Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“WTO Reform

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

“2. Put market access back on the agenda

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

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

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

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

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

“8. Create a crisis management protocol for future crises

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

“Trade and Health

“10. Ensure trade policies facilitate vaccine manufacturing and distribution

“11. Creation of a Health Market Information System

“12. Adopt cooperative ways to speed up vaccine production

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

“Trade and environmental sustainability

“14. Finalise the fisheries subsidies negotiations

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

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

“17. Deal with carbon leakage in a multilateral way

“Trade and the digital economy

“18. Accelerate the e-commerce negotiations

“19. Develop market access provisions for the digital economy

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

“21. Create an enabling legal environment for paperless trade

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

“Trade and inclusivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely U.S. Trade Approach Short Term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 Vaccines — Bolivia seeks a compulsory license to produce a vaccine in a third country

Back in February of this year, Bolivia provided notice that it intended to use the special compulsory licensing system as an importing Member under the Amended TRIPS Agreement. See NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT, NOTIFICATION OF INTENTION TO USE THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM
AS AN IMPORTING MEMBER, IP/N/8/BOL/1, 19 February 2021.

On the 10th of May 2021, Bolivia filed a notice with the WTO seeking access to a COVID-19 vaccine through a compulsory license for production in a third country. The notice was posted on the WTO website on November 11 (IP/N/9/BOL/1) and the subject of a WTO news release on the 12th of May. See WTO, Bolivia outlines vaccine import needs in use of WTO flexibilities to tackle pandemic, 12 May 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_10may21_e.htm. Bolivia’s two notifications are embedded below.

8BOL1

9BOL1

A translation from Google Translate (with a few tweaks) of the May 10 notice is provided below.

NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT

NOTIFICATION OF THE NEED TO IMPORT PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS UNDER THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM

Member(s) who present the notification

Plurinational State of Bolivia

Necessary product(s)

An estimated 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. In particular, it is intended to import the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S, a replication adenovirus type 26 (AD26) vectorized vaccine incompetent that encodes a stabilized variant of protein S of the SARS-Cov-2. The Plurinational State of Bolivia reserves the right to import other vaccines.

Demonstration that the capabilities of manufacturing in the pharmaceutical sector are insufficient or nonexistant

[X] At the moment the Member does not have manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector.

[ ] The Member has found that its capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to meet the needs regarding the pharmaceutical product needed.

Information about how it has proved the lack of manufacturing capacities (enough) in the pharmaceutical sector

The Plurinational State of Bolivia has verified that it does not have the capacity to manufacture in the pharmaceutical sector vaccines against COVID-19 including the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S.

Is (are) the product(s) necessary (s) protected (s) by patent in the territory?

[ ] No.

[ ] Yes.

[X] To be determined. Insofar as they have been requested or granted patents for the necessary products, the Plurinational State of Bolivia intends to grant compulsory licenses, in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement.

Date of presentation of the notification

10 May 2021

The WTO news release is copied below.

“The government of Bolivia has formally notified the WTO of the country’s need to import COVID-19 vaccines, taking another step towards using flexibilities in WTO intellectual property rules as part of its pandemic response.

“Bolivia notified the WTO it needed to import 15 million doses of a vaccine under the legal system introduced in a
2017 amendment (https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/trip_23jan17_e.htm) to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). That amendment, which created Article 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement, provides an additional legal pathway for import-reliant countries to access affordable medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.

“Bolivia’s submission follows through on its February notification signalling that it intended to exercise the flexibilities under the amendment.

“Bolivia’s notification opens up the possibility of importing the needed vaccines from any one of around 50 WTO members (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm) that have put in place domestic laws providing for the production and export of medicines made under compulsory licence through this system.

“’This is an example of a WTO member seeking to make use of available tools under the TRIPS Agreement to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as members seek to expand the range of options through the TRIPS waiver proposal,’ said Antony Taubman, Director of the WTO’s Intellectual Property Division. ‘This step provides one practical component of what could be a wider process of countries signalling urgent and unmet needs and encouraging a combined, coordinated response by international partners.’

“The WTO Secretariat has been encouraged by members in the TRIPS Council to provide any necessary technical assistance to facilitate use of the system to import pharmaceutical products manufactured under compulsory licence.”

The intersection of intellectual property rights and public health has been a topic of great interest and intense feelings at the WTO since its inception and resulted in an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement to address the needs of developing and least developed countries without pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity for certain products during emergencies. As the WTO news release notes, through a long process starting in 2001 and ending with the adoption of Article 31bis to the TRIPS Agreement in 2017, special provisions were added that would permit importing developing or least developed countries to have pharmaceutical products produced under compulsory license in countries adopting procedures to comply with the modified agreement. Today the following countries are on the list of WTO Members willing to produce pharmaceutical products under compulsory license for importing countries where conditions are met:

Albania; Australia; Botswana; Canada; China; Croatia; Cuba; European Union; Hong Kong, China; India; Jordan; Kazakhstan; New Zealand; Norway; Oman; Philippines; Republic of Korea; Singapore; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Japan. See Intellectual Property: TRIPS and Health, Members’ laws implementing the ‘Paragraph 6’ system, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm.

The Amended TRIPS Agreement at Article 31bis and the Annex and Appendix which lay out requirements for utilization of the compulsory license provisions for importers are copied below. Like other compulsory licensing provisions, compensation to the patent holder is required by the exporter.

Article 31bis

1. The obligations of an exporting Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply with respect to the grant by it of a compulsory licence to the extent necessary for the purposes of production of a pharmaceutical product(s) and its export to an eligible importing Member(s) in accordance with the terms set out in paragraph 2 of the Annex to this Agreement.

2. Where a compulsory licence is granted by an exporting Member under the system set out in this Article and the Annex to this Agreement, adequate remuneration pursuant to Article 31(h) shall be paid in that Member taking into account the economic value to the importing Member of the use that has been authorized in the exporting Member. Where a compulsory licence is granted for the same products in the eligible importing Member, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(h) shall not apply in respect of those products for which remuneration in accordance with the first sentence of this paragraph is paid in the exporting Member.

3. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products: where a developing or least developed country WTO Member is a party to a regional trade agreement within the meaning of Article XXIV of the GATT 1994 and the Decision of 28 November 1979 on Differential and More Favourable Treatment Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries (L/4903), at least half of the current membership of which is made up of countries presently on the United Nations list of least developed countries, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply to the extent necessary to enable a pharmaceutical product produced or imported under a compulsory licence in that Member to be exported to the markets of those other developing or least developed country parties to the regional trade agreement that share the health problem in question. It is understood that this will not prejudice the territorial nature of the patent rights in question.

4. Members shall not challenge any measures taken in conformity with the provisions of this Article and the Annex to this Agreement under subparagraphs 1(b) and 1(c) of Article XXIII of GATT 1994.

5. This Article and the Annex to this Agreement are without prejudice to the rights, obligations and flexibilities that Members have under the provisions of this Agreement other than paragraphs (f) and (h) of Article 31, including those reaffirmed by the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2), and to their interpretation. They are also without prejudice to the extent to which pharmaceutical products produced under a compulsory licence can be exported under the provisions of Article 31(f).

ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

1. For the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex:

(a) “pharmaceutical product” means any patented product, or product manufactured through a patented process, of the pharmaceutical sector needed to address the public health problems as recognized in paragraph 1 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2). It is understood that active ingredients necessary for its manufacture and diagnostic kits needed for its use would be included(1);
  

(b) “eligible importing Member” means any least-developed country Member, and any other Member that has made a notification(2) to the Council for TRIPS of its intention to use the system set out in Article 31bis and this Annex (“system”) as an importer, it being understood that a Member may notify at any time that it will use the system in whole or in a limited way, for example only in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use. It is noted that some Members will not use the system as importing Members(3) and that some other Members have stated that, if they use the system, it would be in no more than situations of national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency;
  

(c) “exporting Member” means a Member using the system to produce pharmaceutical products for, and export them to, an eligible importing Member.

2. The terms referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 31bis are that:

(a) the eligible importing Member(s)(4) has made a notification(2)to the Council for TRIPS, that:
  

(i) specifies the names and expected quantities of the product(s) needed(5);
  

(ii) confirms that the eligible importing Member in question, other than a least developed country Member, has established that it has insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector for the product(s) in question in one of the ways set out in the Appendix to this Annex; and
  

(iii) confirms that, where a pharmaceutical product is patented in its territory, it has granted or intends to grant a compulsory licence in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of this Agreement and the provisions of this Annex(6);
  

(b) the compulsory licence issued by the exporting Member under the system shall contain the following conditions:
  

(i) only the amount necessary to meet the needs of the eligible importing Member(s) may be manufactured under the licence and the entirety of this production shall be exported to the Member(s) which has notified its needs to the Council for TRIPS;
  

(ii) products produced under the licence shall be clearly identified as being produced under the system through specific labelling or marking. Suppliers should distinguish such products through special packaging and/or special colouring/shaping of the products themselves, provided that such distinction is feasible and does not have a significant impact on price; and
  

(iii) before shipment begins, the licensee shall post on a website(7) the following information:
  

— the quantities being supplied to each destination as referred to in indent (i) above; and
  

— the distinguishing features of the product(s) referred to in indent (ii) above;
  

(c) the exporting Member shall notify(8) the Council for TRIPS of the grant of the licence, including the conditions attached to it.(9) The information provided shall include the name and address of the licensee, the product(s) for which the licence has been granted, the quantity(ies) for which it has been granted, the country(ies) to which the product(s) is (are) to be supplied and the duration of the licence. The notification shall also indicate the address of the website referred to in subparagraph (b)(iii) above.

3. In order to ensure that the products imported under the system are used for the public health purposes underlying their importation, eligible importing Members shall take reasonable measures within their means, proportionate to their administrative capacities and to the risk of trade diversion to prevent re-exportation of the products that have actually been imported into their territories under the system. In the event that an eligible importing Member that is a developing country Member or a least-developed country Member experiences difficulty in implementing this provision, developed country Members shall provide, on request and on mutually agreed terms and conditions, technical and financial cooperation in order to facilitate its implementation.

4. Members shall ensure the availability of effective legal means to prevent the importation into, and sale in, their territories of products produced under the system and diverted to their markets inconsistently with its provisions, using the means already required to be available under this Agreement. If any Member considers that such measures are proving insufficient for this purpose, the matter may be reviewed in the Council for TRIPS at the request of that Member.

5. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products, it is recognized that the development of systems providing for the grant of regional patents to be applicable in the Members described in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis should be promoted. To this end, developed country Members undertake to provide technical cooperation in accordance with Article 67 of this Agreement, including in conjunction with other relevant intergovernmental organizations.

6. Members recognize the desirability of promoting the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in order to overcome the problem faced by Members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector. To this end, eligible importing Members and exporting Members are encouraged to use the system in a way which would promote this objective. Members undertake to cooperate in paying special attention to the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in the work to be undertaken pursuant to Article 66.2 of this Agreement, paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and any other relevant work of the Council for TRIPS.

7. The Council for TRIPS shall review annually the functioning of the system with a view to ensuring its effective operation and shall annually report on its operation to the General Council.

APPENDIX TO THE ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

Assessment of Manufacturing Capacities in the Pharmaceutical Sector

Least-developed country Members are deemed to have insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector.

For other eligible importing Members insufficient or no manufacturing capacities for the product(s) in question may be established in either of the following ways:

(i) the Member in question has established that it has no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector;
  

or
  

(ii) where the Member has some manufacturing capacity in this sector, it has examined this capacity and found that, excluding any capacity owned or controlled by the patent owner, it is currently insufficient for the purposes of meeting its needs. When it is established that such capacity has become sufficient to meet the Member’s needs, the system shall no longer apply.


Notes:

  1.  This subparagraph is without prejudice to subparagraph 1(b). 
  2.  It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.  
  3.  Australia, Canada, the European Communities with, for the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex, its member States, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States.   
  4.  Joint notifications providing the information required under this subparagraph may be made by the regional organizations referred to in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis on behalf of eligible importing Members using the system that are parties to them, with the agreement of those parties.   
  5.  The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.   
  6.  This subparagraph is without prejudice to Article 66.1 of this Agreement.   
  7.  The licensee may use for this purpose its own website or, with the assistance of the WTO Secretariat, the page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.  
  8.  It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.   
  9.  The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.   

Comments

The COVID-19 vaccine challenge is an interesting one. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF have come together to have a process for both supporting development, procuring and distributing vaccines around the world including to 92 low- and middle-income countries at little or no cost. The COVAX facility is an effort supported by many governments and private sector supporters to improve the equitable access to vaccines. Thus, it is an effort to reduce the need for individual low- and middle-income countries to have to secure supplies on their own. As reviewed in prior posts, while COVAX has been shipping millions of doses to countries (as of May 12, 2021 over 59 million doses to 122 countries), it is far behind its anticipated shipments because of the current challenges in India with the cessation of exports from India in the last several months March to address internal needs. (reduction of some 90 million doses likely)

Bolivia is a recipient of vaccines from COVAX. See Gavi, COVAX vaccine roll-out BOLIVIA, https://www.gavi.org/covax-vaccine-roll-out/bolivia (information from the webpage on 14 May 2021 reports that “First doses received: 22 March 2021Doses received: 228,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine*; Doses allocated: 72,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine; 92,430 Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) vaccine.”).

While many countries have arranged for vaccine shipments outside of the COVAX facility process from one or more of the global producers, including some not yet approved by the WHO, and while production levels for many producers have been ramping up month to month and there are a number of additional companies likely to pursue authorization for vaccines in the coming months, access to vaccines is limited for many countries in the first and second quarters of 2021. See Bloomberg, More than 1.38 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 13, 2021 (6:18 p.m.), https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. There are four countries or areas with more than 100 million vaccination shots — China (354.3 million), United States (266.6 million), European Union (186.6 million) and India (179.2 million). There are seventeen countries with between 10 million and 56.4 million vaccination shots, 52 countries with more than 1 million and less than 10 million vaccination shots. There are 101 countries that have fewer than one million vaccination shots. Bolivia has administered 972,846 shots, enough for 4.2% of its population.

At the WTO, India and South Africa, now supported by a large number of other countries, have pursued a waiver from most TRIPS Agreement obligations for medical goods needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic largely on the basis that TRIPS Agreement flexibilities don’t work and the pandemic presents special urgency. Developed pharmaceutical producing countries have opposed a waiver as both unlikely to solve the need for more volume of vaccines and as unnecessary in light of TRIPS flexibilities. Last week the United States indicated it would support a waiver and agreed to engage in textual negotiations, though the position taken by the U.S. has not been supported by the European Union and possibly others.

So the Bolivian notification provides a real time opportunity to see if the flexibilities included in the Amended TRIPS Agreement can be used successfully to permit developing and least developed countries to access needed vaccines in a timely fashion. Coupled with expanded capacity and production and possibly additional licensing arrangements and additional approvals of new vaccines, a successful use of Art. 31bis of the Amended TRIPS Agreement may provide sufficient flexibility to address equity concerns at the WTO.

An update on COVID-19 data

Before closing, it is useful to review updated data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in yesterday’s COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 18, updated 12 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases and the data on weekly cases and deaths. The world in week 18 of 2021 saw the number of new recorded infections come down from the peak of the prior week as seen in the ECDC weekly update (chart copied below).

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 18 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 18 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.

This is true in total and also for India. For the last two weeks, India recorded 5,544,535 new cases — the first time a country has surpassed five million cases in a two week period, although week 18 was slightly lower than week 17 in terms of new cases recorded in India. See ECDC, Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, 13 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/data-national-14-day-notification-rate-covid-19. India accounted for 49.38% of global cases over the last two weeks — the highest percent for a single country during the pandemic — and remains in a state of health care crisis as previously reported, although support from trading partners and lockdowns in a number of the Indian states appear to be reducing the number of cases and helping to some extent address health care needs.

Because of the size of India’s population and despite the recent surge of cases, India’s number of cases and deaths per 100,000 population are lower than many other countries. India has reported infections for 1.64% of its population or 1,642.21 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 198.33 people/100,000 in the last week. Brazil has reported infections for 7.16% of its population or 7,155.64 people/100,000 population during the pandemic and 202.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. Bolivia has recorded infections in 2.73% of its population or 2,779.45 people/100,000 population and 103.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. The United States has recorded infections for 9.88% of its population or 9,881.43 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 86.43 people/100,000 population in the last week. And there are many other countries with higher COVID-19 cases than India according to the ECDC data. Similar comparisons can be made on deaths where India has suffered recorded COVID deaths equal to 0.02% of its population during the pandemic compared to 0.20% for Brazil, 0.11% for Bolivia and 0.18% for the United States. Even in the last week, deaths in Brazil per 100,000 were more than three times what was recorded in India (6.87 people vs. 1.968 people). Bolivia was comparable to India during the last week (1.876) while the U.S. death count is declining (1.42 people during the last week per 100,000 population).

All of the above to say, the world’s attention on India is understandable because of the severe challenges the Indian government is facing and the size of its population. However, there are a number of countries experiencing comparable or even greater surges than India. Brazil is one example, but there are others in South America and some in Asia facing alarming increases or levels of infections. Equitable access needs to be tempered by flexibility to address current fires if the global effort is to be successful and reduce global infections and deaths.

WTO’s April 14th virtual meeting to review COVID-19 vaccine availability

WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had indicated when she took office that she would be gathering industry, multilateral groups, and some governments to look at how vaccine production could be expanded and the role the WTO could play in that effort. At the same time, with the proposal from India and South Africa for waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical products relevant to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic still under consideration in the TRIPS Council, with opposition from a number of important Members, DG Okonjo-Iweala has been seeking an approach that in fact expands production in developing and least developed countries and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. without needing an all or nothing resolution to the proposed waiver.

I have previously reviewed the issue of vaccine availability and prior DG Okonjo-Iweala statements in a number of posts. See, e.g., April 13, 2021, April 15, 2021 — U.S and Gavi co-host event for additional funding for COVAX amid concerns about two workhorse vaccines for COVAX, ttps://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/13/april-15-2021-u-s-and-gavi-co-host-event-for-additional-funding-for-covax-amid-concerns-about-two-workhorse-vaccines-for-covax/; April 8, 2021, COVAX delivers COVID-19 vaccines to 100th country; India surge in infections likely to reduce product availability for COVAX through May and likely longer, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/covax-delivers-covid-19-vaccines-to-100th-country-india-surge-in-infections-likely-to-reduce-product-availability-for-covax-through-may-and-likely-longer/; April 2, 2021, Global vaccinations against COVID-19; developments and challenges in the roll-out for many countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/02/global-vaccinations-against-covid-19-developments-and-challenges-in-the-roll-out-for-many-countries/; March 25, 2021, Global vaccinations for COVID-19 — continued supply chain and production issues and a new wave of infections in many countries delay greater ramp up for some until late in the second quarter of 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/25/global-vaccinations-for-covid-19-continued-supply-chain-and-production-issues-and-a-new-wave-of-infections-in-many-countries-delay-greater-ramp-up-for-some-until-late-in-the-second-quarter-of-2021/; March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/; March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit” – efforts to ramp-up production, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/; March 5, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — France supports Italy’s blockage of a shipment to Australia; while Australia has asked the EU to permit the shipment, Australia will have its own production of AstraZeneca product by the end of March, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/05/covid-19-vaccines-france-supports-italys-blockage-of-a-shipment-to-australia-while-australia-has-asked-the-eu-to-permit-the-shipment-australia-will-have-its-own-production-of-astrazeneca-produc/; March 4, 2021, Italy blocks exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, first blockage of export authorization by the EU or its member states, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/italy-blocks-exports-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-australia-first-blockage-of-export-authorization-by-the-eu-or-its-member-states/; March 4, 2021, The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/the-eus-response-to-challenges-to-its-actions-on-covid-19-vaccine-exports/; March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/.

“COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”

While the virtual meeting convened by DG Okonjo-Iweala was conducted under Chatham House rules, a number of participants made their prepared comments public and there was some press coverage.

DG Okonjo-Iweala provided a wrap-up at the end of the session which was posted on the WTO website. See WTO news, DG Okonjo-Iweala calls for follow-up action after WTO vaccine equity event, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_14apr21_e.htm (“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today (14 April) called on WTO members, vaccine manufacturers and international organizations to act to address trade-related obstacles to the scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production to save lives, hasten the end of the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.”). DG Okonjo-Iweala’s summary comments are copied below. See WTO speeches, Chair Summary following “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno7_e.htm.

“One thing that came out of today’s discussions is that it was only through working together across borders that scientists developed safe and effective vaccines in record time. And it is only by working together, across borders, that we’ll be able to solve the problems [of vaccine scarcity and equitable access] discussed today. This is a problem of the global commons, and we have to solve it together.

“Our purpose today was to contribute to efforts to increase vaccine production and broaden access, starting with the immediate term.

“Specifically we had three goals:

“The first was to pinpoint the obstacles, particularly the trade-related obstacles, to ramping up production, and to equitably distributing and administering vaccines — and we looked at how the WTO could contribute to these solutions.

“The second was to bring together people who are able to increase and to scale up manufacturing, people in a position to share technology and knowhow, and people willing to finance additional manufacturing capacity.

“And third, to think about the road ahead, including on the TRIPS waiver and incentives for research and development, so that we get the medical technologies we need, and no country is left at the back of the line waiting. If there is one refrain we heard continuously from everyone today it is that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

“We heard first-hand from governments and vaccine manufacturers from developed, developing, and least developed countries, as well as a wide range of other stakeholders from international organizations, civil society and development finance institutions.

“And we heard good news: that supplies are ramping up and companies are learning by doing, that there have been major gains in productivity, and that there is still capacity. We also heard that there is a willingness to finance investment in vaccine manufacturing both in the short- and long-term, and there are ideas and energy to do things differently.

“However, we heard from many that we need to do more. It hasn’t really been business as usual, so we may need to move on to ‘business unusual’ to solve the problems before us.

“In the discussions today we heard a great deal of agreement. We agree that it’s not acceptable for people and countries to have to wait indefinitely for vaccines. We do not want to repeat experiences of the past.

“We heard a consensus on the urgent need to scale up production and vaccinate everyone, because every day the shortage continues, scope for dangerous new variants will increase, and the number of prevent preventable deaths will grow. The economic impact of these delays can and has been quantified by many institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.

“It was agreed that production capacity needs to be expanded, particularly in developing and least developed countries and emerging markets. And that vaccine distribution needs to be more effective and more equitable.

“We heard that open cross-border trade in raw materials, and other inputs, was essential for maintaining and scaling up production, and that supply chains in these inputs must be maintained.

“Also widely shared was the view that innovation, research and development will be vital for dealing with COVID-19 variants and in other health crises.

“We had useful exchanges on issues where some perspectives were different, such as on the future shape of vaccine supply chains, on the appropriate role for intellectual property protections, on issues of vaccine contract transparency — which was pointed to by many as an important factor in appropriate pricing and distribution and a critical part of access and equity.

“Concerns expressed by some about cross-border supply chain operations, including export restrictions and shortages of skilled personnel reinforced my view, and hopefully that of members, that the WTO must and can play a central part in the response to this crisis.

“Various perspectives about the TRIPS Agreement, and whether the existing flexibilities are enough to address developing country needs were put on the table. These echoed the discussions on the waiver proposal going on in the TRIPS Council, and I want to reiterate that today is a way of contributing to that discussion.

“I agree with the view that the WTO is a logical forum for finding a way forward on these issues, and I hope that the ideas raised here will contribute to convergence in the TRIPS Council on meaningful results that can contribute to the goals that we have.

“I hope that the discussion today, listening to each other, seeing that we all share a common goal, and that we may not be so far apart, will lead to the willingness to come to the middle,  and work out something that will be acceptable to all.

“Participants were generally of the view that ramping up vaccine manufacturing capacity is a complex process. It requires large, long-term investment and sustainable business models. It relies on open international supply lines for ingredients and equipment. We heard how shortages of even a single piece of equipment, filters, can halt operations at a production facility. Vaccine manufacturing necessitates collaboration, and the movement of skilled labour, to facilitate transfer of technology and knowhow.

“Safety is a paramount consideration, and quality is the other part of safety. This demands effective regulatory capacity and stringent compliance, down to the factory floor. Indeed we heard this is a big risk companies factor in when making decisions as to where to produce, and how to produce. I hope that they’ve heard sufficient encouragement today, to enable us to move towards leveraging the existing capacities in emerging markets and developing countries mentioned repeatedly today, which could actually help to take care of the shortages talked about.

“Turning capacity around to produce COVID-19 vaccines is not only about the physical space alone. We heard repeatedly that it requires transfer of technology and knowhow, together with investment and support for quality assurance.

“We also learned about how existing licensing arrangements have operated — including an example of how skills transfer was carried out in a few as six months. We also heard calls for support to build human capital, and to help build regulatory cooperation.

“Some participants suggested more active matchmaking to connect companies that have the investment capacity with those that have potential for expanding production capacity, even in the short term.

“We also heard about ongoing efforts to build new manufacturing capacity, and the lessons that can be learned from that.

“We also began to see the aspects of the collaboration we need to make things happen. We had many international organizations show they are willing to work together to bring to fruition things like putting in place technical expertise, helping with capacity building and quality control, and investing directly in production.

“I believe that today’s exchanges have advanced our understanding of the challenges we face for scaling up vaccine production, and that working together is the only way ahead.

“In the coming weeks and months, we expect concrete follow-up action. These issues are not easy, but the political will and engagement from the private sector displayed today, suggests it is possible.

“As we move forward, I expect:

“- From WTO members:

“- Action to further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers, and to work with other organizations to facilitate logistics and customs procedures.  We are monitoring this as part of our regular work, and we’ll continue doing so to increase supplies and maintain robust supply chains. Trade has been underlined as a critical factor in production; it is incumbent upon WTO members to act.

‘- Advance negotiations in the TRIPS Council on the waiver proposal and incentives for research and innovation. I hope that the ideas and the open dialogue heard will move us closer to agreement. 

‘- For vaccine manufacturers:

‘- Concrete moves to scale up vaccine manufacturing, both short-term turnaround of existing capacities, milking whatever productivity gains we can from current facilities, and taking steps to invest.

“- Increased technology and knowhow transfer, which many participants stressed would be necessary to make additional production work.

“- We need transparency in contract agreements and product pricing. We hope to continue this dialogue and to help monitoring steps in that direction.

“- For international organisations and financial institutions:

“- We noted your willingness to finance, both existing and new capacity, your willingness to work on capacity building for regulatory issues, not just for vaccines, but also for therapeutics and diagnostics, which are equally important.

“I trust that we have found a good basis to deliver concrete action, and to continue this discussion that we’ve had today.

“This should not be a one-off, we should continue to talk to each other, and make sure that we can deliver.

“I hope that besides concrete action to increase capacity, this discussion has given us elements of a framework on trade and health that we can put together at the WTO, and that can be put before ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in mid-December. Such a framework should provide for trade-related preparedness to handle this pandemic, and the next one.”

Press accounts indicate that the United States, European Union, India and South Africa participated. Statements from USTR Katherine Tai and Executive Vice President Dombrovskis are available from government websites. See USTR press release, Ambassador Katherine Tai’s remarks at a WTO virtual conference on Covid-19 vaccine equity, April 14, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/april/ambassador-katherine-tais-remarks-wto-virtual-conference-covid-19-vaccine-equity; European Commission press release, Speech by Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis at the WTO Webinar “Covid and Vaccine Equity,” 14 April 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/dombrovskis/announcements/speech-executive-vice-president-valdis-dombrovskis-wto-webinar-covid-and-vaccine-equity_en.

The Biden Administration has been meeting with various interest groups on the TRIPS wavier proposal (both pro and con) and is receiving pressure from some Members of Congress and prior government officials to agree to a waiver. Ambassador Tai’s statement stresses the need for equity in vaccine availability. “These losses have been disproportionately borne by vulnerable and economically disadvantaged communities within our countries. And the significant inequities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication, and creativity. Extraordinary crises challenge all of us to break out of our comfortable molds, our in-the-box thinking, our instinctive habits. This is not just a challenge for governments. This challenge applies equally to the industry responsible for developing and manufacturing the vaccines. The desperate needs that our people face in the current pandemic provide these companies with an opportunity to be the heroes they claim to be – and can be. As governments and leaders of international institutions, the highest standards of courage and sacrifice are demanded of us in times of crisis. The same needs to be demanded of industry.”

The EU statement is consistent with their views that equity is necessary and that the EU has been working to contribute to that result through production ramp up and large exports in fact, including to the COVAX facility. The EU summed up what the WTO should be doing. “To sum up, the WTO can support vaccine equity through five sets of actions:
Promoting best practices in terms of trade facilitation and regulatory cooperation to maintain open supply chains; Facilitating cooperation with the private sector, both to ramp up production in the short term, and to enhance manufacturing in global regions with under-capacity, focusing in particular on Africa; Supporting Members’ use of the available TRIPs flexibilities; Continuing to seek joint approaches with the World Health Organisation and the World
Intellectual Property Organisation; and Ensuring transparency and effective monitoring of any temporary export restriction, as proposed by the Ottawa Group.”

I have not found statements from either India or South Africa but at least one publication indicated they stressed the need for a TRIPS waiver for all Members. See Washington Trade Daily, WTO’s Role in Vaccine Equity, April 15, 2021, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/63ac7508-8034-44b3-8c3c-045c1bedec43.pdf.

The World Health Organization also participated and the Director-General’s statement is available from the WHO website. See WHO press release, COVID-19 and vaccine equity panel: what can the World Trade Organization contribute?, 14 April 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-panel-what-can-the-world-trade-organization-contribute (“COVAX was created, as you know, almost a year ago to avoid the same thing happening again. And although COVAX has distributed almost 40 million doses of vaccine to 110 countries and economies, vaccine nationalism, vaccine diplomacy and severe supply constraints have so far prevented COVAX from realizing its full potential. Global manufacturing capacity and supply chains have not been sufficient to deliver vaccines quickly and equitably where they are needed most.  More funding is needed, but that’s only part of the solution. Money doesn’t help if there are no vaccines to buy. We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced. To address this challenge, WHO and our partners have established a COVAX manufacturing task force, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security. We need to go beyond the traditional modus operandi to provide sustainable and effective solutions to address this extraordinary crisis. Some manufacturers have begun sharing the know-how and technologies to produce more vaccines, but only under restrictive conditions, on a very limited basis. The current company-controlled production sharing agreements are not coming close to meeting the overwhelming public health and socio-economic needs for effective, affordable and equitable access to vaccines, as well as therapeutics and other critical health technologies.  This is an unprecedented emergency that demands unprecedented measures.”).

One of the private sector participants, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) included its statement on the IFPMA website. See IFPMA, IFPMA statement at WTO event “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What can the WTO Contribute”, 14 April 2021, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/ifpma-statement-at-wto-event-covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-what-can-the-wto-contribute/. The IFPMA statement is embedded below but highlights the extraordinary effort of the private sector in ramping up production which is expected to be 10 billion doses by the end of 2021 with some 272 partnerships entered into and 200 technology transfer agreements.

IFPMA_WTO_Event_COVID-19_and_Vaccine_Equity_Statement_15April2021

Rising Infections; dramatically ramped up production

Last Thursday’s summary from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows the world going through a massive ramp up of new infections such that week 14 of 2021 is the second highest week during the pandemic of new infections with the vast majority of the cases and increase in Asia, the Americas and Europe. See ECDC, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 14, updated 15April 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 14 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 14 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”

The ECDC data show Africa as accounting for 3.18% of total infections during the pandemic, Asia accounting for 19.50% (India is 9.91%; China is 0.07%), the Americas for 43.18% (United States 22.91% and Brazil 9.90%), Europe 34.08% (the Eu is 20.79%, the UK is 3.20%, Russia is 3.4%), and Oceania 0.05%.

At the same time as new infections are ramping up, vaccinations are also increasing sharply. Bloomberg data through April 17, 2021 shows a global total of 884 million vaccinations having been given globally. See Bloomberg, More Than 884 Million Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.

While there are countries who have fewer or more vaccinations as a percent of the global total than their share of infections, considering distribution equity from that vantage point has some surprising results.

Country Percent of infections Percent of vaccinations

United States 22.91% 23.16%

European Union 20.79% 12.36%

United Kingdom 3.20% 4.76%

Japan 0.37% 0.21%

Republic of Korea 0.08% 0.17%

India 9.91% 13.85%

China 0.07% 21.18%

South Africa 1.14% 0.33%

Brazil 9.90% 3.92%

The pharmaceutical industry is projecting that 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine will ship in 2021. That means that in the next eight and a half months, some nine billion doses will ship. If 10 billion doses are shipped in 2021, that is sufficient to fully vaccinate 5-6 billion people in 2021 (depending on number of doses that are for single shot vaccines). That is sufficient doses to vaccinate 63.3-75.9% of the current estimate of the global population (7.9 billion). See Worldometer, Current World Population, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/#:~:text=The%20current%20world%20population%20is,currently%20living)%20of%20the%20world./ With the continued efforts to expand production and approve additional vaccines, 10 billion doses may be exceeded in fact by the end of the year.

This suggests, just as the COVAX and UNICEF distribution plans indicate, that low- and middle-income countries will see a large increase in supplies in the second half of 2021, just as will be true for the rest of the world.

The U.S.-Gavi event on April 15 talked about increasing funding for COVAX to go from 20% to 30% of populations the COVAX facility is serving. See U.S. Department of State, Video Remarks of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Launch of GAVI’s COVAX Commitment, April 15, 2021, https://www.state.gov/launch-of-gavis-covax-commitment/. Moreover, the World Bank is committing billions to increases purchases of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. And many countries are executing their own contracts with vaccine producers.

If there are issues besides assistance in resolving bottlenecks that would appear to be important to speeding up distribution and ensuring access by all, it would be to ensure that all countries with vaccine supplies greater than their internal needs, work to get those vaccines distributed to other countries later this year as their internal needs clarify.

Moreover, there are very exciting developments on the vaccine front with the start up of trials in a number of developing countries of a new vaccine where the potential exists for low costs with a vaccine that can be produced locally by many countries based on technology similar to what is already used for other vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.

All to say, there is considerable reason for optimism with the current efforts and progress. Efforts by governments, multilateral institutions, industry and others are helping identify challenges both to production and distribution but also to the needs for a speedy recovery once the pandemic is brought under control. While everyone needs to continue to focus on resolving bottlenecks, securing cooperation to ensure all are reached, and addressing developments as they arise, 2021 is not a repeat of the HIV situation.

The WTO has an important role in monitoring trade restrictions and looking forward to what actions Members are willing to take to advance trade and health needs and help ensure a next pandemic is handled more quickly than the COVID-19 has been. The effort to obtain a waiver from TRIPS obligations is, in this writer’s view, missing where the challenges are and seeking an outcome that will not advance improved vaccinations in 2021. While it is common for countries to continue to fight yesterday’s problems instead of addressing the current challenges, such an approach will not secure equitable and affordable access to vaccines in 2021-2022.

U.S. Department of the Treasury Semi-Annual Report on Trading Partner Currency Practices — a change from the December 2020 Report

Today (April 16, 2021), the U.S. Department of the Treasury released its semi-annual report on trading partner currency practices. See U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of International Affairs, Report to Congress, Macroeconomic and
Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, April 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/206/April_2021_FX_Report_FINAL.pdf.

The press release from Treasury found three countries/territories to have problematic currency practices — Switzerland, Vietnam and Taiwan — but didn’t find any them to be currency manipulators. This constituted a change of position on Switzerland and Vietnam which had been found to be currency manipulators in the December 2020 report. All three countries are subject to increased scrutiny and interface with Treasury. A number of other countries remain on the monitoring list for currency practices with Mexico and Ireland being added to that list in this report. China was separately identified for transparency concerns. See U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Release, Treasury Releases Report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, April 16, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0131. The press release is copied below and the April 2021 Report is embedded after that.

“WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today delivered to Congress the semiannual Report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States. In this Report, Treasury reviewed and assessed the policies of 20 major U.S. trading partners during the four quarters through December 2020.

“The Report concluded that both Vietnam and Switzerland continue to meet all three criteria under the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (the 2015 Act) during the period under review.  Additionally, the report finds that Taiwan met all three of the 2015 Act criteria for the period under review.  Treasury has conducted enhanced analysis of Vietnam, Switzerland, and Taiwan’s macroeconomic and foreign exchange policies, as reflected in the Report.  Treasury will continue its enhanced engagement with Vietnam and Switzerland, and Treasury will commence enhanced engagement with Taiwan.  This engagement includes urging the development of a plan with specific actions to address the underlying causes of currency undervaluation and external imbalances.

“Under the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (the 1988 Act), Treasury has determined that there is insufficient evidence to make a finding that Vietnam, Switzerland, or Taiwan manipulates its exchange rate for either of the purposes referenced in the 1988 Act.  Nevertheless, consistent with the 1988 Act, Treasury considers that its continued enhanced engagements with Switzerland and Vietnam, as well as a more thorough assessment of developments in the global economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will enable Treasury to better determine whether either of these economies intervened in currency markets in 2020 to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or gain an unfair competitive advantage in trade.  For Taiwan, Treasury will initiate enhanced engagement in accordance with the 2015 Act and expects that engagement will help Treasury to make the determination required under the 1988 Act for the period of review. 

“No other major U.S. trading partner met the relevant 1988 or 2015 legislative criteria for currency manipulation or enhanced analysis during the review period.  Treasury urged China to improve transparency regarding its foreign exchange intervention activities, the policy objectives of its exchange rate management regime, the relationship between the central bank and foreign exchange activities of the state-owned banks, and its activities in the offshore RMB market. 

“’Treasury is working tirelessly to address efforts by foreign economies to artificially manipulate their currency values that put American workers at an unfair disadvantage,’ Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said today.

“Treasury found that eleven economies warrant placement on Treasury’s ‘Monitoring List’ of major trading partners that merit close attention to their currency practices: China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Mexico.  All except Ireland and Mexico were included in the December 2020 Report.

“Today’s Report is submitted to Congress pursuant to the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, 22 U.S.C. § 5305, and Section 701 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, 19 U.S.C. § 4421.”

April_2021_FX_Report_FINAL

In prior posts, I have reviewed how Vietnam’s currency practices had resulted in a 301 investigation initiated by USTR (one of two, the other dealing with using illegally harvested timber) with a report issued in mid-January 2021, in the Commerce Department preliminarily finding currency practices of Vietnam were countervailable and in the December 2020 Treasury finding that Vietnam was manipulating its currency. See October 12, 2020, U.S. commences two investigations into Vietnam under Sec. 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended – on currency and on use of illegally harvested timber, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/12/u-s-commences-two-investigations-into-vietnam-under-sec-301-of-the-trade-act-of-1974-as-amended-on-currency-and-on-use-of-illegally-harvested-timber/; December 21, 2020, Vietnam and Switzerland found to be “currency manipulators” in latest U.S. Treasury semiannual report, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/21/vietnam-and-switzerland-found-to-be-currency-manipulators-in-latest-u-s-treasury-semiannual-report/; January 15, 2021, USTR releases report from Section 301 investigation on Vietnam’s currency valuation, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/15/ustr-releases-report-from-section-301-investigation-on-vietnams-currency-valuation/.

The current Treasury report (pages 3-4) flags the elements examined and what is different in this report versus the prior one for Switzerland and Vietnam.

“In this Report, Treasury has reviewed 20 major U.S. trading partners with bilateral goods trade with the United States of at least $40 billion annually against the thresholds Treasury has established for the three criteria in the 2015 Act:

“(1) Persistent, one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market occurs when net purchases of foreign currency are conducted repeatedly, in at least 6 out of 12 months, and these net purchases total at least 2% of an economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) over a 12-month period.2

“(2) A material current account surplus is one that is at least 2% of GDP over a 12-month period.

“(3) A significant bilateral trade surplus with the United States is one that is at least $20 billion over a 12-month period.3

“In accordance with the 1988 Act, Treasury has also evaluated in this Report whether trading partners have manipulated the rate of exchange between their currency and the United States dollar for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade.

“Because the standards and criteria in the 1988 Act and the 2015 Act are distinct, a trading partner could be found to meet the standards identified in one of the statutes without necessarily being found to meet the standards identified in the other. Section 2 provides further discussion of the distinctions between the 1988 Act and the 2015 Act.

Treasury Conclusions Related to the 2015 Act

“Vietnam again exceeded the thresholds for all three criteria under the 2015 Act over the four quarters through December 2020. Treasury has updated its enhanced analysis of Vietnam in this Report. In early 2021, Treasury commenced enhanced bilateral engagement with Vietnam and is working with the Vietnamese authorities to develop a plan with specific actions to address the underlying causes of Vietnam’s currency undervaluation.
Switzerland again exceeded the thresholds for all three criteria under the 2015 Act over the four quarters through December 2020. Treasury has updated its enhanced analysis of Switzerland in this report. In early 2021, Treasury commenced enhanced bilateral engagement with Switzerland and is discussing with the Swiss authorities options to address the underlying causes of Switzerland’s external imbalances.

“Taiwan exceeded the thresholds for all three criteria under the 2015 Act over the four quarters through December 2020. Treasury has conducted enhanced analysis of Taiwan in this Report and will also commence enhanced bilateral engagement with Taiwan in accordance with the 2015 Act. The bilateral engagement will include urging the development of a plan with specific actions to address the underlying causes of Taiwan’s currency undervaluation.

“Taiwan has maintained a tightly managed floating exchange rate regime since the late 1970s. Although Taiwan has liberalized capital controls in recent decades, the central bank continues to actively intervene in the foreign exchange market. Over many years, these practices have resulted in a structurally undervalued exchange rate that has failed to adjust in the face of Taiwan’s persistently large current account surpluses. Although the New Taiwan Dollar (TWD) has appreciated modestly in nominal and real effective exchange rate terms over the past decade, the authorities’ foreign exchange purchases and other, less formal exchange rate management practices have slowed the pace and scale of external adjustment, preventing the TWD from fully reflecting macroeconomic fundamentals.

Treasury Conclusions Related to the 1988 Act

“The 1988 Act requires Treasury to consider whether any economy manipulates the rate of exchange between its currency and the U.S. dollar for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade. In the December 2020 Report, Treasury found that Switzerland and Vietnam each met the standards for currency manipulation for the four quarters through June 2020. For the four quarters ending in 2020, based on initial enhanced engagements with Vietnam and Switzerland under the 2015 Act, further analysis, and data, Treasury has determined that there is insufficient evidence to make a finding that either economy (or any other economy covered in the Report) manipulates its exchange rate for either of the purposes referenced in the 1988 Act. Nevertheless, consistent with the 1988 Act, Treasury considers that its continued enhanced engagements with Switzerland and Vietnam, as well as a more thorough assessment of developments in the global economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will enable Treasury to better determine whether either of these economies intervened in currency markets in 2020 to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or gain an unfair competitive advantage in trade. For Taiwan, Treasury will initiate enhanced engagement in accordance with the 2015 Act and expects that engagement will help Treasury to make the determination required under the 1988 Act for the period of review. Meaningful actions to address policy distortions and increase data transparency will be critical for making progress under these engagements. Treasury will also continue to consider whether economies that do not trigger enhanced engagement manipulate their currencies for the purposes referenced in the 1988 Act

“2 The Report covers data from the 12-month period ending in December 2020. These quantitative thresholds for the scale and persistence of intervention are considered sufficient on their own to meet this criterion. Other patterns of intervention, with lesser amounts or less frequent interventions, might also meet this criterion depending on the circumstances of the intervention.

“3 Treasury focuses in this Report on trade in goods only, as it has done in past Reports. The United States has a surplus in services trade with many economies in this Report, including China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Switzerland, and to a lesser extent, Taiwan and Vietnam. Taking into account services trade would reduce the bilateral trade surplus of these economies with the United States.”

The Trump Administration did not impose tariffs on Vietnam following the release of the Section 301 report in January leaving the decision on what action to take to the Biden Administration. President Biden’s U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, met virtually with Vietnam Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh on April 1, 2021 and reviewed concerns re China’s currency practice as reviewed in the 301 investigation as well as illegal logging and other issues. See USTR Press Release, Readout of Ambassador Katherine Tai’s virtual meeting with Vietnam Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh. April 1, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/april/readout-ambassador-katherine-tais-virtual-meeting-vietnam-minister-industry-and-trade-tran-tuan-anh (“Ambassador Tai highlighted the Biden Administration’s concerns about currency practices covered in the ongoing Section 301 investigation.  The ministers also discussed U.S. concerns on illegal timber practices, digital trade and agriculture.”). Thus, it is likely that the U.S. and Vietnam will work out bilaterally U.S. concerns on Vietnam’s currency versus imposing additional duties following the Section 301 report, at least at this time.

The first Department of Commerce investigation to look at currency as a countervailable subsidy for Vietnam made a preliminary affirmative determination. The final determination is not due until late May. See Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, C–552–829, Passenger Vehicle and Light Truck Tires From the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Preliminary Affirmative Countervailing Duty Determination and Alignment of Final Determination With Final Antidumping Duty Determination, 85 FR 71,607 (Nov. 10, 2020); Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, A–552–828, Passenger Vehicle and Light Truck Tires From the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Preliminary Affirmative Determination of Sales at Less Than Fair Value, Postponement of Final Determination, and Extension of Provisional Measures, 86 FR 504 (January 6, 2021)(final due within 135 days of the preliminary Federal Register). It is unclear what, if any, modification will be made to the countervailability of Vietnam’s currency in the context of the ongoing investigation based on the change in view of Vietnam by Treasury.

Conclusion

Currency misalignment whether intentional or not can have significant effects on trade flows. The U.S. has historically been quite concerned about misaligned currencies although Treasury historically preferred to work with other countries than label them currency manipulators. Early signals from the Biden Administration are that Treasury is reverting to a preference to work bilaterally with countries who actively intervene in currency markets and have an undervalued currency and large trade surplus in goods with the U.S. If so, Treasury will, as it did in the current report, find “insufficient evidence” for countries who satisfy the factual criteria under U.S. law to conclude such actions were for the purpose “of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade.” While trading partners will undoubtedly prefer the Biden Administration’s apparent approach, the approach will be problematic for many U.S. industries and their workers and remove leverage to get correction of foreign government practices.

USTR 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers — areas of concern with a focus on China

Every year for the last 36 years, USTR releases a National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. This year’s forward provides a little background on the report. See USTR, 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, page 1, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021NTE.pdf.

“The 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE) is the 36th in an annual series that highlights significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports, U.S. foreign direct investment, and U.S. electronic commerce. This document is a companion piece to the President’s 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, published by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in March.

“In accordance with section 181 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended by section 303 of the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984 and amended by section 1304 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, section 311 of the Uruguay Round Trade Agreements Act, and section 1202 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, USTR is required to submit to the President, the Senate Finance Committee, and appropriate committees in the House of Representatives, an annual report on significant foreign trade barriers. The statute requires an inventory of the most important foreign barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services, including agricultural commodities and U.S. intellectual property; foreign direct investment by U.S. persons, especially if such investment has implications for trade in goods or services; and U.S. electronic commerce. Such an inventory enhances awareness of these trade restrictions, facilitates U.S. negotiations aimed at reducing or eliminating these barriers, and is a valuable tool in enforcing U.S. trade laws and strengthening the rules-based system.”

This year’s report covers 65 countries or country groups, so not all trading partners are covered by the annual report. China has the largest section of the report for an individual country (36 pages) while the European Union (covering 27 countries) has the largest section overall (52 pages). Other important trading partners with significant sections in the report include India (24 pages), Russian Federation (20 pages), Japan (18 pages), Indonesia (16 pages), Republic of Korea (14 pages), Brazil (14 pages), Vietnam (14 pages). the USMCA partners had smaller sections — Canada (8 pages) and Mexico (12 pages). the countries covered account for nearly 100 percent of U.S. trade in goods and nearly 90% of U.S. services trade.

The USTR press release from March 31, 2021 (majority of release copied below) provides an outline of some of the major areas of concern. See USTR, Ambassador Tai releases 2021 National Trade Estimate Report, March 31, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/march/ambassador-tai-releases-2021-national-trade-estimate-report.

Significant Barriers to U.S. Exports in 65 Trading Partners Detailed

“WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today released the 2021 National Trade Estimate (NTE) Report, providing a detailed inventory of significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services, investment, and electronic commerce.

“’The President’s Trade Agenda released earlier this month outlined a clear vision for supporting America’s working families by promoting a fair international trading system that boosts inclusive economic growth,’” said Ambassador Tai. ‘The 2021 NTE Report identifies a range of important challenges and priorities to guide the Biden Administration’s effort to craft trade policy that reflects America’s values and builds back better.’

“Published annually since 1985, the NTE Report is a comprehensive review of significant foreign trade barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services. The 570-page report examines 65 trading partners and country groups, including the U.S.’ largest trading partners, all 20 U.S. FTA partners, and other economies and country groupings of interest such as the Arab League, the United Kingdom (included as a separate entity for the first time in this report), and the European Union. Together, these economies account for 99 percent of U.S. goods trade and 87 percent of U.S. services trade. 

“The NTE Report covers significant trade barriers in 11 areas, including (1) import policies such as tariffs, import licensing and customs barriers; (2) technical barriers to trade; (3) sanitary and phytosanitary measures; (4) subsidies; (5) government procurement; (6) intellectual property protection; (7) services barriers; (8) barriers to digital trade and electronic commerce; (9) investment barriers; (10) competition; and (11) other barriers. 

“Taken as a whole, the NTE Report highlights significant barriers that present major policy challenges with implications for future U.S. growth opportunities, and the fairness of the global economy. Examples of these significant obstacles include: 

Agricultural Trade Barriers:  The NTE Report details an array of tariff and nontariff barriers to U.S. agricultural exports across trading partners and regions, ranging from non-science-based regulatory measures, opaque approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, burdensome import licensing and certification requirements, and restrictions on the ability of U.S. producers to use the common names of the products that they produce and export. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on barriers that hamper the ability of U.S. farmers, ranchers and food processors to access markets worldwide. 

Digital Trade:  The 2021 NTE Report details restrictive data policies in India, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Turkey, among other countries; local software pre-installation requirements in Russia, Indonesian tariffs on digital products, and existing or proposed local content requirements for online streaming services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU, Mexico, Ukraine, and Vietnam; and discriminatory tax measures in Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the UK. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on digital policies that threaten the regulatory landscape for U.S. exporters of digital products and services and undermine U.S. manufacturers’ and service suppliers’ ability to move data across borders. 

Excess Capacity:  China’s state-led approach to the economy and trade makes it the world’s leading offender in creating non-economic capacity, as evidenced by the severe and persistent excess capacity situations in several industries, including steel, aluminum, and solar, among others. China also is well on its way to creating severe excess capacity in other industries through its pursuit of industrial plans such as Made in China 2025, pursuant to which the Chinese government is doling out hundreds of billions of dollars to support Chinese companies and requiring them to achieve preset targets for domestic market share–at the expense of imports–and global market share in several advanced manufacturing industries. USTR will continue its bilateral and multilateral efforts to address these harmful trade practices.

Technical Barriers to Trade:   Technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures that unnecessarily restrict trade or curb the movement of innovative products risk lost opportunities to capitalize on America’s leadership in science and high-tech manufacturing, services, and agriculture. The NTE Report’s many examples of this challenge range from non-transparent European Union chemical regulations to Chinese Information Technology cybersecurity and encryption standards, to Indian and Brazilian testing and certification rules for telecommunications equipment, to technology. 

“The United States is taking steps to address these issues, and encourage flexible regulatory approaches and transparent, open processes, with these and many other partners. Within APEC, for example, the United States is engaged in projects on cybersecurity and blockchain to identify key public policy issues, and has projects in development on aerial drones and 3D printing. Another key example is USTR’s bilateral and multilateral work on standards and regulations related to electric cars, to ensure that vehicles from different manufacturers can all be charged reliably.

“The NTE Report details thousands of individual barriers to specific manufactured goods, farm products, and services. Each can reduce U.S. opportunities to export, invent, support jobs, and raise wages and incomes. These range from Argentina’s imposition of quota limits on imported books in September 2020 to India’s 38.8 percent average tariff on agricultural goods; the anomalous technical standards Saudi Arabia applies to shoes and electronic equipment; Ecuador’s mandatory and cumbersome process for allocating import licenses for agriculture products such as meats and dairy products; Indonesian local content requirements across a broad range of sectors; and Russian bans on imported food.”

What the NTE has to say about China 

The United States has for many years raised multiple concerns with China’s practices which the U.S. views as distorting trade flows and impeding market access to China. While the U.S. and China have engaged bilaterally extensively since China’s WTO accession and the U.S. has pursued several dozen disputes against Chinese practices that were clearly contrary to WTO obligations of China, little overall progress has been made in resolving the wide array of Chinese government distortions created and maintained over the years. These distortions contribute to the extraordinary trade deficit the United States has with China. See, e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, FEBRUARY 2021, April 7, 2021, https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/us-international-trade-goods-and-services-february-2021 (U.S. trade deficit in 2020 in goods with China was $310.2 billion; U.S. trade surplus in services was $22.1 billion; U.S. deficit in goods with China increased to $50.9 billion in the January – February 2021 period versus $42.1 billion in the first two months of 2020).

The Trump Administration pursued a 301 investigation on a number of intellectual property concerns with China, conducted Section 232 national security investigations on steel and aluminum — two sectors where Chinese actions have created massive global excess capacity — and negotiated with China the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement which took effect in mid-February 2020. The Agreement both addressed a number of problems in agriculture, intellectual property and services and committed China to expanded purchases of goods and services from the United States in 2021-2022 (and going forward). The NTE reviews where Chinese commitments under the Phase I Agreement apply and what progress is being seen. On the purchase commitments, China has not come close to meeting the commitments in 2021 though there were increased imports from the U.S. of agricultural products and energy products. See, e.g., March 20, 2021, The U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement under the Biden Administration, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/20/the-u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-under-the-biden-administration/. The U.S. has a long history of China promising reforms that are either not carried out or are undermined by additional restrictions. The list of areas of concern making it into the annual NTE is not exhaustive but illustrative of the challenges to obtaining conditions of fair trade with the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy.

Areas of concern for the United States with China shown in the 2021 NTE include:

Tariffs (there are some high agricultural tariffs, and the large tariffs imposed in retaliation to U.S. Section 232 actions on steel and aluminum and U.S. Section 301 actions for Chinese practices reviewed in the investigation).

Non-tariff barriers include

  • Industrial Policies (such as “Made in China 2025” and described generally as follows, “China continues to pursue a wide array of industrial policies that seek to limit market access for imported goods, foreign manufacturers, and foreign services suppliers, while offering substantial government guidance, resources, and regulatory support to Chinese industries. The beneficiaries of these constantly evolving policies are not only state-owned enterprises (SOEs) but also other domestic companies attempting to move up the economic value chain.),
  • State-Owned Enterprises (a number of concerns are raised including “China has also previously indicated that it would consider adopting the principle of ‘competitive neutrality’ for SOEs. However, China has continued to pursue policies that further enshrine the dominant role of the state and its industrial plans when it comes to the operation of state-owned and state-invested enterprises.”),
  • Industrial Subsidies (massive subsidies to industries creating excess capacity and causing harm to U.S. producers globally; U.S. is working with the EU and Japan on possible amendments to Subsidies Agreement to address certain aspects not effectively handled under existing rules)
  • Fisheries Subsidies (size of subsidies by China to its industry),
  • Excess Capacity (problem created in many sectors including steel, aluminum, solar panels and others through state programs, subsidies, etc.),
  • Indigenous Innovation (including preferences for IP developed in China),
  • Technology Transfer (301 investigation looked at “(1) the use of a variety of tools to require or pressure the transfer of technologies and IP to Chinese companies; (2) depriving U.S. companies of the ability to set market based terms in technology licensing negotiations with Chinese companies; (3) intervention in markets by directing or unfairly facilitating the acquisition of U.S. companies and assets by Chinese companies to obtain cutting-edge technologies and IP; and, (4) conducting or supporting cyber-enabled theft and unauthorized intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks for commercial gains.”)
  • Investment Restrictions (different systems for domestic and foreign investment; discriminatory treatment),
  • Administrative Licensing (problems continue to be experienced in a wide array of licensing situations)
  • Standards (ability of foreign companies to participate in establishing; development of Chinese standards regardless of international standards),
  • Secure and Controllable ICT Policies (cybersecurity law used to discriminate against foreign ICT prducts),
  • Encryption (“Onerous requirements on the use of encryption, including intrusive approval processes and, in many cases, mandatory use of indigenous encryption algorithms (e.g., for WiFi and 4G cellular products), continue to be cited by stakeholders as a significant trade barrier.”),
  • Competition Policy (“Many U.S. companies have cited selective enforcement of the Anti-monopoly Law against foreign companies seeking to do business in China as a major concern, and they have highlighted the limited enforcement of this law against SOEs.” “Instead, these remedies seem to be designed to further industrial policy goals. Another concern relates to the procedural fairness of Anti-monopoly Law investigations of foreign companies. U.S. industry has expressed concern about insufficient predictability, fairness, and transparency in Antimonopoly Law investigative processes.”),
  • Pharmaceuticals (some long standing issues addressed in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement; others to be addressed in the future),
  • Medical devices (China’s “pricing and tendering procedures for medical devices and its discriminatory treatment of imported medical devices”),
  • Cosmetics (“concerns with China’s regulation of cosmetics.” “Despite years of United States engagement with China via the JCCT, the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation, and other fora to share views and expertise regarding the regulation of cosmetics, as of March 2021 China has not yet addressed key U.S. trade concerns, including basic concerns such as the need to use international standards to facilitate cosmetics conformity assessment, nor has it provided assurances that U.S. intellectual property will be protected.”),
  • Export restraints (need to bring multiple cases at WTO on inputs where violate Protocol of Accession),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (modifications of rates to change trade flows),
  • Import Ban on Remanufactured Products
  • Import Ban on Recyclable Materials
  • Trade Remedies (problems in transparency and procedural fairness; problems also in apparent use of trade remedies to go after trading partners who use WTO rights against Chinese products),
  • Government Procurement (failure to join the WTO GPA yet),
  • Corporate Social Credit System (“Foreign companies are concerned that the corporate social credit system will also be used by the Chinese Government to pressure them to act in accordance with relevant Chinese industrial policies or otherwise to make investments or conduct their business operations in ways that run counter to market principles or their own business strategies. Foreign companies are also concerned about the opaque nature of the corporate social credit system.”),
  • Other Non-Tariff Measures (“Key areas include China’s labor laws, laws governing land use in China, commercial dispute resolution and the treatment of non-governmental organizations. Corruption among Chinese Government officials, enabled in part by China’s incomplete adoption of the rule of law, is also a key concern.”).

Intellectual Property Protection (many issues were included in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, some progress on issues raised).

  • Trade Secrets (major area of concern and theft, some believed from government-supported entities; some improvements from U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Bad Faith Trademark Registration (a continuing major concern; some progress in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Online Infringement (“Online piracy continues on a large scale in China, affecting a wide range of industries, including those involved in distributing legitimate music, motion pictures, books and journals, software, and video games.” Some progress made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Counterfeit Goods (a major problem. “The Phase One Agreement requires China to take effective enforcement action against counterfeit pharmaceuticals and related products, including active pharmaceutical ingredients, and to significantly increase actions to stop the manufacture and distribution of counterfeits with significant health or safety risks. The Phase One Agreement also requires China to provide that its judicial authorities shall order the forfeiture and destruction of pirated and counterfeit goods, along with the materials and implements predominantly used in their manufacture. In addition, the Agreement requires China to significantly increase the number of enforcement actions at physical markets in China and against goods that are exported or in transit. It further requires China to ensure, through third party audits, that government agencies and SOEs only use licensed software.”).

Agriculture (“China remains a difficult and unpredictable market for U.S. agricultural exporters, largely because of
inconsistent enforcement of regulations and selective intervention in the market by China’s regulatory authorities. The failure of China’s regulators to routinely follow science-based, international standards, and guidelines further complicates and impedes agricultural trade. The Phase One Agreement addresses structural barriers to trade and aims to support a dramatic expansion of U.S. food, agriculture, and seafood product exports, which will increase U.S. farm and fishery income, generate more rural economic activity, and promote job growth. The Phase One Agreement addresses a multitude of non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture and seafood products, including for meat and meat
products, poultry, seafood, rice, dairy, infant formula, horticultural products, animal feed and feed additives, pet food, and products of agricultural biotechnology. The Agreement also includes enforceable commitments requiring China to purchase and import on average at least $40 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products per year in 2021 and 2022, representing an average annual increase of at least $16 billion over 2017 levels. China also agreed that it will strive to purchase and import an additional $5 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products each year.”).

  • Agricultural Domestic Support (China exceeds the limits allowed it; WTO dispute confirms China in violation of WTO obligations; U.S. seeking authorization to retaliate),
  • Tariff-rate Quota Administration (U.S. challenged China’s administration of TRQs on various products and won WTO dispute; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement requires China to comply on the products of concern),
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Approvals (China’s system has been a major problem for U.S. producers. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement includes commitments by China to address the major concerns of the U.S. in this area),
  • Food Safety Law (China’s actions have been quite burdensome and have failed to provide notices to the WTO in many cases. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement addresses the main concerns),
  • Poultry (China restricted U.S. exports after avian influenza in the U.S. and maintained restrictions despite actions by the U.S. that complied with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement has China committing to follow OIE guidelines and limiting restrictions to the region where there is a problem in future outbreaks),
  • Beef (“In the Phase One Agreement, China agreed to expand the scope of U.S. beef products allowed to be imported, to eliminate age restrictions on cattle slaughtered for export to China, and to recognize the U.S. beef and beef products’ traceability system. China also agreed to establish MRLs for three synthetic hormones legally used for decades in the United States consistent with Codex standards and guidelines. Where Codex standards and guidelines do not yet exist, China agreed to use MRLs established by other countries that have performed science-based risk assessments.”),
  • Pork (“China bans the use of certain veterinary drugs and growth promotants instead of accepting the MRLs set by Codex.” Some progress on opening the China market to U.S. pork products was made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Horticultural Products (market access barriers for many U.S. products. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement obtains access for a number of products — fresh potatoes for processing, blueberries, nectarines and avocados from California, and barley, timothy hay and some other products.),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (practice of varying rates on agricultural commodities).

Services (“In 2020, numerous challenges persisted in a number of services sectors. As in past years, Chinese regulators
continued to use discriminatory regulatory processes, informal bans on entry and expansion, case-by-case approvals in some services sectors, overly burdensome licensing and operating requirements, and other means to frustrate the efforts of U.S. suppliers of services to achieve their full market potential in China. These policies and practices affect U.S. service suppliers across a wide range of sectors, including express delivery, cloud computing, telecommunications, film production and distribution, online video and entertainment software, and legal services. In addition, China’s Cybersecurity Law and related draft and final implementing measures include mandates to purchase domestic ICT products and services, restrictions on cross-border data flows, and requirements to store and process data locally. China’s draft Personal Information Protection Law also includes restrictions on cross-border data flows and requirements to store and process data locally. These types of data restrictions undermine U.S. services suppliers’ ability to take advantage of market access opportunities in China. China also had failed to fully address U.S. concerns in
areas that have been the subject of WTO dispute settlement, including electronic payment services and theatrical film importation and distribution. The Phase One Agreement addresses a number of longstanding trade and investment barriers to U.S. providers of a wide range of financial services, including banking, insurance, securities, asset management, credit rating, and electronic payment services, among others. The barriers addressed in that Agreement
include joint venture requirements, foreign equity limitations, and various discriminatory regulatory requirements. Removal of these barriers should allow U.S. financial service providers to compete on a more level playing field and expand their services export offerings in the China market.”)

  • Banking Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement addresses some concerns re access including bank branches and supplying securities investment fund custody services),
  • Securities, Asset Management, and Futures Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement resulted in China eliminating limits on equity ownership and commits to nondiscrimination for U.S. suppliers of these services),
  • Insurance Services (despite commitments by China as part of the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, U.S. participation in China’s insurance market remains very limited),
  • Electronic Payment Services (China has restricted access to foreign electronic payment services providers. U.S. won a WTO dispute and included provisions in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement. So far just one foreign electronic payment services provider has been licensed in China),
  • Internet-enabled Payment Services (major problems for foreign companies to obtain license to provide such services),
  • Telecommunications Services (range of barriers have limited foreign suppliers access to both basic telecom services and to value added services),
  • Internet Regulatory Regime (“China’s Internet regulatory regime is restrictive and non-transparent, affecting a broad range of commercial services activities conducted via the Internet, and is overseen by multiple agencies without clear lines of jurisdiction. China’s Internet economy had boomed over the past decade and is second in size only to that of the United States. Growth in China has been marked in service sectors similar to those found in the United States, including retail websites, search engines, online education, travel, advertising, audio-visual and computer gaming services, electronic mail and text, online job searches, Internet consulting, mapping services, applications, web domain registration, and electronic trading. However, in the Chinese market, Chinese companies dominate due in large part to restrictions imposed on foreign companies by the Chinese Government. At the same time, foreign companies continue to encounter major difficulties in attempting to offer these and other Internet-based services on a cross-border basis. China continues to engage in extensive blocking of legitimate websites and apps, imposing significant costs on both suppliers and users of web-based services and products. According to the latest data, China currently blocks a significant portion of the largest global sites. U.S. industry research has calculated that more than 10,000 foreign sites are blocked, affecting billions of dollars in business, including communications, networking, app stores, news, and other sites. Even when sites are not permanently blocked, the often arbitrary implementation of blocking, and the performance-degrading effect of filtering all traffic into and outside of China, significantly impair the supply of many cross-border services, often to the point of making them unviable.”),
  • Voice-over-Internet Protocol Services (“China’s regulatory authorities have restricted the ability to offer VOIP services interconnected to the public switched telecommunications network (i.e., to call a traditional phone number) to basic telecommunications service licensees.”),
  • Cloud Computing Services (foreign service providers can only operate in China by using a Chinese company and turning over brand, IP and other aspects; serious concern for U.S.),
  • Audio-visual and Related Services (“China prohibits retransmission of foreign TV channels, prohibits foreign investment in TV production, prohibits foreign investment in TV stations and channels in China, and imposes quotas on the amount of foreign programming that can be shown on a Chinese TV channel each day.”),
  • Theatrical Films (despite a WTO dispute and a resulting MOU where China agreed to expand number of U.S. films, China has not fulfilled its commitments)
  • Online Video and Entertainment Software Services (foreign suppliers are severely restricted),
  • Legal Services (very limited ability for foreign firms or foreign lawyers to practice in China)
  • Express Delivery Services (foreign service providers are banned from document delivery and face discriminatory and burdensome actions on package participation),
  • Data Restrictions (activities in China are likely to result in local storage requirements and limits on cross-border transfer; major concern to U.S. and many other countries).

Transparency (much work needed by China to meet obligations)

  • Publication of Trade-related Measures (WTO obligation to publish in one journal; spotty performance and many types of measures not published in the journal),
  • Notice-and-comment Procedures (little progress at sub-central government level; some progress at central government; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement commits China to provide 45 days notice and comment period for matters relating to the Agreement),
  • Translations (WTO commitment to provide translations in one of the three official WTO languages. “China does not publish translations of trade-related laws and administrative regulations in a timely manner (i.e., before implementation), nor does it publish any translations of trade-related measures issued by sub-central governments at all.”).

Conclusion

While the U.S. was the first country to produce a national trade estimate, a number of countries do so today. All trading partners have some practices which concern other trading partners, including the United States.

The length of the entry in the NTE for a give country is a reasonable indication both of the importance of the trade relationship and of the breadth of issues of concern. For the United States, the National Trade Estimate is a useful compilation of many of the major concerns raised by industries about problems in access to markets abroad or distortions created by practices of trading partners. Typically items found in the NTE will be part of USTR’s focus during the year in interactions with particular trading partners.

China is the country with the longest entry in the NTE and has been for many years. Considering the array of distortions and other problems identified in this year’s NTE, the focus on China is not surprising.

Some of the problems identified in this year’s NTE with China could be addressed through WTO reform, though China has indicated opposition to such an approach. On some of the issues, the U.S. has received repeated promises from China to address but without meaningful results to date.

What is clear is that U.S. trade relations with China are not balanced and haven’t been for the entire time of WTO membership for China. The challenge for the U.S. and the world is how to restore balance and save the global trading system. There are no obvious answers.

IMF April World Economic Outlook, IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings and U.S. efforts on global access to vaccines

The IMF released today its April 2021 World Economic Outlook, increasing projected global growth in 2021 and 2022 from its earlier projections. See IMF, World Economic Outlook, Managing Divergent Recoveries, April 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2021/03/23/world-economic-outlook-april-2021. Global contraction was less severe than previously thought in 2020 and the rebound is larger though there remains significant uncertainty.

“Global prospects remain highly uncertain one year into the pandemic. New virus mutations and the accumulating human toll raise concerns, even as growing vaccine coverage lifts sentiment. Economic recoveries are diverging across countries and sectors, reflecting variation in pandemic-induced disruptions and the extent of policy support. The outlook depends not just on the outcome of the battle between the virus and vaccines—it also hinges on how effectively economic policies deployed under high uncertainty can limit lasting damage from this unprecedented crisis.

“Global growth is projected at 6 percent in 2021, moderating to 4.4 percent in 2022. The projections for 2021 and 2022 are stronger than in the October 2020 WEO. The upward revision reflects additional fiscal support in a few large economies, the anticipated vaccine-powered recovery in the second half of 2021, and continued adaptation of economic activity to subdued mobility. High uncertainty surrounds this outlook, related to the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support to provide a bridge to vaccine-powered normalization, and the evolution of financial conditions.”

The following tables from the IMF webpage taken from the new report show first the global, advanced economies and developing economy outlook for 2020, 2021, 2022 and then for various major countries and regions for the same periods.

Much has been written about the need for debt relief and greater access to vaccines for many low-income countries to help them get through the pandemic and back on track for economic expansion. The IMFBlog from April 5, 2021 provides an overview of the serious challenges faced by low income countries and the potential sources of financial support available through the IMF if supported by member countries. See IMFBlog, Funding the Recovery of Low-income Countries After COVID, April 5, 2021, https://blogs.imf.org/2021/04/05/funding-the-recovery-of-low-income-countries-after-covid/.

“Several factors hamper the economic recovery of low-income countries. First, they face uneven access to vaccines. Most of these countries rely almost entirely on the multilateral COVAX facility—a global initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines led by a consortium of international organizations. COVAX is currently set to procure vaccines for just 20 percent of the population in low-income countries. Second, low-income countries have had limited policy space to respond to the crisis—in particular, they have lacked the means for extra spending * * *.

“Third, pre-existing vulnerabilities, including high levels of public debt in many low-income countries, and weak, sometimes negative, total factor productivity performance in some low-income countries continue to act as a drag on growth.”

The blog post reviews estimated financial needs over the next five years. The estimated needs are $200 billion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (including adequate vaccinations), an additional $250 billion to speed convergence with advanced economies, and an additional $100 billion if various risks materialized. Potentially $550 billion — obviously a huge number.

The blog identifies various potential sources of funds to address these needs that can be available through the IMF.

“- Expanding access to concessional resources under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, including extending access to emergency financing. From March 2020 to March 2021, about $13 billion has been approved to more than 50 low-income countries. The IMF is also currently reviewing its lending framework to low-income countries, beyond the temporary increase in access limits.

“- Proposal for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights . Support is building among the IMF’s membership for a possible SDR allocation of $650 billion. This would help address the long-term global need for reserve assets, and would provide a substantial liquidity boost to all members.

“- Debt service relief through the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to 29 eligible countries. The recently-approved third tranche covering the period April-October 2021 brings total debt service relief up to $740 million since April 2020. Such relief provides space for poor countries to scale up spending on priority areas during the pandemic.

“- Supporting a further extension of the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) until end-December 2021. The DSSI delivered US$5.7 billion in debt service relief for 43 countries in 2020 and is expected to deliver up to US$7.3 billion of additional debt service suspension through June 2021 for 45 countries.

“The needs of the poorest countries over the next five years are acute. But they are not out of reach. A strong, coordinated, comprehensive package is needed. This will secure a rapid recovery and transition to a green, digital, and inclusive growth that will accelerate convergence of low-income countries to their advanced economy counterparts.”

The IMF Spring meeting this week is taking up various issues designed to ensure assistance to the world’s low income countries. See, e.g., IMF, PRESS RELEASE NO. 21/99, IMF Executive Board Extends Debt Service Relief for 28 Eligible Low-Income Countries through October 15, 2021, April 5, 2021, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2021/04/05/pr2199-imf-executive-board-extends-debt-service-relief-28-eligible-lics-october-15-2021.

The Rockefeller Foundation released a paper recently arguing that funding from the Special Drawing Rights could be used to help procure vaccines for low- and middle-income countries to enable 70% vaccination rates by the end of 2022. See PR Newswire, The Rockefeller Foundation Releases New Financing Roadmap to End Pandemic by End of 2022, April 6, 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-rockefeller-foundation-releases-new-financing-roadmap-to-end-pandemic-by-end-of-2022-301262501.html; Rockefeller Foundation, One for All: An Action Plan for Financing Global Vaccination and Sustainable Growth, https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/One-for-All-An-Action-Plan-for-Financing-Global-Vaccination-and-Sustainable-Growth-Final.pdf.

Other multilateral organizations such as the World Bank have been actively involved helping developing countries including using billions for vaccine procurement. See World Bank Group, WBG Vaccine Announcement – Key Facts, March 30, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/factsheet/2020/10/15/world-bank-group-vaccine-announcement—key-facts

“COVID-19 vaccines, alongside widespread testing, improved treatment and strong health systems are critical to save lives and strengthen the global economic recovery. To provide relief for vulnerable populations, low- and middle-income countries need fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe vaccines.

“That’s why the World Bank (WB) is building on its initial COVID-19 response with $12 billion to help poor countries purchase and distribute vaccines, tests, and treatments. The first WB-financed operation to support vaccine rollout was approved in January 2021

“By March 31, 2021, the WB had already committed $1.6 billion in vaccine financing in 10 countries including Afghanistan, Cabo Verde, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia. More than 40 additional projects are in the pipeline and will be approved in the coming weeks and months.”

The World Banks’s Spring meeting is also occurring this week and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic remains a critical part of the World Bank’s agenda.

U.S. announced larger role in global vaccine rollout

President Biden has had as his first priority to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States while committing to greater involvement in multilateral organizations. He has rejoined the World Health Organization, contributed $2 billion to the COVAX facility to obtain vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, with an additional $2 billion to be contributed as other countries fulfill their pledges, agreed to a fund raising event for COVAX later in April, loaned four million vaccine doses to Canada (1.5 million) and Mexico (2.5 million) and agreed with Japan, India and Australia to produce one billion doses of a vaccine (2021-2022) in India with funding from the US and Japan and distribution by Australia to countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

On April 5, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the Biden Administration’s intention to be more actively involved internationally as it gets the U.S. population vaccinated. See U.S. Department of State, Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on the COVID Response, April 5, 2021, https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-on-the-covid-response/. The portion of Secretary Blinken’s remarks dealing with greater international engagement and the appointment of the U.S. coordinator for global COVID response and health security is copied below.

“There’s another major element to stopping COVID, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

“This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide.

“And I want to spend a minute on this, because it’s critical to understand.  Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus, not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again.  And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again.  Plus, if other countries’ economies aren’t rebounding because they’re still afflicted with COVID, that’ll hurt our recovery too.

“The world has to come together to bring the COVID pandemic to an end everywhere.  And for that to happen, the United States must act and we must lead.

“There is no country on Earth that can do what we can do, both in terms of developing breakthrough vaccines and bringing governments, businesses, and international institutions together to organize the massive, sustained public health effort it’ll take to fully end the pandemic.  This will be an unprecedented global operation, involving logistics, financing, supply chain management, manufacturing, and coordinating with community health workers who handle the vital last mile of health care delivery.  All of that will take intensive diplomacy.

“The world has never done anything quite like this before.  This is a moment that calls for American leadership.

“Now, the Biden-Harris administration’s main focus to date has been to vaccinate Americans – to slow and ultimately stop COVID here at home.  We at the State Department have been focused on vaccinating our workforce in the United States and in embassies and consulates around the world.  That’s been the right call.  We serve the American people first and foremost.  Plus, we can’t forget that the United States has had the highest number of COVID cases of any country in the world by a significant margin.  So stopping the spread here has been urgently needed for our people and for the world.  We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States.

“But soon, the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide, because again, only by stopping COVID globally will Americans be safe for the long term.

“Moreover, we want to rise to the occasion for the world.  By helping bring to a close one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, we can show the world once again what American leadership and American ingenuity can do.  Let’s make that the story of the end of COVID-19.

“We’ve already taken some important steps.

“On day one of the administration, we rejoined the World Health Organization.  By being at the table, we can push for reforms so that we can prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to the next biological threat.

“Congress recently provided more than $11 billion for America’s global COVID response, which we’ll use in several ways, including to save lives by supporting broad and equitable vaccine access; providing aid to mitigate secondary impacts of COVID, like hunger; and helping countries boost their pandemic preparedness.

“I’d note that this builds on a long tradition of American leadership.  The United States is the world’s largest donor to global health by far, including through international efforts like the Global Fund and the World Health Organization – and through our own outstanding global health programs, like PEPFAR, which has helped bring the world to the cusp of the first AIDS-free generation.

“We’ve also made a $2 billion donation to the COVAX program, which will supply COVID vaccines to low-income and middle-income countries.  We’ve pledged another $2 billion that we’ll provide as other countries fulfill their own pledges.

“We’ve already loaned vaccines to our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

“And we’ll work with global partners on manufacturing and supplies to ensure there will be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere.

“As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward.

“We believe that we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.

“I know that many countries are asking for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scope and scale of their COVID emergencies.  We hear you.  And I promise, we’re moving as fast as possible.

“We’ll be guided every step by core values.

“We won’t trade shots in arms for political favors.  This is about saving lives.

“We’ll treat our partner countries with respect; we won’t overpromise and underdeliver.

“We’ll maintain high standards for the vaccines that we help to bring to others, only distributing those proven to be safe and effective.

“We’ll insist on an approach built on equity.  COVID has already come down hard on vulnerable and marginalized people.  We cannot allow our COVID response to end up making racial and gender inequality worse.

“We’ll embrace partnership, sharing the burden and combining strengths.  The collaboration we formed a few weeks ago with the Quad countries – India, Japan, Australia – is a good example.  Together, we’re increasing the world’s manufacturing capacity so we can get more shots out the door and into people’s arms as fast as possible.

“And by the way, one of the reasons we work through multilateral collaborations where possible is because they often share and defend these same values.  For example, the COVAX initiative is designed explicitly to ensure that low- and middle-income countries can also get vaccines, because it’s only through broad and equitable vaccination that we’ll end the pandemic.

“Finally, we’ll address the current emergency while also taking the long view.  We can’t just end this pandemic.  We must also leave our country and the world better prepared for the next one.

“To do that, we’ll work with partners to reform and strengthen the institutions and systems that safeguard global health security.  That will require countries to commit to transparency, information sharing, access for international experts in real time.  We’ll need a sustainable approach to financing, surge capacity, and accountability, so all countries can act quickly to stem the next outbreak.  And we’ll keep pushing for a complete and transparent investigation into the origins of this epidemic, to learn what happened – so it doesn’t happen again.

“All told, this work is a key piece of President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda.  We’ve got to make sure that we can better detect, prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics and other biological threats.  Otherwise, we’ll be badly letting ourselves and future generations down.

“This is a pivotal moment – a time for us to think big and act boldly.  And the United States will rise to the challenge.

“I’m here today with a remarkable leader who will help us do just that.

“Gayle Smith was the administrator of USAID for President Obama, and served on the National Security Council for both President Obama and President Clinton, where we first got to know each other and worked together.  She has deep experience in responding to public health threats, having helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, having worked for years on the global fights against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS.  She is joining us from her most recent role as president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, primarily in Africa.

“She’s tested.  She’s highly respected.  She will hit the ground running.  And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.

I”’m grateful she’s agreed to serve as the coordinator for global COVID response and health security.  Gayle Smith, the floor is yours.  Thank you for doing this.

MS SMITH:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  It’s a pleasure to be able to work with you again, and to call you Mr. Secretary.

“I’d also like to thank my friends at the ONE Campaign for making this possible.  And I look forward to working with the men and women of the department and across the federal government, including because I know what you can do.

“I want to thank in particular some really smart scientists, President Biden, and the staff and volunteers at Howard University, where tomorrow I will get my second dose of the COVID vaccine.

“That vaccine is good for the body, but it’s also good for the mind and the soul, because it inspires hope in the future.  And our job is to shape that future.

“I fought some viruses in the past, and I’ve learned two lessons.  The first is that if the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning.  The second is that with unity of purpose, science, vigilance, and leadership, we can outpace any virus.

“America’s done it before.  Eighteen years ago, a Republican president launched a bold initiative to take on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  A Democratic president went on to expand that mission in scope.  In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration, with the strong and generous support of Congress, defeated the world’s first Ebola epidemic.

“Our challenges now are two: first, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world, and the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect, and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming.

“American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion.  I’m honored to be here, and thank you very, very much.”

Conclusion

This is an important week with both the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings and important agenda items on the continued global response to the pandemic and helping countries build back better. The IMF April World Economic Outlook has good news about the direction of global activity although the pace of recoveries will vary significantly among countries and regions. While global production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up enormously in the few months that vaccines have been approved and while there are many additional potential vaccines under development or in trials, the early months have seen some production challenges and distribution skewed to a handful of countries. Many of those countries with the most vaccine doses (U.S., UK, EU, India) have been countries or regions with many of the largest number of infections and deaths. Even so, the effort at equitable and affordable access to all needs additional work.

An article in the New York Times reviews an exciting potential development of a low-cost, easy to produce vaccine that could dramatically expand the ability of developing countries to produce their own vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine , April 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html (“A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NVD-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make.
Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.”).

Production is ramping up for the various vaccines that have been approved in various countries. Producers continue to explore adding capacity or licensing production to other producers. Governments – like the United States, Japan, India and Australia – are finding creative ways for nations to work together to build up additional capacity to reach countries with needs. COVAX has proven to be an important vehicle for distributing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. As capacities expand and additional funding is available, COVAX will continue to be a critical part of the solution.

The IMF and World Bank have the ability to address many of the challenges facing developing countries with the support of its member governments. Hopefully, this week’s meetings will make a difference. And individual countries can and are doing more. Secretary Blinken’s remarks show the U.S. will be increasing its role and working with others to ensure global success. For a world fatigued from the pandemic, a path to resolution is needed now. Hopefully, we are close.

“Blowing up the trading system” — Clyde Prestowitz’s suggested way for the world to move forward in light of China’s economic system

The Global Business Dialogue (GBD) publishes periodically “THE TTALK QUOTES”. On March 30, 2021, GBD posted a TTALK Quotes on “CHINA, THE TRADING SYSTEM, AND THE ALTERNATIVES” with a quote from Clyde Prestowitz, ‘[There is] only one alternative – “blowing up the system” or, more politely, creating a new or alternative system.”

The quote is from a Washington Monthly article by Mr. Prestowitz from March 24, 2021 entitled, “Blow Up the Global Trading System, Yes, really. U.S. and international efforts to stop Beijing’s economic onslaught haven’t worked. It’s time for President Biden to go big,” https://washingtonmonthly.com/2021/03/24/blow-up-the-global-trading-system/. Mr. Prestowitz has a new book out, The World Turned Upside Down (Yale University Press, 2021) and some of the recommendations in the Washington Monthly article reflect his thinking from his new book.

While the title is provocative, the concerns expressed are similar to the ones reviewed in Amb. Dennis Shea’s remarks to the Coalition for a Prosperous America and those expressed last year by Mogens Peter Carl that China’s economic system isn’t consistent with the WTO rules and China has no intention of modifying its approach to global trade. See March 29, 2021:  China and the WTO – remarks by Dennis C. Shea to the Coalition for a Prosperous America, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/29/china-and-the-wto-remarks-by-dennis-c-shea-to-the-coalition-for-a-prosperous-america/.

Unlike Mr. Carl’s call for market economy countries to withdraw from the WTO and start a new organization, Mr. Prestowitz proposes in the Washington Monthly article “Reinventing the Globalization System” which involves seven action steps.

The first is for the United States “to impose a Market Adjustment Charge (MAC) on all non-direct investment (not in new means of production) into the United States.” The MAC is explained in his new book (pages 276-277) but is a charge that would vary based on the size and trend of the U.S. trade deficit.

The second step “would be for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to adopt Keynes’ Bretton Woods proposal that all countries should have balanced trade in the medium to long term.” To achieve this result, a duty would be applied on imports from countries that run persistent trade surpluses.

The third step would be for the United States to seek strong enforcement within the IMF and by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The fourth step would be forming a supersized FTA including USMCA, CPTPP and the EU, and open to other market economies. Prestowitz calls this grouping the “Free World Free Trade Agreement”.

The firth step addresses the need for market economies to improve their competitiveness against the state directed and massively subsidized world of China. The step calls for the creation of “a free world high technology leadership project”

The sixth step calls on the U.S. to reorganize government and concentrate resources to support the technology leadership initiative.

The final step involves actions the U.S. can take to spur domestic manufacturing (use of Defense Production Act, curbing corporate lobbying, and review corporate overseas investment plans.

In his book, Mr. Prestowitz has a chapter on actions the U.S. should take to regain its leadership position. It starts with a Market Access Charge, calls for the imposition of a value added tax and a host of actions to ensure the U.S. is “the world’s most competitive economy.” Page 278.

U.S. actions are aimed at improving U.S. competitiveness

A number of the actions Mr. Prestowitz calls for on U.S. competitiveness are similar to actions being introduced today in part 1 of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan (est. cost of $2.5 trillion). See White House Briefing Room, FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan, March 31, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/. Excerpts are copied below. The full fact sheet is then embedded.

“While the American Rescue Plan is changing the course of the pandemic and delivering relief for working families, this is no time to build back to the way things were. This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy. The American Jobs Plan is an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China. Public domestic investment as a share of the economy has fallen by more than 40 percent since the 1960s. The American Jobs Plan will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.

“The United States of America is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we rank 13th when it comes to the overall quality of our infrastructure. After decades of disinvestment, our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling. Our electric grid is vulnerable to catastrophic outages. Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet and to quality housing. The past year has led to job losses and threatened economic security, eroding more than 30 years of progress in women’s labor force participation. It has unmasked the fragility of our caregiving infrastructure. And, our nation is falling behind its biggest competitors on research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and training. It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness, and in creating the good-paying, union jobs of the future.

“Like great projects of the past, the President’s plan will unify and mobilize the country to meet the great challenges of our time: the climate crisis and the ambitions of an autocratic China. It will invest in Americans and deliver the jobs and opportunities they deserve. But unlike past major investments, the plan prioritizes addressing long-standing and persistent racial injustice. The plan targets 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities. And, the plan invests in rural communities and communities impacted by the market-based transition to clean energy.”

FACT-SHEET_-The-American-Jobs-Plan-_-The-White-House

Reform of the WTO or a different approach?

The U.S. is looking to push WTO reform and work with trading partners to address challenges posed by China’s economic model. The EU and Japan are similarly looking at WTO reform as a way forward. See, e.g., 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/.

The G7 trade ministers are meeting today. See Reuters, UK trade minister tells G7: We must stop fragmentation of global trade, March 31, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/britain-trade-truss-idUSS8N2L708T. The seven G7 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US (EU participates as a guest). WTO reform is one of the topics being discussed today. The U.S., EU and Japan have been working on potential reforms to the Subsidies Agreement to address the massive industrial subsidies provided by China as well as looking at potential disciplines on state-owned/invested enterprises and forced technology transfer. However, in a consensus system like the WTO, it is hard to imagine meaningful reforms that will address Chinese distortions achieving results within the WTO.

The U.S. is not presently considering a “Free World Free Trade Agreement” as proposed by Mr. Prestowitz. The U.S. is also not proposing pulling out of the WTO as suggested last year by Mogens Peter Carl and entering into a new organization that is limited to market economies. Each of the U.S. and the EU have the ability to act unilaterally if necessary but obviously that is a less desirable approach to global governance.

So it is likely that the U.S., EU, Japan and other leading market economies will continue to seek reform within the WTO but with likely limited results putting pressure on free trade agreements or on plurilateral arrangements to achieve a trade regime acceptable to the major market economies.

Mr. Prestowitz’s article and recent book are well done and raise some interesting ideas for addressing U.S. trade concerns with China. Some of his ideas have been advocated for by others before and have significant potential whether they have much political possibility for adoption. But in a changing global trade environment, his writings are a useful contribution and worth reading by those in trade policy positions.

For the Biden Administration, new trade agreements do not appear to be a short-term objective. Getting control of the pandemic through vaccinations and building back better through the jobs bill are the two major priorities. Trade can contribute to both, but a push for Free World Free Trade Agreement is not likely in the Biden years.

Still China’s economic system and incompatibility with the WTO are major concerns for many countries including the United States. Reform of the WTO would obviously be the best outcome for addressing China’s distortions. While hope spring eternal, the Ministerial Conference in late November 2021 in Geneva will give an idea of whether meaningful WTO reform is likely in the cards in the coming years. Such reform is highly unlikely to happen during the 2020s, if ever.

Mr. Carl’s suggestion of mass withdrawal from the WTO and creation of a new entity of market economies is interesting in addressing the blocking capacity of China but seems improbable because of China’s size and importance. With no major economy having suggested any interest in the idea, it seems implausible in the 2020s, if ever.

Mr. Prestowitz’s idea for a super-FTA of market economies is doable within the WTO and simply depends on majors like the U.S., EU, Japan and others being willing to put in the effort. But the U.S. and EU have not been able to make meaningful progress on an FTA or even harmonization of regulations over recent decades. If past is prologue, it is unlikely that such an undertaking will occur in the 2020s either, if ever.

 As British trade minister Liz Truss is reported to have said to her G7 fellow trade ministers, “We need to reverse the fragmentation of global trade and get the global system and WTO working again, otherwise we risk big countries going their own way and operating outside an agreed set of rules, which always spells trouble.” Reuters, UK trade minister tells G7: We must stop fragmentation of global trade, March 31, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/britain-trade-truss-idUSS8N2L708T. China has effectively been going its own way even after joining the WTO at the end of 2001. Actions by the U.S., EU and others in recent years have occasionally been outside of the agreed set of rules as well. So a fourth option is that of the collapse of the global trading system (actually or practically) with a law of the jungle reasserting itself.

Time will tell which direction global trade will take.

COVID-19 vaccines — U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries

In a post earlier today, I reviewed a Chatham House event which looked at issues surrounding ramping-up production, dealing with supply chain issues and other matters affecting production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. See March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit” – efforts to ramp-up production, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/

Today, the U.S., Japan, India and Australia held a head of government remote Quad meeting. One of the outcomes being reported in the press was agreement that the United States and Japan would pay for, India would produce and Australia would distribute one billion doses of COVID vaccine for the Indo-Pacific region. See Financial Times, US and Asia allies launch major vaccine drive to counter China, The 1bn Covid jabs will be funded by US and Japan, made in India and distributed by Australia, March 12, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/bcf5ff42-ac7f-4533-8fc2-b3e50a5e13ba.

The White House fact sheet on the quad meeting is available on the White House webpage. The portion dealing with the COVID-19 vaccines is copied below. See White House, Fact Sheet: Quad Summit, March 12, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/12/fact-sheet-quad-summit/. The one billion doses will be made available in 2021 and will be done in consultation with WHO, COVAX and others.

The Quad Vaccine Partnership

“While ensuring that vaccines have been made available to our people, “Quad” partners will launch a landmark partnership to further accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, Quad leaders are taking shared action necessary to expand safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in 2021, and will work together to strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination, in close coordination with the existing relevant multilateral mechanisms including WHO and COVAX.

“o Drawing on each of our strengths, we will tackle this complex issue with multi-sectoral cooperation across many stages of action, starting with ensuring global availability of safe and effective vaccines.

“o Quad partners are working collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at facilities in India, prioritizing increased capacity for vaccines authorized by Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRA). Quad partners will address financing and logistical demands for production, procurement, and delivery of safe and effective vaccines. Quad partners will work to use our shared tools and expertise, through mechanisms at institutions including the United States Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and, as appropriate, Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), as well as others.

“o The United States, through the DFC, will work with Biological E Ltd., to finance increased capacity to support Biological E’s effort to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022 with Stringent Regulatory Authorization (SRA) and/or World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL), including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“o Japan, through JICA, is in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for the Government of India to expand manufacturing for COVID-19 vaccines for export, with a priority on producing vaccines that have received authorization from WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) or Stringent Regulatory Authorities.

“o Quad partners will ensure expanded manufacturing will be exported for global benefit, to be procured through key multilateral initiatives, such as COVAX, that provide life-saving vaccines for low-income countries, and by countries in need.

“o Quad partners will also cooperate to strengthen ‘last-mile’ vaccination, building on existing health-security and development programs, and across our governments to coordinate and strengthen our programs in the Indo-Pacific.

“o This includes supporting countries with vaccine readiness and delivery, vaccine procurement, health workforce preparedness, responses to vaccine misinformation, community engagement, immunization capacity, and more.

“o Australia will contribute US$77 million for the provision of vaccines and “last-mile” delivery support with a focus on Southeast Asia, in addition to its existing commitment of US$407 million for regional vaccine access and health security which will provide full vaccine coverage to nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste, and support procurement, prepare for vaccine delivery, and strengthen health systems in Southeast Asia.

“o Japan will assist vaccination programs of developing countries such as the purchase of vaccines and cold-chain support including through provision of grant aid of $41 million and new concessional yen loans, ensuring alignment with and support of COVAX.

“o The United States will leverage existing programs to further boost vaccination capability, drawing on at least $100 million in regional efforts focused on immunization.”

Conclusion

The solution to the COVID-19 pandemic involves greater cooperation among governments, international organizations, manufacturers, suppliers and others. The Quad’s announcement today is an important step in helping bring the pandemic to a close.

Biden Administration should join the Joint Statement Initiatives that it is not presently party to

President Biden has made it clear that his Administration will work within multilateral organizations to the extent possible to move the U.S. agenda forward. During the Trump Administration, the U.S. participated actively in the World Trade Organization but was active in only one of the Joint Statement Initiatives that were initiated at the end of the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in late 2017.

Thus, the United States is an active participant in the ongoing negotiations following the Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (WT/MIN(17)/60, 13 December 2017), but is not a party to the other Joint Statement Initiatives. See Joint Ministerial Statement on Services Domestic Regulation (WT/MIN(17)/61, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development (WT/MIN(17)/59, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement, Declaration on the Establishment of a WTO Informal Work Programme for MSMEs (WT/MIN(17)/58, 13 December 2017); Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017.

While India and South Africa have challenged the legitimacy of the Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs), a great deal of the energy in the WTO in the last several years has been put into the JSIs. See, e.g., 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/; WTO, Coordinators of joint initiatives cite substantial progress in discussions, 18 December 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/jsec_18dec20_e.htm. The WTO press release is copied below.

“The coordinators of the joint initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) said on 18 December that substantial progress has been achieved in their respective discussions and that they are on track to deliver concrete results or additional progress at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled for next year.

“In their communication, the coordinators noted that they have delivered summary statements to WTO members outlining how far the four initiatives have advanced since they were launched three years ago, where they stand today, and what their next steps in the discussions will be.

“’What these statements clearly show is the substantial progress [of the initiatives] in a short period of time, that they are on track to delivering concrete results or progress at MC12, and that they are contributing to building a more responsive, relevant and modern WTO — which will be critical to restoring global trade and economic growth in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.’

“’These initiatives have grown into an increasingly important part of the agenda of the WTO, with an expanding number of participants from both the developed and developing worlds that account for a significant part of the WTO’s membership, and based on the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness,’ the coordinators added.

“The new joint initiatives were launched at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 with the aim of commencing negotiations or discussions on issues of increasing relevance to the world trading system.

“The joint initiative coordinators are Ambassador José Luis Cancela Gómez (Uruguay) for the Informal Working Group on MSMEs; Ambassadors George Mina (Australia), Yamazaki Kazuyuki (Japan) and Tan Hung Seng (Singapore) for the Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce; Deputy Permanent Representative Jaime Coghi Arias (Costa Rica) for the Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation; and Ambassador-designate Mathias Francke (Chile) for the Structured Discussions on Investment Facilitation for Development.

“The coordinators noted that the consolidated negotiating text on e-commerce will provide a foundation for intensified negotiations in 2021. They highlighted that the negotiations on services domestic regulation are at a ‘mature stage’, with a genuine potential for an outcome by MC12.

“The coordinators also said that substantive provisions of an investment facilitation agreement are being negotiated by the participating members in this initiative. In addition, they noted the recent announcement by the Informal Working Group on MSMEs of a package of declarations and recommendations to help small business trade internationally.

“The coordinators underscored that the shared and ultimate goal of these initiatives is to strengthen and reinforce the multilateral trading system, that they are open to all WTO members, and that they seek the participation of as many members as possible.

“The coordinators stated: ‘The initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation, and MSMEs clearly demonstrate that the WTO can respond to new economic and technological challenges in a flexible, pragmatic, and timely way. These initiatives — and their innovative approach to cooperation and negotiation — can provide a valuable illustration of WTO reform in action.’”

While the Joint Declaration Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 is not treated as a JSI, it does have many Members supporting the Declaration and engaging in the informal work programme.

Some of the other countries participating in all of the JSIs and Joint Declaration

While the number of WTO Members participating in the JSIs and supporting the Joint Declaration vary, the following is a partial list of Members who are signatories to all of the JSIs and the Joint Declaration. Other than the Electronic Commerce initiative, the U.S. is presently not a signatory or participant in any of the other JSIs or Joint Declaration.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Switzerland are participants in all of the JSIs and supportive of the Joint Declaration. Dozens of other Members are participating in some or many of the JSI’s that the U.S. is not presently supporting or active in.

Conclusion

While the United States has a large agenda of issues it wishes to address at the WTO (including trade and the environment, WTO reform, industrial subsidies), it makes no sense that the United States would not actively participate in work programs where most of the major economies are active and where new rules will be relevant to areas of significance for the United States as well as for trading partners. While the work program on women and trade is in an informal working group, President Biden has made empowerment of women an important priority for his Administration as a range of actions during International Women’s Day made clear. See, e.g., March 8, 2011, March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director,  heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/08/march-8-2021-international-womens-day-statements-of-un-women-executive-director-heads-of-wto-unctad-and-international-trade-centre-and-u-s-executive-orders-and-statement-by-president-biden/. Similarly, MSMEs are an important part of the U.S. economy and a major driver of economic growth. The U.S. has a very strong services sector which has an interest in domestic regulatory issues both in the U.S. and as addressed overseas. Finally, the U.S. is both a major investor in foreign countries and a recipient of large amounts of foreign investment and has a significant interest in helping the global community address issues involved in investment in developing and least developed countries on a more predictable basis.

Hopefully, the Biden Administration when its USTR nominee is confirmed in the coming days, will opt to engage in all of the JSIs. It is time.

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.

W675-1

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.

W820

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).

229

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.

WTGC223

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.

WTGCW818

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.