm. The briefing note is embedded below.

WTO-_-Ministerial-conferences-MC12-briefing-note

Some current developments of interest

By the end of 2021, COVID vaccines were being produced at a rate of about 1.5 billion doses per month. Additional vaccines are being added which will drive production up even higher during the early months of 2022. See, e.g., BBC, Covovax and Corbevax: What we know about India’s new Covid vaccines, 28 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55748124.

Corbevax has received a lot of attention in the media in the last few weeks. The Indian producer has 150 million doses ready for distribution, will be producing 100 million doses per month and plans to export one billion doses to other countries. The developers and the Indian producer are working with the WHO to pursue emergency use authorization through the WHO as well. See, e.g., NPR, A Texas team comes up with a COVID vaccine that could be a global game changer, January 5, 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/01/05/1070046189/a-texas-team-comes-up-with-a-covid-vaccine-that-could-be-a-global-game-changer (“A vaccine authorized in December for use in India may help solve one of the most vexing problems in global public health: How to supply lower-income countries with a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective and affordable. The vaccine is called CORBEVAX. It uses old but proven vaccine technology and can be manufactured far more easily than most, if not all, of the COVID-19 vaccines in use today. ‘CORBEVAX is a game changer,’ says Dr. Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s going to enable countries around the world, particularly low-income countries, to be able to produce these vaccines and distribute them in a way that’s going to be affordable, effective and safe.'” “Hotez says that unlike the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and the viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, protein subunit vaccines like CORBEVAX have a track record. So he and Bottazzi were relatively certain CORBEVAX would be safe and effective. ‘And it’s cheap, a dollar, dollar fifty a dose,’ Hotez says. ‘You’re not going to get less expensive than that.'”); The Times of India, Discussions underway for WHO approval for
Corbevax Covid-19 vaccine, says developer, 31 December 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/discussions-underway-for-who-approval-for-corbevax-covid-19-vaccine-says-developer/articleshow/88604880.cms.

These developments are occurring at a time of record breaking numbers of new infections due to the more highly contagious omicron variant. While many parts of the world are seeing huge surges, Europe and the United States are seeing particularly huge increases. See, e.g., Reuters, U.S. reports 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a day, shattering global record, January 11, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/us-reports-least-11-mln-covid-cases-day-shattering-global-record-2022-01-11/; WHO, WHO: 7 million new omicron COVID cases in Europe last week, January 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/who-7-million-new-omicron-covid-cases-in-europe-last-week/2022/01/11/7e901e28-72cc-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html.

A few thoughts

When one looks at vaccination distribution in 2021, the concerns about inequity center largely on the vary small volume of vaccines that have gone to low income countries (as classified by the World Bank) and to some lower middle-income countries. See, e.g., December 30, 2021:  COVID-19 and vaccine equity — outlook for 2022, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/30/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-outlook-for-2022/.

The largest volume of vaccines that COVAX had envisioned going to these countries were lower cost ones that would be easier to store, handle and administer than some of the high cost new technology vaccines. Production problems and export bans of the more cost effective and easier to store vaccines in 2021 were the largest reasons of poor distribution of vaccines to lower income countries.

With large volumes of donations committed for 2022 from countries like the U.S. and EU and others and with Indian production both ramping up significantly and exports having resumed and with the availability of low cost options, including new vaccines like Corbevax already approved in India and likely to be produced in various countries around the world at very low costs, and with the overall very high levels of global vaccine production by the end of 2021 continuing to expand, the question of getting the world vaccinated in 2022 against COVID will almost certainly be more about issues other than availability of vaccines.

So the WTO’s most important role in the coming weeks and months is to focus on reducing barriers to trade such as those covered by the Walker draft text (discussed in the briefing paper). The TRIPS waiver issue is one that has attracted a lot of attention because of the perception of global needs and whether intellectual property rights were restricting access. In my view, while the proposal was popular with many groups, the evidence of production during 2021 did not support the concern that the TRIPS agreement was restricting production. More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines were produced and shipped in 2021 — twice as many doses as all vaccines produced and shipped in 2020 for all other needs. Many licenses were granted for production in other countries. A waiver would not have resulted in significantly more production in 2021.

Production in 2022 and the arrival of new low cost vaccines should mean there is adequate volumes for the world to achieve 70% vaccination rates this year. The issue of equity in 2021 had to do with distribution of the production, infrastructure in many countries, trade restrictions on vaccines and inputs. These do not require a TRIPS waiver to address in 2022.

Looking forward to the next pandemic, there is much that the WTO Members could agree to that would reduce many of the challenges COVID-19 has posed. It is not clear that actions on intellectual property beyond what is being proposed by the EU are needed or justified by the experience gained these last several years.