India

Export restraints vs. trade liberalization during a global pandemic — the reality so far with COVID-19

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases (COVID-19) as of March 26, 2020 was approaching 500,000 globally, with the rate of increase in cases continuing to surge in a number of important countries or regions (e.g., Europe and the United States) with the locations facing the greatest strains shifting over time.

In an era of global supply chains, few countries are self-sufficient in all medical supplies and equipment needed to address a pandemic. Capacity constraints can occur in a variety of ways, including from overall demand exceeding the supply (production and inventories), from an inability or unwillingness to manage supplies on a national or global basis in an efficient and time responsive manner, by the reduction of production of components in one or more countries reducing the ability of downstream producers to complete products, by restrictions on modes of transport to move goods internationally or nationally, from the lack of availability of sufficient medical personnel or physical facilities to handle the increased work load and lack of facilities.

The reality of exponential growth of COVID-19 cases over weeks within a given country or region can overwhelm the ability of the local health care system to handle the skyrocketing demand. When that happens, it is a nightmare for all involved as patients can’t be handled properly or at all in some instances, death rates will increase, and health care providers and others are put at risk from a lack of adequate supplies and protective gear. Not surprisingly, shortages of supplies and equipment have been identified in a number of countries over the last three months where the growth in cases has been large. While it is understandable for national governments to seek to safeguard supplies of medical goods and equipment to care for their citizens, studies over time have shown that such inward looking actions can be short sighted, reduce the global ability to handle the crisis, increase the number of deaths and prevent the level of private sector response that open markets would support.

As we approach the end of March, the global community receives mixed grades on their efforts to work jointly and to avoid beggar-thy-neighbor policies. Many countries have imposed one or more restraints on exports of medical supplies and equipment with the number growing rapidly as the spread of COVID-19 outside of China has escalated particularly in March. Indeed, when one or more countries impose export restraints, it often creates a domino effect as countries who may depend in part on supplies from one or more of those countries, decides to impose restraints as well to limit shortages in country.

At the same time, the G-7, G-20 and others have issued statements or other documents indicating their political desire to minimize export restraints and keep trade moving. The WTO is collecting information from Members on actions that have been taken in response to COVID-19 to improve transparency and to enable WTO Members to identify actions where self-restraint or roll back would be useful. And some countries have engaged in unilateral tariff reductions on critical medical supplies and equipment.

Imposition of Export Restraints

The World Customs Organization has developed a list of countries that have imposed some form of export restraint in 2020 on critical medical supplies. In reviewing the WCO website today, the following countries were listed: Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, European Union, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam. Today’s listing is copied below.

List-of-Countries-having-adopted-temporary-export-control-measures-Worl.._

While China is not listed on the WCO webpage, it is understood that they have had some restrictions in fact at least during the January-February period of rapid spread of COVID-19 in China.

While it is surprising to see the European Union on the list, the Official Journal notice of the action indicates that the action is both temprary (six weeks – will end around the end of April) and flows in part from the fact that sources of product used by the EU had been restricting exports. The March 15, 2020 Official Journal notice is attached below.

EC-Implementing-Regulation-EU-2020-402-of-14-March-2020-making-the-exportation-of-certain-products-subject-to-the-production-of-an-export-authorisation

Professor Simon Evenett, in a March 19, 2020 posting on VOX, “Sickening thy neighbor: Export restraints on medical supplies during a pandemic,” https://voxeu.org/article/export-restraints-medical-supplies-during-pandemic, reviews the challenges posed and provides examples of European countries preventing exports to neighbors — Germany preventing a shipment of masks to Switzerland and France preventing a shipment to the U.K.

In a webinar today hosted by the Washington International Trade Association and the Asia Society Policy Institute entitled “COVID-19 and Trade – A WTO Agenda,” Prof. Evenett reviewed his analysis and noted that the rate of increase for export restraints was growing with 48 of 63 actions occurring in March and 8 of those occurring in the last forty-eight hours. A total of 57 countries are apparently involved in one or more restraints. And restraints have started to expand from medical supplies and equipment to food with four countries mentioned by Prof. Evenett – Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia and Vietnam.

Efforts to keep markets open and liberalize critical medical supplies

Some countries have reduced tariffs on critical medical goods during the pandemic and some countries have also implemented green lane approaches for customs clearance on medical supplies and goods. Such actions are clearly permissible under the WTO, can be undertaken unilaterally and obviously reduce the cost of medical supplies and speed up the delivery of goods that enter from offshore. So it is surprising that more countries don’t help themselves by reducing tariffs temporarily (or permanently) on critical medical supplies and equipment during a pandemic.

Papers generated by others show that there are a large number of countries that apply customs duties on medical supplies, equipment and soaps and disinfectants. See, e.g., Jennifer Hillman, Six Proactive Steps in a Smart Trade Approach to Fighting COVID-19 (graphic from paper reproduced below), https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/six-proactive-steps-smart-trade-approach-fighting-covid-19

Groups of countries have staked out positions of agreeing to work together to handle the pandemic and to keep trade open. For example, the G20 countries had a virtual emergency meeting today to explore the growing pandemic. Their joint statement can be found here and is embedded below, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgra_26mar20_e.pdf.

dgra_26mar20_e

There is one section of the joint statement that specifically addresses international trade disruptions during the pandemic. That language is repeated below:

“Addressing International Trade Disruptions

“Consistent with the needs of our citizens, we will work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people.

“We commit to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. Emergency measures aimed at protecting health will be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary. We task our Trade Ministers to assess the impact of the pandemic on trade.

“We reiterate our goal to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.”

The WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo participated in the virtual meeting with the G20 leaders and expressed strong support for the commitment of the G20 to working on the trade related aspects of the pandemic. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgra_26mar20_e.htm.

Separately, New Zealand and Singapore on March 21st issued a Joint Ministerial Statement which stated in part,

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious global crisis.

“As part of our collective response to combat the virus, Singapore and New Zealand are committed to maintaining open and connected supply chains. We will also work closely to identify and address trade disruptions with ramifications on the flow of necessities,”

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2020/03/21/new-zealand-works-closely-with-singapore-to-maintain-key-supply.

The Joint Ministerial Statement was expanded to seven countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand and Singapore), on March 25th and is reportedly open to additional countries joining. See https://www.mti.gov.sg/-/media/MTI/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2020/03/updated-joint-ministerial-statement-25-mar.pdf

Conclusion

When a pandemic strikes, many countries have trouble maintaining open trade policies on critical materials in short supply and/or in working collaboratively to address important supply chain challenges or in taking unilateral actions to make critical supplies available more efficiently and at lower costs.

The current global response to COVID-19 presents the challenges one would expect to see – many countries imposing temporary restrictions on exports — while positive actions in the trade arena are more limited to date with some hopeful signs of a potential effort to act collectively going forward.

Time will tell whether governments handling of the trade dimension of the pandemic contributes to the equitable solution of the pandemic or exacerbates the challenges and harm happening to countries around the world.

WTO Reform – U.S. Objectives from 2020 Trade Policy Agenda

The United States Trade Representative annually releases the Administration’s Trade Policy Agenda and prior year’s Annual Report. The report is released during February each year. On February 28, 2020, USTR released the 2020 Trade Policy Agenda and 2019 Annual Report of the President of the Untied States on the Trade Agreements Program. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2020_Trade_Policy_Agenda_and_2019_Annual_Report.pdf.

This year’s trade policy agenda reviews activities at the WTO, including certain important disputes (pages 9-11), a review of where the U.S. perceives it led efforts to change the World Trade Organization (pages 13-15), and identifies priorities for 2020 at the WTO. Such priorities include pursuing disputes through the WTO where appropriate and pushing “for a WTO that reflects current economic realities and strengthens free-market economies”. Pages 18-19. As stated in the report,

“The United States will continue to lead the effort on WTO reform. In addition to addressing the Appellate Body, seeking a new fisheries agreement, pursuing a digital commerce agreement, enforcing notifications
obligations, and seeking reform of ‘special and differential treatment’ for “developing” countries, the United States will advocate for other changes at the WTO that will have the WTO working for its Members. A number of features at the WTO reflect out-of-date assumptions and do not reflect current realities. The United States has already submitted papers focused on market access and tariff issues with the intent of updating our understanding of the current state of agriculture trade and the challenges farmers are facing today. Through our agriculture ‘reset’ efforts, the United States is trying to break the bad habit of taking the same entrenched positions and expecting a different outcome.

“The United States will also explore a broader reset at the WTO. The WTO currently locks-in outdated tariff determinations that no longer reflect deliberate policy choices and economic realities. As a result, many countries that have large economies that have developed significantly over the past two decades continue to maintain very high bound tariff rates, far in excess of the rates applied by the United States or to which the United States is bound. For example, the U.S. average bound tariff rate and applied Most Favored Nation rate are both 3.4 percent. In comparison, Brazil’s bound tariff rate is 31.4 percent, and its applied rate is 13 percent. India’s bound and applied tariff rates are 48.5 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Members need to fundamentally rethink tariffs and their role, recognizing that commitments on tariffs should reflect current economic conditions.

“In addition, the United States will continue to push for a close review of the WTO’s budget, which, as demonstrated by egregious Appellate Body member salaries, requires greater scrutiny. The WTO must ensure that there is accountability and that expenditures reflect the priorities of its Members.

“Finally, the United States will advocate for changes that allow for additional and more effective plurilateral agreements. There is an urgent need for a new political and legal understanding at the WTO that enables
the pursuit of less-than-fully multilateral outcomes while preserving the characteristics of the WTO.”

The importance of the U.S. focus on a “broader reset” to the functioning of the WTO should be obvious. The GATT and WTO have worked on a system of periodic enlargement of liberalization with members undertaking specific additional obligations through tariff bindings or service sector commitments or through changes to agreements. The U.S. is seeking a fundamental modification in the approach to obligations, one which reflects changing capacities of the members and one which reflects the organizing principle of agreements among market economies. In a consensus-based system, any of the fundamental reforms that the U.S. has been seeking are not achievable without a major crisis and most likely not even then.

The WTO dispute settlement system is in the throes of a crisis over the proper functioning of the Appellate Body. The United States has provided a detailed review of the problems over the last two years, the history of when problems developed and how the problems identified constitute deviations from the purpose and structure of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. Despite some efforts by other WTO Members, resolution of the impasse seems a long way off based on the different positions of major players.

Similarly, that the GATT and WTO are premised on market-based economies is hardly controversial. Yet, the rise in importance of nonmarket or state-directed economies as Members has created distortions in the functioning of markets and challenges the viability of the WTO and certainly the adequacy of current WTO rules. The issue of different economic systems within the WTO has created a second crisis in fact.

While the United States, the European Union and Japan have been working on proposals to address certain drivers of the distortions created by nonmarket economies, the recent General Council meeting shows the challenge to having movement even on the rules needed to address such distortions. Compare statements of the United States and China from the General Council meeting of March 3, 2020. https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/03/03/statements-by-ambassador-dennis-shea-at-the-march-3-2020-general-council-meeting/ (agenda item 9); http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202003/20200302941477.shtml.

U.S. Views on the WTO at 25 and What are the U.S. Interests

The 2020 Trade Policy Agenda and 2019 Annual Report from USTR contains an important chapter, “The World Trade Organization at Twenty-Five and U.S. Interests”, which reviews the Trump Administration’s views of whether U.S. interests have been served by the WTO as it has functioned and what is needed to make the WTO function as intended. The sixteen page section of the report provides a concise review of U.S. concerns with the WTO and the Administration’s objectives for WTO reform. A lengthy excerpt (pages 4-8) follows:

2. Straying from the Original Mandate

“The past quarter century has demonstrated that the WTO fails to act in accordance with its aspirational goals and is incapable of dealing with many of the major challenges facing the modern international trading
system. This is due in large part to the difficulty the organization has faced when it has attempted to negotiate improvements to the system since the Uruguay Round in 1994.

“Under the GATT system, between 1947 and 1994, there were eight negotiating rounds – each of which led to lower tariffs and fewer trade barriers among all GATT Members. But in the twenty-five years since the
WTO began operation—though there have been some positive agreements that address discrete aspects of trade—Members have not reached a significant new multilateral market access agreement. As a result, most of the fundamental rules that govern global trade were negotiated before the WTO even came into existence.

“The last major effort to modernize these rules under the WTO – the Doha Round – started to collapse in 2008, and has now been dead for more than a decade. Despite all of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the last quarter century – the rise of China, the evolution of the Internet, and the emergence of new, potentially disruptive technologies – the WTO is still largely operating under the same framework from the early 1990s. This has resulted in several major failures of the WTO to live up to its mandate.

“a. Failure to Converge: The Challenge of Non-Market Economies

“The political, economic, and trade landscape in 2020 differs greatly from those that existed in 1994. At the time the WTO came into existence, many in the West hoped that most nations of the world would coalesce around a model of open societies, free markets, and democratic values. It was hoped that such a movement would usher in an era of relative peace in which geopolitical considerations would become less of a factor, and competition would exist primarily at the commercial rather than the political level. This optimism prevailed in Washington and other Western capitals despite warning signs that some nations were not committed to openness.

“Twenty-five years later, a starker reality has come into view as non-market economies like China continue to perceive advantages in maintaining state-directed economic policies. The growing influence of these non-market economies in world trade amplifies the need for the WTO to update its rulebook with new disciplines on industrial subsidies, state-owned and state-influenced enterprises, forced technology transfer, and intellectual property theft. The WTO must also meaningfully address issues like digital trade and labor and environmental standards.

“The WTO’s failure to keep pace with new developments in the global economy has resulted in significant advantages for non-market economies to the detriment of market economies like the United States. As just one example, scholars estimate that China’s accession to the WTO has contributed to the loss of millions of jobs in the United States, primarily in the manufacturing sector.

“Moreover, the establishment of the WTO has ushered in an era of massive global trade imbalances. While neutral market factors contribute to these long-running imbalances, that the imbalances remain unchanged for decades, despite varying periods of growth and recession, indicates there are other, non-market factors at play. Unfortunately, the global trade system under the WTO currently enables these distortions and imbalances, and the benefits enjoyed by some countries at the expense of others under the current system create serious barriers to reform.

“While China is not the only country that has benefitted from the WTO’s deficiencies, it remains the primary example of the non-market economies thriving under the current system. China’s economic practices are incompatible with the norms the WTO sought to establish at its founding,
and the organization has demonstrated an inability to respond effectively to the challenges it poses.

“b. Failure to Develop: Outdated Standards and Rules for Developing Countries

“No one expected in 1994 that the Uruguay Round and Marrakesh Agreement would be the final word on world trade policy. As with the previous era of world trade under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1947, parties assumed there would be additional rounds of agreements to update rules and address new challenges in world trade over time. This process has not occurred, leaving in place outdated rules that have failed to keep pace with the changing world.

“The significant advantages some countries enjoy over others under the current system have completely undermined incentives for Members to agree to meaningful changes and reforms. While there are several examples of these unfair advantages, many stem from two structural issues.
First, current WTO rules allow large and advanced economies to claim special and differential treatment as “Developing Countries” during negotiations. Second, the bound tariff rates established at the time Members entered the agreement are essentially permanent under current rules.

“i. Treatment of Advanced Economies as “Developing Countries”

“Despite the substantial growth of the global economy since 1994, the WTO continues to rest on an outdated and oversimplified dichotomy between developed and developing countries. This framework has allowed some WTO Members to maintain unfair advantages in the international trade arena.

“Under the current system, countries merely need to self-declare as “developing” – regardless of their GDP or role in global trade – to seek flexibilities under WTO rules. This special and differential treatment can take the form of generous transition periods, higher tariff bindings, and the ability to use prohibited subsidies, among others.

“Today, nearly two-thirds of WTO Members claim developing-country status, arguing they are entitled to blanket special and differential treatment as a matter of right. While some developing-country designations are certainly legitimate, many are entirely unreasonable in light of current economic circumstances. For example, advanced economies like China,
India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey continue to insist they are automatically entitled to special and differential treatment. A similar claim is made by some of the richest nations in the world, including Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

“The clear purpose of special and differential treatment is to help truly disadvantaged countries ease their economies into the global trade system. This does not work if large or wealthy countries abuse this framework and seek to take advantage of benefits meant for countries whose economies are truly just getting off the ground.

“The lack of differentiation among self-declared developing countries has also severely hampered the WTO’s ability to achieve meaningful negotiated outcomes that expand market access, as certain large and advanced economies feel entitled to claim exemption from new rules, avoid engagement on substantive issues, and maintain outdated asymmetries that work to their advantage.

“ii. Permanent Disparate Tariff Rates

“The WTO has failed to harmonize tariffs over time. As a result, many significant global traders continue to have very high bound tariff rates, far in excess of U.S. bound or applied tariff rates.

“The U.S. average bound tariff rate and applied most-favored-nation (MFN) rate are both 3.4 percent. In comparison, Brazil’s bound tariff rate is 31.4 percent, and its applied rate is 13 percent. India’s bound and applied tariff rates are 48.5 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

“Under current WTO rules, these rates are locked in place with no sunset clause or meaningful mechanism to allow the United States and other Members to address enormous differences. It is not reasonable to accept that because the United States agreed to such disparities many years ago, when economic and geopolitical conditions were very different, that the United States should tolerate them in perpetuity. Commitments on tariffs should keep pace with the realities of the global economy rather than locking certain countries into nonreciprocal rates.

“c. Failure to Enforce: A Breakdown in the Rules as Originally Agreed

“The WTO has strayed from the system agreed to by WTO members and has appropriated to itself powers that WTO Members never intended to give it. This drift has primarily taken place in relation to transparency require- ments and the dispute settlement system.

“i. Transparency

“All WTO Members undertake significant commitments to provide regular notifications of subsidy programs and other information critical to assessing trade conditions around the world. Despite these clear obligations, many U.S. trading partners – including significant economies like China and India – choose to ignore them. As of December 2019, more than 70 percent of Members had not submitted their most recent questionnaire on their import licensing procedures, and over a quarter of agriculture notifications from 1995-2016 were outstanding. This poor adherence to notification obligations has created a lack of transparency at the WTO, which has led to the failure of many Members to implement
existing commitments and the breakdown of negotiations. When countries cannot adhere to these most basic of existing obligations, it is unsurprising that they cannot achieve consensus on new, more ambitious commitments.

“ii. The Dispute Settlement Process

“The United States signed on to the Uruguay Round Agreements with the understanding that its sovereignty would be respected and its existing domestic laws dealing with unfair foreign trade practices would remain fully effective. Instead, the WTO’s Appellate Body has imposed new rules never agreed by the United States or approved by the Congress, dramatically undermining this understanding.

“Article 3.2 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding plainly states, ‘Recommendations and rulings of the Dispute Settlement Body cannot add to or diminish the rights and obligations provided in the [WTO] covered agreements.’ In other words, the dispute settlement process was never intended to make new rules that would become binding on Members. It
was instead designed to help Members resolve specific disputes among themselves about the application of existing rules, as set out in the text of the agreements. These limitations remain vital to U.S. sovereignty because they ensure the United States does not become bound by obligations that Congress has not approved.

“Over the last quarter century, the United States has become the chief target of litigation at the WTO, and has at least partially lost the overwhelming majority of cases brought against it. 155 disputes have been filed against the United States, while no other Member has faced even a hundred disputes. According to some analyses, up to 90 percent of the disputes pursued against the U.S. have resulted in a report finding that a U.S. law or other measure in question was inconsistent with WTO agreements. This averages out to five or six successful WTO disputes against the United States every year.

“In other words, the WTO has effectively treated one of the world’s freest and most open economies – with an enormous and growing trade deficit – as the world’s greatest trade outlaw. In so doing, the WTO’s Appellate Body has repeatedly created new obligations from whole cloth. For example:

“ The Appellate Body has attacked U.S. countervailing duty laws, making it easier for other countries to provide market distorting subsidies through non-market policies and practices.

“ The Appellate Body has interpreted WTO rules in a manner that puts the U.S. tax system at an unfair and illogical disadvantage compared to that of many trading partners.

“ The Appellate Body has interpreted the Agreement on Safeguards – an agreement critical to addressing global import surges that can overwhelm a particular industry – in a manner that significantly limits the ability of Members to use that vital provision.

“ The Appellate Body has interfered with the appropriations process by limiting Congress’s ability to spend money collected through antidumping and countervailing duties.

“In many cases, the Appellate Body’s interpretations of WTO rules would prevent the United States from taking action to address unfair trade practices that hurt U.S. workers In this sense, it has also usurped the U.S. government’s accountability to those who are truly sovereign – the American people.

“For many years, U.S. Administrations under both parties have warned trading partners of the harm resulting from Appellate Body activism. The Appellate Body simply cannot be allowed to flaunt basic rules of operation to which all Members have agreed. Thus far, U.S. concerns have largely been ignored.

“These lapses have incentivized WTO Members to rely on litigation through the Appellate Body to get results rather than negotiation. This, in turn, has greatly undermined the negotiating process at the WTO because countries now believe they can obtain better outcomes through litigation than through negotiation, especially with the United States. Such countries have no incentive to negotiate in good faith if they believe there are easier
avenues to pursue their interests.

“Furthermore, in its day-to-day operations, the Appellate Body has developed a troubling pattern of ignoring mandatory deadlines for deciding appeals, dragging some – such as those in the U.S.-EU Large Civil Aircraft disputes – out for over a year each; making impermissible findings on issues of fact, including fact-finding related to Member’s domestic laws; issuing unnecessary advisory opinions rather than facilitating negotiations
between parties; treating prior Appellate Body interpretations as binding precedent for dispute settlement panels; extending Appellate Body members’ terms without authority; and compensating Appellate Body members excessively and opaquely.

“These actions represent a tendency by the Appellate Body to both institute rules to which WTO Members have not agreed and ignore or evade existing rules written in plain language. This has led to a significant decline in trust in the Appellate Body, which has opened the entire dispute settlement system to serious vulnerabilities. The WTO simply cannot claim to stand for a rules-based trading system if its own institutions fail to follow clear and explicit rules. Any action beyond these rules undermines the WTO’s role as a negotiation forum, lacks legitimacy, and usurps Members’ sovereignty.

3. Summary

“Despite the serious challenges facing the World Trade Organization, the United States values the WTO and is working diligently within the organization to find solutions. For example, the United States is actively engaged in negotiations to discipline harmful fishing subsidies and to develop new rules to govern digital trade. The United States has called attention to unequal bound and applied tariff rates, and continues to press other Members for additional market access. The United States has also offered specific proposals to improve transparency, address the lack of compliance with existing notification obligations, and promote greater differentiation among self-declared developing countries. The United
States continues to press longstanding concerns with the Appellate Body and the dispute settlement system, including its lack of transparency. The United States has taken each of these steps in an attempt to ensure that the WTO retains its relevance to trading nations.”

Chances for Meaningful Reform are Slim at Best

Many WTO Members recognize that WTO reform is important. The WTO Director-General and his team have noted the need for reform and the fact that reform has become an important topic in the last year or so. See, e.g., DDG Wolff: An update of multilateral trade rules is needed to increase their relevance, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_03mar20_e.htm;

However, few, if any, Members other than the United States, have expressed the view that fundamental reform is needed to ensure the relevance of the WTO going forward. The U.S. objectives for reform are sweeping and would require many Members to accept broader liberalization, rules on nonmarket economy distortions, loss of historic privileges based on changed economic situations and a return to a system largely focused on negotiations to achieve changes in the status quo. Under rules of consensus and the views expressed by many Members, it is unlikely that the collective will for fundamental reform exists even if there is agreement that some reform is desirable.

For the Trump Administration fundamental reform is critical to making the WTO a viable organization and ensuring that trade relationships under multilateral rules are fair in an ongoing sense. What the U.S. seeks is an ambitious reform outcome. The USTR conclusion to its review of the WTO’s first 25 years (page 16, provided below) summarizes the concerns and indicates a continued U.S. commitment to the WTO. The U.S. is certain to continue to use all tools at its disposal to pursue meaningful reform or obtain reciprocity bilaterally. The message from the U.S. is clear. Let’s hope that meaningful reform will occur even if the likelihood of such reform seems remote.

CONCLUSION

“It is difficult now, twenty-five years after its inception, to declare the WTO a success for American interests. Indeed, the organization in many ways ignores and enables unbalanced trade and unfair trade practices. If the WTO is to be credible as a vibrant negotiating, implementation, and dispute settlement forum, it must be limited to its original mandate and address areas in need of structural reform. This means Members must recognize and reaffirm that the WTO is an organization committed to promoting the adoption of market-based policies by its Members. The goal of the organization must continue to be a greater convergence around market-based principles, not the co-existence of radically different economic systems. The WTO – and its dispute settlement system – must also respect the rules as agreed to by Members, embrace its role as a negotiating forum rather than a litigating entity, and stop its infringement on the sovereignty of the United States and other Members.

“Looking ahead to the Twelfth Ministerial Conference this year, the United States believes that Members must identify opportunities to make meaningful progress on these objectives. To remain a viable institution
that can fulfill all facets of its work, the WTO must also find a means of effectively pursuing negotiations between Ministerial Conferences, focus its work on structural reform, and adapt to address new challenges to the 21st Century world trade system. The United States looks forward to continuing its leadership role in advancing these changes and the broader mission of the World Trade Organization.”

The U.S. Modifies the List of Developing and Least Developed Countries Under U.S. Countervailing Duty Law

During the Uruguay Round, various special and differential treatment provisions were included in the agreements being negotiated. The Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“ASCM”) included provisions that would give developing countries and least developed countries higher subsidy de minimis levels and higher negligibility levels. See ASCM Art. 11.9 (de minimis level of subsidies is 1%; negligible imports not subject to orders), Art. 27.10 (de minimis level of subsidies is 2% for developing countries; negligibility is 4% of total imports for developing countries or 9% for multiple developing countries).

The Uruguay Round Agreements Act implemented these requirements within U.S. law. Negligible imports from any country are 3% of total imports (7% for multiple countries each less than 3%) and 4% and 9% for developing/least developed countries. De minimis subsidy levels are 1% generally but 2% for developing and least developed countries. See 19 U.S.C. 1671b(b)(4) and 19 U.S.C. 1677(24)(A) and (B).

Under U.S. law, the U.S. Trade Representative is charged with developing a list of developing and least developed countries for purposes of U.S. countervailing duty law. Such a list should be published and should be updated as necessary. 19 U.S.C. 1677(36). While some criteria are listed in the statute, USTR is given discretion on what other criteria to consider.

The first list was published in 1998 on June 2, 63 FR 29945-29948. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1998-06-02/pdf/98-14737.pdf. A revised list was published on February 10, 2020, 85 FR 7613-7616. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-02-10/pdf/2020-02524.pdf.

The New List Brings Forward the U.S. Position at the WTO on Need for Differentiation Among Countries

The Federal Register notice of February 10, while not referencing the U.S. position at the WTO on the need for differentiation for purposes of which WTO Members take advantage of special and differential treatment, largely uses the same factors proposed at the WTO for determining which countries should not be afforded developing country/least developed country status for purposes of U.S. countervailing duty law.

Specifically, USTR for its new list looked to (1) per capita GNI excluding any country listed as a high income country by the World Bank, (2) share of world trade (reduced from 2% in 1998 to 0.5% in 2020), (3) membership or application for membership in the OECD, (4) G20 membership, (5)(not in the WTO differentiation proposal) membership in the EU and (6) any WTO members who did not declared itself a developing country during accession to the WTO where its per capita GNI is lower than high income. A country that satisfied any of the five criteria are excluded from the higher de minimis and higher negligibility standards

High income countries based on World Bank June 2019 data

The World Bank list shows 218 countries/territories and identifies whether they are high income or lower income countries on a per capita GNI. The last data for June 2019 shows 80 of 218 countries being high income. See https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/new-country-classifications-income-level-2019-2020.

Various countries or territories like Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Oman, Chile are listed as high income and would not be eligible for increased de minimis or higher negligibility standards under U.S. countervailing duty law based on this criteria.

Share of world trade (0.5% or greater)

Besides Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore which had been excluded from the 1998 list based on their share of global trade, the new list excludes Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam based on share of world trade figures. 85 FR at 7615.

Membership in or application to the OECD

Colombia and Costa Rica are excluded from higher de minimis and negligibility levels under U.S. countervailing duty law based on their application for membership to the OECD. 85 FR at 7615.

Membership in the G20

The G20 came into existence in 1999, thus after the 1998 list was published by USTR. China has not been treated as eligibile for higher de minimis or higher negligibility levels and continues not to be considered for eligibility. Other G20 countries (besides China) who are not eligible despite per capita GNI levels below high income are Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa. 85 FR at 7615.

Membership in the EU

Several EU member countries are not high income countries on the World Bank list but are excluded from higher de minimis and negligibility levels on the new list — Bulgaria and Romania. 85 FR at 7615.

WTO Members who have not claimed developing country status at accession

While the U.S. would not have flagged countries who did not claim developing country status at accession but whose per capita GNI was below high income as needing to be addressed in its differentiation papers at the WTO, such countries are not included in the list of countries eligible for higher de minimis and negligibility levels under U.S. countervailing duty law. This list includes Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Ukraine.

Likely Importance of the Changes in the USTR List

Data compiled by the WTO from country notifications of investigations brought under national countervailing duty laws, shows that between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 2019 (latest data presently available), the U.S. initiated 254 countervailing duty investigations. One or more investigations were brought against imports of products from 37 countries. See the WTO chart below.

CV_InitiationsRepMemVsExpCty

While there have been no countervailing duty cases in the United States against the vast majority of WTO Members during the first twenty-five years of the WTO, the changes in the list could be relevant for some countries where there have been CVD cases in the past — Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam being the most likely countries affected. Any changes in results would depend on the underlying facts and may be relevant in only some cases or for one or more producers in a given case.

Conclusion

Monday’s Federal Register notice from the U.S. Trade Representative will not result generally in significant changes in how U.S. countervailing duty law operates. It could be important in particular cases or against particular exporters.

The real importance would appear to be the Administration’s taking its views on differentiation and applying them to an important U.S. trade remedy as a sign of the seriousness of the need to obtain a modification to who is eligible for special and differential treatment. The larger issue is viewed by the United States as critical to restoring the negotiating function at the WTO.

U.S. modifies its regulations to provide path for countervailing undervalued currencies in certain circumstances

On February 4, 2020, the Commerce Department’s modification of its countervailing duty (“CVD”) regulations was published in the Federal Register specifically to outline when Commerce would investigate allegations of subsidies on certain imported goods flowing from undervalued foreign currency achieved at least in part through government action. 85 Fed. Reg. 6031-6044. The modification to the U.S. CVD regulations “will apply to all segments of proceedings initiated on or after April 5, 2020”. The modification to the U.S. regulation is enclosed below.

85-FR-6031-2-4-2020-ITA-FR-final-rule-re-benefit-and-specificity-re-currency

The U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration published its proposed modification of its regulations on May 28, 2019 (84 FR 24406) and received some forty-seven written comments on the proposal, including from some foreign governments (Brazil and India) and various business groups and law firms in China as well as from domestic parties (industries, workers, companies, law firms representing parties, trade associations, individuals) supporting or opposing or seeking modifications to the proposal.

Many domestic industries and their workers competing with imports believed to benefit from undervalued currencies had been seeking for years a modification to U.S. law to address what have been viewed over the years as periods of very active government interference in the market to achieve undervalued currencies by major trading partners. In recent years, China has been the main concern, but there have been ongoing concerns about past actions of the governments of Japan, Korea and others. Thus, the Commerce Department’s decision to develop modifications to its regulations has generally been viewed as a positive development by industries and workers who have competed with undervalued imported goods.

Article VI of the GATT, dealing with antidumping and countervailing duties, has had an Ad note to Paragraphs 2 and 3 which recognized that certain currency practices could be addressed by GATT Contracting Parties as either countervailable subsidies or as a form of dumping. Specifically, “2. Multiple currency practices can in certain circumstances constitute a subsidy to exports which may be met by countervailing duties under paragraph 3 or can constitute a form of dumping means of a partial depreciation of a country’s currency which may be met by action under paragraph 2. By ‘multiple currency practices’ is meant practices by governments or sanctioned by governments.” Article VI and the Ad notes remain part of the WTO.

While the multiple currency practices of the 1930s and 1940s are not the currency problems of the last thirty years, there is nothing in the WTO agreements that prohibits Members from addressing currency practices under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“ASCM”) where the terms of the Agreement are met. The Commerce Department modified regulations place certain undervalued currency situations within U.S. law which in turn reflects the U.S. understanding of its obligations under the ASCM.

The revisions modify the Commerce regulations on specificity and on benefit. 19 C.F.R. 351.502, dealing with specificity of domestic subsidies, is modified by adding a new subsection (c) which states that “In determining whether a subsidy is being provided to a ‘group’ of enterprises or industries within the meaning of section 771(5A)(D) of the Act, the Secretary will consider enterprises that buy or sell goods internationally to comprise such a group.” 85 FR at 6043.

A new section, 19 C.F.R. 351.528, is added to identify when exchanges of undervalued currencies will be viewed as countervailable. Commerce will examine whether there is a potentially actionable subsidy only where a country’s currency is undervalued during the relevant period. If that condition is met, Commerce will make an affirmative determination only where “there has been government action on the exchange rate that contributes to an undervaluation of the currency.” Government action will not generally include “monetary and related credit policy of an independent central bank or monetary authority”. Commerce may consider the foreign “government’s degree of transparency regarding actions that could alter the exchange rate.” 85 FR at 6043. This latter provision is presumably a reflection of the need for transparent actions by trading partners or the potential need to use adverse facts available where the actual actions of the foreign government can not be ascertained.

Finally, if there is currency undervaluation caused in part by government action, Commerce reviews how a benefit will be measured. Commerce will look to see if there is a difference between the nominal, bilateral United States dollar rate consistent with the equilibrium real effective exchange rate (REER) and the actual rate during the period of investigation or review. If yes, the benefit is the difference between the amount received by the foreign company and the amount that would have been received by the company if the currency had not been undervalued.

Commerce will seek input from the U.S. Department of Treasury on the questions of currency undervaluation, government action, and any difference between the equilibrium REER and the actual exchange rate. Treasury has expertise in exchange rate matters, but the determination of whether undervaluation constitutes a domestic subsidy is for Commerce to make. Information submitted by Treasury will be on the record and subject to comment and rebuttal by parties to the proceeding.

Part of the regulatory process in the United States includes the agency promulgating the regulations addressing issues raised by those who submit comments on the proposal. There were eleven categories of issues raised on the modifications to the CVD regulations. As the full Federal Register notice is available above, this note simply lists the range of issues addressed by Commerce in its final notice and encourages the reader to review the full Federal Register for the details of the Commerce Department comments on specific issues:

  1. Whether the CVD Law is an Appropriate Tool To Remedy Subsidies From Currency Undervaluation
  2. Statutory Authority to Promulgate This Rule
  3. Financial Contribution
  4. Determination of Undervaluation
  5. Government Action on the Exchange Rate
  6. Calculation of the Benefit
  7. Other Calculation Issues
  8. The Role of Treasury
  9. Specificity
  10. General Comments (Commerce’s Proposal Infringes on the IMF’s Authority, Possible Retaliation by U.S. Trading Partners, Other Methods To Combat Currency Manipulation/Misalignment May Be More Effective, Relationship to the Antidumping Law)
  11. Economic Impact

When Commerce published its proposal in May 2019, it noted that of the nineteen countries where the U.S. had one or more countervailing duty orders outstanding, twelve of the countries in 2017 were shown by either the IMF or by the Peterson Institute as having an undervalued currency (84 FR at 24411 n.13):

“13 In FY 2018, countervailing duties were deposited on various products imported from 19 countries. For 12 of these 19 countries, at least one of the two sources (IMF or Peterson Institute for International Economics) deemed
the domestic currency undervalued during 2017. Based on information from Customs and Border Protection, the total value of imports from these 12 countries with potentially undervalued currencies equaled roughly 32 percent of the total value of imports from all 19 countries.”

As reviewed, undervaluation is but the first step in any evaluation. Government action is another critical element and generally won’t cover monetary policy actions of governments. Nonetheless, using 2017 data, twelve countries had potentially undervalued currencies and hence could be subject of investigations or reviews to determine if the currency undervaluation constitutes a countervailable subsidy.

Conclusion

It is likely that 2020 will see one or more petitions or administrative reviews of existing orders where a petitioning party seeks to explore whether undervalued currencies constitute actionable subsidies under U.S. law. With Japan, Korea and China having changed the extent of government interference in their exchange rates in recent years, the first case or cases may go after other countries where government actions to depress currency value is identified by domestic industries or their workers. As is true in any area of new exploration, there are many unknowns that will presumably be answered as cases are brought and investigations or reviews conducted: whether Commerce will deem any such petitions or requests in administrative review to be sufficient to proceed on currency undervaluation; how the development of a record will proceed including provision of information from foreign governments whose practices are under investigation; how Treasury will proceed in providing information and its views and the extent of independent review by Commerce versus simple adoption of Treasury views — are just a few of the unknowns.

Trading partners may opt to challenge the modification in U.S. regulations as such at the WTO or may pursue as applied challenges should Commerce investigate their currency for undervaluation in a particular case. China has warned the U.S. that going after its currency would be problematic for any Phase 2 negotiations. The Director-General in response to a question about the new US regulations has opined that the WTO is not the right forum for currency issues (this despite the AD note to Article VI of the GATT).

But for domestic producers and their workers who face various forms of trade distortions through subsidies and/or dumping, the modification to U.S. countervailing duty regulations is a potentially important advance in permitting at least individual industries and their workers to obtain a more level trading field going forward.

Counterfeit and Contraband Goods — Issuance of A Presidential Executive Order on January 31, 2020

Rounding out a busy January on trade issues, President Trump on January 31st issued an Executive Order (“EO”) addressing the ballooning volume of illicit trade (counterfeit and pirated goods). The EO is directed at traffickers and those seeking to avoid U.S. customs duties, taxes, and fees but will also affect “express consignment operators, carriers, hub facilities, international posts, customs brokers, and other entities, including e-commerce platform operators”.

Executive Order 13904 of January 31, 2020, on Counterfeit Goods

The Executive Order issued by President Trump follows the issuance of a Memorandum on Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods from the President issued on April 3, 2019, calling for a study by the Department of Homeland Security on the extent of the problem and presenting suggested potential solutions. See, e.g., https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/memorandum-combating-trafficking-counterfeit-pirated-goods/.

  1. April 3, 2019 Presidential Memorandum

President Trump’s April 3, 2019 Memorandum was a call for a coordinated game plan by the Administration on addressing the challenges posed by counterfeit and pirated goods including via the internet. Here is the relevant part of the Memorandum:

“Section 1.  Policy and Background.  (a)  It is the policy of my Administration to protect American businesses, intellectual property rights holders, consumers, national and economic security, and the American public from the dangers and negative effects of counterfeit and pirated goods, including those that are imported through online third-party marketplaces and other third-party intermediaries.  We must improve coordinated efforts within the Federal Government to address this challenge, which are led by the Attorney General, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, through the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and the United States Trade Representative.

“(b)  Counterfeit trafficking impairs economic competitiveness by harming United States intellectual property rights holders and diminishing the reputations and trustworthiness of online markets; cheats consumers and poses risks to their health and safety; and may threaten national security and public safety through the introduction of counterfeit goods destined for the Department of Defense and other critical infrastructure supply chains.  An estimate from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates the value of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods to be approximately half a trillion dollars per annum, with roughly 20 percent of this trade infringing upon intellectual property belonging to United States persons.  A recent Government Accountability Office report examined four categories of frequently counterfeited goods, and, based on a small sample of these goods purchased through various online third-party marketplaces, found that more than 40 percent were counterfeit.

“(c)  Preventing the manufacture, importation, and sale of counterfeit and pirated goods is a priority for Federal law enforcement agencies.

“(d)  Existing efforts within the Federal Government to deter online trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods through third-party intermediaries should be expanded and enhanced to better address the scale, scope, and consequences of counterfeit and pirated goods trafficking.

“(e)  Third-party intermediaries, including online third party marketplaces, carriers, customs brokers, payment providers, vendors, and others involved in international transactions, can all be beneficial partners in combating trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods.  In order to build on cooperative efforts that are already underway with such partners, a coordinated approach by the Federal Government, including its law enforcement agencies, and private industry is needed.

“(f)  Comprehensive data regarding the extent of counterfeit trafficking through online third-party marketplaces are lacking.

“Sec. 2.  Report on the State of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods Trafficking and Recommendations.  (a)  Within 210 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce, and in consultation with the Attorney General, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Trade Representative, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, the Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy, the heads of other executive departments and agencies (agencies) and offices as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall prepare and submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and the Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy.  In preparing the report, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce, shall, consistent with applicable law, consult with intellectual property rights holders, third-party intermediaries, and other stakeholders.

“(b)  The report shall:

“(i)     Analyze available data and other information to develop a deeper understanding of the extent to which online third-party marketplaces and other third party intermediaries are used to facilitate the importation and sale of counterfeit and pirated goods; identify the factors that contribute to trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods; and describe any market incentives and distortions that may contribute to third-party intermediaries facilitating trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods.  This review should include data regarding the origins of counterfeit and pirated goods and the types of counterfeit and pirated goods that are trafficked, along with any other relevant data, and shall provide a foundation for any recommended administrative, regulatory, legislative, or policy changes.

“(ii)    Evaluate the existing policies and procedures of third-party intermediaries relating to trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods, and identify the practices of those entities that have been most effective in curbing the importation and sale of counterfeit and pirated goods, including those conveyed through online third-party marketplaces.  The report should also evaluate the effectiveness of Federal efforts, including the requirement for certain Federal contractors to establish and maintain a system to detect and avoid counterfeit electronic parts under the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 252.246-7007, as well as steps taken by foreign governments, such as France and Canada, to combat trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods.

“(iii)   To the extent that certain types of data are not currently available to the Federal Government, or accessible in a readily usable form, recommend changes to the data collection practices of agencies, including specification of categories of data that should be collected and appropriate standardization practices for data.

“(iv)    Identify appropriate administrative, statutory, regulatory, or other changes, including enhanced enforcement actions, that could substantially reduce trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods or promote more effective law enforcement regarding trafficking in such goods.  The report should address the practices of counterfeiters and pirates, including their shipping, fulfillment, and payment logistics, and assess means of mitigating the factors that facilitate trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods.

“(v)     Identify appropriate guidance that agencies may provide to third-party intermediaries to help them prevent the importation and sale of counterfeit and pirated goods.

“(vi)    Identify appropriate administrative, regulatory, legislative, or policy changes that would enable agencies, as appropriate, to more effectively share information regarding counterfeit and pirated goods, including suspected counterfeit and pirated goods, with intellectual property rights holders, consumers, and third-party intermediaries.

“(vii)   Evaluate the current and future resource needs of agencies and make appropriate recommendations for more effective detection, interdiction, investigation, and prosecution regarding trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods, including trafficking through online third-party marketplaces and other third-party intermediaries.  These recommendations should include suggestions for increasing the use of effective technologies and expanding collaboration with third party intermediaries, intellectual property rights holders, and other stakeholders.

“(viii)  Identify areas for collaboration between the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security on efforts to combat trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods.

“(c)  Within 30 days of submitting the report required by section 2(a) of this memorandum, the Secretary of Homeland Security is authorized and directed to prepare, consistent with applicable law, a public version of the report and publish it in the Federal Register.”

2. The January 24, 2020 Report to the President from Homeland Security, Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods.

Last month, following outreach to stakeholders, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) submitted its report to President Trump. Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods, Report to the President of the United States, January 24, 2020 (“January 24, 2020 DHS Report” or “Report”). https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/20_0124_plcy_counterfeit-pirated-goods-report_01.pdf.

It is this report that was relied upon for Executive Order 13904 issued on January 31.

The report reviews the severity of the problem counterfeiting and pirated goods pose to the U.S. economy, U.S. competitiveness, health and safety and to national security. It references information gained from other studies and from the private sector. For example, a 2018 report from the OECD, Governance Frameworks to Counter Illicit Trade, is cited by DHS for its finding that there was “a 154 percent increase in counterfeits traded internationally – from $200 billion in 2005 to $509 billion in 2016.” January 24 DHS Report at 4. “Relevant to the President’s inquiry into the linkages between e-commerce and counterfeiting, OECD reports that ‘E-commerce platforms represent ideal storefronts for counterfeits and provide powerful platform[s] for counterfeiters and pirates to engage large numbers of potential consumers.’1/” Page 4 of the Report citing OECD, Governance Frameworks to Counter Illicit Trade, Illicit Trade, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264291652-en.

The health problems from counterfeit medicines and food products have been widely reported over the last decade or more with knock-of medicines not containing the proper elements. Similarly, counterfeit food products (for humans and animals) may be made with fillers that may cause health problems or even death. The quantity of counterfeit auto and defense sector parts, made of inferior materials and not to manufacturer or government specifications create quality issues and can pose problems for national security. The examples are endless and are found around the world.

The report reviews the complications in combating counterfeit and pirated goods with the growth of e-commerce, the shift from ship cargo shipments to express delivery and mail shipments, from expanded de minimis levels and reduced information from such shipments, and from failure of the private sector to broadly adopt best practices to reduce availability of such goods.

The report both identifies product categories with high levels of counterfeit and pirated goods, some of the major sources of such goods, and provides a list of actions for the U.S. Government and a list of best practices for the private sector involved in e-commerce platforms and third-party marketplaces.

For example, Customs and Border Protection publishes data on annual seizures of goods involving intellectual property rights. The top ten product categories from 2018 were wearing apparel/accessories, footwear, watches/jewelry, handbags/wallets, consumer electronics, consumer products, pharmaceuticals/personal care, optical medial, toys and computers/accessories. Seizures also occur of prohibited substances (e.g., drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, LSD, DMT, etc.). January 24, 2020 DHS Report at 10 and 16.

While China is identified as the largest source of counterfeit and pirated goods (id.at 8), other countries are obviously also the source of such goods. China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India were identified as having shipped 97 percent of the counterfeit medicines seized in the U.S. Id at 17.

The report makes clear that there are many actions that the U.S. government must take to deal with the evolving threat from counterfeit and pirated goods. However, the report and private sector input also make clear that there must be a stronger government-private sector partnership for future efforts to be successful. Below are the summary tables from the Report on government actions and best practices for the private sector that are meant to address both government and private sector practices.

From page 5 of the Report:

Immediate Actions by DHS and Recommendations for the U.S. Government

  1. Ensure Entities with Financial Interests in Imports Bear Responsibility
  2. Increase Scrutiny of Section 321 Environment
  3. Suspend and Debar Repeat Offenders; Act Against Non-Compliant International Posts
  4. Apply Civil Fines, Penalties and Injunctive Actions for Violative Imported Products
  5. Leverage Advance Electronic Data for Mail Mode
  6. Anti-Counterfeiting Consortium to Identify Online Nefarious Actors (ACTION) Plan
  7. Analyze Enforcement Resources
  8. Create Modernized E-Commerce Enforcement Framework
  9. Assess Contributory Trademark Infringement Liability for Platforms
  10. Re-Examine the Legal Framework Surrounding Non-Resident Importers
  11. Establish a National Consumer Awareness Campaign

From page 6 of the Report:

Best Practices for E-Commerce Platforms and Third-Party Marketplaces

  1. Comprehensive “Terms of Service” Agreements
  2. Significantly Enhanced Vetting of Third-Party Sellers
  3. Limitations on High Risk Products
  4. Rapid Notice and Takedown Procedures
  5. Enhanced Post-Discovery Actions
  6. Indemnity Requirements for Foreign Sellers
  7. Clear Transactions Through Banks that Comply with U.S. Enforcement Requests for Information
    (RFI)
  8. Pre-Sale Identification of Third-Party Sellers
  9. Establish Marketplace Seller ID
  10. Clearly Identifiable Country of Origin Disclosures

3. Executive Order 13904, 85 Fed. Reg. 6725-6729

The Executive Order (“EO”) was issued on January 31, 2020 and published in the Federal Register on February 5. The EO lays out the Administration’s policy on addressing the problems of counterfeit and pirated goods in e-commerce, including its intent to not permit those engaged in such conduct to be able to do business with the U.S. government or to engage in importing or to avoid liability under U.S. law. Section 1 of the EO, 85 FR 6725.

Section 2 of the EO instructs DHS to engage in rulemaking to establish criteria importers must meet in order to obtain an importer of record number. One such criteria shall be that any person seeking a number has not been debarred or suspended by CBP “for lack of present responsibility”. 85 FR at 6725-6726.

Section 3 of the EO outlines responsibilities of express consignment operators, carriers, hub facilities and licensed customs brokers (‘group”) including to identify efforts of individuals or entities not entitled to importer of record status to resume trade. DHS through CBP is also instructed to consider measures against any member or members of the group who facilitate business by those not entitled to importer of record rights. 85 FR at 6726.

Sections 4 and 5 deal with efforts to be undertaken by the U.S. Postal Service in conjunction with other parts of the Administration to work with the international postal network to adopt similar restrictions as are contained in Section 2 and to provide a series actions the U.S. will take against foreign posts that are deemed not to be compliant. 85 FR at 6726-6727.

Section 6 reviews Administration intention to publish more information on seizures pertaining to illicit trade. It also calls on the Attorney General to make available resources to ensure Federal prosecutors will accord a high priority to going after import violations of the EO. 85 FR at 6727.

Section 7, reflecting the concern of DHS that import fees are not sufficient to cover the costs evaluating imports and importers for counterfeit and pirated goods, orders DHS to prepare a report on the adequacy of current fees and suggesting modifications if appropriate and consistent with U.S. law. 85 FR at 6727-6728.

Conclusion

There is strong support in the Congress and amongst the business community for strong enforcement against illicit trade, including shutting down counterfeit and pirated goods.

The growth of e-commerce has had many positive effects on the U.S. and world economies. It has also unleashed a massively expanding capability of those engaged in counterfeiting and the pirating of goods to market such goods to consumers in the U.S. and around the world without consequence. The risks identified in the DHS Report to manufacturers, to consumers, to health and safety and to national security are real and expanding.

The tension between growing e-commerce and ensuring that all players in the e-commerce system bear responsibility to address shutting down counterfeit and pirated goods is apparent in the Executive Order and the disciplines it does and doesn’t impose on players.

Similarly, the business community (particularly those involved in e-commerce, express delivery and the retail sector) have pushed hard for larger de minimis level imports to facilitate the movement of trade. As the DHS report makes clear, however, those engaged in shipping counterfeit and pirated goods are working the de minimis process to make identification of their products harder. The Report envisions making the de minimis exception harder to hide behind where users may be suspected on engaging in illicit trade.

The EO and related actions described above have the potential to strengthen enforcement in this important area of global commerce. Time will tell whether the actions envisioned will be enough to make a difference in fact in the rate and direction of growth of counterfeit and pirated goods.

U.S. Additional Tariffs on Imports of Steel and Aluminum “Derivative” Products — Presidential Proclamation 9980

The United States conducted two investigations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as modified, in 2017 with findings that imports of steel and aluminum products were a threat to U.S. national security. Import relief (25% on covered steel products and 10% on covered aluminum products) was imposed by mid-2018. Retaliation by many trading partners followed without resort to WTO dispute settlement. Dispute settlement cases were also filed by a number of countries. The U.S. also filed disputes against those countries who had retaliated without obtaining final reports or decisions from the WTO panels or Appellate Body and authorization if the U.S. did not comply with any loss that might have happened. All the disputes that are ongoing are at the panel stage at the WTO.

A number of countries agreed to other arrangements with the U.S. or were excluded from coverage. These included Argentina, Australia, Canada and Mexico for aluminum products and those countries plus Brazil and South Korea for steel products.

On January 24, 2020, President Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation “on Adjusting Imports of Derivative Aluminum Articles and Derivative Steel Articles into the United States”. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-adjusting-imports-derivative-aluminum-articles-derivative-steel-articles-united-states/. The Proclamation (No. 9980) will be published in the Federal Register on January 29, 2020 and will apply to imports from subject countries beginning on February 8 (25% on steel derivative products and 10% on aluminum derivative products listed in Annexes II and I respectively). The inspection version of the Federal Register for January 29 is available today and the document is attached below. In the Proclamation, the President lays out the history of the 232 investigations and actions previously taken as well as the President’s intention to have Commerce monitor developments in case other actions were warranted. The action laid out in Proclamation 9980 is responsive to information reportedly provided by Commerce of possible evasion/circumvention of the duties. Countries who are excluded or who have arrangements with the U.S. on the original 232 actions are also excluded subject to certain conditions being present suggesting a need to address imports from those countries as well.

1-29-2020-FR-of-presidential-proclamation-on-steel-and-aluminum-derivatives

The purpose of this note is not to review the legal basis for the U.S. action (there have been a number of judicial actions in the United States challenging various aspects of the steel and aluminum national security case), but rather to examine the U.S. trade data to understand the breadth of the term “derivatives” and which countries appear to be the main targets of the additional duties.

Prior Proclamations Sought Review by Commerce and Others of Developments in Case Additional Action Was Deemed Necessary

The President in Proclamation 9980 references the fact that the Secretary of Commerce was directed to monitor imports of aluminum and steel and identify any circumstances which might warrant additional action. For example, paragraph 5(b) of the Steel Proclamation (No. 9705) of March 8, 2018 contained the following language:

“(b)  The Secretary shall continue to monitor imports of steel articles and shall, from time to time, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the USTR, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and such other senior Executive Branch officials as the Secretary deems appropriate, review the status of such imports with respect to the national security.  The Secretary shall inform the President of any circumstances that in the Secretary’s opinion might indicate the need for further action by the President under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended.  The Secretary shall also inform the President of any circumstance that in the Secretary’s opinion might indicate that the increase in duty rate provided for in this proclamation is no longer necessary.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-adjusting-imports-steel-united-states/.

Similar language was in the aluminum proclamation.

How Broad is the Term Derivative Aluminum or Derivative Steel Product?

The aim of the Proclamation is to deal with products that undermine the purpose of the earlier proclamations. Proclamation 9980 reviews (paragraph 6) how the term “derivative” is used for purposes of the proclamation:

“For purposes of this proclamation, the Secretary determined that an article is ‘derivative’ of an aluminum article or steel article if all of the following conditions are present: (a) the aluminum article or steel article represents,
on average, two-thirds or more of the total cost of materials of the derivative article; (b) import volumes of such derivative article increased year-to-year since June 1, 2018, following the imposition of the tariffs in Proclamation 9704 and Proclamation 9705, as amended by Proclamation 9739 and Proclamation 9740, respectively, in comparison to import volumes of such derivative article during the 2 preceding years; and (c) import volumes of such derivative article following the imposition of the tariffs
exceeded the 4 percent average increase in the total volume of goods imported into the United States during the same period since June 1, 2018.”

What is the Volume of Imports Covered and Which are the Major Exporting Countries?

When one looks at the products that are covered by the two Annexes, one will see relatively few tariff categories covered by the new Proclamation. There are two HS categories that contain products that may be either steel or aluminum – bumper stampings and body stampings. There are significant imports of bumper stampings (though the data are not broken between steel, aluminum and other material). Imports from all counttries of bumper stampings in the first eleven months of 2019 were $394.3 million (of which $199.6 million are from countries not excluded for aluminum; $198.4 million if steel). Body stamps were significantly smaller, $5.2 million from all countries in Jan.-Nov. 2019 ($2.4 million covered if all are aluminum; $2.3 million covered if all are steel). The 8708 categories may have met the Commerce criteria but show a decline in 2019 vs. 2018 of 8.63% for the covered products/countries.

The other aluminum products identified — stranded wire, cables, plaited bands and the like (HS 7614.10.50, 7614.90.20, 7614.90.40, 7614.90.50) are relatively small in value – $43 million for all countries in 2019 (11 months)($26.9 million for countries subject to the additional 10% duties). The products/countries covered increased over the first 11 months of 2018 by 41.45%.

The other steel products identified – nails, tacks (other than thumb tacks), drawing pins, corrugated nails, staples and similar articles (HTS 7317.00.30.00, 7317.00.5503, 7317.005505, 7317.00.5507, 7317.00.5560, 7317.00.5580, 7317.00.6560) were $331.8 million in the first eleven months of 2019 for all countries ($276.9 million for countries covered by the new 25% duty). However, the rate of increase for covered products/countries was only 7.03% in 2019 versus 2018 (but had large increases vs. 2016 and 2017).

Countries with large exports in 2019 of the aluminum products (other than bumpers and body stampings) include Turkey at $7.4 million, India at $7 million, China at $5.0 million, Indonesia at $1.6 million, Italy at $1.35 million.

Countries with large exports in 2019 of the steel derivative products (other than bumpers and body stampings) include Oman at $59.5 million, Taiwan at $31 million, Turkey at $28.4 million, Thailand at $26.0 million, India at $25.3 million, Sri Lanka at $22.2 million, China at $20.4 million, Liechtenstein at $13.0 million, Malaysia at $12.5 million, Austria at $9.9 million and Saudi Arabia at $9.4 million.

On bumpers and body stampings, a number of the excluded countries are major suppliers — imports from Canada were $151.9 million in the first eleven months of 2019. Imports from Mexico were $44.6 million. For countries facing higher tariffs of 10% or 25% depending on whether the exported bumper stamping or body stamping is steel or aluminum, some of the large suppliers in 2019 were Taiwan at $87.4 million, Japan at $41.4 million, China at $39.4 million, Germany at $12.1 million, South Africa at $4.5 million, Italy at $3.8 million and Thailand at $3.6 million.

Conclusion

While any import measure by the President should be periodically reviewed for effectiveness and the need to maintain, the current action by the President in essence is a minor tweak with only $504 million of imports covered by the modified coverage of the Section 232 Proclamations — likely less than 1% of imports of steel and aluminum covered by the original proclamations.

It is true that the domestic steel and aluminum industries are not operating at the levels viewed as optimal and the problem of massive excess capacity in China and other countries is little changed in fact. But if a revision were needed, the level of ambition reflected in the Proclamation seems inadequate to the task.

So perhaps the way to read the proclamation is a recognition by the Administration that the existing relief hasn’t achieved the full measure of relief intended and to give trading partners warning that more is possible if the underlying problems aren’t addressed.

The Proclamation will certainly engender more disputes and increased tension with many of our trading partners. It is hard to understand the calculus (divorced from 2020 election posturing) of taking such a modest step, but time will tell if this is simply a prelude to a larger action in the coming months.

WTO Reform – Developments from Davos and What Might Be on U.S. Agenda

This year’s World Economic Forum had the usual side meetings of trade ministers and an unexpected meeting between President Trump and WTO Director-General Azevêdo. Trade ministers are discussing what needs to be accomplished ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference (“MC12”) to be held in Kazakhstan in June 2020 with a focus on how to achieve agreement on fisheries subsidies to address illegal, unrecorded and unregulated fishing and overfishing and hence deliver on the UN sustainable development goal 14.6 during 2020. There are, of course, many other issues potentially on the agenda for MC12.

The potentially more interesting development out of Davos was the meeting between President Trump and DG Azevêdo. The President and the Director-General spoke about the meeting and need for WTO reform at a press conference the President held before leaving Davos. Here is the relevant exchange:

“[President Trump]: One of the people that was very important for me to meet from the World Trade Organization is Roberto Azevêdo. And he is a highly respected man. He happens to be this gentleman right here. I
thought I’d have him say a few words.

“But the World Trade Organization — as you know, I’ve had a dispute running with them for quite a while, because our country hasn’t been treated fairly. China is viewed as a developing nation.

“India is viewed as a developing nation. We’re not viewed a developing nation. As far as I’m concerned, we’re a developing nation, too. But they got tremendous advantages by the fact that they were considered “developing” and we weren’t. And they shouldn’t be. But if they are, we are.

“And we’re talking about a whole new structure for the deal, or we’ll have to do something. But the World Trade Organization has been very unfair to the United States for many, many years. And without it, China wouldn’t be China, and China wouldn’t be where they are right now. I mean, China — that was the vehicle that they used. And I give them great credit. And I also don’t give the people that were in my position great credit, because, frankly, they let that all happen. But the vehicle was the World Trade Organization.
And Roberto and I have a tremendous relationship, and we’re going to do something that I think will be very dramatic. He’ll be coming with a lot of his representatives to Washington sometime — maybe next week or the week after — and we’ll start working on it.

“So I’d like to introduce, just for — briefly — Roberto, and say a few words on behalf of the WTO. And then I’m going to introduce Larry Kudlow to say exactly where we are, in terms of our economy. Some of you know, but we’ve had some tremendous numbers just over the very recent past.

“So, please, Roberto.

“DIRECTOR-GENERAL AZEVÊDO: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And I think it’s fair to say that we have been saying, for quite some time, that if the multilateral system, if the WTO is to deliver and perform its role in today’s global economy, it has to be updated. It has to be changed. It has to be
reformed.

“This is an agenda that is squarely before members. I don’t think anybody in Geneva misses the point. I think they understand that the — the system has not been functioning properly in many areas. That’s something that we’re trying to address.

“I’m very happy that, in the conversation today with President Trump, he agreed that this is something that needs to happen; the WTO has to change. We are committed to effect those changes. And this is something we are serious about.

“And I am going to be, together with President Trump, as soon as possible, discussing what needs to change, what needs to be effected in the WTO, and we are committed to doing that.

“And, of course, I will be talking to all of the other WTO members, making sure that they all understand that this is serious. This is a path that we all have to be on together if we want to make the WTO relevant and performing to today’s requirements, frankly.

“So thank you very much, Mr. President. It’s an honor to be with you and with everybody else.

“Thank you.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-press-conference-davos-switzerland/

U.S. Objectives for WTO Reform – Articulated and Possible

In the first three years of the Trump Administration, the Administration has identified a range of areas for reform and provided some specifics as well as identifying areas of key negotiating interest.

Dispute Settlement

WTO dispute settlement reform has been a top priority for the Administration with a wide range of issues of importance but an overriding issue of preventing panels and the Appellate Body from creating rights or obligations not contained in the negotiated agreements. This is also an area of priority for other WTO members for the different reason of wanting to get the Appellate Body functioning again. While the U.S. has not articulated specifics in terms of what type of reform is needed, the problem areas are clear. The U.S. position has been that the existing DSU text is clear and that proposals to date do nothing more than restate the existing requirements. Without understanding why the system has deviated from the plain language of the DSU, it is not possible to identify the reforms that are needed has been the Administration’s position. Much has been written about this area and one can assume it will be an important part of the upcoming discussions between the Administration and the WTO Secretariat. Broader reform of the WTO is unlikely if reform of the dispute settlement system isn’t achieved. It would be unacceptable to many WTO Members not to find a solution to the dispute settlement system.

Improved transparency

Much of the value of the WTO flows from the requirement of WTO Members to provide notifications on a wide range of topics, notifications which are important for other WTO Members to understand what trading partners are doing and whether there are potential WTO problems with the actions of particular trading partners.

Unfortunately, many WTO Members have failed to file required notifications in a timely manner, and, in many cases, notifications that are filed are demonstrably incorrect. In the areas of subsidies, the United States has over the past decade filed counternotifications on subsidy programs on China and India believing that the notifications submitted by those two countries were woefully incomplete. The counternotifications were an effort to identify the magnitude of the problem of under reporting.

While the WTO Secretariat has been tasked with providing periodic updates on notifications by Members, the present system has no consequences for failure to file notifications in a timely manner or for filing incomplete notifications.

How to address the transparency issue is of importance to many WTO Members. Indeed, lack of transparency and full notifications can complicate efforts to move specific issues forward. For example, the United States has raised concerns about the lack of information on cotton subsidies from China and India within the discussions on addressing concerns of cotton producting Members in Africa.

The U.S. and other countries have put forward proposals on modifying notification requirements and potential consequences for failure to keep notifications up to date. Because of the importance to the overall operation of the WTO, one can expect some effort in any reform package to ensure greater likelihood of notification requirements being met in fact.

Who gets Special and Differential Treatment under New Agreements

During the history of the GATT and the WTO to date, whether a Member was a developing country was a matter of self-selection, and, as a result, there have never been criteria that would help Members decide on eligibility. Nor has the organization had any system for graduating Members as their economies grew. Over the years, this has led to the situation where some of the wealthiest countries, largest exporting countries and others have maintained developing country status and hence taken lower levels of commitments through special and differential treatment provisions contained in agreements for developing countries.

As the comments of President Trump indicate, the United States has felt that the WTO system has permitted a number of countries not to assume responsibilities commensurate with their state of development and importance to the global trading system.

The United States has put forward proposals to have various countries, based on objective criteria, be ineligible for special and differential treatment for new agreements. Three WTO Members have indicated that they will not seek special and differential treatment in future agreements, though not agreeing that they are not developing countries — Korea, Singapore and Brazil.

While the need to have advanced economies carry their weight as part of the system would seem to be obvious, this is a highly sensitive issue where a number of major economies will fight hard against modifications of the current system. China, India and South Africa are three who have opposed any changes.

Obviously there has been some positive movement by the actions of three WTO Members. At a minimum, hopefully more Members will make similar commitments. And the United States has indicated that special and differential treatment provisions will not be agreed to in future agreements if certain countries don’t opt out of receiving such benefits. Thus, this issue will be an important and ongoing one that will generate a great deal of debate within the WTO and, hopefully, a meaningful advancement through its outcome. As the United States has indicated in statements at the WTO’s General Council, failure of many Members to carry their proper weight in liberalization has frustrated the ability of the WTO’s negotiating function to achieve the types of success that the system needs.

Update Rules to Address Different Economic Systems

For the United States, the European Union and other countries, the GATT and now WTO rules were written for and are applicable to market economies. WTO Members with different economic systems historically were not significant players in the global economy or when they joined the GATT or WTO undertook obligations which held the promise of the Member’s economy shifting to market economy principles.

The rise in importance of non-market economies like China engaged in different versions of state capitalism has created major challenges for the global trading system and for the viability of the WTO. The size and extent of industrial subsidies, forced technology transfer, role of state-owned and state-invested enterprises, state planning and resulting massive global excess capacity and targeting of technologies are just a few of the challenges market economy countries around the world have been confronting. Existing WTO rules don’t adequately address the many distortions flowing from the actions of the WTO members with non-market economies.

The United States, European Union and Japan announced an initiative at the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires to address some of these issues. They recently released a joint statement outlining actions needed on industrial subsidies in particular.

The United States has also indicated that there is need for the WTO to address the disconnect that flows from major economies being within the WTO without being market economies.

While one would hope that a major trading nation, like China, who has benefitted enormously from WTO membership would understand the need for their to be an understanding on how different economic systems can coexist and rules to deal with major distortions or differences, this is an area where it is hard to see meaningful reform under a consensus system such as that used in the WTO.

Updated Rule Book to Address Current Commercial Realities

The Uruguay Round was the last major update of the global trading system’s rule book and occurred over 1986-1994. Technology and the organization of much of business today is dramatically different than the world that existed in the 1980s. There are few rules within the WTO dealing with electronic commerce. The plurilateral effort underway to come up with rules for the e-commerce field is important and long overdue.

Similarly, the world is facing issues of critical importance to the maintenance of food supplies, commercial activity and survival of islands, coast lines and much more. For example, more than one third of fish species are overfished. The oceans of the world are suffering massive pollution with waste areas in some locations being the size of states or smaller countries. Similarly, water temperatures are rising and weather patterns are shifting with consequent effects on agricultural productivity, on human and animal health and much more.

A few of these issues are being pursued within the WTO at the present time, including fisheries subsidies (negotiations now in their 19th year) and the plurilateral talks on e-commerce. Other topics are receiving consideration as well including domestic regulation of services, facilitating investment, the role of women and of small and medium sized enterprises.

Much more can and should be done to address the changes we are currently facing and that can be predicted. Where trade is affected, the WTO should have an important role. But a system that takes decades to work through a single issue, like fishery subsidies, will need a serious review as to how to permit much more timely responses and rule setting that can be ahead of the curve.

Free Trade Agreements and MFN

While Article XXIV of GATT 1994 deals with customs unions and regional trade agreements, the reality is that there are now hundreds of free trade agreements that have been negotiated and are in place of various breadth and different levels of coverage. While such agreements can permit countries to address bilaterally or plurilaterally issues not covered by the WTO, there is no doubt that free trade agreements lead to significant trade diversion as large volumes of trade are done at tariff rates that are more advantageous that the most favored nation rates negotiated during the GATT rounds. For some countries, the bulk of their trade may be at non-MFN rates. Do such facts favor additional efforts at bilateral or plurilateral liberalization even if not on an MFN basis?

Moreover, as many WTO members are opting not to contribute to further liberalization on new topics, there is the challenge of Members willing to liberalize providing benefits to non-participating members. While this is not a new problem, WTO reform may need to explore whether MFN has continuing relevance in a world of bilateral and plurilateral deals and/or whether plurilateral deals on topics not presently covered by WTO agreements should permit participating Members only to be the beneficiaries of the texts.

Conclusion

Other countries have raised a series of topics that they would like to see addressed in WTO reform talks that are not addressed in this note. What is clear is that if the United States is going to find satisfaction in a WTO reform effort, some major changes to the system will be needed. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff had indicated in the past that WTO reform by 2025 was possible (looking at being ready for adoption by the 15th WTO Ministerial). https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/ddgaw_13nov19_e.htm That timeline, while ambitious for the WTO based on past experience, is almost certainly unacceptable to the current U.S. Administration.

WTO Reform – Joint Statement of January 14, 2020 of Japan, the U.S. and the EU

At the last WTO Ministerial Conference held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the U.S., the EU and Japan announced efforts to cooperate to develop WTO reforms to address concerns in areas such as industrial excess capacity, massive government subsidies, state owned enterprises, forced technology transfers, local content requirements and other matters. The joint statement released on December 12, 2017 is included in a press release from USTR and is reproduced below:

“Joint Statement by the United States, European Union and Japan at MC11

“12/12/2017

“Mrs. Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Hiroshige Seko, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan and Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative met in Buenos Aires, Argentine Republic on the 12th of December 2017 and agreed to strengthen our commitment to ensure a global level playing field.

“They said:

“We shared the view that severe excess capacity in key sectors exacerbated by government-financed and supported capacity expansion, unfair competitive conditions caused by large market-distorting subsidies and state owned enterprises, forced technology transfer, and local content requirements and preferences are serious concerns for the proper functioning of international trade, the creation of innovative technologies and the sustainable growth of the global economy.

“We, to address this critical concern, agreed to enhance trilateral cooperation in the WTO and in other forums, as appropriate, to eliminate these and other unfair market distorting and protectionist practices by third countries.”

Japan, the EU and the U.S. have had a series of meeting over the last two years to seek agreement amongst themselves on reforms to the WTO to address the areas covered by the joint statement. There have also been other areas of cooperation including on working towards a more robust set of notification requirements and on how advanced developing countries can better contribute to the WTO by taking on full commitments and by not participating in special and differential treatment under new agreements or new negotiations.

On January 14, 2020, officials from Japan, the EU and the U.S. issued a joint statement that lays out some of the reforms, most in the area of subsidy disciplines, that the three have been able to agree on. While they are still working on proposed text, it is expected that the three major WTO Members will start an outreach process to broaden the support for the proposals. The USTR Press Release which contains the joint statement is attached below.

Joint-Statement-of-the-Trilateral-Meeting-of-the-Trade-Ministers-of-Japan-the-United-States-and-the-European-Union-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

One can expect a busy 2020 in Geneva and in capitals around the world as proposals for WTO reform are vetted with various members and the topics get taken up in the WTO. While it is unlikely that any significant movement will occur by the 12th WTO Ministerial scheduled for early June 2020 in Kazakhstan, the topic of WTO reform has seen increased interest and activity throughout 2019.

What are the proposed increased disciplines on subsidies?

Prohibited Subsidies

Industrial subsidies have been the focus of the trilateral discussions. The Joint Statement recommends expanding the list of prohibited subsidies in Article 3.1 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Duty Measures (“ASCM”) to include the following four categories (and have indicated that they are still exploring whether additional categories should be added):

  1. “unlimited guarantees”;
  2. “subsidies to an insolvent or ailing enterprise in the absence of a credible restructuring plan”;
  3. “subsidies to enterprises unable to obtain long-term financing or investment from independent commercial sources operating in sectors or industries in overcapacity”;
  4. “certain direct forgiveness of debt”.

These types of subsidies have been major concerns in a number of industries and certainly would pertain to China, but would be applicable to all Members.

Reversal of burden on certain actionable subsidies

The Joint Statement also recommends reversing the burden of proof on certain actionable subsidies that are not prohibited but where the three Members believe the types of subsidies can cause significant harm to competing producers in other countries. The proposal would impose on the subsidizing Member the burden of demonstrating “that there are no serious negative trade or capacity effects and that there is effective transparency about the subsidy in question.” While the list of such subsidies is still being developed, the list currently includes four categories:

  1. “excessively large subsidies”;
  2. “subsidies that prop up uncompetitive firms and prevent their exit from the market”;
  3. “subsidies creating massive manufacturing capacity, without private commercial participation”; and
  4. “subsidies that lower input prices domestically in comparison to prices of the same goods when destined for export.”

China has been pouring vast subsidies into a range of manufacturing sectors, has created massive excess capacity in dozens of industries, has created “zombie” companies which are prevented from exiting the market, and engages in various practices which have the effect of lowering input prices domestically far below world prices. Similar problems have been experienced with other trading partners as well.

Additional example of serious prejudice

The joint statement also reviews the desire to expand the situations in which serious prejudice under Article 6.3 of the ASCM should be found. The joint statement proposes adding a provision that serious prejudice would exist where the subsidy under investigation distorts capacity. Again, while such a provision would be applicable to all WTO Members, it would obviously be important for economies with the large state role such as China.

Other subsidy proposals

There are three other important proposals contained in the joint statement.

First, the serious problem of inadequate notifications is addressed by proposing that any non-notified subsidies will be treated as prohibited subsidies where other WTO Members provide a counter-notification unless all required information is provided by the subsidizing Member within a certain period of time. The U.S. has provided counter-notifications of subsidies on China and on India in the past. There is still a belief that large numbers of subsidies are not reported by these two countries and others. Lack of complete notifications hampers the ability of trading partners to understand the competitive environment and whether particular Members are acting consistent with their ASCM obligations.

Second, the joint statement addresses one of the challenges flowing from the existing ASCM and dispute settlement decisions, namely the lack of clarity for determining benchmarks for evaluating whether benefits are provided when the home market is distorted. The U.S. and others have gone out of country in certain circumstances, and WTO disputes have limited options for investigating authorities. This has proven to be an important issue in countervailing duty cases looking at subsidies for a number of countries, though China is obviously a major concern. Clarification is very much needed.

Third, the joint statement proposed ensuring that subsidies provided by state owned enterprises can be captured by the term “public body” in ASCM Article 1.1(a)(1). Such clarification is needed in light of a WTO dispute settlement decision which limited the scope of public body. All WTO members with significant state-owned and state-invested enterprises would be affected. Again, China is a major focus of the concern.

Forced Technology Transfer

Forced technology transfer has been a matter of concern for all three of the trilateral Members issuing the joint statement. The joint statement reviews the harm such actions have on other trading partners but does not provide a proposal as yet on what steps need to be taken, including on enforcement. Obviously, as far as China is concerned, these concerns have been a central part of the Section 301 investigation and actions by the U.S. Administration and is reportedly being addressed in one of the chapters in the Phase 1 Agreement that will be signed on January 15. It is not clear if the EU, Japan and the U.S. will be looking to multilateralize whatever provisions the United States has negotiated with China into the WTO.

Other items mentioned in the joint statement

Japan, the EU and the United States have been active on a range of other reform issues and agreed to continue to cooperate on them going forward. There are four items flagged:

  1. “the importance of market oriented conditions for a free, fair, and mutually advantageous trading system”;
  2. “reform of the WTO, to include increasing WTO Member compliance with existing WTO notification obligations and pressing advanced WTO Members claiming developing country status to undertake full commitments in ongoing and future WTO negotiations”;
  3. “international rule-making on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce at the WTO”; and
  4. international forums such as the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity and the Governments/Authorities’ Meeting on Semiconductors.”

The WTO system was built by market economy countries and does not address many of the distortions that “state capitalism” such as that practiced by China creates. While proposals such as those on subsidies can address (potentially) some of the distortions that state capitalism systems create, pursuing greater coherence to market economy principles is undoubtedly to the benefit of global trade. If very different economic systems are to continue to coexist, major reform to the WTO will be needed to have any hope of reciprocal trade happening, and such trade may well need to be managed in part.

The second group of issues have been being pursued by the U.S. aggressively in Geneva and bilaterally with the support of various countries. Korea, Singapore and Brazil have all agreed not to seek special and differential treatment in future negotiations or agreements.

For the WTO to remain relevant going forward it needs to be able to address major changes in the global trade environment. The importance of e-commerce is one such example. The plurilateral negotiations that are underway by many WTO members need to be both ambitious and reach an early conclusion.

China has walked away from the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity without a resolution to the serious global excess capacity problem largely created by China. Separately, a recent OECD report on subsidies to the semiconductor industry globally shows the importance of addressing the challenges in that sector on a comprehensive basis to avoid massive distortions in outcomes. OECD (2019), “Measuring distortions in international markets: The semiconductor value chain”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 234, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/8fe4491d-en.

Conclusion

The joint statement released today has an importance beyond the specific proposals it contains. It demonstrates that Japan, the EU and the U.S. have a large set of issues on which there is a common vision and willingness to work together for the good of the global system. The proposals on additional subsidy disciplines address real shortfalls in the existing ASCM and reflect the emergence of subsidy practices by state-capital countries like China that need to be addressed. They also identify important corrections to WTO dispute settlement decisions that need to be made to permit the ASCM to function as intended.

Many countries have concerns with forced technology transfer practices of some countries. While hopefully the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement to be signed on January 15, 2020 will provide a roadmap for a successful approach to these issues, the trilateral efforts will be important to multilateralize an approach that will address all permutations of forced technology transfer that are identified by Members.

Finally, the WTO has gone through its first 25 years and is in need of significant reforms to remain relevant as global trade moves forward. The issues covered by the Joint Statement represent a good group of issue to breathe life back into the WTO.

WTO Reform – Will Limits on Who Enjoys Special and Differential Treatment Be Achieved?

The GATT had and now the WTO has a system of self-declared status as a developing country. The vast majority of WTO members have declared themselves to be developing countries. Some WTO members are categorized by the United Nations as Least Developed Countries (“LDCs”). Indeed the WTO webpage indicates that 36 of 47 LDCs are currently WTO members and that another eight countries who are listed as LDCs by the UN are in the process of negotiating accession to the WTO. “There are no WTO definitions of ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ countries. Developing countries in the WTO are designated on the basis of self-selection although this is not necessarily automatically accepted in all WTO bodies.” https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/org7_e.htm.

The relevance of a WTO member declaring themselves to be a developing country has to do with access to special and differential treatment provisions in virtually every agreement and the likelihood of reduced trade liberalization obligations on the member and in any ongoing negotiations. Thus, in the Uruguay Round, developing countries typically faced lower percent reductions on tariffs and were given longer time periods to implement such reductions than were true for developed countries. A report by the WTO Secretariat reviews Special and Differential Treatment (“S&D”) by agreement and categorizes the S&D provisions under one of the following six groupings (WT/COMTD/W/239 at 4) which are quoted as presented:

  1. provisions aimed at increasing the trade opportunities of developing country Members;
  2. provisions under which WTO Members should safeguard the itnerests of developing country Members;
  3. flexibility of commitments, of action, and use of policy instruments;
  4. transitional time-periods;
  5. technical assistance;
  6. provisions relating to LDC members.

The listing of S&D provisions in the Secretariat document is provided as an attachment below along with a correction.

WTCOMTDW239

WTCOMTDW239C1

With the progress many countries or customs territories have made during their GATT and/or WTO membership, the self-selection designation process has raised concerns by other members about whether certain Members are carrying their weight in terms of market liberalization. Indeed, some have attributed the failure of the Doha Agenda to conclude in 2008 to what certain Members who have declared themselves to be developing countries were willing to do in terms of liberalization versus other major Members who are not “developing”. The issue of who should benefit from Special and Differential treatment takes as a given that all LDCs should receive such benefits. The issue is about whether those non-LDCs who have experienced strong growth and significant economic advancement since the start of the WTO should continue to enjoy those benefits in new agreements.

The United States at the beginning of 2019 made a major submission entitled “An Undifferentiated WTO: Self-Declared Development Status Risks Institutional Irrelevance”. WT/GC/W/757, 16 January 2019. A revision was submitted in February and was followed by a draft General Council Decision to limit who can claim S&D benefits in future negotiations and agreements. WT/GC/W/747/Rev.1; WT/GC/W/764. The U.S. proposal in February was as follows:

“The General Council,

Acknowledging that full implementation of WTO rules as negotiated by Members can contribute to economic growth and development and the need to take steps to facilitate full implementation;

Recognizing the great strides made by several WTO Members since the establishment of the WTO in accomplishing the goals set out in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, of ‘raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with
the objective of sustainable development…;’

Recognizing that not all WTO Members have enjoyed equal rates of economic growth and development since the establishment of the WTO;

Recognizing the plight of the least-developed countries and the need to ensure their effective participation in the world trading system, and to take further measures to improve their trading opportunities;

Recognizing that reserving flexibilities for those WTO Members with the greatest difficulty integrating into the multilateral trading system can open new export opportunities for such countries; and

Desiring to strengthen the negotiating function of the WTO to produce high-standard, reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements directed to the substantial reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade and to the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations;

Agrees as follows:

“To facilitate the full implementation of future WTO agreements and to ensure that the maximum benefits of trade accrue to those Members with the greatest difficulty integrating into the multilateral trading system, the following categories of Members will not avail themselves of special and
differential treatment in current and future WTO negotiations:

“i. A WTO Member that is a Member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), or a WTO Member that has begun the accession process to the OECD;

“ii. A WTO Member that is a member of the Group of 20 (G20);

“iii. A WTO Member that is classified as a “high income” country by the World Bank; or

“iv. A WTO Member that accounts for no less than 0.5 per cent of global merchandise trade (imports and exports).

“Nothing in this Decision precludes reaching agreement that in sector-specific negotiations other Members are also ineligible for special and differential treatment.”

The self-designation of developing country within the GATT and the WTO has generally been seen by Members and outside observers as a “third rail” that could not be modified because of the certain opposition from those enjoying S&D benefits. Not surprisingly, the U.S. proposal has met with opposition from some important WTO Members who have declared themselves to be developing countries, including China, India, South Africa, Venezuela, Bolivia, Kenya and Cuba. See, e.g., WT/GC/W/765 and 765/Rev.1 (it does not appear that the U.S. proposal would affect the last four Members listed).

The U.S. has included the topic in each General Council meeting since its submissions, has engaged in discussions with many WTO members, and submitted a revised proposal in November 2019, WT/GC/W/764/Rev.1, which incorporated language reflecting its arguments throughout the year that

(1) the proposal would not require any country to declare itself not a developing country, just limit whether they received blanket S&D coverage in new agreements;

(2) the change would affect new agreements/negotiations and not affect S&D from existing arrangements;

(3) Members had the right to seek special accommodations on issues of particular importance to them.

There was also clarification of the third and fourth criteria for non-eligibility to reflect a three year period of meeting the criteria.

A few WTO Members who would be subject to the elimination of automatic entitlement to new S&D provisions if the U.S. proposal were adopted by the General Council have indicated that they will forego automatic S&D from future negotiations/agreements. These Members to date are Korea, Singapore and Brazil.

While the strong opposition from major WTO Members such as China, India and South Africa would indicate the U.S. proposal is not likely to be adopted in the foreseeable future, the U.S. has also indicate that it will oppose S&D provisions in future agreements if they are applicable to certain Members.

Indeed, President Trump on July 26, 2019 issued a Memorandum on Reforming Developing-Country Status in the World Trade Organization. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/memorandum-reforming-developing-country-status-world-trade-organization/. The Memo notes that many WTO members who have declared themselves developing countries are “patently unsupportable in light of current economic circumstances. For example, 7 out of the 10 wealthiest economies in the world as measured by Gross Domestic Product per capita on a purchasing-power parity basis – Brunei, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Macao, Qatar, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates – currently claim developing country status. Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey – members of both the G20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – also claim that status.” “China most dramatically illustrates the point.”

The memo goes on to instruct USTR to use all available means to secure changes at the WTO to prevent unwarranted use of S&D provisions and authorizes USTR to take action after 90 days if substantial progress is not made to no longer treat certain WTO members as developing countries and to not support any such country’s efforts to join the OECD.

USTR Robert Lighthizer issued a statement the day of the President’s Memo that reflected the position of the Administration:

“For far too long, wealthy countries have abused the WTO by exempting themselves from its rules through the use of special and differential treatment. This unfairness disadvantages Americans who ply by the rules, undermines negotiations at the WTO, and creates an unlevel playing field. I applaud the President’s leadership in demanding fairness and accountability at the WTO, and I look forward to implementing the President’s directive.” https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2019/july/ustr-robert-lighthizer-statement

Obviously trading partners have had an ongoing interest in the President’s Memo and how it is being implemented by the USTR. At the December 9, 2019 General Council meeting, as part of the U.S. discussion of its proposal, Ambassador Dennis Shea (Deputy USTR) stated as follows:

“Finally, I’d like to provide an update on the memorandum to USTR from the President of the United States in July.

“The President instructed USTR to no longer treat as a developing country for the purposes of the WTO any self-declared developing country that, in the USTR’s judgment, can inappropriately seek S&D in current and
future WTO negotiations. Some Members have asked how the USTR will carry this out.

“USTR consulted with the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee on this issue. The interagency agreed that if a S&D provision is introduced in a WTO negotiation, the United States will indicate that it will not agree to that provision unless certain Members forego use of that provision. The United States will also use the TPR process to continue to press countries that we believe should not be claiming blanket S&D in future agreements. In addition, USTR is continuing to review additional steps that can be taken.

“The President issued two other instructions to the USTR.

“The USTR will not support the application for OECD membership of any self-declared developing country that, in the USTR’s judgment, can inappropriately seek S&D in current and future WTO negotiations.

“Also, USTR shall publish on its website a list of all self-declared developing countries that the USTR believes can inappropriately seek S&D in WTO negotiations.

“Members have asked when USTR will publish the list. USTR is consulting on this issue. The memo did not require USTR to publish the list by a speci􀃌c date.

“I’d like to emphasize two important aspects about the memo and the U.S. proposal that we would like Members to keep in mind.

“First, the President’s memo did not instruct USTR to ask any Member to change its self-declared development status. The U.S. proposal does not ask this of any Member, either.

“Second, the President’s memo did not instruct USTR to ask any Member to forego S&D in existing WTO agreements. The U.S. proposal does not ask this of any Member, either.”

https://geneva.usmission.gov/2019/12/09/ambassador-shea-procedures-to-strengthen-the-negotiating-function-of-the-wto/

As S&D provisions are part of every negotiation, the U.S. position obviously creates challenges to completing ongoing negotiations in any area, such as negotiations on fish subsidies, agriculture, digital trade without more countries agreeing not to seek S&D privileges or at least foregoing such privileges in certain agreements where there is U.S. opposition.

A quick look at some of the countries whom the U.S. proposal would remove from automatic S&D eligibility for new negotiations include the following:

Member of the OECD or in the accession process:

Chile, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Costa Rica.

Member of the G-20:

India, South Africa, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, China, Indonesia, South Korea.

Classified by World Banks as “high income” for 2016-2018 (includes):

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Macao, Panama, Qatar, Seychelles, Singapore, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay.

0.5% of Merchandise Trade (includes):

China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Mexico, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa.

In light of the experience of the last two years on the need to reform the WTO Appellate Body, there should be little doubt that the United States will continue to push hard to achieve a more rational approach to the assumption of obligations at the WTO in terms of who should be eligible for S&D benefits in new agreements. Without movement by some major countries who currently enjoy S&D benefits to forego automatic eligibility in new agreements, the challenging negotiating environment at the WTO that has prevailed for many years now will become more challenging in 2020.

European Union Moves to Authorize Retaliation in Disputes Where There is No Alternative to the Appellate Body Pursued

With the WTO’s Appellate Body not able to handle appeals at the present time because of diminished membership, the EU has put forward a proposal that would authorize the EU to retaliate whenever a dispute where the EU has received what it views as a favorable ruling is appealed by the other party during the period when any such appeal cannot be considered by the Appellate Body. They have also proposed such actions in bilateral agreements where they view the other party as frustrating dispute settlement. https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/policy-making/enforcement-and-protection/. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/com/2019/0623/COM_COM(2019)0623_EN.pdf

The proposal is not adopted as yet, and the EU portrays the initiative as a way of protecting EU interests and consistent with its efforts to increase enforcement of its negotiated trading rights. This proposal, if adopted, will put pressure on smaller trading partners to join alternative dispute settlement approaches such as the arbitration approach the EU has agreed to with Canada and separately with Norway.

The proposal doesn’t address what the EU expects trading partners to take against EU products where it files an appeal (such as the EU did against the second 21.5 panel decision on December 6 which found against the EU in terms of compliance with its obligations on Airbus). WT/DS316/43 (11 December 2019)(notice of appeal); WT/DS316/RW2 (2 December 2019)(panel report on 2nd 21.5 request). But at least for larger WTO members, if the EU files an appeal that will not be heard during this interim period while Members seek ways to resolve open issues, the EU proposal invites similar action by such other Members. Retaliation has, of course, already been authorized for the U.S. against the EU for its WTO-inconsistent actions on Airbus. But should there be other cases that the US (or other countries who opt not to use arbitration under DSU Article 25 or not to simply adopt panel decisions without appeal) brings against the EU which the EU loses in part or whole, the EU is inviting retaliation without opportunity to correct its practices and without arbitration of the amount of retaliation being available. Virtually every Member who has been authorized to take retaliation has been subject to arbitration with amount authorized typically significantly less than the retaliating Member has sought. Thus, the EU may find its approach has costs for EU industry as well.

At the last Dispute Settlement Body (“DSB”) meeting of 2019 held on December 18, the effort to get the process for selecting Appellate Body members started was again unsuccessful because of opposition from the United States. So there will be some considerable period when there is no functioning Appellate Body and only four of the appeals pending on December 10 will be completed by the AB members who were involved in appeals prior to December 10. However, besides the EU efforts with Canada and Norway (which is reportedly being pursued with additional countries), there are alternative approaches being explored by other WTO Members including agreeing to adopt panel decisions without appeals or developing a different arbitration approach to that presented by the EU (e.g., reports that Australia and Brazil are exploring a different system).

For the United States, the U.S. indicated that it had filed on December 18th an appeal from a panel report in DS436, India’s resort to Article 21.5 of the DSU in its challenge to U.S. countervailing duty orders on hot-rolled steel products. The notice of appeal from the U.S. (WT/DS436/21) is not yet available on the WTO webpage. At the DSB meeting, the U.S. made the following comments on the WTO dispute settlement system:

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

“As discussions among Members continue, the dispute settlement system continues to function.

“The central objective of that system remains unchanged: to assist the parties in the resolution of a dispute. As before, Members have many methods to resolve a dispute, including through bilateral engagement and mutually agreed solutions.

“For instance, today, the United States appealed the compliance Panel’s report in DS436.

“While no division can be established to hear this appeal at this time, the United States will confer with India so the parties may determine the way forward in this dispute, including whether the matters at issue may be resolved at this stage or to consider alternatives to the appellate process.

“Consistent with the aim of the WTO dispute settlement system, the parties should make efforts to find a positive solution to their dispute, and this remains the U.S. preference.

“And the United States will continue to insist that WTO rules be followed by the WTO dispute settlement system. We will continue our efforts and our discussions with Members to seek a solution on these important issues.”

Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, Geneva, December 18, 2019, “6. Appellate Body Appointments, Proposal by Some WTO Members (WT/DSB/W/609/Rev.15), https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Dec18.DSB_.Stmt_.as-deliv.fin_.public-1.pdf.

It is certainly the case that the U.S. and the EU have very different views of the role of dispute settlement and the Appellate Body in particular and whether there are major problems with the operation of dispute settlement over the first twenty-five years of WTO operation. But the EU is traveling down a path of increasingly ignoring WTO limitations on its actions, a charge that they make with regard to the United States.

For example, when a WTO member disagrees with an action of a trading partner, it is expected to seek consultations and, if necessary, file a dispute, await resolution of the dispute, permit a reasonable period of time for implementation if a violation was found before retaliation is permitted. Yet the EU (followed by many other countries — Canada, Mexico, China, Russia, Turkey, India) created a facially false basis for retaliating against the United States without pursuing the required steps, when the U.S. took action under a domestic law (Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended) on imports of steel and aluminum based on a report finding threats to U.S. national security from such imports. The EU and the other countries have claimed the action was a disguised safeguard action permitting immediate retaliation. WTO members don’t have to agree with another Member’s actions, but unilateral action is not authorized and the creation of false predicates to justify retaliation don’t change the action from being unilateral and unjustified.

The proposed regulation represents one more step by the EU to create its own system of enforcement regardless of the agreements to which it is a party using circumstances it does not like to justify its own unilateral actions. Let’s hope that whether adopted or not, the EU proceeds cautiously and reflects on its own actions consistency with international agreements.

The WTO Dispute Settlement System – Closing Out 2019 and Implications for 2020

The week of December 2, 2019 saw WTO Members engaged in a variety of year end activities including two added meetings – the resumption of the November 22 Dispute Settlement Body (“DSB”) meeting to explore how pending appeals would be handled post December 10 and another Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration meeting to see if Members could agree to a modified proposed budget to address U.S. concerns on funding for the Appellate Body (“AB”) in light of the imminent reduction of AB members from three to one.

December 3, 2019 DSB Meeting on Pending Appeals

The resumption of the DSB meeting did not result in agreement for how all pending appeals will be addressed with most pending appeals unlikely to be resolved by the current AB members, although it has been reported that the DSB Chair David Walker had indicated that appeals would proceed on four cases (of fourteen pending on December 3) – the two plain paper packaging appeals on Australia’s programs (Honduras (DS435) and the Dominican Republic (DS441), Ukraine’s challenge to various measures in the Russian Federation on the importation of raailway equipment (DS499) and the appeal in the case on U.S. countervailing duties on supercalendered paper from Canada (DS505).

The December 3 resumed DSB meeting did show the continued distance between at least certain WTO members in their view of one of the issues raised by the United States — whether the Dispute Settlement Understanding limits who may authorize individuals to serve as Appellate Body members to the WTO Membership through the DSB. For example, the EU statement confirmed that it viewed the Appellate Body, through Rule 15 of the Working Procedures, as qualified to permit members of the AB whose terms have expired to continue working on appeals that started while they were members. See EU statement at the regular DSB meeting on 3 December 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/71496/eu-statement-regular-dsb-meeting-3-december-2019_en.

The U.S. statement reviewed their year long effort to get an answer to the question “do Members agree that the Appellate Body does not have the authority to ‘deem’ a person who is no longer an Appellate Body member to nonetheless continue to be a member and decide appeals?” From statements by the EU and presumably others, the U.S. concluded that “members are not in agreement on this fundamental question.” As such the U.S. concluded that “there will be no consensus between Members on how to proceed on the Appellate Body by December 10” and that “[i]n the absence of any shared understanding of the underlying causes and of appropriate solutions, it will be for the parties to each dispute to engage with each other to determine an appropriate way forward.” Statement of the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (Dec. 3), https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Nov22.DSB_.Reconvene.Item7_.as_.deliv_.fin_.public.pdf.

Since the DSB meeting on December 3, Morocco withdrew its appeal of a panel decision, Morocco – Anti-Dumping Measures on Certain Hot-Rolled Steel from Turkey, indicating that its antidumping measure had terminated in September. See WT/DS513/7 (5 December 2019). And on December 6, the European Union filed an appeal from the second compliance panel ruling in the Airbus case where the panel had found the EU had not brought its programs into compliance with WTO obligations (panel report was circulated on December 2, 2019). See https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/ds316oth_06dec19_e.htm. Thus, as of December 7, there remain 14 appeals pending before the Appellate Body.

December 5, 2019 Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration Consideration of WTO 2020 Budget

Meanwhile, the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration meeting of December 5 resulted in approval of the modified budget proposal for the WTO for 2020. The budget will now be before the General Council for approval in its final meeting of 2019 held on December 9-11. See Agenda item 20, WT/GC/W/793. The U.S. had worked with the Director-General to identify changes in the budget to reduce funds available for Appellate Body members in light of the current situation and only agreed to proceed with the budget for 2020, postponing the 2021 budget approval process until next year. A number of WTO Members, including the EU, China, India and Turkey had expressed concerns about the modifications to the budget, but approval at the Committee level was secured.

Reductions in two budget line items were reportedly made, reducing funding from $2.791 million to $200,000, presumably sufficient to handle appeals that do go forward through the Appellate Body. What such changes in funding will mean for the Appellate Body Secretariat is not yet clear but logically if there is no functioning Appellate Body, there is no need for an Appellate Body Secretariat until such time as the AB has sufficient members to once again hear appeals.

Other Issues Potentially Affecting the Operation of the Dispute Settlement System

Still unknown is whether current AB members whose term expires on December 10 will agree to continue on appeals after that date even on the four appeals where hearings have been had and that press reports indicated that Amb. Walker, the DSB Chair, had indicated would proceed post December 10. To the extent one of the current AB members opts not to continue on any appeal after the end of his term, that would presumably reduce the number of pending appeals that could be heard as it is likely there would be no continuing AB member who could be substituted (would depend on the composition of the AB Division presently hearing the appeal).

Moreover, as one of the four pending appeals identified in press articles as likely to be completed is a case where the U.S. is a party, it is also not clear what the U.S. position will be on that appeal post December 10. It may have agreed to have those appeals where hearings have been had completed if the current AB members are willing to continue to serve. Press accounts are unclear if that is the case.

There is also the question as to whether the Appellate Body Secretariat is disbanded pending the resumption of a functioning Appellate Body. Press reports have indicated that this is possible/likely with existing staff having the option to leave the WTO or accept positions in other WTO divisions. That would obviously make sense from a budget perspective as well as there is no institutional value in paying people who have no discernible workload.

December 6 Trade Negotiations Committee Heads of Delegation Meeting

There is always a flurry of activity ahead of the last General Council meeting of the year. December 6 saw a meeting of heads of delegation for the Trade Negotiations Committee (“TNC”). The TNC is the Committee that oversees ongoing negotiations within the WTO. While there are very important issues being pursued by various groups within the WTO under the jurisdiction of the TNC, for purposes of this post, the issue of interest will be the extent to which the dispute settlement system is a subject of debate.

As the minutes of the meeting are not publicly available, reference is made to three statements – one by Director-General Azevedo, one by EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado and one by Ambassador Dennis Shea of the United States at the meeting. Other relevant statements were undoubtedly made as well.

The WTO put out a news release on Director-General’s statement to the TNC Heads of Delegation Meeting. The long excerpt below provides the Director-General’s views on the state of play on both the dispute settlement system and on the 2020 budget:

“In his remarks, the Director-General said that while the effective suspension of appellate review of WTO dispute rulings is a serious challenge to the global trade body’s adjudication function, it ‘does not mean the end of the multilateral trading system’.
“‘Existing WTO rules still apply. WTO disciplines and principles will continue to underpin world trade. And members will continue to use WTO rules to resolve trade conflicts – in regular WTO bodies, through consultations, via dispute settlement panels, and through any other means envisaged in the WTO agreements,’ he said.
“Members have important decisions to make, with implications for the WTO and for their respective economies, DG Azevêdo said.
“Where we go from here is in your hands. What we do – or just as significantly, what we fail to do – will define the trajectory of this organization.
“On rule-making, your choices could contribute to restoring certainty in the global economy, and help governments manage interdependence in a fast-changing world.
“On the implementation of existing commitments, you have scope to make regular committee work an even more effective vehicle for fostering compliance and addressing concerns about each other’s trade policies.
“And on dispute settlement, you could restore the impartial, effective, efficient two-step review that most members say they want.
“Alternatively, your choices could open the door to more uncertainty, unconstrained unilateral retaliation – and less investment, less growth, and less job creation.”
‘The DG welcomed a compromise reached in the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration on the WTO’s budget for 2020. The committee’s favourable recommendation has been forwarded to the General Council for endorsement during its 9-11 December session.
“The proposed budget compromise is the result of flexibility and cooperation among members, both here in Geneva and in capitals. It represents a pragmatic response that preserves the WTO system amid turbulence in the wider international system – turbulence that we cannot wish away. I am counting on your help with approval in the General Council.”
DG Azevêdo urges WTO members to find ways forward on
the dispute settlement system, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/tnc_06dec19_e.htm.

Ambassador Machado of the EU’s statement at the meeting is a good representation of the EU position over time and shows the continued sharp difference in views the EU has with the U.S.

“Since our last meeting, the situation of the WTO has further deteriorated. Not only the discontinuation of the Appellate Body’s work has become an evident prospect, but attempts to obstruct the functioning of this Organization through the budget discussion have shattered Members’ confidence in teh WTO. This has diverted us from progressing our negotiation agenda or from finding ways to resume nominations of the Appellate Body Members, which should be the priority. While the European Union is alarmed about the current state of affairs at the WTO, we remain strongly determined to address the challenges in front of us.

“First, we remain resolute to find ways to restore a two-step dispute settlement system at the the WTO, and resume nomination of Appellate Body’s Members as soon as possible. Next week’s General Council will be crucial in this respect and we invite all Members to engage constructively in finding solutions.”

https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/71633/eu-statement-ambassador-jo%C3%A3o-aguiar-machado-trade-negotiations-committeeheads-delegation-6_en

Ambassador Shea’s statement, like that of other Ambassadors at the meeting, covered a range of issues deemed important for the TNC and its work going forward. On dispute settlement, Amb. Shea provided the following thoughts:

“Foruth, with respect to dispute settlement, the United States has engaged constructively over the past year, providing detailed statements in the DSB and the General Council outlining clear positions and articulating our longstanding concerns with the functioning of the Appellate Body. Unfortunately, we have yet to see the same level of engagement from other Members. We have asked repeatedly, if the words of the DSU are already clear, then why have the practices of the Appellate Body strayed so far? This is not an academic question; we will not be able to move forward until we are confident we have addressed the underlying problems and have found real solutions to prevent their recurrence.”

https://geneva.usmission.gov/2019/12/06/ambassador-sheas-statement-at-the-wto-trade-negotiating-committee-heads-of-delegation-meeting/

General Council Meeting, December 9-11, 2019

When the General Council meets starting on Monday, December 11th, among its twenty-four agenda items are two that deal with either dispute settlement (Agenda Item 5) or the 2020 budget (Agenda Item 20). Both agenda items will likely generate a great deal of discussion.

Presumably on December 9th, the General Council will get to agenda item 5, “Informal Process on Matters Related to the Functioning of the Appellate Body – Report by the Facilitator and Draft Decision on the Functioning of the Appellate Body.” The original draft Decision and the revised draft have been discussed in earlier posts and reflects efforts by Amb. Walker (serving as Facilitator to the General Council) to identify possible solutions to the concerns raised by the United States over the last several years on the functioning of the Appellate Body. There will be many WTO Members – undoubtedly including the EU, China, India and others – who will support the draft Decision and urge its adoption. In their view adoption of the Decision would clear the path for the Dispute Settlement Body to start the process for finding replacements for the six Appellate Body seats that either are currently or will be empty after December 10.

The United States has made it clear that the draft Decision does not resolve its concerns, most importantly because there is no understanding of why the Appellate Body has felt free to disregard the limits on its activities.

So expect Agenda item 5 to be contentious but result in no agreed decision being adopted.

On agenda item 20, “Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration – Reports on Meetings of April, June, September, October and November”, this item will likely be taken up on the 10th or 11th (assume the 11th). While again there will likely be a large number of statements and concerns raised about the process, it is expected that the 2020 budget for the WTO will be approved by the General Council.

Regular DSB Meeting of December 18, 2019

The agenda for the upcoming last regular DSB meeting of 2019 is contained in WTO/AIR/DSB/90 dated 6 December 2019. The relevant item for this post, is agenda item 6 which takes up the latest iteration of the proposal to have the DSB make a decision to launch a selection process to fill the six Appellate Body member slots that are or will be open. The proposal is essentially identical to earlier versions and is supported by 117 of the 164 WTO Members. See WT/DSB/W/609/Rev.15, 6 December 2019.

As it has in the past, the United States will not support the proposal, and the year 2019 will end with the Appellate Body unable to hear new appeals, unable to proceed with many of the pending appeals and with WTO Members exploring different options for how they will handle disputes going forward.

Implications for 2020

The 2020 budget reflects the contraction in activity by the Appellate Body even assuming the four pending appeals are completed in 2020. So 2020 will be a year of no or limited Appellate Body activity.

Major players such as the EU, China, India and others are far removed from acknowledging the deep concerns that have been expressed by the United States on the functioning of the Appellate Body, and in many cases disagree that there is even a problem. This impasse suggests that progress on reestablishing a two-step dispute settlement system will be slow if it occurs at all in 2020.

For some, there may be a hope that U.S. elections in late 2020 could lead to a different Administration in 2021 and a different posture on the WTO dispute settlement system. Change may or may not occur regardless of which Administration is in place in 2021. But there is little doubt that 2020 will be a year in which WTO members will need to consider other approaches to resolving disputes. One obvious alternative could be through arbitration under Article 25 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (the EU has a model it has adopted with Canada and separately with Norway; other approaches could obviously be pursued). Members could also agree to not appeal from panel decisions. Negotiations can also provide ways to address matters of concern to trading partners, as can greater transparency and increased activity in WTO Committees permitting Members to understand and comment on practices of trading partners.

Change inevitably brings discomfort and uncertainty. December 10 and the inability to appeal new panel decisions after that date is the bookmark date for change. 2020 will undoubtedly be a year of discomfort and uncertainty. Let us hope that the WTO Members can find a path to addressing U.S. concerns in a meaningful manner and that an improved dispute settlement system is the result.

The WTO Budget — Will There Be a Resolution in December?

November 2019 proved to be a challenging time for the WTO in terms of getting agreement on the budget for the organization for 2020. Normally, the budget is approved for a two year time period. At the November 12 Budget, Finance and Administration Committee [“BFA Committee”] meeting, the United States had questions on a number of topics including funding for the Appellate Body and its Secretariat with the result that the Director-General’s draft budget was not approved at that meeting. The Committee added another meeting to the agenda for November 27 in the hope of achieving resolution and agreement at the Committee level on the budget for 2020-2021.

Virtually none of the documents that are submitted to or generated by the BFA Committee are made public, nor is there a summary of meetings that is made available to the public. Thus, relatively little is public about events following the November 12 BFA Committee meeting. The Director-General is reported to have revised the budget proposal after consultations with the United States which appeared to leave the total budget for the WTO in tact but to have modified what could be used for the Appellate Body based on the reality of the number of Appellate Body [“AB”} members being reduced to 1 after December 10 which prevents the AB from handling new appeals after that date.

Press accounts suggest that the U.S. agreed to having just a few of the 13 pending appeals concluded with AB funds — specifically the two plain packaging of cigarette cases against Australia brought by Costa Rica and Honduras (DS435 and DS 441). In an earlier note, I had reviewed the likely challenges for the 13 pending appeals in light of when notices of appeal were filed and the possibility of one of the two AB members whose term expires on December 10 apparently not having expressed a willingness to continue to hear appeals past the end of his second term.

Reportedly, the U.S. has also insisted on funding for any arbitration under DSU Article 25 to be handled from the WTO Secretariat and be at the level and amount for panelists vs. Appellate Body members.

Finally, the U.S. has only agreed to funding for 2020 with 2021 to be dealt with next year.

At the meeting on November 27, press reports indicate that objections to the modified budget were raised by the EU, China, India and Turkey. on various grounds (e.g., different treatment for different pending disputes; contractual commitments to the remaining AB member for the remainder of the member’s term; view that it is not the role of the BFA Committee to resolve how pending appeals are handled) with no consensus at the end of the November 27 meeting. See, e.g., Washington Trade Daily, November 28, 2019 at 1-2.

No additional BFA Committee meeting has been added to the WTO list of remaining meetings in 2019. There are two informal heads of delegation meetings ahead of the December 9-11 General Council meeting. One was held on November 29 (informal General Council – heads of deletation) but has no report of what was discussed or whether the budget was being handled in ongoing negotiations with those raising concerns. The next informal heads of delegation meeting is scheduled for Friday, December 6 (TNC – heads of delegation) followed by the three day General Council meeting.

The General Council’s agenda is likely lengthy and will include annual reports from various committees and other entities but has not been made public at this point. However, some documents for review at the General Council are available publicly including the draft General Council Decision prepared by Amb. Walker of New Zealand which is an attempt to find a solution to problems with the dispute settlement system raised by the United States. As the U.S. has already indicated that the draft General Council Decision does not adequately address its concerns, it is not expected that the draft Decision will be adopted by the General Council after it has been presented and discussed.

December 18 is the last regularly scheduled Dispute Settlement Body meeting of the year, and will occur eight days after the last day the Appellate Body has a minimum of three Appellate Body members (assuming no resolution with the United States). Thus, no new appeals filed after December 10 can be heard by the Appellate Body until new members are agreed to.

Amb. Walker, who in addition to being the facilitator for the General Council’s consideration of the issue is the current Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body, is understood to be working with Members to see if there is an approach to the pending appeals that can be approved. For the reasons reviewed in the Nov. 24 post, it is unlikely that most of the current appeals will be in a position to proceed if all three of the existing Appellate Body members don’t agree to continue to serve under Rule 15 of the AB’s procedures despite the terms for two of the three expiring on December 10. Amb. Walker will be hoping to have an agreed solution ahead of the December 18 DSB meeting. But the resolution on how pending appeals will be handled, if found, is presumably relevant to what the Members agree to for the 2020 budget. The December 18 DSB meeting is the last listed meeting of any WTO group for 2019. Indeed, December 23 – 31 are shown as non-working days for the WTO.

While it is hard to imagine that WTO Members won’t approve a modified budget for 2020 in the coming few weeks, it is likely to be a tense end to 2019 at the WTO with formal or informal additional meetings possible and with some Members having to consider how to handle pending appeals and all ongoing and future disputes.