Japan

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH

Climate change is a major global concern. Indeed, the UN has indicated there is less than a year for countries to get serious about saving the planet by getting their updated national climate action plans (NDCs) submitted. See Time, ‘If This Task Was Urgent Before, It’s Crucial Now.’ U.N. Says World Has 10 Months to Get Serious on Climate Goals, February 26, 2021,https://time.com/5942546/un-emissions-targets-climate-change/; UN Climate Change, Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published, 26 February 2021, https://unfccc.int/news/greater-climate-ambition-urged-as-initial-ndc-synthesis-report-is-published (“’2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency. The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.  Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030 in their Nationally Determined Contributions well before the November UN Climate Conference in Glasgow,’ said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.”).

While the largest polluters — China and the United States — haven’t submitted updated NDCs, the Biden Administration is planning on hosting a climate summit in the summer and plans on having more ambitious plans for the U.S. prepared by that time. See Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, February 23, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/23/roadmap-for-a-renewed-u-s-canada-partnership/ (“The Prime Minister and the President expressed their commitment to have their two countries work together on cooperative action ahead of the US-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit that will allow both countries to increase their climate ambition. The President, in addition to acknowledging Canada’s new strengthened national climate plan and its globally ambitious price on pollution, reiterated his aim to have ready the US nationally determined contribution (NDC) in advance of the Summit and welcomed the Prime Minister’s aim to announce the enhanced 2030 emissions target for its NDC by the Summit as well.”).

At the World Trade Organization, many countries are anxious to explore ways that trade can facilitate addressing the challenges from climate change. Because of the large share of employment around the world by micro-, small- and medium’sized businesses (MSMEs), such businesses are playing and will have to play a critical role in adopting technologies to permit reduction of pollutions threatening the planet.

On February 25, 2021 a group of WTO Members (largely developed countries) submitted a communication to the WTO membership outlining ways that MSMEs can use intellectual property to green their businesses. See INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN, SINGAPORE, SWITZERLAND, THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE UNITED STATES, IP/C/W/675 (26 February 2021). The paper lays out the purpose of the communication in its introduction copied below.

“1. Some of today’s critical global challenges include climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and food security. As an example, climate change matters to our health and increases the risk of infections and pandemics.1

“2. Several international efforts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement are designed to address these challenges. In this context, the role of Green Technology2 is important to provide new alternatives to address these challenges and create opportunities that have economic, social, and environmental benefits, as underscored by the framework of the SDGs. Of these, several underline the importance of Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) for the accomplishment of the above objectives.

“3. Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) can play a pivotal role in this change towards more sustainability. As they provide for more than 50 percent of employment (G20/OECD, 2015), they can constitute core engines of innovation and growth. MSMEs working in the green tech sector represent key economic actors in the effort towards finding solutions to address the abovementioned global challenges. The role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) to enhance the competitiveness of MSMEs should be looked at closely. IPRs enhance the dissemination and protection of innovations – which is key for MSMEs, including those in the green tech sector (Friesike, Jamali, Bader et al, 2009). This submission presents IPR approaches for making MSMEs more competitive in green tech.

“1 Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/cchange/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/ (last consulted: 09.01.2021).”

The communication then provides information on international and national approaches to helping SMSEs obtain IP protection and/or obtain through license or otherwise existing IP technologies to address greening their businesses. For example, on international approaches, the communication reviews the role WIPO and WTO play in providing easy access to lots of information on intellectual property systems of many countries. WIPO has set up support through WIPO Green to facilitate collaboration on environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) including what technologies are available for licensing, etc.

“5. One important initiative to accelerate the development and dissemination of ESTs is WIPO GREEN, a marketplace designed to connect providers and seekers of ESTs. All technologies listed in the online database of WIPO GREEN are available for license, collaboration, joint ventures, and sale. In addition to establishing a network of various partners, WIPO GREEN contains a database of IP experts, supports acceleration projects in different countries and produces briefs and seminars for various green tech areas. It is thus particularly valuable for MSMEs, given that it facilitates the diffusion of their technologies and provides information to technology providers and seekers in all countries.”

The communication from the WTO Members also includes information on the Technology Mechanism provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and provides information on classification of green technology patents by WIPO, the European Patent Office (EPO) and US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

On national approaches Members can take, the communication focuses on actions the national patent office can take.

“12. There are several ways for IP offices to assist MSMEs in making the best use of IPRs.

“• IP offices can provide basic guidance and assistance on various IPR aspects. By preparing reader-friendly IP material, including patent and trademark basics, examination overviews, information on patent searching and resources on legal assistance that could be used by inventors and businesses in the green tech sector, individual questions and needs may be met.

“• IP offices may provide support in the form of assisting applicants with patent searches, landscape analyses and also facilitate free legal assistance.

“• Specifically with a view to promoting ESTs, IP offices could consider accelerated patent examination procedures for such green tech patent applications. This process shortens the time between application and grant, enabling MSMEs to attain financial support more quickly.

“• Customized workshops, seminars, or awards for the best green tech inventions may also help to make MSMEs that are involved in the green tech sector more aware of the benefits that the IP system may hold for them.”

The complete communication is embedded below.

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Conclusion

While there are presently limited environmental negotiations going on at the WTO (fisheries subsidies), the global race to address a warming world requires greater focus by WTO Members on the role trade can play to improve the global response. Restarting the environmental goods negotiations is one obvious area for negotiations. Addressing carbon leakage through national laws and international negotiations is another. Encouraging collaboration to spread green technology requires no negotiations but is a potentially important component in the global response. Hence the February 25 communication is a valuable contribution to increasing the global focus on how to address the challenges of a warming planet.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting

While the WTO’s General Council, in special session, appointed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General on February 15, 2021, her term starts on Monday, March 1. The challenges facing the WTO membership and the incoming Director-General are many and complex. At the same time, there is a lot of useful work that is done within the WTO including efforts of non-members to join the WTO (accessions).

In speaking to an informal Trade Negotiations Committee and Heads of Delegation meeting on February 25, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff spoke in part on “The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era”. See WTO, DDG Wolff calls on members to work with new Director-General to reform WTO, 25 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgaw_25feb21_e.htm. Part of the section of his statement on the new DG’s era is copied below.

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

“The landmark event of the last six months was the appointment of the new Director-General ten days ago after what turned out to be a lengthy process.  91 member delegations spoke last week to congratulate the new Director-General. The DDGs and the Secretariat join you in welcoming Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment with great enthusiasm.

“Of course, member enthusiasm, optimism and hope need to be translated into concrete action.  

“There is much that needs to be done at this critical juncture for the WTO. World trade must contribute to a more effective pandemic response as well as a strong and sustainable economic recovery. Climate issues are demanding more urgent attention. WTO reform is overdue, having been called for repeatedly by you, by your ministers and by many heads of government. 

“The challenges are many but so are the opportunities. Dr Ngozi’s remarks at the Special General Council meeting last Monday, subsequently circulated to delegations in document JOB/GC/250, presented a worthy and ambitious agenda for the members of this organization.

“What did she say?

“To act with a sense of urgency to assist in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic through the nexus of trade and public health:

“First, by playing a more forceful role in exercising the WTO’s monitoring function. Part of this would involve encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment. WTO monitoring suggests that as of yesterday, 59 members and 7 observers still had pandemic-related export restrictions or licensing requirements in place, mostly for personal protective equipment, disinfectants and to a lesser extent, for medicines and food. This represents a significant level of rollback compared to the 81 members and 10 observers that had implemented such measures over the past year. A welcome development — but there is much room to improve this record.  

“And second, by broadening access to new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics by facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules.

“Beyond these immediate responses to the pandemic, Dr Ngozi set out a number of other, also vitally important, challenges:

“To swiftly conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations, and thus pass a key test of the WTO’s multilateral credibility while contributing to the sustainability of the world’s oceans.

“To build on the new energy in the multilateral trading system from the joint statement initiatives attracting greater support and interest, including from developing countries.

“To address more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change, using trade to create a green and circular economy, to reactivate and broaden negotiations on environmental goods and services, to take the initiative to address the issue of carbon border adjustments as they may affect trade.

“To level the playing field in agricultural trade though improving market access and dealing with trade distorting domestic support, exempting from export restrictions World Food Programme humanitarian purchases.

“To strengthen disciplines on industrial subsidies, including support for state-owned enterprises. 

“To defuse the divisions over Special and Differential Treatment (SDT).

“And to develop a work programme for restoring two-tier dispute resolution, to be agreed no later than MC12.

“I sense from my discussions with members that you chose this leader, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, because she has shown herself during her career to be fearless in the face of daunting challenges — and is experienced in knowing how to work with others to make progress toward solutions. 

“Each of the challenges the WTO faces, I am sure, can be met and overcome.  Echoing Dr Ngozi’s words, the trading system that we inherited, now only three-quarters of a century old, is about people.  This is inscribed in the opening section of the Marrakech agreement: ‘to raise living standards, ensure full employment, increase incomes, expand the production of and trade in goods and services, and seek the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.”’

DDG Wolff’s summation correctly lays out many of the issues needing to be addressed by the WTO membership. The vast majority of the issues are highly controversial among at least some Members.

The first major order of business is a two day General Council meeting on March 1-2 which has several agenda items that lay out controversies on important potential deliverables by the WTO in 2021. The agenda for the two day meeting contains sixteen items. See WT/GC/W/820 (26 February 2021) embedded below.

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General Council meetings deal with updates on ongoing work at the WTO and address issues teed up by particular Members for consideration at the meeting. This post does not take up all agenda items but highlights a few of possible interest. Because DDG Wolff’s statement on February 25 reviews many of the activities of the WTO in the last six months which shows some of the positive developments, the full statement is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-calls-on-members-to-work-with-new-Director-General-to-reform-WTO

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

Agenda item 4 deals with the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. It is expected that there will be a decision on the timing and location of the twelfth Ministerial Conference at the General Council session on Monday-Tuesday. The 12th MC was postponed from June 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continued challenges from the pandemic the likely date will be the end of 2021. Kazakhstan which had offered to host the conference in 2020 and again in the summer of 2021 has recently indicated a willingness to host in December of this year as well. The ministerial had originally been scheduled for June because of challenging weather conditions in Kazakhstan in December. See TWELFTH SESSION OF THE MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, COMMUNICATION FROM KAZAKHSTAN, 8 February 2021, WT/GC/229 (24 February 2021)(embedded below).

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Report on WTO Accessions

Deputy Director-General Wolff will provide a statement on the annual report on WTO accessions. The report is WTO ACCESSIONS, 2020 ANNUAL REPORT BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WT/ACC/38, WT/GC/228 (18 February 2021). Activity on accessions was challenged by the pandemic and inability to travel/hold in person meetings. More technical assistance and virtual meetings were held. Accessions are important for acceding governments in terms of promoting reforms at home and obtaining increased certainty in their international trade relations. Accessions are also an important benefit of membership for existing Members as acceding Members reduce tariffs and various non-tariff barriers to gain accession. The first eight paragraphs of the report provide an overview of activities in 2020 and are copied below.

Overview of activities in 2020

“1. 2020 was an unprecedented year in recent history due the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and its consequences which have touched upon every single aspect of our lives in every corner of the world. It was a challenging year for the WTO, not least because the pandemic disrupted its core activities, especially during the first half of the year, and it also disrupted the international trade of Members, except for supplies of essential goods critical to combatting the health crisis as trade in these goods expanded dramatically. The difficulties and challenges arising from the pandemic were particularly pronounced in acceding governments due to the uncertainties of being outside of the multilateral trading system. In fact, the desire and urgency to be part of the WTO was never felt stronger than in the pandemic year. This was reflected in the level of accession activities in 2020, which was sustained vis-à-vis previous years, with a significant increase in technical assistance and outreach activities.

“2. The year for accessions started with the establishment of a new Working Party for the accession of Curaçao, a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (WTO Member), following its application for an independent membership as a separate customs territory pursuant to Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement. This constituted the 59th request by a state or separate customs territory for membership since the establishment of the Organization in 1995. In July, Turkmenistan was granted observer status in the WTO, with the understanding that it would apply for accession no later than in five years. This brought the total number of observer governments with the intention to accede to the WTO to 24, an increase by five since 2016 when Afghanistan and Liberia became the Organization’s most recent Members. The continuing interest to become part of the multilateral trading system is a testament to the attraction and relevance of its values and principles for all economies, regardless of their size or level of development.

“3. The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly hampered or delayed the technical work by acceding governments, Members and the Secretariat to prepare for, engage in and follow up on Working Party meetings. However, thanks to the firm commitment of the acceding governments to advance their work, four Working Parties met, including through the use of virtual platforms that connected the acceding governments which were unable to travel to Geneva. One acceding government had to cancel its already scheduled meeting due to the suspension of all WTO meetings in March. Out of the four accession Working Party meetings held in 2020, three were on LDC accessions (Ethiopia, Comoros and Timor-Leste). In two cases – the Working Parties of Ethiopia and Uzbekistan – this also represented the formal resumption of accession processes after several years of inactivity (8 and 15 years, respectively), signalling their desire to use WTO membership negotiations to drive domestic economic reforms, which have broader implications in the regions where they are located.

“4. When the pandemic halted planned missions, technical assistance, and outreach activities which required air travel, the Secretariat rapidly shifted the mode of operation to virtual format and took advantage of the opportunities provided thereby. In addition to the formal accession Working Party meetings which took place via Interprefy, the Accessions Division organised virtual technical meetings and briefing sessions with acceding governments, Working Party Chairpersons and partners in support of accessions. Moreover, the Division delivered a number of technical assistance, training and outreach activities in response to articulated needs of acceding governments, using various virtual platforms, such as MS Teams, Zoom and WebEx. In fact, the number of activities delivered by the Division and of participants who attended or were trained in 2020 exceeded considerably the numbers in previous years.

“5. One of the novel outreach programs developed in 2020 was two week-long activities which consisted of a series of webinars combining lectures, training and panel discussions. The first Accessions Week was organised from 29 June to 3 July, and the first edition of the Trade for Peace Week took place from 30 November to 4 December. These virtual events brought together a large number of resource persons and panellists from around the world and reached out to a larger number of participants, in a highly cost-effective manner, in comparison with traditional in-person activities. While the full values and benefits of in-person interaction cannot be replaced or replicated, the Accessions Week enabled the Secretariat to remain engaged with acceding governments and Members, experts and partners, beyond Geneva and around the world. The Trade for Peace Week provided an effective networking platform to expand the WTO’s partnership with the peace and humanitarian communities in support of fragile and conflict affected (FCA) countries in accession.

“6. The importance of collaboration and cooperation with partners was never felt more strongly than in 2020. The Secretariat made concerted efforts to enhance and expand the “Trade for Peace through WTO Accession” Initiative to support FCA countries in accession and those recently acceded to the WTO. In 2020, nine acceding governments were identified as being in a FCA situation according to the World Bank’s classification1, while conflicts emerged or resurged in some others. The pandemic hit hardest countries which had already been suffering from years of conflict, political crises, drought and other natural disasters, compounded by declines of the price of oil and other commodities. Nonetheless, some FCA acceding LDCs showed remarkable resilience in sustaining their engagement in accession. The Working Party on the Accession of the Union of Comoros resumed its work with determination to finalise the process as soon as possible. The Working Party on the Accession of Timor-Leste activated the Working Party by holding its first meeting nearly four years after its establishment, despite various challenges faced on the domestic front. Moreover, Somalia submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime, the base document to start its accession engagement with Members. Furthermore, the Secretariat continued to provide support to the g7+ WTO Accessions Group, which was coordinated by Afghanistan.

“7. The year 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the WTO. The Secretariat used its annual flagship event, the China Round Table on WTO Accessions, to review the contributions made by accessions to the multilateral trading system since 1995. The event also provided an opportunity for an exchange of ideas to explore the future expansion of WTO membership towards universality, including through possible improvements in the accession process. The year also marked a significant anniversary milestone for five Article XII Members2 – Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Jordan and Oman which joined the WTO in 2000, the year with the largest number of new members to date. Other anniversary milestones included the fifth anniversaries of Membership of Kazakhstan and Seychelles and the fifteenth anniversary for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, membership anniversaries have become an important occasion to reflect on the benefits and values of being part of the Organization.

“8. Finally, the thematic focus of the 2020 Annual Report was on the complementarities and synergies in negotiating WTO membership and regional trade agreements. Almost all acceding governments are involved in regional integration initiatives in parallel with their efforts to achieve WTO membership. The highlight of the year was the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to which all African WTO applicants are signatories. The Report’s thematic section builds on the rich discussions held on the topic during the 2020 Regional Dialogues on WTO Accessions for Africa and for the Arab Region, as well as other meetings on Central Asia and Eurasia. It aims to explore key opportunities and challenges that may arise in a simultaneous pursuit of regional and global integration efforts and to provide a checklist of issues for trade negotiators to consider in maximising the benefits from the participation in multiple trade arrangements.”

The full report is embedded below.

WTACC38

Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

The sixth agenda item involves the effort from India and South Africa with a number of other developing or least developed countries to obtain a waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical goods needed for the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a very controversial issue with developed countries with pharmaceutical companies involved in the production of vaccines and other items opposing the waiver on the basis of existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement and on the global efforts through the WHO, GAVI and CEPI to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries through COVAX with financial contributions from many countries, NGOs and others. See, e.g., February 19, 2021, COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines  to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum received from G-7 virtual meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/19/covaxs-efforts-to-distribute-covid-19-vaccines-to-low-and-middle-income-countries-additional-momentum-from-g-7-virtual-meeting/

The TRIPS Council received the proposal back in October but has been unable to provide a recommendation to the General Council. A meeting of the TRIPS Council earlier this month continued the lack of agreement. Thus, the agenda item will simply result in the item being continued on the General Council’s future agendas until resolved or dropped. See WTO, Members discuss TRIPS waiver request, exchange views on IP role amid a pandemic, 23 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_23feb21_e.htm (” In this context and given the lack of consensus on the waiver request, members agreed to adopt an oral status report to be presented to the General Council at its next meeting on 1-2 March. The report indicates that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and therefore will continue discussions and report back to the General Council.”); December 11, 2020, Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting of December 10, 2020 – no resolution on proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/11/council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-of-december-10-2020-no-resolution-on-proposed-waiver-of-trips-obligations-to-address-the-pandemic/; December 6, 2020, Upcoming December 11th Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting – reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/06/upcoming-december-11th-wto-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-reaction-to-proposed-waiver-from-trips-obligations-to-address-covid-19/; November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

The WTO has been pursuing negotiations on fisheries subsidies to address sustainable fishing concerns since the end of 2001. Conclusion of the negotiations were supposed to take place in 2020 but WTO Members were unable to get the job completed in part because of disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. While completing the negotiations remains a key objective of Members and the incoming Director-General and such completion is needed to fulfill the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, WTO Members continue to face a large number of challenging issues. See, e.g., WTO press release, WTO members hold February cluster of meetings for fisheries subsidies negotiations, 24 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_24feb21_e.htm; February 22, 2021, An early test for the incoming WTO Director-General — helping Members get the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations to a conclusion, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/22/an-early-test-for-the-incoming-wto-director-general-helping-members-get-the-fisheries-subsidies-negotiations-to-a-conclusion/.

Agenda item 7 is entitled “Supporting the Conclusion of Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations for the Sustainability of the Ocean and Fishing Communities — Draft Ministerial Decision — Communication from Brazil (WT/GC/W/815. The draft Ministerial Decision is an effort by Brazil to highlight the critical aspect of the negotiations which is to address environmental sustainability and presumably reflects Brazil’s concerns with the efforts of so many Members to protect their subsidies versus ensuring sustainable fishing. The document is embedded below.

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

As reviewed in the incoming Director-General’s statement on February 15 and the summary of her statement by DDG Wolff on February 25, an important aspect of ongoing work at the WTO is a number of Joint Statement Initiatives that were started at the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, including on e-commerce/digital trade.

Agenda item 10 is a frontal attack on such initiatives by India and South Africa through their paper, “Legal Status of Joint Statement Initiatives and Their Negotiated Outcomes”, WT/GC/819. I had reviewed the submission in an earlier post. See February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/. The agenda item will like see many delegations take the floor to support the use of joint statement initiatives within the WTO or to oppose them. While there won’t be a resolution of the issue, the challenge to the process could significantly handicap some of the efforts envisioned by the incoming Director-General to help developing and least developed countries take advantage of the e-commerce/digital trade world and eventually participate in talks and/or in an agreement. WT/GC/W/819 is embedded below.

WTGCW819-1

Agenda item 8 is viewed as related to agenda item 10. India has been seeking to limit WTO consideration of e-commerce issues to the multilateral efforts over many years within the existing Councils and Committees of the WTO (but where limited progress has been made).

COVID-19 and possible future pandemics — addressing existing trade restrictions and improving the functioning of the WTO to better handle in the future

The incoming Director-General has as a high priority to work with Members to improve monitoring of export restraints on medical goods and agricultural goods during the pandemic and working with Members to see that the WTO helps Members recover and better handle any future pandemics. The Ottawa Group had put forward a trade and health initiative in November 2020. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The communication was made by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. The document contains an annex reviewing the types of actions Members could take to improve the response to the pandemic and improve conditions going forward. Included in the annex to the communication are sections on export restrictions; customs, services and technical regulations; tariffs; transparency and review; cooperation of the WTO with other organizations. Several paragraphs in the communication review the issue of possible export restrictions on vaccines and are copied below.

“9. We realize that the challenges related to the scarcity of essential medical goods, now alleviated to some extent by the response on the supply side, may be repeated at the moment of the development of a vaccine or new medical treatments. In this context, we welcome the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), a global pooled procurement mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines, managed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. This mechanism is critical in securing an equitable share of vaccines for all Members of the international community. As we strongly support the objective of this facility, we call on WTO Members to ensure that any export-restricting measures do not pose a barrier to the delivery of necessary supplies under the COVAX facility.

“10. We recognize the collaborative efforts of private and public stakeholders in the research and development of COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. We encourage the industry to take actions to ensure access at affordable prices to COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for vulnerable populations and support voluntary pooling and licensing of IP rights to accelerate the development of such diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and scaling up their production. We recognize the importance of the IP system in promoting R&D and innovation for access to effective treatments. We note that the flexibilities provided by the TRIPS Agreement and reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health remain available to protect public health and to promote access to medicines for all.”

The full document is embedded below.

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Canada will be providing an update on the initiative at the General Council meeting and will likely see many Members provide comments on the agenda item.

Agenda item 9 was added by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay reflecting concerns by them (and presumably many other trading partners) about actions taken by the European Union to exert control over exports of vaccines from the EU in light of EU concerns about its own access to vaccines from manufacturers. See CALL TO PREVENT EXPORT RESTRICTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES, WT/GC/818 (18 February 2021). The document is embedded below.

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Since the EU is one of the Members who has pushed the trade and health initiative, there is concern by some WTO Members that its actions on vaccines run counter to the initiative it is supporting. Presumably the EU will argue that its actions are consistent with its rights under the WTO and is consistent with the language laid out in paragraphs 9 and 10 above.

The two agenda items are likely to show the concerns of many Members on equitable access to medical goods during the pandemic and the reluctance of at least some Members to reduce their flexibilities under the existing WTO rights and obligations.

Conclusion

DDG Wolff indicated that Members selected the incoming Director-General because she is “fearless in the face of daunting challenges”. There is no shortage of daunting challenges facing the WTO and its new Director-General. A few have been reviewed above.

Some good news is that the EU and the United States are supportive of many of the priorities laid out by DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her February 15 statement to the Special Session of the General Council as seen in the recent EU revised trade policy and the opening statement of USTR nominee Katherine Tai at yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing See February 18, 2021, The European Commission’s 18 February 2021 Trade Policy Review paper and Annex — WTO reform and much more proposed, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/18/the-european-commissions-18-february-2021-trade-policy-review-paper-wto-reform-and-much-more-proposed/; February 25, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/25/u-s-trade-representative-nominee-katherine-tai-confirmation-hearing-before-the-u-s-senate-finance-committee/.

The challenges the new Director-General and the WTO Members face will be made harder by the lack among Members of a common vision and agreed purpose of the WTO, by the current inability of the WTO system to address fundamentally different economic systems, by the structure of decision making, by the failure of obligations to be updated to match level of economic development and role in global trade and by the related issue of how special and differential treatment is used. These challenges have resulted in a negotiating function that is broken, in a dispute settlement system that has no checks on the reviewers for errors or failures to operate within the bounds of authority granted in the Dispute Settlement Understanding and in the underperformance of the monitoring and implementation function.

Hopefully, DG Okonjo-Iweala will develop a strong personal staff and group of DDGs to help her attempt the seemingly impossible — getting meaningful progress and reform from the 164 current WTO Members. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will get her first reality check at the General Council meeting on March 1-2.


COVID-19 agricultural fall out — higher prices for many consumers and greater food insecurity

The World Bank’s President David Malpass in a February 1st posting on Voices flagged the challenges for many of the world’s poorest people flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic — higher food prices, greater hunger, more people pushed into extreme poverty. See World Bank blog,COVID crisis is fueling food price rises for world’s poorest, February 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/covid-crisis-fueling-food-price-rises-worlds-poorest. The post was originally published in the Guardian. The post is copied in its entirety below (emphasis in the original webpost).

“Over the last year, COVID-19 has undone the economic, health and food security of millions, pushing as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. While the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating, the rise in hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms. 

Income losses have translated into less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created local shortages and higher prices, especially for perishable food.  This reduced access to nutritious food will have negative impacts on the health and cognitive development of COVID-era children for years to come.

“Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. Phone surveys conducted periodically by the World Bank in 45 countries show significant percentages of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. With the situation increasingly dire, the international community can take three key actions in 2021 to increase food security and help prevent a larger toll on human capital.

“The first priority is enabling the free flow of food. To avoid artificial shortages and price spikes, food and other essential goods must flow as freely as possible across borders.  Early in the pandemic, when perceived shortages and panic generated threats of export bans, the international community helped keep food trade flows open. Credible and transparent information about the state of global food inventories – which were at comfortable levels pre-COVID – along with unequivocal free-trade statements from the G20, World Trade Organization, and regional cooperation bodies helped reassure traders, and led to helpful policy responses. Special rules for agriculture, food workers and transport corridors restored supply chains that had been briefly disrupted within countries.

“We need to remain vigilant and avoid backsliding into export restrictions and hardened borders that make food – and other essentials – scarce or more costly.

“The second priority is bolstering social safety nets. Short-term social safety nets offer a vital cushion for families hit by the health and economic crises. In Ethiopia, for example, households that experienced problems in satisfying their food needs initially increased by 11.7 percentage points during the pandemic, but participants in our long-running Productive Safety Net program were shielded from most of the negative effects.

“The world has mounted an unprecedented social protection response to COVID-19. Cash transfers are now reaching 1.1 billion people, and innovative delivery mechanisms are rapidly identifying and reaching new groups, such as informal urban workers. But ‘large scale’ is not synonymous with ‘adequate’. In a review of COVID-19 social response programs, cash transfer programs were found to be:

“–Short-term in their duration – lasting just over three months on average

“–Small in value – an average of $6 (£4.30) per capita in low-income countries

“–Limited in scope – with many in need remaining uncovered

“The pandemic has reinforced the vital imperative of increasing the world’s investments in social protection systems. Additional measures to expedite cash transfers, particularly via digital means, would also play an important role in reducing malnutrition.

“The third priority is enhancing prevention and preparedness. The world’s food systems endured numerous shocks in 2020, from economic impacts on producers and consumers to desert locust swarms and erratic weather.  All indicators suggest that this may be the new normal. The ecosystems we rely on for water, air and food supply are under threat. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise owing to growing demographic and economic pressures on land, animals and wildlife.

“A warming planet is contributing to costlier and more frequent extreme weather events. And as people pack into low-quality housing in urban slums or vulnerable coastal areas, more are living in the path of disease and climate disaster.

“Development gains can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Our experience with hurricanes or seismic events shows that it is more effective to invest in prevention, before a catastrophe strikes. That’s why countries need adaptive social protection programs – programs that are connected to food security early warning systems and can be scaled up in anticipation of shocks.

“The time is long overdue to shift to practices that safeguard and increase food and nutrition security in ways that will endure. The to-do list is long and urgent. We need sustained financing for approaches that prioritize human, animal and planetary health; restore landscapes and diversify crops to improve nutrition; reduce food loss and waste; strengthen agricultural value chains to create jobs and recover lost incomes; and deploy effective climate-smart agriculture techniques on a much greater scale.

“The World Bank Group and partners are ready to help countries reform their agriculture and food policies and redeploy public finance to foster a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.

Focusing on food security would address a basic injustice: almost one in 10 people live in chronic hunger in an age of food waste and plenty.  This focus would also strengthen our collective ability to weather the next storm, flood, drought, or pandemic – with safe and nutritious food for all.”

Food insecurity is an issue for all countries although most pressing for the poorest countries

The challenges noted by the World Bank President also face most other countries. For example, in the United States, there has been a massive increase in the number of people getting food from food banks and estimates are that one in seven Americans needs food assistance. Feeding America, The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity, October 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research (“Combining analyses at the national, state, county, and congressional district levels, we show how the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.”) The challenges for schools not being able to have in school education has complicated the challenge in the United States as millions of children receive food from their schools but need alternative sources when schools are not able to provide in school classes. See, e.g., Brookings Institution, Hungry at Thanksgiving: A Fall 2020 update on food insecurity in the U.S., November 23, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/23/hungry-at-thanksgiving-a-fall-2020-update-on-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s/ (reviews the increase in food insecurity and the various safety net programs in the U.S. attempting to address).

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

The World Trade Organization is directly involved in addressing the first priority identified by World Bank President Malpass — enabling the free flow of food. However, the WTO also monitors government support efforts and has the ability to be tackling trade and environment issues which could affect the third priority by reducing climate change.

WTO Members under WTO rules can impose export restraints under certain circumstances and in the first half of 2020, a number of members imposed export restraints on particular agricultural products and many imposed export restraints on certain medical goods. At the same time, the lockdown of countries had significant effects on the movement of goods and people. Many WTO Members have urged limiting such restraints and the WTO Secretariat has monitored both restraints imposed, when such restraints have been lifted (if they have), and trade liberalization efforts to speed the movement of important goods. See, e.g., WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm; WTO, COVID-19 AND AGRICULTURE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE, INFORMATION NOTE, 26 August 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/agric_report_e.pdf; WTO, COVID-19: Measures affecting trade in goods, updated as of 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. The August paper on COVIDE-19 and Agriculture is embedded below.

agric_report_e

There have been a number of proposals by certain WTO Members to forego export restraints on agricultural products during the pandemic. None have been acted upon by the membership as a whole, but the communications often reflect commitments of certain Members to keep agricultural markets open during the pandemic. See, e.g., RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS, STATEMENT FROM: AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EUROPEAN UNION; GEORGIA; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MALAYSIA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; NICARAGUA; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208/Rev.2, G/AG/30/Rev.2, 29 May 2020. The document is embedded below.

208R2-3

More can and should be done, including a WTO-wide agreement to forego agricultural export restraints during the current pandemic or future pandemics. However, there are strong objections to any such limits from a number of WTO Members including large and important countries like China, India and South Africa.

Indeed, efforts to get agreement at the December 2020 General Council meeting that countries would not block agricultural exports to the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes was blocked by a number of countries. While 79 WTO Members in January 2021 provided a joint pledge not to prevent agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme, it is a sign of the sensitivity of food security to many countries that a very limited humanitarian proposal could not obtain the agreement of all WTO Members in a period of hightened need by many of the world’s poorest countries. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has extracted a huge cost from the world economy, has pushed tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, has cost hundreds of millions people employment (full or partial), is complicating the education of the world’s children with likely long lasting effects, has exposed potential challenges to achieving global cooperation on a range of matters including the desirability of limiting or not imposing export restraints on agricultural and medical goods.

While the focus of countries and the media in the last several months has shifted to access to vaccines and ensuring greater equitable distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices, there remains much that needs to be done to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. International organizations like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries, businesses and NGOs need to se that both core issues are addressed in the coming months.


The EU’s export authorization requirement for COVID-19 vaccines — contrary to their oft repeated position of maintaining open markets during the pandemic

If one ever needed confirmation that WTO Members can easily fall out of supporting open markets and working together during a global crisis, the European Union’s actions over the last week to come up with an implementing regulation “making the exportation of certain products subject to the production of an export authorization” provide a glaring example.

Faced with the receipt of fewer doses of vaccines by the three manufacturers approved (with one only approved last week) for distribution within the EU, the EU faced harsh criticism from member states over the inadequate supplies of vaccines in the December – February period to vaccinate their populations. Harsh criticism was also reflected in press coverage. See, e.g., New York Times, Vaccine Shortages Hit E.U. in a Setback for Its Immunization Race, January 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/europe/europe-covid-vaccinations.html; Der Spiegel, Europe’s Vaccine Disaster, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Seeking to Duck Responsibility, 29 January 2021, https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/europe-s-vaccine-disaster-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-seeking-to-duck-responsibility-a-1197547d-6219-4438-9d69-b76e64701802; Financial Times, Shortage of coronavirus shots heaps pressure on European leaders, 29 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/fe851440-abcb-43e0-a7c9-a86a05d275db.

The response was to resort to a form of export restraints on vaccines and inputs for vaccines where the European Union and its member states would decide whether shipments to certain third countries (largely wealthier countries around the world) would be allowed. Some statements made by the European Commission and the implementing regulation are embedded below.

CELEX_32021R0111_EN_TXT

Commission_statement_on_the_vaccine_export_authorisation_scheme

Opening_remarks_by_Executive_Vice-President_Valdis_Dombrovskis_at_the_press_conference_on_the_transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines

Opening_remarks_by_Commissioner_Stella_Kyriakides_at_the_press_conference_on_the_transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines

Questions_and_Answers__Transparency_and_authorisation_mechanism_for_exports_of_COVID-19_vaccines-1

The action of the European Union last week is in sharp contrast to the joint initiative from the Ottawa Group, of which the EU is a member. In a post last November, I reviewed a text put forward by the Ottawa Group which called for limiting the use of export restraints during the pandemic. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. Several excerpts from the earlier post are provided below.

“The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

“The Canadian press release states in part, ‘As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.’

“Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

“‘Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“‘The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.'”

Needless to say, the reaction from trading partners to the imposition of export controls on vaccines was swift and negative. See, e.g., Financial Times, EU faces global criticism over curbs on vaccine exports, 31 January 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/5c15d7ea-aaf6-46f4-924e-30f168dd14dd (“Brussels faces an international backlash over its new controls on vaccine exports as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen struggles to quell a firestorm over the EU’s handling of vaccine shortages. Canada and Japan raised concerns over export rules requiring manufacturers to obtain permission before shipping Covid-19 jabs outside the EU. South Korea also warned governments against a grab for more vaccines than they need.”); BBC News, Coronavirus: WHO criticises EU over vaccine export controls, 30 January 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55860540. Because the EU action seemed largely aimed at discontent with news from the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca’s announcement of a sharp contraction in likely shipments to the EU in the first quarter, the Commission’s initial draft of the implementing regulation had the EU creating problems for the Brexit agreement in terms of inspecting goods flowing from Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent circumvention of products to the U.K. The EC retreated almost immediately on that front. See, e.g., NPR, EU Reverses Move To Restrict Export Of COVID-19 Vaccines To Northern Ireland, January 30, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/30/962454276/eu-reverses-move-to-restrict-export-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-northern-ireland (“The European Union reversed a brief decision to try to restrict the export of COVID-19 vaccines across the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland. European vaccination campaigns have been struggling as supplies of vaccines on the continent have run low. The decision to invoke an emergency protocol of the Brexit deal was seen as an effort to keep supplies from going from the EU to Britain. But within hours of the decision, which could have put checks on the border between the EU member the Republic of Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland, Irish and British officials condemned the move.”).

One concern for the global trading system from the EU action, of course, is retaliatory or mirror actions by trading partners. Such concerns are real. See, e.g., Politico, UK weighs vaccine export restrictions, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-weighs-coronavirus-vaccine-export-restrictions/ (“The U.K. government has sought legal advice on preventing coronavirus vaccines or their ingredients being exported, suggesting that ministers are actively considering countermeasures they could deploy if other countries start restricting cross-border movements of vaccines.”).

The WHO and WTO have been advocating for cooperation among nations and businesses to ensure that all peoples are able to be vaccinated in a timely and cost affordable way. The phrase, “no one is safe until all are safe” typifies the call and is supported by research that indicates global GDP will be seriously restricted if that approach is not followed. See January 27, 2021, Recent WTO report on services trade and January 2021 International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Update — the future growth depends on vaccinations of peoples around the world, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/27/recent-wto-report-on-services-trade-and-january-2021-international-monetary-fund-world-economic-outlook-update-the-future-growth-depends-on-vaccinations-of-peoples-around-the-world/ (“The WHO’s Director-General references a report from the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation. The report and a press release can be accessed here: ICC, The Economic Case for Global Vaccinations, https://iccwbo.org/publication/the-economic-case-for-global-vaccinations/. The press release from the ICC describes the report as follows. ‘A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economy access to COVID-19 vaccines.'”).

The worrying actions by the European Union and the continued struggle to get vaccines to the world’s poorest countries led to a joint statement today by the WTO’s four Deputy Directors-General calling for heightened cooperation to get vaccines to all peoples of the world. WTO press release, WTO DDGs call for heightened cooperation on vaccine availability, 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgra_01feb21_e.htm. (“‘The pandemic is a global problem. This challenge calls for heightened international cooperation, including ensuring the global availability of vaccines. Recalling the joint statement by the Directors-General of the WHO and WTO on 20 April 2020, we call upon Members to work together towards making vaccines available to all. Moreover, the war against the pandemic can only be won when universal coverage in vaccination is achieved.’”). The press release includes a link to the 20 April 2020 joint statement by the Directors-General of the WHO and WTO (embedded below).

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Heads-of-WTO-WHO-cite-importance-of-open-trade-in-ensuring-flow-of-vital-medical-supplies

As the world enters the month of February, there are 69 countries that report vaccinating at least some people by the end of January. The list, number of vaccinations and number of vaccinations per 100 people are tracked by the Financial Times in its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” last updated on February 1, 2021. https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/. While there are many vaccines in late stage of trials or going through approval processes by the WTO or individual countries, the world is a long way from ensuring equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices at the beginning of February. Hopefully, with production ramp up and more vaccines approved in the coming months, that situation will change by the second quarter of 2021.

Conclusion

While export restraints are not prohibited by the WTO, the world has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep markets open and ensure availability of medical products to all nations. The EU had early challenges with export restraints that member states were imposing on medical goods including personal protective equipment. However, the EU has attempted to provide leadership in limiting those restraints and supporting the COVAX mechanism for getting vaccines to the poorest countries as well as others participating in the COVAX approach.

The combination of a greater than expected second surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall and the rapid spread of more contagious variants in the last several months has posed significant challenges to many countries but including those within the EU. Some internal challenges and different approaches to vaccine contracting led the EU to sign contracts later and to approve vaccines for use later than some other countries. With manufacturing challenges for a number of suppliers, the EU has found itself in a situation where member states were extremely unhappy with the inability to get more people vaccinated sooner. The European Commission’s efforts to improve its vaccine situation has generated a great deal of negative press, led to the imposition of export restraints that could lead to a significant breakdown in supply chains and potential retaliation by trading partners adversely affected and harms the EU’s efforts to be a leader for global unity in addressing the pandemic.

The WTO Informal Ministerial of January 29, 2021 — hope for progress at the WTO in 2021

Switzerland typically hosts an informal ministerial meeting of WTO trade ministers on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s January Davos event. This year both were handled remotely.

The informal ministerial was summarized in ten points by the Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin at the end of the event. President Parmelin’s statement is available here, https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/65098.pdf, and is copied below.

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

Personal Concluding Remarks by the Chair, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department for Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Guy Parmelin, Switzerland

“29 Ministers and high officials representing a broad spectrum of the WTO membership attended this year’s Informal World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Gathering in virtual format. In concluding and with warm thanks to all participants for their contributions, I would like to summarise the main points from our discussions as follows:

“• Ministers stressed the urgency of the swift appointment of a new WTO Director-General as well as the confirmation of the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“• Ministers reiterated their determination to maintain a credible multilateral trading system and to restore a climate of mutual trust.

“• Ministers expressed their concerns about the enormous social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted the relevance of trade and the role of the WTO in containing the pandemic and promoting recovery. Many Ministers underlined the importance of ensuring the development of as well as an equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines. They addressed ways and means to achieve these goals, including the implementation of measures facilitating trade, the role of intellectual property and transparency.

“• Ministers regretted that the negotiations on fisheries subsidies could not be completed in accordance with the end-2020 deadline foreseen in SDG 14.6. In light of the significance of this process for the sustainability of global fisheries, Ministers concurred that a comprehensive and effective agreement on fisheries subsidies should be concluded as soon as possible. Ministers agreed to step up efforts with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions consistent with all the elements of the negotiating mandate.

“• Ministers highlighted the importance of restoring a fully functional WTO dispute settlement system, which is a key pillar of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

“• Many participants argued for further progress in agricultural trade policy reform at MC12 and asked for an outcome on domestic support and other issues. The issues of public stockholding and the special safeguard mechanism were highlighted by several Ministers.

“• Many Ministers called for tangible outcomes, by MC12, on the Joint Statement Initiatives. Inter alia finalizing the process on Services Domestic Regulation and making substantial progress on E-commerce and Investment Facilitation as well as on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“• The need to reform the WTO was widely acknowledged. A number of Ministers insisted on advancing diverse issues related to the special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries. Some participants proposed to adjust WTO rules to present-day economic and competitive conditions.

“• Several Ministers supported new initiatives launched in response to global challenges such as the structured discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability.

“• Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to engage in the preparations for MC12 in order to advance key issues.”


The participants at this year’s informal ministerial included officials from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chad (coordinator for LDC Group), Chile, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Indonesia, Jamaica (Coordinator ACP Group), Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius (Coordinator African Group), Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland (Chair), Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and three officials with WTO roles — H.E. Mr. David Walker (New Zealand), WTO General Council Chair; H.E. Mr. Santiago Wills (Colombia), WTO Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, H.E. Mr. Alan Wolff, WTO Deputy Director-General. The full list with titles is embedded below.

List-of-participants-at-virtual-informal-ministerial-1-29-2021-65099

The good news for the informal ministerial was the position taken by the United States representative who reportedly indicated that the United States was actively reviewing the issue of the next Director-General and was intent on actively working on WTO reform. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach; Politico, Biden administration joins call for ‘swift appointment’ of new WTO head, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/29/biden-world-trade-organization-463820. Under the Trump Administration, the United States had blocked the formation of consensus around Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala based on the U.S. view that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not have a sufficient trade background. See, e.g., January 26, 2021, Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/26/letter-from-variety-of-former-u-s-officials-to-president-biden-urges-u-s-support-for-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-wto-director-general/. Hopefully, the current review of the issue by the Biden Administration, even ahead of President Biden’s trade team being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will result in the U.S. joining the support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, permitting the WTO to approve a next Director-General.

It was also reported that the United States, consistent with the Biden Administration’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, expressed interest in promoting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and concluding an ambitious fisheries subsidies agreement. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach. Fisheries subsidies negotiations have been going on for some twenty years, and many Members have remained more concerned with keeping their subsidies in place than agreeing to disciplines that would create conditions for sustainable fishing going forward. The Interest in the Biden Administration in working within the WTO on joint steps to promote recovery from the pandemic is different from the approach pursued by the Trump Administration which didn’t want to look at actions possible within the WTO (other than limits on export restraints on agricultural goods) while the world was dealing with the pandemic. The U.S. statement should mean more interest in exploring issues like those raised by the Ottawa Group. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

Other issues flagged in the Swiss President’s concluding remarks are issues of particular interest to some or many countries but not topics of clear agreement. For example, while it is likely that the United States will look for ways to resolve its concerns about longstanding problems in the WTO’s dispute settlement system, particularly around the Appellate Body, it is unlikely that there will be a swift resolution of the U.S. concerns, and hence there will likely be a continued impasse for at least much of 2021 on the return of a functioning two-stage dispute settlement system.

Similarly on domestic support in agriculture and other agriculture issues flagged, certain WTO Members have not supported further liberalization in agriculture while pushing for limits on domestic subsidies and rollback of liberalization commitments undertaken in the Uruguay Round. It is unlikely that there will be forward movement on these issues without greater balance in terms of tariff reductions on major agricultural products. Moreover, as noted in a recent post, other major distortions in agriculture that are not presently identified as domestic subsidies include widespread use of child and forced labor on many agricultural products. See January 25, 2021, Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021, Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. Such practices should be quantified and the level of potential distortion identified so WTO Members can decide how to address them in ongoing agriculture negotiations.

Progress is being made on Joint Statement Initiatives including e-commerce, services domestic regulation, investment facilitation and women’s empowerment. An open issue for these and topics in the sphere of trade and the environment (e.g., environmental goods agreement) is whether benefits provided by participants will be made available on an MFN basis or limited to participants, with the option of other Members to join in the future. See January 18, 2021, Revisiting the need for MFN treatment for sectoral agreements among the willing, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/18/revisiting-the-need-for-mfn-treatment-for-sectoral-agreements-among-the-willing/. For many Members liberalization could be speeded up if benefits in sectoral agreements go to those participating only while leaving the door open for other Members to join later when they see the value for them.

And on the important topic of WTO reform beyond the items listed above, there is little current agreement on how to deal with industrial subsidies and other practices that lead to massive global excess capacity, or on how to address access to special and differential treatment and many other areas of importance to some or many WTO Members.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided a statement during the virtual informal ministerial urging WTO Members to make 2021 a year of accomplishments. The WTO press release can be found here. WTO News, DDG Wolff urges WTO ministers to address the pandemic and make 2021 a year of action, 29 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/igo_29jan21_e.htm. DDG Wolff’s statement is copied below.

“My thanks to our Swiss hosts and to President Parmelin both for his remarks today and for his very thoughtful address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of the WTO last November.

“Ministers, you can make 2021 a year of substantial accomplishments at the WTO.

“There has already been a beginning.  In the first action of the year, Members accounting for most of the world’s agricultural exports committed to refrain from imposing export restrictions on purchases made by the World Food Program.

“The anticipated appointment of a new Director-General will bring needed leadership in moving toward concrete results.  But she can succeed only with your active engagement.

“I urge you not to wait for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference, delayed by the pandemic, to move negotiations forward to positive outcomes. 

“There is no reason why the twenty-year negotiation on fisheries subsidies cannot be concluded successfully — without a sacrifice of ambition — in the next few months.  Success hinges on Members’ willingness to accept a significant level of discipline on their own subsidies.  Political decisions and your active engagement will be required to bring about success.

“I urge you to address ‘trade and health’ forcefully and immediately.  Last year, trade made a vitally important contribution in supplying needed medical supplies to deal with COVID-19.  Proposals as to what more can be done must be deliberated now.  Cooperation on trade can accelerate access to vaccines.  There can be no higher priority.

“Consider how the WTO can further contribute to the economic recovery.  Members can take steps to ensure enhanced transparency, work to eliminate unnecessary barriers and agree that new restrictions will not be imposed.  Trade finance must be restored.  The WTO convened the major international financial organizations and banks to address this need in the aftermath of the financial crisis and it can do so now again.

“’Trade and climate’ must be on the WTO agenda.  Carbon border adjustment measures will likely result in conflicts unless Members engage in joint efforts to find mutually beneficial solutions.  The heightened interest of Members in a broad range of other environmental issues such as plastics pollution and the circular economy can be reflected in new agreements.   The WTO can be more visible as a steward of the planet by reviving and concluding the Environmental Goods Agreement

“The Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, and services domestic regulation can bear fruit this year, building on what was achieved with respect to small businesses last year.  In addition, more progress can be made on the economic empowerment of women through international trade.  

“Concerns over income inequality have been growing.  The WTO’s rules-based system needs to be seen not only among countries but also within countries, as responsive to the needs of workers, farmers and all who wish to engage in international trade.  But international trade rules cannot substitute for domestic policy actions to make growth more inclusive.  When large numbers of people are unhappy with how the economy is working for them, trade will often receive undeserved blame.  The WTO is about fairness.  Its work will never be done in pursuit of that objective, but further progress can be made this year.

“There can be an outcome on agriculture — at least a down-payment and a defined work program going forward.

“During 2021, the WTO can likely welcome new WTO Members, as it continues to move towards universal coverage.  Comoros and Bosnia-Herzegovina may be ready, and over a dozen others are making progress.

“Last but not least, ‘WTO reform’ can become a reality, with actions taken to —

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

“- achieve heightened enforcement through binding dispute settlement in a manner agreed by all, and

“- provide a strong mandate for a Secretariat to deliver all needed support to Members and to achieving the mission of the WTO. 

“We should greet this year with optimism and re-dedication.  With your strong engagement, 2021 can be a year to remember for what is achieved.

“Thank you.”

A presentation from the WTO Secretariat to Ministers needs to be positive, forward looking, aspirational and inspirational. DDG Wolff’s statement yesterday provides all of that. The first item mentioned, the joint pledge from 79 WTO Members not to restrict agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes is a positive for the world but follows the December failure of the WTO General Council to agree to the same by all WTO Members. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

The challenge for the WTO in 2021 will be whether Members can come together in fact to achieve many of the important opportunities and needs in front of the Membership. While the history of the WTO since 1995 and the major divisions among Members at the present time would strongly suggest that 2021 will not achieve many of the things that are needed and possible, hope springs eternal.

U.S. perspective

The Trump Administration did an excellent job of identifying problems with the operation of the WTO whether from the longstanding failures of the dispute settlement system, to the existential challenges to the viability of the WTO from major Members whose economies have not converged to a full market orientation, to the out-of-date rules around special and differential treatment to all who claim developing country status regardless of economic development of individual members, to the need for greater transparency in many areas, including importantly subsidies, to the failure of the WTO to update rules to address changing technology and trade issues.

The Biden Administration has indicated its intention to work within multilateral institutions, including the WTO. Early action by the United States on the Director-General selection issue could provide positive energy to WTO Members in the coming months. There are topics where success can be made in 2021 either multilaterally or plurilaterally. But a lot of what is needed for meaningful WTO reform will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the short term. Hopefully, the Biden team will stay the course to achieve reform that both returns the WTO playing field to the level agreed at the time of concluding the Uruguay Round, finds ways to deal with the massive distortions not presently covered by WTO rules, works with others to bring the WTO into the 21st century and addresses the critical issues for global prosperity and sustainable development.

Continued surge of COVID-19 cases results in extended restrictions in many countries affecting trade and economic growth

The latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) show the global growth in new cases and deaths accelerating in many parts of the world with resulting extensions of restrictions on activities which harms international trade and global economic growth prospects. The control of the outbreak of new cases is being complicated by new strains in the U.K., South Africa and elsewhere that are proving to be more easily spread than initial strains and rapidly spreading around the world.

Specifically, the ECDC in a report released on January 14 covering data through the first week of 2021 (assumed to be through January 6), shows the last two weeks as generating 9,487,913 new reported cases of COVID-19 — the first time, more than nine million new cases has been found in a two week period. Data on global cases to this morning (January 15) show total global cases at 93.2 million with deaths at 2 million. These are up from the 89.8 million cases through the first week of 2021 and 1.94 million deaths. The world is likely to top 100 million COVID cases by the end of January.

The United States had its worst two weeks — 3,271,355 new cases (34.48% of global new cases) and 41,116 deaths (24.07% of last week global) — and its totals since the beginning of 2020 at 22.4 million cases and 374,442 deaths (24.97% and 19.30% of global totals) dwarf its 4.3% of global population.

Many countries in Europe are continuing to struggle with new cases and deaths and hence have extended restrictions. So, for example, the United Kingdom, has had the largest number of new cases in the last two weeks(742,619) it has ever recorded and the highest number of deaths since spring in the last two weeks (10,322). The result has been continued tightening of restrictions within the United Kingdom. See, e.g., BBC, Covid-19: UK daily deaths at record high and Scotland rules tightened, January 14, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55652431; BBC, Covid: What are the lockdown rules across the UK?, January 13, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/explainers-52530518.

In Italy, following a second surge in the fall, restrictions helped lower the number of new cases and deaths but there have been upward trends in new cases in recent weeks with potential increases in deaths likely, leading to the introduction of some new restrictions. See, e.g., The Local, Italy declares three regions red zones as restrictions tighten, January 15, 2021, https://www.thelocal.it/20210115/italy-declares-three-regions-red-zones-as-restrictions-tighten.

Other countries in Europe are also seeing rising cases after drops in cases and deaths following introduction of restrictions and are often imposing or maintaining restrictions to address recent increases. See, e.g., The Local, French government extends 6pm curfew to whole country as Covid cases rise, January 14, 2021 (updated January 15), https://www.thelocal.fr/20210114/latest-french-government-to-announce-extra-restrictions-as-covid-cases-rise; France 24, France introduces tougher Covid-19 restrictions for non-EU travellers, January 15, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210115-france-introduces-tougher-covid-19-restrictions-for-non-eu-travellers; DW, Coronavirus: German Chancellor Angela Merkel urges ‘significantly’ tougher curbs — reports, January 15, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-chancellor-angela-merkel-urges-significantly-tougher-curbs-reports/a-56230751; El Pais, Spain reports 35,878 new coronavirus infections and 201 deaths, as third wave progresses, January 15, 2021, https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-01-15/spain-reports-35878-new-coronavirus-infections-and-201-deaths-as-third-wave-progresses.html (“Simón is taking for granted that the epidemiological curve will continue to rise for several more days, but he is hoping that the more restrictive measures that have been put in place after the Christmas holidays will put the brakes on the rhythm of infections.”).

Even in parts of Asia where there have been relatively few COVID-19 cases, recent increases have led to restrictions imposed in particular areas. See, e.g., NPR, Millions In China Under New Restrictions Amid COVID-19 Spike Near Beijing, January 9, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/09/955298826/millions-in-china-under-new-restrictions-amid-covid-19-spike-near-beijing; the Japan Times, Japan bars entry for new arrivals and business travelers due to new COVID-19 strains, January 14, 2021, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/14/national/japan-bars-new-arrivals-business-travelers/; japan-guide.com, Travel Alerts and Disaster Updates, updated January 15, 2021, https://www.japan-guide.com/news/alerts.html (“Domestic Situation Although the virus has not spread in Japan at a rate seen in Europe and North America, infection numbers have increased considerably in recent weeks, and a state of
emergency was declared in 11 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including in the greater Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka regions, to last until February 7.”); NPR, South Korea Tightens Restrictions During Holiday Period, December 22, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/12/22/949155094/south-korea-tightens-restrictions-during-holiday-period (“The new measures, which will be in effect through Jan. 3, follow the capital Seoul’s ban earlier in the week on private assembly of five or more people. The capital area, which accounts for more than 70% of last week’s new infections in South Korea, upped the regional alert level three times in the past month. But case numbers have yet to demonstrate a downward trend.”).

In India, where the government has worked hard to bring down the number of new cases in recent months and has had some significant success, many restrictions remain in place. See GardaWorld, India: Authorities extend domestic coronavirus disease controls through Jan. 31, 2021; international travel restrictions continue, December 29, 2020, https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/422756/india-authorities-extend-domestic-coronavirus-disease-controls-through-jan-31-2021-international-travel-restrictions-continue-update-33.

Some governments have reduced economic recovery projections for 2021 because of the second wave of cases in the fall of 2020. See, e.g., Euronews, What does 2021 hold for jobs and businesses in Europe?, December 16, 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/16/what-does-2021-hold-for-jobs-and-businesses-in-europe (“The second wave of lockdowns devastated businesses across Europe and led the European Commission to downgrade its economic growth forecast for 2021 for the Eurozone from 6.1% down to 4.2%. It’s expected to be two years until the European economy comes close to its pre-pandemic level.”).

While other government 2021 projections show greater growth than was projected in the fall of 2020, the rebound is built on assumptions about stimulus funding, timing and effectiveness of vaccines and other elements. See, e.g., CNBC, Fed raises its economic outlook slightly, sees 4.2% growth next year and 5% unemployment rate, December 16, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/16/fed-raises-its-economic-outlook-slightly-sees-4point2percent-growth-next-year-and-5percent-unemployment-rate.html#:~:text=The%20Federal%20Reserve%20expects%20real,to%204.2%25%20from%204.0%25; The Conference Board, The Conference Board Economic Forecast for the US Economy, January 13, 2021, https://www.conference-board.org/research/us-forecast (“Our base case forecast yields 1Q21 real GDP growth of 2.0 percent* (annualized rate), and an annual expansion of 4.1 percent for 2021, following an annual contraction of 3.5 percent for 2020. We view this scenario as the most probable. It assumes: a) new cases of COVID-19 peak in early 1Q21 but no widespread lockdowns are implemented, b) vaccines are deployed gradually in 1Q21 but volumes accelerate into 2Q21, c) the December 2020 stimulus package is fully deployed in 1Q21 and an additional stimulus package is deployed in 2Q21, d) labor markets and consumption weaken slightly in 1Q21 but rebound in 2Q21 and 3Q21, and e) the political transition does not result in a hit to consumer or business confidence. These assumptions yield a lull in the recovery in 4Q20 and early 1Q21, but a steady acceleration of economic activity that peaks in the summer months as consumers eagerly spend on services and goods that they had forgone in 2020. In this scenario US monthly economic output returns to pre-pandemic levels in August 2021.”).

Growing concern over new strains of the COVID-19 and mounting new cases will be putting strain on many governments and keeping downward pressure on trade in services which the WTO has estimated as being down 30% globally in 2020. Travel and tourism have been decimated in 2020 and will continue to face major hurdles for at least the first half of 2021. International arrivals are down 70% for the year and more than 90% for the period since April 2020. See UNWTO, TOURISM BACK TO 1990 LEVELS AS ARRIVALS FALL BY MORE THAN 70%, 17 December 2020, https://www.unwto.org/news/tourism-back-to-1990-levels-as-arrivals-fall-by-more-than-70.

In the EU, a $2.1 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package has been approved. See KFF, E.U. Leaders Agree To $2.1T Budget, Pandemic Recovery Fund; Main Science Research Program Receives Less Than Expected, Jul 21, 2020, https://www.kff.org/news-summary/e-u-leaders-agree-to-2-1t-budget-pandemic-recovery-fund-main-science-research-program-receives-less-than-expected/; Politico, EU leaders back deal to end budget blockade by Hungary and Poland, December 10, 2020, https://www.politico.eu/article/deal-reached-to-unblock-eu-budget-and-recovery-fund/.

In the United States, the recent $900 billion stimulus package was viewed as a temporary measure that would need to be supplemented in 2021. President-elect Biden announced on January 14, 2021 that he will be seeking a $1.9 trillion additional stimulus package to address the human costs of the pandemic, provide funding for people and businesses, strengthen efforts at vaccine distribution and vaccinations and other purposes. See, e.g., New York Times, Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Spending Package to Combat Virus and Downturn, January 14, 2021 (updated January 15), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/14/business/economy/biden-economy.html.

The stimulus packages by the EU (and member governments) and U.S. and other countries have kept demand higher than would otherwise have been possible but at the cost of significant increases in national debt which will reduce national flexibilities in later years.

In prior posts, I pointed out that the vaccine rollout, while promising, was facing a series of problems both at producers and in the ability of many governments to ramp up vaccinations. Moreover, the rapidity of the global economic rebound would depend on the speed of global vaccinations. See January 3, 2021, 2021 – how quickly will COVID-19 vaccines bring the pandemic under control?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/03/2021-how-quickly-will-covid-19-vaccines-bring-the-pandemic-under-control/; January 5, 2021,  Global economic rebound in 2021 will be affected by rate of vaccinations against COVID-19 – World Bank’s January 5, 2021 release of its World Economic Prospects report, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/05/global-economic-rebound-in-2021-will-be-affected-by-rate-of-vaccinations-against-covid-19-world-banks-january-5-2021-release-of-its-world-economic-prospects-report/.

There is also the question of whether variants of COVID-19 will be treatable as effectively by the currently approved vaccines. See, e.g., National Geographic, Existing vaccines should work against new coronavirus variants for now, January 15, 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2021/01/existing-vaccines-should-work-against-new-coronavirus-variants-for-now/; VOX, How the new Covid-19 variants could pose a threat to vaccination, January 7, 2021, https://www.vox.com/22213033/covid-19-mutation-variant-vaccine-uk-south-africa.

There continue to be problems with the rate of vaccinations in many countries who have access to vaccines although all governments area working on ways to speed up the vaccination process. There are also problems in terms of the ramp up of production and the slower than expected approval of some vaccines. See, e.g., Politico, Germans vexed as coronavirus vaccine rollout lags, January 12, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-story-kiel/; Politico, France rejects criticism of EU coronavirus vaccine procurement, January 10, 2021, ; Financial Times, Pfizer to limit vaccine deliveries temporarily to Europe, January 15, 2021,https://www.ft.com/content/e8177df6-04ae-4d20-8e62-ca76589c7653?desktop=true&segmentId=d8d3e364-5197-20eb-17cf-2437841d178a; BBC News, Coronavirus: Dutch shocked to be EU vaccination stragglers, January 6, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55549656; USA Today, Tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by state: How many people in the US have received a shot?, January 14, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/graphics/2021/01/14/covid-vaccine-distribution-by-state-how-many-covid-vaccines-have-been-given-in-us-how-many-people/6599531002/ (“About 63.6% of the vaccines distributed haven’t been used yet.”).

Finally, while 49 countries have started to vaccinate their populations according to a recent article from Politico, the largest number of countries continue to wait for vaccines which will be helped when more vaccines are approved. See, e.g., Politico, Coronavirus vaccination in Europe — by the numbers, January 11, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/coronavirus-vaccination-europe-by-the-numbers/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage globally and is becoming more concerning because of faster spreading variants that are showing up around the world. Since many western countries continue to have very high numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, enormous pressure is on governments to get effective vaccines in large quantities as quickly as possible and get their populations vaccinated. Many countries with access to vaccines are having early problems in ramping up vaccinations. Some of the approved vaccinations are struggling with the production ramp up and being pressed to provide more volumes of vaccines in the absence of alternative vaccines from other producers. The main vaccines intended for broad distribution to many developing and least developed countries are either just starting to receive approvals for distribution or are still working through final trials. In a world quickly approaching 100 million reported cases and more than 2 million deaths and having suffered significant economic dislocations with services trade down an estimated 30 percent, with as many as 100 million people pushed into poverty, and 100-120 million people in the tourism sector having lost jobs, a global solution cannot occur soon enough. While 2021 will show significant improvements for many countries, the continuing challenges from COVID-19 will be with the world community for the foreseeable future.

World COVID-19 pandemic peaks on November 26 and starts to slowly recede

The most recent surge in COVID-19 cases (up from 3.57 million cases over a fourteen day period in early August to over 5 million for fourteen days on October 22 to over 8 million new cases for fourteen days on November 17), seems to have peaked on November 26 with 8,296,264 new cases over fourteen days and has been slowly receding for the last three days, down to 8,142,629 new cases during the period November 16-29. Total cases since the end of December 2019 now stand at 62,271,031 as of November 29 according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) publication “COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 29 November 2020”.

The World Health Organization puts out a publication that tracks cases and deaths on a weekly basis. COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update (data as of 22 November). While it breaks countries and territories into different configuarations that the ECDC, the publication shows new cases in the period November 16-22 declining 6% in Europe and in South East Asia while increasing 11% in the Americas, 5% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 15% in Africa and 9% in the Western Pacific. Because of the large spike in cases in the September – November period in many parts of the world, deaths in the November 16-22 period increased in all regions — up 10% in Europe, 15% in the Americas, 4% in South-East Asia, 10% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 30% in Africa and 1% in the Western Pacific. The latest report is embedded below.

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

The graphs in the WHO publication show by region the trajectory of new cases and deaths over time. The chart showing aggregate data show a flattening of total new cases in the last weeks of November while the number of deaths globally are sharply increasing.

The WHO Africa region peaked in the summer and has declined until the last few weeks when there has been some increase in both cases and deaths.

The Americas saw a peak in both new cases and deaths in the July period with some declines in new cases until the second half of September when the current surge started and accelerated in November. Deaths declined until early October before starting to grow again.

The Eastern Mediterranean peaked in May-June for both cases and deaths, declined through August/September and have surged to new heights with continued upward trajectory as of November 22.

The WTO European Region had an early surge of cases and deaths in the March-April period. Deaths receded sharply through August. While new cases have increased since summer, there was a massive increase in the September – end of October period in new cases and rising deaths through November.

The WHO South-East Asia region saw a huge increase in cases and deaths in the May-August period, peaking in early September and declining since then. Much of the data for the region reflect activity in India.

The Western Pacific Region has had several peaks in terms of deaths and in new cases, though the numbers are the lowest of any WHO region. The latest peak in new cases was in early August with some increase in the October-November period. Deaths last peaked in early September and have declined through November.

The United States

Turning back to the ECDC data, the United States continues to have more confirmed cases (13,246,651) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (266,063) than any other nation. The United States is also still experiencing a surge in new cases and rising deaths. October 31 was the first day that ECDC data show the U.S. recording 100,000 new cases in a single day. Since November 5, the U.S. has had more than 100,000 new cases every day up to November 29. It is the only country to record one million new cases in a week and the only country to record two million new cases in fourteen days. For the last fourteen days, the U.S. recorded 2,341,760 new cases. The U.S., which accounts for 4.3% of the global population, accounts for 21.27% of all COVID-19 cases that have been reported since December 2019 and accounted for 28.76% of new cases in the last two weeks. The rate of increase remains high for the United States — up 31.67% from the 1,778,530 new cases in the two weeks ending November 15. There are concerns that the number of new cases will continue to increase into the new year based on the high rate of infections in many parts of the country, major potential spreading events around holidays in November (Thanksgiving) and December, and limited compliance with basic requirements for limiting the spread of the virus.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 that the U.S. accounts for has declined from roughly 20% to 18.30% as of November 29. In the last two week, while the U.S. has the largest number of deaths in the two weeks, the percent of total deaths accounted for by the U.S. in the November 16-29 period was 14.65%. However, many cities, communities and even states are at or nearing the limits of the health care capacity with hospitalizations now about 90,000, limits on health care professionals with the surging cases and some challenges on personal protective equipment. Thus, models used by the government projects a continued rise in the number of deaths in the coming months.

While the first vaccine could receive emergency approval for distribution in the U.S. as early as December 10, and the U.S. could have two or three vaccines in distribution in early 2021, the United States will unfortunately likely be a major part of the continued high rate of infections and deaths well into 2021.

Europe

While Europe had faced early challenges in a number of western European countries in February-April and very high death rates in a number of countries, the second wave of cases following the relaxation of restrictions in time for summer vacations accounted for the vast majority of the incrase in new cases during the October and early November time period. In earlier posts, I showed that Europe and the U.S. accounted for nearly all of the increase from 5 million new cases in the two weeks ending October 22 to the more than 8 million new cases in the two weeks ending November 17. See November 17, 2020, New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar past eight million, up from five million on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/17/new-covid-19-cases-over-a-fourteen-day-period-continue-to-soar-past-eight-million-up-from-five-million-on-october-22/

While some of the major countries, including France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and others have seen significant reductions in the number of new cases in recent weeks from the extraordinary figures recorded in late October, early November, numbers remain very high for a number of countries including Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Luxembourg — all of whom had new cases/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States.

Because deaths lag new cases by a number of weeks, it is perhaps less surprising that much of Europe had deaths/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States, most at rates that were two-three times the U.S. rate. The rate for the world in total was 1.82 deaths per 100,000 population for the November 16-29 period. The U.S. was 3.38 times the global average at 6.22 deaths per 100,000 population in that two week period. The following 25 European countries exceeded the U.S. rate: France (11.76 deaths/100,000 population); Italy (16.04); Spain (8.31); United Kingdom (9.40); Armenia (12.81); Austria (13.47); Belgium (18.84); Moldova (6.50); Poland (16.65); Portugal (10.30); Romania (11.50); Serbia (7.11); Switzerland (14.98); Bulgaria (23.69); Croatia (15.92); Czechia (18.74); Greece (11.08); Hungary (16.12); Lithuania (8.12); Luxembourg (13.19); Malta (6.79); Slovenia (19.85); Bosnia and Herzegovina (20.75); Georgia (13.19); and North Macedonia (20.12).

With new restrictions in recent weeks bringing new cases down in a number of European countries, death rates should start to decline as well in the coming weeks. Challenges in terms of superspreader events in Europe include holiday travel and events and winter holidays and sports. Germany has proposed placing restrictions on the ski season to try to minimize increased cases from a sport popular across much of Europe. See DW, 26 November 2020, Coronavirus: Germany seeks EU-wide ban on ski trips, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-germany-seeks-eu-wide-ban-on-ski-trips/a-55732273.

The EU has contracts with at least six pharmaceutical companies or groups for vaccines if approved. The EU and United Kingdom will start to see vaccine dosages within weeks assuming approval in their jurisdictions.

Other countries

While much of the rest of the world has not seen great increases in the number of cases that is not true for all countries. For example, Iran which had 136,753 new cases in the November 2-15 period showed 186,274 new cases in the November 16-29 period (+36.21%). Jordan, which has a total number of cases of 210,709 since the end of December has recorded 65.54% of that total in the last four weeks (68,698 new cases during November 2-15; 69,404 new cases during November 16-29). Similarly, Morocco which has a total of 349,688 cases since December 2019 has more than 37% recorded in the last four weeks (69,127 during November 2-15; 61,477 during November 16-29).

In the Americas the following countries in addition to the United States have two week totals to November 29 greater than 100,000 new cases: Argentina (108,531); Brazil (441,313); Colombia (108,609). The following countries besides the United States have more than one million cases since late December 2019: Argentina (1,413,362); Brazil (6,290,272); Colombia (1,299,613), Mexico (1,100,683). Eleven other countries have more than 100,000 cases (with Peru having 960,368). Other than the U.S., countries are facing different trend lines, many down, some showing increases (e.g., Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Paraguay).

In Asia, while India continues to see declines in the number of new cases, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, South Korea, showed increased in the most recent two weeks, some quite large. This is in addition to Iran reviewed previously.

In Africa, South Africa has the most cases and saw an increase from 23,730 new cases during November 2-15 to 35,967 during November 16-29. Morocco was reviewed above. Most other major countries in Africa saw declines in recent weeks.

Conclusion

The world in the first eleven months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control with several major surge periods. The global number of new cases seems to have plateaued over the last week or so at extraordinarily high levels and the death rates has been climbing after a long period where deaths appeared to be declining. It is likely that the death rate will continue to increase for the rest of 2020.

After a period during the summer and early fall where restrictions in a number of countries were being relaxed, many countries in the norther hemisphere are reimposing various restrictions in an effort to dampen the spread of the coronavirus. While trade has significantly rebounded from the sharp decline in the second quarter of 2020, services trade remains more than 30% off of 2019 levels driven by the complete collapse of international travel and tourism. Many WTO members have put forward communications on actions that could be considered to speed economic recovery. The most recent was the Ottawa Group’s communication about a possible Trade and Health Initiative. See November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

The WTO TRIPS Council has a request for a waiver from most TRIPS obligations for all WTO Members on medical goods and medicines relevant to COVID-19 on which a recommendation is supposed to be forwarded to the General Council by the end of 2020 though it is opposed by a number of major Members with pharmaceutical industries. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

With vaccines very close to approval in major markets like the United States and the European Union, there will be increased focus on efforts to ensure availability of vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics globally on equitable and affordable terms. GAVI, CEPI and the WHO have been leading this initiative with the support of many governments and private sector players. Pharmaceutical companies also have global distribution plans being pursued in addition to the above efforts.

So there hopefully is light at the end of the tunnel that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on the world. But vaccines without vaccinations won’t solve the pandemic’s grip. So communication and outreach globally will be critical to seeing that available vaccines are properly used. And all peoples need to be able to access the vaccines, some of which will be less available simply because of the infrastructure needs to handle the vaccines.

Trade policy options to minimize trade restrictions coupled with global cooperation and coordination should result in the world being able to rebuild in 2021 and beyond as more and more of the world is vaccinated.

Multilateral efforts to help the poorest countries deal with debt, make available trade finance and other actions continue to be a pressing need. Better plans and preparation for pandemics of the future are clearly needed. Reports suggest that many of the poorest countries have experienced loss of a decade or more of economic advancement during the pandemic. Building back greener and in a sustainable manner is critical for all.

The efforts of developed country governments and others to provide the stimulus domestically to reduce the downward spiral of the individual national economies and the global economy has been critical to limiting the damage at home and abroad. But the assumption of large amounts of debt will also pose significant challenges moving forward because of the greatly heightened national debt/GDP ratios that have developed and may restrict options for individual governments moving forward.

What is certain is that 2020 will be remembered as a year in which a virus inflicted enormous damage to the global health and to the global economy. Collectively, the level of spread has been far greater than should have been possible. Many nations were not prepared. Some, like the United States, exacerbated the problems through a lack of national government planning and messaging. Others like many in Europe, having done a good job of controlling the spread in the early months, made major mistakes as they opened up for summer vacations and didn’t deal with the problems that resulted from the reopening and experienced breathtaking surges which roughly doubled the global daily rate of new cases in five-six weeks and have led to the reimposition of a series of restrictions to try to tame the pandemic a second time. We collectively are better than the results achieved to date. The number of deaths in advanced countries is simply disgraceful.

2021 offers the opportunity for the world to come together and put COVID-19 behind us. Whether we will come to the end of 2021 and feel that this global nightmare is behind us and that there are national and global game plans to rebuild in a greener and more sustainable manner with greater opportunities for all is the question. Hopefully, the answer will be yes.

The Ottawa Group’s November 23 Communication and Draft Elements of a “Trade and Health” Initiative

On Monday, Novemer 23, Canada hosted a virtual meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform. The Group includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided comments and urged the Members to “translate their statements about reforms to global trade rules into formal proposals and concrete requests at the WTO.” WTO, 23 November 2020, DDG Wolff calls on Ottawa Group to table formal reform proposals at WTO, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_23nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff provided seven options for the consideration of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, the first four of which used trade and health as one example.

“First, an observation: the game must be in play for key players to conclude that they have to join. If negotiations are not under way, there may be a substantial delay in attracting participation.

“Declarations, such as on trade and health, should be turned into formal proposals as soon as possible and should be embraced by all WTO members.

“And if some Members won’t come along or seek to delay — a joint initiative is a practical way to proceed and could then be launched as a priority. The time of testing should not be so long as to make a response to the pandemic arrive too late to be responsive to the current crisis.

“Second, Members can ask the WTO Secretariat for and receive support for evaluations of aspects of WTO reform. For example, on trade and health, Members can —

“Request the Secretariat to upgrade its COVID-19-related trade monitoring activities to collect and publish the best information available, not relying solely on notifications and verification. (This would be a more comprehensive and in-depth activity than that which takes place at present, which in itself was an upgrade from pre-COVID monitoring.)

“Request the Secretariat to work with the WHO, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders, to highlight trade issues affecting vaccine production and availability, and to propose ways to eliminate obstacles. (This would go beyond existing activities and result in proposals put to the WTO Member- ship).

“Third, Members can

“Propose that the Director General convene a small, representative, ambassador-level group of Friends of Trade and Health to identify how the trading system has performed during the pandemic and to issue preliminary conclusions and recommendations for useful changes in approach within a short, defined timeline.

“Propose that the WTO Secretariat embark now upon the necessary supporting work without delay.

“Propose that the Director General constitute other ‘Friends’ groups to advance consideration of institutional reform and other issues of current importance, and providing possible solutions, such as with respect to the relationship to current and future WTO Agreements of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, the disciplining of fossil fuel subsidies, addressing border adjustments likely with the adoption of carbon taxes, assessing the impact on markets of subsidies and other state interventions, employing trade to reduce income inequality, making the WTO more effective for economic development within and among Member economies, improving the trading system with respect to women in trade, providing WTO support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and more generally strategic foresight.

“G20 Members clearly want to enhance preparedness for future pandemics and other crises. Flexible groups with appropriate balance but able to be nimble and responsive are one way to supplement but not supplant the work of committees and joint statement initiatives (JSIs).

‘Propose that an ad hoc horizontal mechanism be created promptly in the event of crises to address — in real time — trade measures that are of concern. The mechanism, similar to trade policy reviews, but not limited to any single WTO Member’s measures, trade restrictive and trade liberalizing, should be constituted immediately for the current pandemic and economic recovery measures.

“Fourth, Members can

“Propose that the signatories of the Pharmaceutical Agreement providing for duty-free trade be updated (last done in 2010), that major nonsigna- tories join and that essential medical supplies be added to the coverage.

“Propose that the signatories of the Information Technology Agreement review and update its coverage, including adding medical equipment.

“Propose that negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement re-start in earnest now, with the addition of services.”

The Ottawa Group agreed to put forward a communication seeking action by WTO Members. Each of Canada and the EU (and likely other members) put out press releases. See, e.g., Government of Canada, November 23, 2020, Minister Ng hosts successful ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/11/minister-ng-hosts-successful-ministerial-meeting-of-the-ottawa-group-on-wto-reform.html; European Commission, Directorate-General for Trade, 23 November 2020, Ottawa Group proposes a global Trade and Health Initiative, https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2215&title=Ottawa-Group-proposes-a-global-Trade-and-Health-Initiative.

The Canadian press release states in part, “As countries face a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is essential that governments minimize disruptions to trade flows in essential medical supplies. Today, members of the Ottawa Group took important steps toward a proposed WTO Trade and Health Initiative, which identifies short-term actions to strenghten supply chains and ensure the free flow of medicines and medical supplies.”

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

Today the Ottawa Group, a group of 13 like-minded World Trade Organisation (WTO) partners including the EU, agreed today on an initiative, calling on the WTO members to increase their cooperation and work toward enhanced global rules to facilitate trade in essential medical goods. The agreement took place as an outcome of the Ottawa Group Ministerial meeting, hosted virtually by Minister Mary Ng of Canada.

“The Ottawa Group members called for immediate actions in response to the coronavirus crisis such as exercising a restraint in using any export restrictions, implementing trade-facilitating measures in the area of customs and services, as well as improving transparency.

“They also called for further cooperation amongst members, and between the WTO and other international organisations.

“The group also encourages WTO members to refrain from imposing tariffs on essential medical goods during the crisis. Such actions are intended to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and contribute to an effective response to a public health emergency. They can serve as a basis for future permanent commitments on trade in essential medical goods.

“Commission Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: ‘We are proud to promote this trade and health initiative. It aims to encourage stronger global cooperation at WTO level, by facilitating trade in healthcare products. This is critical in the current global health crisis and will also help us in future. But the Ottawa Group trade and health initiative is just the first step. Going forward, the EU will work to promote resilient global healthcare systems, as well as accessible and affordable healthcare products universally.’

“The communication will now be submitted later this week to the WTO secretariat, before being presented to the WTO General Council for discussion. It will be used to prepare the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, due to be held in 2021.”

That same day, November 23, the Ottawa Group submitted to the WTO a communication entitled “COVID-19 and beyond: Trade and Health”. WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The document is embedded below.

223

The communication is ten paragraphs plus an Annex which is described as “Draft Elements of a ‘Trade and Health’ Initiative”. The communication reviews the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and invites “all WTO Members to start working on a Trade and Health Initiative” referencing the Annex. Paragraph 6 of the communication summarizes the specific actions being proposed.

“6. With this objective in mind, we call on WTO Members to make their utmost efforts to prevent further disruptions in the supply chains of essential medical goods. As set out in the Annex to this Communication, we propose specific actions relating to export restrictions, trade facilitation,
technical regulations, tariffs, transparency and review, and call for the WTO to enhance its cooperation with other relevant international organizations, such as WHO, WCO, OECD as well as G20, given the context of the on-going evaluations of the global response to COVID-19. These proposed actions are not intended to be prescriptive and do not cover the universe of possible
measures that could support trade in essential medical goods. Rather, they reflect emerging best practices and should provide sufficient flexibility to be adapted to differing national circumstances.”

The Ottawa Group is hoping to get the support of all Members on a joint statement early in 2021 on a Trade and Health Initiative which could serve as a starting point for negotiations for new WTO commitments at the 12th Ministerial Conference in the summer of 2021 in Kazakhstan.

On export restrictions, the Annex calls for greater oversight of such restrictions without eliminating them outright.

On customs, services and technical regulations, the Annex calls for Members to share information and experiences on best practices in trade facilitation during a crisis (customs procedures, services (including freight, logistics, distribution and transport)) and on standards and technical requirements looking towards regulatory alignment.

On tariffs, the Annex calls on Members to “make best endeavours to temporarily remove or reduce tariffs on goods that are considered essential to fighting COVID-19 pandemic”.

On transparency and review, the Annex calls on Members to enhance transparency during the pandemic with the aim of identifying supply chain disruptions and avoiding such disruptions.

On the topic of cooperation of the WTO with other organizations, the Annex both encourages the WTO Secretariat to continue it outreach on measures related to COVID-19 and the studies developed by the Secretariat with a focus “on the causes and effects of the disruptions in the supply chains of essential goods and drawing on research of other international organizations.” The WTO Director-General is also encouraged to “intensify cooperation” with other organizations (including the G20) to improve “the analytical capacity of Members to monitor market developments in trade and production of essential medical goods.”

Finally, the Annex asks Members to review the effectiveness of the identified elements at the 12th Ministerial Conference “with a view to adopting possible commitments regarding trade in essential medical goods.”

Conclusion

There have been many communications put forward by different groups of Members at the WTO in the last eight months on actions that would make sense in terms of limiting export restraints on medical goods or avoiding such restraints on agricultural goods, about the need for effective trade facilitation measures to reduce barriers to movement of medical goods, and on other topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Group’s communication from Monday is an effort to come up with an early possible deliverable that could garner broad WTO Member support. As a result it seeks a joint statement with agreement on the statement for early 2021. The Group also provides five draft proposals for such a joint statement. The proposals don’t eliminate existing flexibility (e.g., export restraints) but try to tighten disciplines via increased transparency. The proposals encourage development of best practices on a range of trade facilitation and regulatory alignment issues. The proposals also encourage what is obviously in most Members self-interest — reducing or eliminating tariffs on medical goods during the pandemic. The proposals also call on Members to do a better job on transparency on measure taken during the pandemic with a focus on identifying disruptions to supply chains and addressing the same in short order. Finally, while the WTO already cooperates with other organizations, the proposals point to specific areas where enhanced cooperation would be helpful.

In an organization where Members have a low level of trust in each other, a joint statement on the need for a Trade and Health Initiative such as proposed by the Ottawa Group is probably all that can be achieved in the short term. Something along the lines outlined in the Annex would indeed be a confidence builder if achieved early in 2021. The ability to review developments at the 12th Ministerial and start negotiations on trade in essential medical goods at that time will also be important if accomplished. The more ambitious options presented by DDG Wolff should be considered but realistically are unlikely to either happen or get started ahead of the 12th Ministerial.

Let’s hope that the WTO membership can come together to support the Ottawa Group proposal. The EC has indicated that the Communication will be taken up at the December General Council meeting. That will be an early opportunity to see if there is likely to broad support for the initiative.

Responding to a comment received on yesterday’s post, WTO subsidy disciplines — an update and coordination across areas is long overdue

Earlier today I received a comment from a well respected trade attorney in Washington, D.C., on my post of yesterday calling for an update of subsidy disciplines including exploring the logic of how subsidies are treated in different areas and whether distortions caused by subsidies from actors not presently covered should be covered in the update. As I haven’t sought permission to identify the commenter, I simply provide the comment below as it is one that may be shared by other readers of the post.

“A review of the big picture of WTO subsidy control efforts ought to at least mention the damage done, through DSB-adopted decisions, to the fairly decent set of disciplines the ASCM appeared to have when it was first brought live in 1995.  Today’s need for better ASCM rules is in substantial part the result of 25 years of bad interpretations of ASCM Art. 1, most of them rendered in pursuit of gutting the United States’ CVD remedy.

“To the extent Azevedo was suggesting that merely the passage of time is to blame for the current inadequate state of WTO subsidy rules, he is wrong.  Purposeful shredding has played a role too.”

Here is my response to the thoughtful comment provided. First, there is no doubt that some dispute settlement decisions have undermined the disciplines that exist in the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“ASCM”). The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office paper on concerns with the WTO’s Appellate Body present various examples of egregious overreach by the Appellate Body, including a number of cases involving interpretations of the ASCM. See USTR, Report on the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization, February 2020, pages 81-89 (public body), 105-109 (use of out of country benchmarks), https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Report_on_the_Appellate_Body_of_the_World_Trade_Organization.pdf; February 14, 2020, USTR’s Report on the WTO Appellate Body – An Impressive Critique of the Appellate Body’s Deviation from Its Proper Role, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/14/ustrs-report-on-the-wto-appellate-body-an-impressive-critique-of-the-appellate-bodys-deviation-from-its-proper-role/.

I have written extensively over the years on the problem of overreach by the Appellate Body, and the damage caused to the balance of rights and obligations that the United States and others negotiated in the Uruguay Round. The problem has been most obvious in the trade defense agreements (antidumping, subsidies and safeguards), but exist in decisions involving other agreements as well as is reviewed in the USTR report. I have also suggested ways for the WTO, in addressing the impasse on the Appellate Body, to clarify DSU language and address specific instances of claimed overreach. See, e.g., July 12, 2020, WTO Appellate Body reform – revisiting thoughts on how to address U.S. concerns, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/12/wtos-appellate-body-reform-revisiting-thoughts-on-how-to-address-u-s-concerns/; November 12, 2019, Background Materials on WTO Appellate Body Reform Challenges – The Critical Issue of “Overreach”, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/12/background-materials-on-wto-appellate-body-reform-challenges-the-critical-issue-of-overreach/; November 4, 2019, WTO’s Appellate Body Reform – The Draft General Council Decision on Functioning of the Appellate Body, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/04/wtos-appellate-body-reform-the-draft-general-council-decision-on-functioning-of-the-appellate-body/.

So while I agree with the comment that the ASCM is less robust because of erroneous WTO Appellate Body reports, that fact does not change the intended message of the post. There is significantly different treatment of subsidies between industrial goods, agricultural goods and services that are not logical or justifiable. There have been major changes in the world economy and who the major trading nations are in the last twenty-five years which raise questions about a range of topics that are not specifically covered by the ASCM, the Agreement on Agriculture, GATS (where there are no subsidy disciplines at present) or other agreements. While the U.S., EU and Japan are concerned (rightly so) about the extreme damage being caused by massive industrial subsidies from economies with non-market economic systems and hence the need for enhanced rules, lack of coverage of services, more restrictive subsidy rules on agriculture than on industrial goods are issues that can and should be examined as well as the areas not covered by the existing ASCM.

My second point would be that if I suggested in my earlier note that former Director-General Roberto Azevedo was suggesting the problems with the ASCM were due to the passage of time, that was not the intention. Mr. Azevedo’s interview for the 25th anniversary program and the comment quoted was focused on a much broader question — where had the WTO not accomplished what was originally envisioned. Mr. Azevedo’s comment reflected his understanding that a properly functioning WTO would have Members engaged in negotiations on issues on an ongoing basis to ensure the WTO was maintaining its relevance to Members in the light of evolving global commerce and technology. The fact that there are no rules on ecommerce decades after the rise of ecommerce is an obvious case in point where the WTO has not been able to update the rulebook in a timely manner. I was using Mr. Azevedo’s general statement to undergird the propriety of examining the important topic of where distortions are caused by the subsidy actions of governments (and possibly private parties). Such an examination is needed as part of the WTO reform efforts that should be occurring going forward. But examining subsidy disciplines in the reform effort is not intended to excuse the problem of overreach by the Appellate Body that has resulted in the temporary shut down of the Appellate Body at the WTO. The WTO Members need to find a way in resolving the Appellate Body impasse to restore the rights of Members that had been agreed as part of the Uruguay Round but undermined by panel or Appellate Body reports.

For ease of reference for readers, yesterday’s post is copied below. I hope the above eliminates any confusion that my post yesterday may have caused.

Yesterday’s post

When the WTO came into being at the beginning of 1995, subsidy disciplines were fragmented. Agricultural subsidies were largely addressed under the Agreement on Agriculture although also subject to the ASCM. Industrial subsidies were covered by the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM). The General Agreement on Trade in Services has no disciplines on subsidies although negotiations on a possible article dealing with subsidies was one of the open issues where negotiations were supposed to continue after the WTO started up. And there was the separate plurilateral agreement on civil aircraft which had rules on subsidies as well.

While export subsidies were prohibited on industrial goods from the beginning, there are only loose controls on domestic subsidies. As the U.S., EU and Japan have articulated at the WTO, the changing make up of WTO Members and the rise in trade importance of Members with a state-directed economy have created increased challenges from state subsidies where existing disciplines are not viewed as adequate.

In agriculture, export subsidies were originally capped and being reduced but have now been eliminated by developed countries. Agriculture faces many more vagaries of nature that directly affect growing conditions (climate change, increased severe storms, increased flooding, increased draughts, etc.) than do industrial goods. Despite this reality, domestic supports in agriculture are capped and are facing increased calls for reductions by some Members.

While the GATS was originally driven by developed country service providers who were unconcerned with the need for trade remedies, the changing make-up of the WTO Membership, the changing technologies used by many service providers, and the growth of state-owned or state-invested service providers competing internationally have all raised the specter of significant government supports being provided to service providers that distort economic outcomes between competing service providers but which are not presently addressable under WTO rules.

In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous economic dislocations for many WTO Members and has led many countries to provide unprecedented stimulus packages to minimize the economic fallout within their countries or territories. The WTO hasn’t explored how, if at all, such stimulus efforts can or should be evaluated under WTO rules.

Similarly, subsidy disciplines basically apply simply to subsidies provided by a government or a private party at government direction within the economy of the government in question. There are issues of whether subsidized loans from intergovernmental entities should be addressable if causing distortion with other entities. There are similarly questions about whether subsidies into inputs in one country which are then exported and used in a second country for export to other countries can or should be addressable when a country is investigating the second country’s product. Similarly, while the WTO ASCM deals with subsidies from governments or private parties at the direction of governments, the distortions to international competition are not necessarily more distortive than private sector subsidies between or within companies may be. Just as the Agreement on Antidumping deals with private market distortions, it isn’t clear why subsidy disciplines should root out distortions whether coming from governments or private parties. And, of course, when the GATT came into existence in the late 1940s, there were concerns about dual exchange rates causing distortions and permission to handle those distortions under either the antidumping or countervailing duty provisions of Article VI of the GATT. When currencies become significantly undervalued there can be significant distortions in economic outcomes. While at least the United States is addressing such distortions under its countervailing duty law at the moment, there is no agreed updated rules in the WTO.

Last week, the WTO on November 19 celebrated its first 25 years with both various panels and with a video of the last three Directors-General being interviewed about the first 25 years. Former Director-General Roberto Azevedo who stepped down at the end of August this year was asked a question of where the WTO had fallen short in his view in the first 25 years. His answer was as follows (according to my notes): “The WTO has to be constantly updating itself. For example, tariff negotiations or disciplines or rules we negotiated thirty years ago are completely out of date.” WTO at 25: Conversations with former Directors-General of the WTO, 19 November 2020 (video). He added that when the WTO came into existence in 1995, it was clear that the WTO would need to update itself continuously without requiring big rounds, but that has not occurred.

There is no area where a review of the existing rules and disciplines is needed more urgently than the area of subsidies. But unlike in the past, there should be greater evaluation of all subsidy areas to be sure that distortions in any area of economic activity internationally can be addressed while actions which simply address emergency situations flowing from pandemics or weather events are not addressable if not adding to capacity. Such a review obviously needn’t slow down the important efforts to reach agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which has dragged on for roughly 19 years and is tied now to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

Past Directors-General, the candidates for the position in 2020 and most Members readily agree that for negotiations to advance there has to be items of interest to all Members. A broad subsidy review should provide exactly that broad potential interest while at the same time permitting the rules and disciplines on subsidies to be updated to address the commercial realities of today.

WTO subsidy disciplines — an update and coordination across areas is long overdue

When the WTO came into being at the beginning of 1995, subsidy disciplines were fragmented. Agricultural subsidies were largely addressed under the Agreement on Agriculture although also subject to the ASCM. Industrial subsidies were covered by the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM). The General Agreement on Trade in Services has no disciplines on subsidies although negotiations on a possible article dealing with subsidies was one of the open issues where negotiations were supposed to continue after the WTO started up. And there was the separate plurilateral agreement on civil aircraft which had rules on subsidies as well.

While export subsidies were prohibited on industrial goods from the beginning, there are only loose controls on domestic subsidies. As the U.S., EU and Japan have articulated at the WTO, the changing make up of WTO Members and the rise in trade importance of Members with a state-directed economy have created increased challenges from state subsidies where existing disciplines are not viewed as adequate.

In agriculture, export subsidies were originally capped and being reduced but have now been eliminated by developed countries. Agriculture faces many more vagaries of nature that directly affect growing conditions (climate change, increased severe storms, increased flooding, increased draughts, etc.) than do industrial goods. Despite this reality, domestic supports in agriculture are capped and are facing increased calls for reductions by some Members.

While the GATS was originally driven by developed country service providers who were unconcerned with the need for trade remedies, the changing make-up of the WTO Membership, the changing technologies used by many service providers, and the growth of state-owned or state-invested service providers competing internationally have all raised the specter of significant government supports being provided to service providers that distort economic outcomes between competing service providers but which are not presently addressable under WTO rules.

In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous economic dislocations for many WTO Members and has led many countries to provide unprecedented stimulus packages to minimize the economic fallout within their countries or territories. The WTO hasn’t explored how, if at all, such stimulus efforts can or should be evaluated under WTO rules.

Similarly, subsidy disciplines basically apply simply to subsidies provided by a government or a private party at government direction within the economy of the government in question. There are issues of whether subsidized loans from intergovernmental entities should be addressable if causing distortion with other entities. There are similarly questions about whether subsidies into inputs in one country which are then exported and used in a second country for export to other countries can or should be addressable when a country is investigating the second country’s product. Similarly, while the WTO ASCM deals with subsidies from governments or private parties at the direction of governments, the distortions to international competition are not necessarily more distortive than private sector subsidies between or within companies may be. Just as the Agreement on Antidumping deals with private market distortions, it isn’t clear why subsidy disciplines should root out distortions whether coming from governments or private parties. And, of course, when the GATT came into existence in the late 1940s, there were concerns about dual exchange rates causing distortions and permission to handle those distortions under either the antidumping or countervailing duty provisions of Article VI of the GATT. When currencies become significantly undervalued there can be significant distortions in economic outcomes. While at least the United States is addressing such distortions under its countervailing duty law at the moment, there is no agreed updated rules in the WTO.

Last week, the WTO on November 19 celebrated its first 25 years with both various panels and with a video of the last three Directors-General being interviewed about the first 25 years. Former Director-General Roberto Azevedo who stepped down at the end of August this year was asked a question of where the WTO had fallen short in his view in the first 25 years. His answer was as follows (according to my notes): “The WTO has to be constantly updating itself. For example, tariff negotiations or disciplines or rules we negotiated thirty years ago are completely out of date.” WTO at 25: Conversations with former Directors-General of the WTO, 19 November 2020 (video). He added that when the WTO came into existence in 1995, it was clear that the WTO would need to update itself continuously without requiring big rounds, but that has not occurred.

There is no area where a review of the existing rules and disciplines is needed more urgently than the area of subsidies. But unlike in the past, there should be greater evaluation of all subsidy areas to be sure that distortions in any area of economic activity internationally can be addressed while actions which simply address emergency situations flowing from pandemics or weather events are not addressable if not adding to capacity. Such a review obviously needn’t slow down the important efforts to reach agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which has dragged on for roughly 19 years and is tied now to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

Past Directors-General, the candidates for the position in 2020 and most Members readily agree that for negotiations to advance there has to be items of interest to all Members. A broad subsidy review should provide exactly that broad potential interest while at the same time permitting the rules and disciplines on subsidies to be updated to address the commercial realities of today.

WTO initiatives on trade and the environment — likely to receive a warm welcome under a Biden Administration

The challenges facing the world from climate change are staggering and getting worse. While the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a Biden Administration will have the U.S. rejoin and work with other nations to find solutions to the pressing problems.

Today in Geneva, two initiatives were announced by groups of WTO Members. One addresses trade and environmental sustainability and was presented in a communication from 49 Members. Communication on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, WT/CTE/W/249 (17 November 2020). Neither the U.S., China, India, Brazil nor South Africa are on the communication though most developed countries and other Members are initial sponsors. The communication is embedded below.

W249

The second initiative was the launch of an informal dialogue on plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade. Seven Members are launching the informal dialogue. All Members are welcome to participate. The seven Members involved in the launch are Australia, Barbados, Canada, China, Fiji, Jamaica and Morocco. Only Australia, Canada and Fiji are part of both initiatives. The press release from the Secretariat on today’s initiatives included the following discussion of the plastics initiative.

“The dialogue is borne out of the recognition of the need for coordinated action to address the rising environmental, health and economic cost of plastics pollution and the importance of the trade dimension as a solution.

“Proponents aim to circulate their communication soon. * * *

“Ambassador Xiangchen Zhang of China said at the online event that possible subjects for discussion include improving transparency, monitoring trade trends, promoting best practices, strengthening policy coherence, identifying the scope for collective approaches, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and cooperating with other international processes and efforts. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji said they hope this informal dialogue will encourage discussion and exploratory work on how the WTO can contribute to efforts to reduce plastics pollution and transition to a circular, more environmentally sustainable plastics trade.”

Deputy Director-General Alan Wm Wolff spoke at today’s event and identified a range of initiatives that have been looked at by the Committee on Trade and Environment, or that could be, that could help move forward both initiatives including resuming talks at eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers on environmental goods and services, reforming subsidies on fossil fuels, promoting a global circular economy, addressing the carbon content of traded products and other actions.

The press release and DDG Wolff’s remarks are embedded below.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-New-initiatives-launched-to-intensify-WTO-work-on-trade-and-the-environment

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-remarks-on-the-Structured-Discussions-on-Trade-and-Environmental-Sustainability

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

Because addressing the challenges from climate change are a core priority for the incoming Biden Administration, I would expect that once the new trade team is in place, the U.S. will become involved in both of the initiatives and other activities at the WTO on the importance of finding rules and solutions to pressing trade and environment issues.

The Biden team almost certainly supports most if not all of the items identified in paragraph 1 of the Communication (WT/CTE/W/249), including the importance of multilateral environmental agreements, that there is an urgent need for action on climate change, that trade and environmental objectives and policies should be mutually supportive, that trade and trade policy need to support efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, among others. Similarly, the Biden Administration will presumably strongly support the four areas of activity identified in paragraph 2 of the Communication:

“2. Therefore, express our intention to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability, including by:

“intensifying our work to share experiences and best practices; promote transparency, dialogue and information sharing along the full value chain of products and materials;

“strengthening coherence at the national and international level with a view to identifying areas of common interest and for future work within the WTO, in order for WTO to address more effectively sustainable development issues;

“working in cooperation with relevant international organizations and relevant actors, including the private sector, to identify and support technical assistance and capacity building needs of Members, and in particular least-developed countries (LDCs).

“working on possible actions and deliverables of environmental sustainability in the various areas of the WTO.”

Similarly, I would expect the Biden Administration to have an active interest in working with industry and other governments to address the challenges of plastics pollution, although U.S. interests are likely to be more action oriented than the items teed up by China at today’s announcement.

Conclusion

For years, many Members have fought focusing energies at the WTO on issues involving trade and the environment. With the climate change crisis and consequences being felt around the world, it appears that many or most WTO Members are appreciating the need for the WTO to play its role in addressing sustainable development and the climate change challenge.

With a new U.S. Administration, the U.S. should be a very active participant in moving the WTO and its Members forward.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed on November 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The agreement has twenty chapters some of which have annexes:

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

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

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

Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement

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

RCEP Chapter 7, Trade Remedies

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

rcep-chapter-7

Safeguard actions

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

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

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Annex I

The Values of the World Trade Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance — is provided:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do the news articles portend?

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

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

As November approaches, Europe and the United States facing rapidly growing new COVID-19 cases

The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported globally skyrocketed during the October 12-25 period (5,431,119), up 24.37% from the September 28 – October 11 period (4,336,825). Data are from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control worldwide update series. Global confirmed cases to date are now 42,758,015.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (8,576,725) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (224,899), saw the number of new cases surge by 34.0% over the last two weeks with daily records set twice in the last week (both days over 80,000 new cases). The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The downtrend was reversed during September 14-27, when the number of new cases increased to 592,690 or a daily average of 42,335 cases. During September 28-October 11, the United States recorded 640,149 new cases (45,725/day). During October 12-25, the United States recorded 857,778 new cases and will likely surpass the prior two week peak in the next two weeks.

The United States regained the dubious distinction of recording the largest number of new cases in the last two weeks as India’s number of new cases continues to decline to 811,005 new cases from its peak of 1,238,176 new cases during the September 14-27 period. India is the only country to have recorded more than one million cases in a two week period. The United States appears likely to join India in the coming weeks.

Brazil (297,998 new cases) lost its hold on third place to France (367,624 new cases). Brazil’s new cases have been falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30, 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13, 402,304 new cases during September 14-27, 364,646 during September 28-October 11 and 297,998 new cases in October 12-25 (a decline of 52.92% since the end of July).

With the tremendous overall global growth and the declining volume of new cases in India and Brazil, the share of total new cases in the last fourteen days and since the end of December 2019 accounted for by India, Brazil and the United States declined to 36.21% in the most recent fourteen days from 47.31% in September 28-October 11. and from 54.33% during September 14-27 and down from 58.34% in the August 31-September 13 period. The three countries account for 51.04% of total cases since late December 2019 in the prior two weeks down from 53.25% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019 as of October 11.

The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 20.06% of total confirmed cases since December 2019 — 4.67 times the share of total cases our population would justify. With the large increase in the most recent two weeks, the U.S. was 15.79% of the total new cases during the last two weeks (up from 14.66% during Sept. 28-October 11) or 3.67 times the U.S. share of global population. The U.S. also accounts for 19.53% of total deaths or 4.54 times the U.S. share of global population.

Changing pattern of growth in cases, Europe experiencing a spike in cases surpassing its first wave

Much of Europe is in a massive build-up of new cases, rivaling or exceeding the challenges faced during the March-April time period. This is resulting in reimposition of some restrictions by some European countries with a fair amount of pushback from citizens weary of the restrictions.

France has been hit hardest in terms of the number of new cases with the October 12-25 number of new cases reaching 367,624 up 92.04% from the 191,427 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was up from 153,535 in the September 14-27 period. The current number of new cases compares to the prior peak in the March 30-April 12 period of 56,215 new cases (or is 6.54 times the prior peak in the latest two week period).

The United Kingdom is similarly facing major challenges as the last two weeks saw new cases of 263,166 up 62.88% from the 161,567 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was more than twice the 64,103 new cases in September 14-27 and just 32,422 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The United Kingdom’s prior peak in the April 13-26 period was 69,386 new cases. So the most recent two weeks is at a level that is 3.79 times the prior peak.

Spain’s number of new COVID-19 cases rose to 185,020, an increase of 27.93% rom the September 28-Ocotber 11 period with 144,631 new cases. Spain’s peak in the spring had been in the period March 30-April 12 with 81,612 new cases. Thus, the last two weeks were 2.27 times the Spring peak number of new cases.

Italy’s last two weeks saw a breathtaking spike to 155,015 new cases, 3.74 times the number of new cases from the prior two week period September 28-October 11 when Italy recorded 41,390 new cases which was nearly double the number of cases in the September 14-27 period (21,807 new cases). Italy’s most recent two weeks was 2.59 times the prior peak for Italy in the Spring during the March 30-April 12 period of 59,799 new cases.

Czechia which spiked following summer vacations saw its number of new cases during October 12-25 surge to 136,790 up from 46,080 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period and 23,893 new cases in the September 14-27 period and 11,307 new cases in the August 31 – September 13 period. Czechia largely escaped the March-April wave in Europe. The data for the last eight weeks constitutes 86.95 percent of Czechia’s total recorded cases since December 2019.

Belgium surged to 133,439 new cases in the October 12-25 period more than tripling the 40,791 new cases recorded in the September 28-October 11 period which more than doubling the numbers from September 14-27 of 17,797.

Poland, which had largely escaped the Spring wave of infections, recorded 120,308 new cases in the latest two week period (Oct. 12-25) up from 35,658 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period.

The Netherlands nearly doubled its number of new cases in the October 12-25 period (112,649) compared to the number of new cases in the September 28-Ocotber 11period (59,561). The last two weeks constitute 40.13% of total cases the Netherlands has recorded since December 2019.

Germany’s new cases in the October 12-25 period surged to 106,317 from 38,724 new cases during the September 28-October 11 period. The Spring peak for Germany had been during the March 30-April 12 period (67,932 new cases).

The Russian Federation saw continued increases in the number of new cases during the October 12-25 period (228,793) up from 141,513 in the September 28-October 11 period which was up 86,209 new cases in the September 14-27 period. Russia’s earlier peak was during the May 11-24 period when Russia recorded 137,206 new cases.

Ukraine recorded 81,144 new cases during the October 11-25 period compared to 60,762 new cases in September 28-October 11, and 43,645 new cases in the September-27 period.

Many other European countries saw large increases as well in the last two weeks, though the number of new cases are smaller those the countries reviewed above.

Developing country hot spots

Still a very large part of the new cases are in developing countries as has been true for the last few months although many countries, including India and Brazil are seeing many fewer new cases in the last two weeks. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (197,440), Colombia (104,964), Iran (66,452), Indonesia (57,028), Mexico (55,807), Iraq (49,029), Morocco (48,063), Peru (40,126), the Philippines (30,893), Turkey (25,753), South Africa (23,350), Chile (20,947), Bangladesh (20,434) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases. Of the listed developing countries, only Argentina, Colombia, Iran, Morocco, Turkey and South Africa saw increases from the September 28-October 11 period.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (224,899) and had the largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,522). Because the number of deaths typically follows increases in new cases (with a significant lag), the U.S. saw the number of new deaths increase 6.5% from the prior two weeks deaths (9,880). The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Argentina (11.24), Armenia (5.54), Moldova (5.22), Israel (5.06), Romania (4.94), Belgium (4.91), Iran (4.86), Colombia (4.65), Costa Rica (4.08), Mexico (4.00), Poland (3.63), Panama (3.44), Chile (3.27), and the United States (3.20). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.02 deaths/100,000 population. So the U.S.’s death rate over the last two weeks was 2.91 times the global average and was much higher than many large and/or developed countries. China’s number was so low, it was 0.00 people/100,000 population; France was 2.93, Germany 0.50, India 0.75, Italy 1.77, Japan 0.07, South Korea 0.05, Singapore 0.02, United Kingdom 2.98, Taiwan 0.00, Canada 0.90, Australia 0.03, New Zealand 0.00.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through October 25, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 15.16 deaths. The nine countries (of 86 which account for over 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (10.87), Belgium (93.73), Bolivia (74.93), Brazil (74.34), Spain (74.04), Ecuador (72.19), Chile (73.30), Ecuador (72.19), Mexico (69.56), the United States (68.34). The United States death rate has been 4.51 times the global rate and many times higher than nearly all other developed countries and most developing countries. Consider the following examples: China, where the virus was first found, has a death per 100,000 population of just 0.33 people. India’s data show 8.67 per 100,000 population; Germany has 12.08; Japan has 1.35; Korea is just 0.89; Canada is 26.52; Switzerland is 21.96; Poland is 11.46; Ukraine is 14.30; Norway is 5.24; Australia is 3.59; New Zealand is 0.52.

Conclusion

The world in the first ten months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania had greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been a significant resurgence in many of these countries (particularly in Europe where current rates of new cases are greater than during the March-April initial wave) as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased, schools reopen in many countries and fall comes to the northern hemisphere. But the number of new cases continues to rage in a few countries in the Americas, with the United States heading to new records. While there are growing number of cases in many developing countries in Asia and Africa, many countries are seeing significant declines with relatively smaller number of cases in Africa in total than in other continents.

A recent WTO Secretariat information paper showed that there has been a reduction in shortages of many medical goods needed to handle the COVID-19 pandemic which is obviously good news, although as the global total of new cases continues to rise, there may yet be additional challenges in terms of supply. See 18 September 2020, Information Note, How WTO Members Have Used Trade Measures to Expedite Access to COVID-19 Critical Medical Goods and Services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/services_report_16092020_e.pdf.

Despite significant expansion of production of PPE around the world and despite progress within GAVI on its program for outreach with various vaccines when developed (including securing production capacity in a number of countries), and other relevant medical goods and the ongoing efforts of CEPI on vaccine developments, and the license agreements that have been entered into by a number of the major groups developing vaccines for COVID-19, India and South Africa have filed a waiver request from most TRIPs obligations “in relation to prevention, containment of treatment of COVID-19”. The waiver request would apply to all WTO Members for a number of years (yet to be determined). See Communication from India and South Africa, Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPs Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19, 2 October 2020, IP/C/W/669. While I will address the waiver request in a later post, it is hard to imagine that the normal requirements for seeking a waiver have been met with the current communication. Based on the readout of the October 20, 2020 TRIPs Council meeting, it is likely that the waiver request will generate significant controversy in the coming three months and could complicate current efforts at greater global cooperation in addressing the pandemic.

With the third round of consultations for a new Director-General concluding on Tuesday, October 27, whoever the new Director-General ends up being can add the waiver request to the list of highly controversial matters that confront the WTO heading towards the end of 2020.

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

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

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

A good summary paragraph from the TTALK piece follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is certain to be an interesting end of October.

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

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

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

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

Developing Counry criteria; Special and Differential Treatment

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

Statement by U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement by EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 6:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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

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

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Market-Oriented Conditions

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

Statement of U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement of EU Amb. Joao Aguiar Machado:

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

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

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

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

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 7:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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

The joint document discussed is embedded below.

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Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

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

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

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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