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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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;
(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.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to subparagraph 1(b).
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
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.
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.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to Article 66.1 of this Agreement.
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.
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
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
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In recent years, the United States has paid more attention to the trade distortions flowing from forced labor and child labor in other countries, particularly in China. While there has been significant progress in the last twenty years in reducing forced labor and child labor globally according to the International Labor Organization (“ILO”), the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some retrenchment and efforts by China to address minorities in country have created an international backlash and concern.
The ILO webpage on forced labor reflects the global nature of the problem. The webpage states in part,
“Although forced labour is universally condemned, ILO estimates show that 24.9 million people around the world are still subjected toit. Of the total number of victims of forced labour, 20.8 million (83 per cent) are exploited in the private economy, by individuals or enterprises, and the remaining 4.1 million (17 per cent) are in State-imposed forms of forced labour. Among those exploited by private individuals or enterprises, 8 million (29 per cent) are victims of forced sexual exploitation and 12 million (64 per cent) of forced labour exploitation. Forced labour in the private economy generates some US$ 150 billion in illegal profits every year: two thirds of the estimated total (or US$ 99 billion) comes from commercial sexual exploitation, while another US$ 51 billion is a result from forced economic exploitation in domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities (Note 1).
“Vestiges of slavery are still found in some parts of Africa, while forced labour in the form of coercive recruitment is present in many countries of Latin America, in certain areas of the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. In numerous countries, domestic workers are trapped in situations of forced labour, and in many cases they are restrained from leaving the employers’ home through threats or violence. Bonded labour persists in South Asia, where millions of men, women and children are tied to their work through a vicious circle of debt. In Europe and North America, a considerable number of women and children are victims of traffickers, who sell them to networks of forced prostitution or clandestine sweat-shops. Finally, forced labour is still used as a punishment for expressing political views.
“For many governments around the world, the elimination of forced labour remains an important challenge in the 21st century. Not only is forced labour a serious violation of a fundamental human right, it is a leading cause of poverty and a hindrance to economic development. ILO standards on forced labour, associated with well-targeted technical assistance, are the main tools at the international level to combat this scourge.”
While the incidence of forced labor and child labor is declining, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated trends as these populations are most vulnerable. See, e.g., ILO, The International Labour Organization and the US Department of Labor partnership to eliminate child labour and forced labour, 2019, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@ipec/documents/publication/wcms_710971.pdf (“The ILO’s most recent global estimates of child labour indicate, however, that significant progress is being made. From 2000 to 2016, there was a net reduction of 94 million children in child labour and the number of children in hazardous work was halved. In parallel, the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182) was ratified by 186 countries, reaching almost universal ratification. The challenges ahead, however, remain formidable: in 2016, 152 million girls and boys were in child labour and 25 million men, women and children were trapped in forced labour.”); ILO, COVID-19 impact on child labour and forced labour: The response of the IPEC+ Flagship Programme, 2020, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_745287.pdf (“COVID-19 has plunged the world into a crisis of unprecedented scope and scale. Undoubtedly, restoring global health remains the first priority, but the strict measures required are resulting in massive economic and social shocks. As lockdown, quarantine, physical distancing and other isolation measures to suppress transmission continue, the global economy has plunged into a recession. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging in the poorest countries and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, such as children in child labour and victims of forced labour and human trafficking, particularly women and girls. These vulnerable groups are more affected by income shocks due to the lack of access to social protection, including health insurance and unemployment benefits. * * * Experience from previous crisis situations, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic, has shown that these factors play a particularly strong role in exacerbating the risk to child labour and forced labour.”).
In China, the government’s efforts to “reeducate” minority populations (e.g., Uyghurs from the western region of Xinjiang) has led to allegations of forced labor on a range of products and actions by the United States to restrict certain imports from China from the region. The Washington International Trade Association is holding a virtual webinar on January 27 looking at the challenges in China and the forced labor problem of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the resulting U.S. ban on cotton and tomato products. See WITA, WITA’s Friday Focus on Trade, Vol. 206, January 22, 2021 (containing various articles on the China forced labor issue and referencing the webinar on January 27, WITA Webinar: The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang).
“The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL or the Department) has produced this ninth edition of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), as amended. The TVPRA requires USDOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB or the Bureau) to “develop and make available to the public a list of goods from countries that [ILAB] has reason to believe are produced by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards” (TVPRA List or the List; 22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(C)). It also requires submission of the TVPRA List to the United States Congress not later than December 1, 2014, and every 2 years thereafter (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(3)).
“The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 expanded ILAB’s mandate to require the TVPRA List to include, ‘to the extent practicable, goods that are produced with inputs that are produced with forced labor or child labor’” (22 U.S.C. 7112(b)(2)(C)).
“The TVPRA directs ILAB ‘to work with persons who are involved in the production of goods on the list … to create a standard set of practices that will reduce the likelihood that such persons will produce goods using [child labor or forced labor],’ and ‘to consult with other departments and agencies of the United States Government to reduce forced and child labor internationally and ensure that products made by forced labor and child labor in violation of international standards are not imported into the United States’ (22 U.S.C. § 7112(b)(2)(D)–(E)).” (pages 1 and 3).
This year’s publication lists 77 countries that have one or more products believed to be produced with child labor, with forced labor or with both child and forced labor. Fourteen countries are listed as having products believed to be produced with forced labor. Thirty-six countries are listed as believed to produce products with child and forced labor. Sixty-four countries produce some products with child labor. The 77 countries are listed below along with whether products are believed produced with child labor, forced labor, or child labor & forced labor.
While the number of products obviously vary by country and category, the report categorized agriculture as having 68 child labor listings and 29 forced labor listings. This compares to manufacturing with 39 child labor and 20 forced labor listings; mining showed 32 child labor and 13 forced labor listings and pornography showed one each.
Looking at specific products for individual countries provides the most information.
As an example, China is shown as having the following products believed to be produced with forced labor — Artificial Flowers, Christmas Decorations, Coal, Fish, Footwear, Garments, Gloves, Hair Products, Nails, Thread/Yarn, and Tomato Products. China is also shown as having the following products believed to be produced with child labor and forced labor — Bricks, Cotton, Electronics, Fireworks, Textiles, and Toys. As a USDOL separate post notes, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn and tomato products were added in 2020 because of research on the forced labor situation in Xinjiang. See USDOL, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Against Their Will: The Situation in Xinjiang, Forced Labor in Xinjiang, 2020, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/against-their-will-the-situation-in-xinjiang. The document is embedded below.
Looking at India, products believed to be produced with child labor include the following — Bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), Brassware, Cotton, Fireworks, Footwear, Gems, Glass Bangles, Incense (agarbatti), Leather Goods/ Accessories, Locks, Matches, Mica, Silk Fabric, Silk Thread, Soccer Balls, Sugarcane, Thread/Yarn. Products believed produced with child labor & forced labor include the following — Bricks, Carpets, Cottonseed (hybrid), Embellished Textiles, Garments, Rice, Sandstone, Stones.
While the USDOL reports don’t estimate the portion of exports from any country of individual products that are produced with child and/or forced labor, the trade consequences can be significant as such labor is artificially valued creating distortions in competitiveness and resulting trade flows. For example, the list of products for China are either important export products for China or important inputs into exported products. The same would true for India and for many other of the 77 countries on the list.
The U.S. has in place statutory provisions which permit the exclusion from entry into the United states of products produced with forced labor. The Trump Administration did a somewhat better job enforcing U.S. law on imports of products produced with child or forced labor. Much more can be done and should be done domestically.
Similarly, the ILO is working to eliminate forced labor and child labor consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goals. “The objective of the IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme – in line with Target 8.7 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – is to provide ILO leadership in global efforts to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2025 and all forms of contemporary slavery and human trafficking by 2030. It also aims to ensure that all people are protected from – and can protect themselves against – these gross human rights violations.” ILO, IPEC+ Global Flagship Programme Implementation, Towards a world free from child labour and forced labour, page 4, 2020, https://respect.international/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/wcms_633435.pdf.
The WTO could play a role in the fight against forced labor and child labor. Such labor practices distort global trade flows in addition to the challenges created for countries engaged in such practices in terms of poverty and human rights abuses. The WTO could gather information from Members on the volume of production and exports of products produced with child and forced labor both as finished products and as inputs into other products. Such an exercise would facilitate an understanding of the extent of global trade represented by such products and help focus attention on trade actions that could be taken to help Members eliminate such harmful practices. While it is unlikely that Members will agree to such a data gathering undertaking, one is surely needed and would add transparency to a source of an important global issue with trade as well as non-trade dimensions.
Much has been written about the challenges facing the World Trade Organization twenty-five years after its birth at the beginning of 1995.
The Appellate Body (“AB”) has ceased functioning with the United States blocking the appointment of new AB members based on longstanding problems with the Dispute Settlement system that have not been addressed. There are fundamental differences among major Members in what the proper role of the dispute settlement system is. Because the AB’s view of its role has differed from that of at least some of the Members, many delegations have opted to litigate instead of negotiate on issues which are not covered by the actual language of existing agreements.
The negotiating function of the WTO has had limited success in the first 25 years of the WTO reflecting deep differences among Members in priorities and the core function of the WTO. The inability to update rules or develop new rules to address 21st century commercial realities has called into question the ongoing relevance of the organization Members have failed to honor agreement directions for periodic liberalization updates in agriculture and services trade. Members have also taken decades to tackle issues of pressing time sensitivity, such as fisheries subsidies.
And there are problems in the timeliness and completeness of notifications required by many agreements and the quality of the work of many of the Committees.
A bright spot for an organization in trouble has been the success of bringing additional countries and territories into the organization. Of the 164 members at present, 36 have joined since the WTO opened in 1995 and some 23 countries or territories are in the accession process at the moment. Some 98% of global trade is now covered by WTO Members. While there are many reasons for countries or territories to join the WTO, including integrating into the global economy and improving the competitiveness of the economy (Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff describes the benefits of accession as being a catalyst for domestic reform and economic growth), there is no doubt that accessions are of benefit to the global trading system and bring the benefits of liberalization in the acceding country or territory to the existing WTO membership. Indeed, commitments of acceding Members in terms of tariff liberalization and other obligations typically are far higher than the commitments of existing Members at the same economic stage of development. Yet, accession is of great benefit to acceding countries. See WTO press release, 8 November 2020, DDG Wolff: WTO accession is a catalyst for domestic reform and economic growth, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_06nov20_e.htm. DDG Wolff, in speaking to Arab countries in the accession process made the following comments:
“Furthermore, during the last eight months, the world has experienced unprecedented levels of disruptions in people’s daily lives and their economic activities due to Covid-19. The world is not near the end of this crisis. Despite these challenging times, trade has played a key role in addressing local shortages of food, medical supplies and other essentials during the pandemic.
“Trade will have to play an even greater role in supporting recovery of the global economy going forward. In this context, we should recognise the important role played by Saudi Arabia in steering the G20 during this difficult year, urging collective and multilateral cooperation. The Riyadh Initiative is a praiseworthy effort endorsed by the G20 nations.
“The Arab region has not escaped the dire economic consequences of this pandemic. For some, the steep fall in oil prices has aggravated existing problems. A crisis, however, also presents opportunities for closer international cooperation to limit the harm from the pandemic and to spur the recovery.
“These issues demonstrate that more, not less, global and regional trade integration is required. Integration into the world economy goes hand in hand with necessary domestic reforms. This is where WTO accession makes particularly valuable contributions. Those engaged in the reform-driven accession process are likely to experience a quicker recovery and greater resilience in the future.
“Based on evidence from the 36 accessions which have been successfully completed, the WTO accession process has served as an effective external anchor for domestic reforms, acting as a catalyst in realizing the potential of their economies. According to the last WTO Director-General’s Annual Report on WTO Accessions, Article XII Members have registered higher growth rates of GDP and trade (exports and imports), as well as increased flows of inward FDI stocks, in the years following their accession compared to the rest of the world. These results indicate that integrated, open economies tend to grow faster. In addition, by signalling a government’s commitment to international rules, WTO membership appears to also encourage the inflow of foreign investment.
“The accession process has been used by resource-based countries to diversify their economies. Economic diversification is one of the major priorities for the governments in the Arab region. Our 2016 study examined whether countries’ export structures became more diversified after gaining WTO membership. This was true for about half of the recently acceded Members, which increased the number of exported products, measured in HS chapters, accounting for more than 60% of their exports after accession. This was achieved often through rebranding their economies with WTO membership and attracting increased FDI.”
From 1995-2016, the thirty-six countries or territories that joined the WTO included many of the major economies that were not original Members of the WTO. These included China, Chinese Taipei, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation. The other countries or territories who have joined represent a wide cross-section of geographic regions and levels of development: Ecuador, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Panama, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Jordan, Georgia, Albania, Oman, Croatia, Lithuania, Moldova, Armenia, North Macedonia, Nepal, Cambodia, Tonga, Cabo Verde, Montenegro, Samoa, Vanuatu, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Yemen, Seychelles, Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Afghanistan. No accessions have been completed since 2016.
The twenty-three countries and territories that are in the process of accession often are countries or territories that have suffered from years of conflict. This has led the WTO to host the first “Trade for Peace Week” from November 30-December 4, 2020. See WTO press release, 25 November 2020, WTO to host first Trade for Peace Week, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/acc_25nov20_e.htm.
“In announcing the Trade for Peace Week, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff noted: ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes international trade as an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction that contributes to the promotion of sustainable development. This in turn can facilitate building and maintaining peace. The connection between trade and peace is the raison d’être for the creation of the rules-based multilateral trading system that led to economic recovery and prosperity after the devastation from World War II.’
“Currently, 23 countries are in the process of joining the WTO, and over a half of them suffer from a fragile situation from years of conflicts. Launched in 2017, the Trade for Peace initiative aims to assist fragile and conflict-affected (FCA) countries through WTO accession, with the emphasis on institution building based on the principles of non-discrimination, predictability, transparency and the rule of law. Based on experiences of former FAC countries, WTO accession can help set the conditions to move out of a state of fragility or conflict into a state of stability, economic well-being and peace.”
The twenty-three countries and territories in the process of accession include: Algeria, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belarus, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Comoros, Curacao, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanese Republic, Libya, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste, and Uzbekistan.
The genesis for the GATT and the other Bretton Woods institutions was a desire to provide an infrastructure and global rules to minimize the likelihood of future world wars. Cooperation, collaboration and integration would all reduce the likelihood of global conflict.
The WTO provides the opportunity for countries or territories struggling to escape violence to embark on a path of hope. That is a core mission of the WTO today just as it was for the GATT in the late 1940s.
Moreover, the record over the first twenty-five years of the WTO’s existence has been that those countries and territories who take the challenging steps to become Members of the WTO improve their economies and speed growth, development and foreign direct investment. Accessions also offer real improvements in market access for existing WTO Members. A true win-win situation.
For an organization struggling to maintain relevance amidst deep divisions among Members who seem to have lost the consensus on the core purpose of the organization, the pilgrimage of non-member countries and territories to join the organization is a beacon of hope. Serious reforms and updating of the rule book are desperately needed for a better functioning system where outcomes are based on underlying economic strengths and not the interference of governments. A willingness of Members to refocus on what the purpose of the WTO is in fact and to be supporters of contributing to the maximum of one’s ability will be key to forward movement. Inspiration can be drawn from the efforts of non-members to join.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.
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 third round of consultations with WTO Members on which of the two remaining candidates is preferred and hence may be the most likely to obtain consensus to become the next Director-General gets started next Monday, October 19 and ends on October 27.
Both Minister Yoo of Korea and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria are in the process of seeking support from WTO Members and have the full support of their governments which are making calls and sending letters to government officials in many of the WTO Members.
Minister Yoo is back in Europe seeking support in this third round (she and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both received preferences from the EU in the second round). Press reports indicate that China is believed to be supporting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and Japan is understood to have concerns with both candidates. Thus, Minister Yoo is working to bolster support in other regions of the world to supplement what is assumed to be only partial support within Asia.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the support from Kenya after Kenya’s candidate did not advance to the third round. It is not clear whether she will receive support from all African Members of the WTO, although Kenya’s action is obviously an imortant positive for her.
So the next eleven days will be an active time as each of the remaining candidates seeks support in the final round of consultations from Members in different geographical areas as well as in different categories (developed, developing and least developed countries).
One source of information about the candidates that hasn’t been available to the public but is now available is the questions and answers provided to the General Council meetings with each candidate on July 15 (Dr. Okonjo-Iweala) and July16 (Minister Yoo). While there were three days of meetings with the General Council to accommodate the eight candidates, the two remaining candidates appeared during the first two days. The Minutes of the Meeting of the General Council, 15-17 July 2020 are contained in WT/GC/M/185 (31 August 2020). The procedures for each candidate were reviewed by the General Council Chairman David Walker (New Zealand).
“Each candidate would be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than fifteen minutes. That would be followed by a question-and-answer period of no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the question-and-answer period, each candidate would have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if she or he so wished.” (page 1, para. 1.5).
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 2 on pages 16-26. Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 5 on pages 51-60. The statements have previously been reviewed in my posts and are available on the WTO webpage.
Questions are picked randomly from Members who indicated an interest in asking questions. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala received questions during the meeting from nineteen Members with another thirty-nine Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her. Minister Yoo received questions during her meeting from seventeen Members with another forty-four Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:
The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
Focus in the first 100 days.
Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?
Minister Yoo’s questions came from Guatemala, Belgium, United States, India, Germany, El Salvador, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Spain, Qatar, Lithuania, Gabon, Botswana, China, Barbados, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:
Do you have any proposal on how to overcome the current crisis?
How do you plan to include measures to respect sustainable trade in an agenda focused on free trade and trade liberalization?
In looking at interim arbitration agreement of EU and other countries, is it appropriate for WTO resources to be used for activities that go beyond what is contemplated by the DSU?
How to convince Members that the multilateral trading system is still best way forward over bilateral and plurilateral trading arrangements?
Is there a gap in the WTO rulebook with regard to level playing field issues such as subsidies, economic action by the State and competition?
Do you have a multilateral solution to issues like e-commerce which are being tackled in the Joint Statement Initiatives that would be of interest to a large number of Members?
WTO is lagging behind in pursuing the development dimension; what is the path forward?
Role of DG re fighting protectionism and unilateral measures.
How to strike a balance between public stockholding and food security and the avoidance of unnecessary trade restrictions?
What is your view on the Doha Development Agenda?
What role the WTO can play to help drive Africa’s integration agenda?
What is the most important issue to achieve results?
Both candidates gave extensive answers to the questions posed while avoiding staking out a position on any issue that is highly controversial within the WTO. The answers are worth reading in their entirety. As a result the minutes of the meeting are embedded below.
Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):
“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.
“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”
Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):
“I spent the past few days meeting with Ambassadors and delegates in Geneva. When I listen to your views, together with the questions today, it seems that there are diverse views and priorities of Members – whether it concerns the negotiations, how to pursue development objectives and special and differential treatment, the plurilaterals or restoring the Appellate Body function. So, how can we, a dynamic group of 164 Members with different social and economic environments, come to an agreement? This brings me back to my original message. We need to rebuild trust in the WTO. How? Amid these divergent and different views of Members, I would share the commitment and hope to restoring and revitalizing the WTO.
“This pandemic has forced us to reflect upon what is needed from the multilateral trading system. Despite the current challenges, I have a firm belief in the multilateral trading system and what we can actually achieve in the future if we put our heads together and also our hearts into it. We are embarking on a new journey towards a new chapter for the WTO. Building on the past twenty-five years, when we embark on the new journey for the next twenty-five years, I am ready to provide a new leadership that will harness all the frustrations but most importantly all the hopes from Members to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive for the next twenty-five years and beyond.”
The process that WTO Members agreed on in 2002 to promote a process for finding a candidate for a new Director-General is cumbersome, time consuming and burdensome for candidates brave enough to put their hat in the ring. To date, the 2002 process has resulted in Members agreeing by consensus on a new Director-General (2005 and 2013). The process in 2020 has worked remarkably smoothly as well despite the deep divisions in the membership and the multiple-pronged crisis facing the organization.
The two finalists bring different backgrounds and skill sets to be considered by Members. Each started strong in the General Council meetings in mid-July as can be seen from their answers to questions posed, and each has continued to impress many Members in the subsequent months. There are political considerations in the selection process of the Director-General (just as in any major leadership position of an international organization). Both candidates are getting active support of their home governments. Fortunately, the membership has two qualified and very interesting candidates to consider. Whoever emerges as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the Members will still face the hurdle of whether any Member (or group of Members) will block the consensus. While that seems unlikely at the present time, one never knows.
Whoever becomes the next Director-General will face the daunting challenges of an organization with all three major functions not operating as needed, deep divisions among major players and among major groups. The lack of forward movement and the lack of trust among Members will weigh heavily on the new Director-General with a narrow window before the next Ministerial Conference likely to take place next June. It is remarkable that talented individuals with long histories of accomplishments would be willing to take on the problems the WTO is weighed down with at the present time. Hopefully, the next Director-General will be known in the next three weeks.
The World Trade Organization has a page on its website that is dedicated to COVID-19 including references to statements from various governments, international organizations, business groups, information from the WTO itself including a compilation of notifications by Members of actions (whether trade limiting or trade expanding) taken in response to COVID-19, and links to a range of websites providing important information on the pandemic. Joint statements are also included. See today’s joint statement between the WTO and the World Customs Organization, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_06apr20_e.htm.
Last Friday, April 3rd, the WTO released a sixteen page note entitled “Trade in Medical Goods in the Context of Tackling COVID-19”. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/rese_03apr20_e.pdf. The note is very useful in terms of providing some definition to a range of products relevant to handling the COVID-19 crisis, identifying major importers and exporters of various product types and providing information on tariffs on the product categories for all WTO Members. The note identifies the following “key points”:
“• Germany, the United States (US), and Switzerland supply 35% of medical products;
“• China, Germany and the US export 40% of personal protective products;
“• Imports and exports of medical products totalled about $2 trillion, including intra-EU trade, which represented approximately 5% of total world merchandise trade in 2019;
“• Trade of products described as critical and in severe shortage in COVID-19 crisis totalled about $597 billion, or 1.7% of total world trade in 2019;
“• Tariffs on some products remain very high. For example, the average applied tariff for hand soap is 17% and some WTO Members apply tariffs as high as 65%;
“• Protective supplies used in the fight against COVID-19 attract an average tariff of 11.5% and goes as high as 27% in some countries;
“• The WTO has contributed to the liberalization of trade medical products in three main ways:
“➢ The results of tariff negotiations scheduled at the inception of the WTO in 1995;
“➢ Conclusion of the plurilateral sectoral Agreement on Pharmaceutical Products (“Pharma Agreement”) in the Uruguay Round and its four subsequent reviews;
“➢ The Expansion of the Information Technology Agreement in 2015.”
As is true with any analysis of data, the reader needs to understand what is covered and what is not and how good a fit the data provided have with the topic being discussed.
For example, the note reviews four categories of products relevant to the world addressing the COVID-19 pandemic (page 1):
“medicines (pharmaceuticals) – including both dosified and bulk medicines;
“medical supplies – refers to consumables for hospital and laboratory use (e.g., alcohol, syringes, gauze, reagents, etc.);
“medical equipment and technology; and
“personal protective products -hand soap and sanitizer, face masks, protective spectacles.”
While the four categories are, of course, relevant to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the products covered by the tariff schedule categories are both over- and underinclusive if one is trying to understand the size of global trade in medical products directly relevant to the global efforts to address COVID-19.
The report’s data are overinclusive because the Harmonized System of Tariffs used by most nations is only harmonized to the six-digit level of specificity. The categories included in the WTO note cover both COVID-19 related products and many others. Stated differently, nearly all of the product categories identified in Annex 1 to the note include at least some items that are not germane to the current pandemic. This is a limitation on the usefulness of the data flowing from the lack of more specific classifications that all countries adhere to. As the six-digit data are all that are available with a consistent definition around the world, it is not surprising that the WTO relied on the data. Arguably better, but not uniform data could have been derived by reviewing the 8-, 9- or 10-digit statistical data for imports and exports of at least major Members, but that was not done.
Similarly, the product coverage is underinclusive as recognized in the WTO note (page 2). “It should be noted that this note focuses solely on the final form of these products and does not extent to the different intermediate products that are used by global value chains in their production. The protective garments for surgical/medical use are not included in the analysis, because it is impossible to distinguish them from general clothing product in the HS classification.”
As governments and companies have articulated over the last several months, many of the key final products (e.g., ventilators) require a large number of inputs which are often sourced from a variety of suppliers around the globe. For example, one ventilator company which assembles the ventilators in the United States is reliant on circuit boards from its facility in China to maintain or increase production. Other companies bring various inputs in from Canada or Mexico or other countries as well as shipping U.S. components to other countries for final assembly. The same reality is obviously true for producers of medical goods in other countries as well. Thus, an inability to cover inputs significantly understates global trade volumes of products relevant to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, there are shortages in many countries of the protective garments for which no data are included. These are important products traded that are directly relevant to the world’s ability to respond to COVID-19. The lack of coverage of those products understates the importance of personal protective products to the total and understates global trade.
The above is simply to say, the sections of the WTO note that look at trade patterns (imports, exports, leading players) are helpful in identifying possible breaks between products and possible major players but the data may be significantly off from the actual split among products or role of major players if complete data limited to products relevant for addressing COVID-19 were available. It may also understate the importance of keeping markets open even if there are relatively few imports of finished products.
To explore how overstated data may be, if one looks at the HS categories shown in Annex 1 for personal protective products and looks at the United States U.S. imports for consumption for 2019 at the 10-digit HTS level of detail, the top seven 10-digit categories by customs value accounted for more than 72% of the $17 billion in imports. Yet each of the categories would contain many products not actually relevant to efforts to address COVID-19. In fact five of the seven categories are basket categories.
OTHER ARTICLES OF PLASTIC, NESOI
OTHER MADE-UP ARTICLES NESOI
CHEMICAL PRODUCTS AND PREPARATIONS AND RESIDUAL PRODUCTS OF THE CHEMICAL OR ALLIED INDUSTRIES, NESOI
SPECTACLES, GOGGLES AND THE LIKE, CORRECTIVE, PROTECTIVE, NESOI
Similarly, the analysis of applied tariff rates is useful in showing rates for product groupings and the rates for individual countries for those product groupings but may be less useful in identifying the assistance tariff reductions would have in the present time of the pandemic. Obviously, tariff reductions by any Member that imposes them on imported products relevant to the pandemic would reduce the cost for the importing country of the needed materials. But the extent of assistance varies significantly depending on the Member as the data in Annex 2 show.
As the EU/EEA/United Kingdom and the United States account for 73.9% of the confirmed cases in the world as of April 6, 2020, a review of the applied rates for those countries would identify likely benefit from tariff reductions by the countries with the major outbreaks at the moment. The EU has an average applied rate of 1.5%, the U.S. an average applied rate of 0.9%, Norway 0.6% and Switzerland 0.7%. These rates don’t include any special duties, such as US duties on China flowing from the Section 301 investigation (with some products being subject to potential waiver of additional duties). Thus, for the vast majority of current cases, the importing countries’ applied rates are very low and hence not a significant barrier to trade.
Other countries where the reach of the pandemic may intensify typically have much higher applied tariffs. As case loads intensify in other countries or in anticipation of such potential eventualities, countries with higher tariffs should be exploring autonomous duty reductions to make imported products more affordable. India has an average applied tariff of 11.6%; Pakistan an average rate of 10.0% and Malaysia a rate of 11.7% to flag just three Members with rates at or above 10%.
While fear can lead to panic and various border measures, the actual situation globally as laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (“FAO”) in a recent paper is that there are more than sufficient supplies of food. The key is minimizing disruptions to production and distribution. This is not a period where major disruptions from drought or floods have caused shortages of products. Specifically, the FAO’s Chief Economist prepared a document entitled “COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond?” which was released on March 29. http://www.fao.org/3/ca8388en/CA8388EN.pdf. The paper starts with a section entitled “What we know”:
“Countries have shut down the economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Supermarket shelves remain stocked for now. But a protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more. The shipping industry is already reporting slowdowns because of port closures, and logistics hurdles could disrupt the supply chains in coming weeks.
“In order to avoid food shortages, it is imperative that countries keep the food supply chains going. Unlike the 2007-2008 global food crisis, scarcity is not an issue this time. The supply of staple commodities is functioning well, and the crops need to be transported to where they are needed most. Restricting trade is not only unnecessary, it would hurt producers and consumers and even create panic in the markets. For high-value commodities that require workers (instead of machines) for production, countries must strike a balance between the need to keep production going and the need to protect the workers.
“As countries combat the coronavirus pandemic, they must also make every effort to keep the gears of their food supply chains moving.”
The paper then goes on to identify five actions needed to minimize the likelihood of food shortages arising during the pandemic. These actions are:
“Expand and improve emergency food assistance and social protection programs
“Give smallholder farmers support to both enhance their productivity and market the food they produce, also through e-commerce channels
“Keep the food value chain alive by focusing on key logistics bottlenecks
“Address trade and tax policies to keep the global trade open
“Manage the macroeconomic ramifications”.
With the number of countries already taking actions that are inconsistent with keeping global markets open for the movement of food supplies, the world is at risk of having a major complication added to the extrordinary economic shocks already being felt to address the health needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a major complication would, as it did in 2007-2008, directly harm developing and least developed countries, countries least able to absorb additional shocks.
The report and a powerpoint from FAO are embedded below.
While COVID-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, efforts to control the fallout from the virus have led to border controls on farm workers and encouraged some countries to impose export restraints on particular agricultural products. While the border control dimension to the problem is new, the world has in recent years gone through a number of situations where large numbers of countries have imposed export restraints on core agricultural products in an effort to ensure adequate supplies at home. The results are never positive for the global community and particularly harm the least developed countries and those dependent on imported food products.
For example, in 2007-2008, there were dozens of countries that imposed export restraints on specific items such as rice or wheat leading to massive price spikes and shortages of product available to countries dependent on imports. The nature and extent of the problem was outlined in a paper I prepared back in 2008 which is embedded below.
The crisis led to coordinated efforts by the various UN organizations to find solutions and ways of avoiding repeats moving forward. A policy report from multiple UN agencies was released on 2 June 2011, Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses.
Unfortunately, a number of countries in reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic have introduced export restraints on certain food products. Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam are some of the countries identified so far as introducing export restraints on selected agricultural products. In the past, export restraints by some have led to export restraints by many. The possibility of rapidly expanding restraints by trading nations is obviously a major concern and major complication to the global response to COVID-19.
Equally troubling are the potential challenges to agricultural product availability in countries that rely to some extent on temporary foreign labor to harvest produce and other products where border measures are restricting access of foreigners to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Coupled to that are concerns about whether imported agricultural products meet health and quality needs and any changes in approach to those issues during the pandemic.
As one example of the farm labor concern, the United States is a country that relies on temporary farm workers from outside of the country and has significant restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals from many areas at present. U.S. farmers have raised concerns about the availability of sufficient migrant labor to harvest the fields when product is ready. How the issue gets resolved in the United States is not yet clear. But the same or similar challenges will apply in any country where imported farm labor is important to the harvesting, processing or transporting of agricultural products.
“Joint Statement by QU Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevêdo, Directors-General of FAO, WHO and WTO
“Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods. As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security.
“When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain. Such disruptions including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste. Food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety. If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food insecure populations.
“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need.
“We must prevent the repeat of such damaging measures. It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage. Similarly, it is also critical that food producers and food workers at processing and retail level are protected to minimise the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains. Consumers, in particular the most vulnerable, must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements.
“We must also ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, is available to all in real time. This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items.
“Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world. We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”
There is little doubt that COVID-19 is placing extraordinary strains on countries, their peoples, their economies and the ability and willingness to act globally as opposed to locally. The strains and how the world reacts will shape the world going forward and determine the magnitude of the devastation that occurs in specific markets and the broader global community.
The global health emergency is significantly worsened by the introduction of food security issues. Despite a better understanding of the causes and necessary approaches to minimize food security issues, the world has a poor track record on working for the collective good in agriculture when fears of food availability arise. An eruption of export restraints at the time of the global COVID-19 health crisis could indeed undermine societal stability.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases (COVID-19) as of March 26, 2020 was approaching 500,000 globally, with the rate of increase in cases continuing to surge in a number of important countries or regions (e.g., Europe and the United States) with the locations facing the greatest strains shifting over time.
In an era of global supply chains, few countries are self-sufficient in all medical supplies and equipment needed to address a pandemic. Capacity constraints can occur in a variety of ways, including from overall demand exceeding the supply (production and inventories), from an inability or unwillingness to manage supplies on a national or global basis in an efficient and time responsive manner, by the reduction of production of components in one or more countries reducing the ability of downstream producers to complete products, by restrictions on modes of transport to move goods internationally or nationally, from the lack of availability of sufficient medical personnel or physical facilities to handle the increased work load and lack of facilities.
The reality of exponential growth of COVID-19 cases over weeks within a given country or region can overwhelm the ability of the local health care system to handle the skyrocketing demand. When that happens, it is a nightmare for all involved as patients can’t be handled properly or at all in some instances, death rates will increase, and health care providers and others are put at risk from a lack of adequate supplies and protective gear. Not surprisingly, shortages of supplies and equipment have been identified in a number of countries over the last three months where the growth in cases has been large. While it is understandable for national governments to seek to safeguard supplies of medical goods and equipment to care for their citizens, studies over time have shown that such inward looking actions can be short sighted, reduce the global ability to handle the crisis, increase the number of deaths and prevent the level of private sector response that open markets would support.
As we approach the end of March, the global community receives mixed grades on their efforts to work jointly and to avoid beggar-thy-neighbor policies. Many countries have imposed one or more restraints on exports of medical supplies and equipment with the number growing rapidly as the spread of COVID-19 outside of China has escalated particularly in March. Indeed, when one or more countries impose export restraints, it often creates a domino effect as countries who may depend in part on supplies from one or more of those countries, decides to impose restraints as well to limit shortages in country.
At the same time, the G-7, G-20 and others have issued statements or other documents indicating their political desire to minimize export restraints and keep trade moving. The WTO is collecting information from Members on actions that have been taken in response to COVID-19 to improve transparency and to enable WTO Members to identify actions where self-restraint or roll back would be useful. And some countries have engaged in unilateral tariff reductions on critical medical supplies and equipment.
Imposition of Export Restraints
The World Customs Organization has developed a list of countries that have imposed some form of export restraint in 2020 on critical medical supplies. In reviewing the WCO website today, the following countries were listed: Argentina, Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, European Union, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam. Today’s listing is copied below.
While China is not listed on the WCO webpage, it is understood that they have had some restrictions in fact at least during the January-February period of rapid spread of COVID-19 in China.
While it is surprising to see the European Union on the list, the Official Journal notice of the action indicates that the action is both temprary (six weeks – will end around the end of April) and flows in part from the fact that sources of product used by the EU had been restricting exports. The March 15, 2020 Official Journal notice is attached below.
Professor Simon Evenett, in a March 19, 2020 posting on VOX, “Sickening thy neighbor: Export restraints on medical supplies during a pandemic,” https://voxeu.org/article/export-restraints-medical-supplies-during-pandemic, reviews the challenges posed and provides examples of European countries preventing exports to neighbors — Germany preventing a shipment of masks to Switzerland and France preventing a shipment to the U.K.
In a webinar today hosted by the Washington International Trade Association and the Asia Society Policy Institute entitled “COVID-19 and Trade – A WTO Agenda,” Prof. Evenett reviewed his analysis and noted that the rate of increase for export restraints was growing with 48 of 63 actions occurring in March and 8 of those occurring in the last forty-eight hours. A total of 57 countries are apparently involved in one or more restraints. And restraints have started to expand from medical supplies and equipment to food with four countries mentioned by Prof. Evenett – Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia and Vietnam.
Efforts to keep markets open and liberalize critical medical supplies
Some countries have reduced tariffs on critical medical goods during the pandemic and some countries have also implemented green lane approaches for customs clearance on medical supplies and goods. Such actions are clearly permissible under the WTO, can be undertaken unilaterally and obviously reduce the cost of medical supplies and speed up the delivery of goods that enter from offshore. So it is surprising that more countries don’t help themselves by reducing tariffs temporarily (or permanently) on critical medical supplies and equipment during a pandemic.
Groups of countries have staked out positions of agreeing to work together to handle the pandemic and to keep trade open. For example, the G20 countries had a virtual emergency meeting today to explore the growing pandemic. Their joint statement can be found here and is embedded below, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgra_26mar20_e.pdf.
There is one section of the joint statement that specifically addresses international trade disruptions during the pandemic. That language is repeated below:
“Addressing International Trade Disruptions
“Consistent with the needs of our citizens, we will work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people.
“We commit to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. Emergency measures aimed at protecting health will be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary. We task our Trade Ministers to assess the impact of the pandemic on trade.
“We reiterate our goal to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open.”
Separately, New Zealand and Singapore on March 21st issued a Joint Ministerial Statement which stated in part,
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious global crisis.
“As part of our collective response to combat the virus, Singapore and New Zealand are committed to maintaining open and connected supply chains. We will also work closely to identify and address trade disruptions with ramifications on the flow of necessities,”
When a pandemic strikes, many countries have trouble maintaining open trade policies on critical materials in short supply and/or in working collaboratively to address important supply chain challenges or in taking unilateral actions to make critical supplies available more efficiently and at lower costs.
The current global response to COVID-19 presents the challenges one would expect to see – many countries imposing temporary restrictions on exports — while positive actions in the trade arena are more limited to date with some hopeful signs of a potential effort to act collectively going forward.
Time will tell whether governments handling of the trade dimension of the pandemic contributes to the equitable solution of the pandemic or exacerbates the challenges and harm happening to countries around the world.