Kenya

Candidates for the Next Director-General of the WTO — four and counting, an update

Two weeks after the WTO opened the nomination process for candidates to fill the Director-General post which becomes vacant on September 1, 2020, four countries have put forward candidates — Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt and Moldova. The period for nominations will come to a close on July 8 (COB Geneva time), so there are still sixteen days for additional candidates to be put forward.

There are many rumors and a few facts on possible candidates not yet announced. Press have indicated that Benin, which had had a candidate identified for consideration by the African Union, has withdrawn H.E. Mr. Eloi Laourou (Benin’s current Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO) from consideration and will be supporting Nigeria’s candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. See The Africa Report, Benin drops its WTO candidate in support of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala (15 June 2020), https://www.theafricareport.com/29941/benin-drops-its-wto-candidate-in-support-of-nigerias-okonjo-iweala/.

The other African name floated as a possible candidate has been Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, current sport and culture minister and former Kenyan Ambassador to the WTO who was the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Counsel. She was also a candidate for the Director-General position in 2012-2103 when Roberto Azevedo of Brazil was selected. While mentioned early, there has been little in the press indicating Kenya will be nominating her, but there is obviously still time if Kenya so chooses. See Financial Times, Contenders Set Out Stalls to Succeed Azevedo at Helm of WTO, May 17, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/fc5fda8e-56cb-4866-b477-f4c3af603b5c.

Possible Developed Country Candidate(s)?

It has been rumored that there would be one or more developed country candidates and some WTO Members or their trade ministers, like the EU, have articulated a belief that the next Director-General should be from a developed country, consistent with the recent rotation between developed and developing country having the post of Director-General. Since DG Azevedo is from Brazil, a developing country, developed countries should take the next turn, according to this logic.

An article in the New York Times indicates that the European Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan (Ireland) has confirmed he is considering a bid. See New York Times, Who’s Bidding to Be Next World Trade Organization Chief?, June 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/06/22/business/22reuters-trade-wto-factbox.html.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya has also been repeatedly identified as a potential candidate. She was chef de cabinet for Director-General Pascal Lamy who served from 2005-2013.

Other developed countries could decide to nominate one or more candidates, though press accounts indicate that Australia is not planning on submitting a candidate (at least not at present) and the U.S. has historically not put forward a candidate from the U.S. See Financial Review, No Australian candidate for WTO boss, Birmingham says, June 22, 2020, https://www.afr.com/world/europe/no-australian-candidate-for-wto-boss-birmingham-says-20200619-p554gf

Rumors have suggested that the Republic of Korea may submit a candidate. Japan has been very active in recent years through their ambassadors to the WTO but is not believed to be likely to put forward a candidate.

New Zealand had a Director-General two decades ago, Michael Moore, and its Trade Minister and former Ambassador to the WTO, Tim Groser, ran in 2012-2013. It is unclear whether New Zealand will put forward a candidate, whether former Minister Groser or someone else.

There is a rumor in Geneva that more nominations are likely and that at least one more may materialize later this week. If such an event materializes, I would suspect someone from an EU country or from Korea will become the fifth candidate.

Outreach by existing candidates and legal wrangling between African countries

The advantage of being an early announced candidate in the current process is that candidates can get their views out through the media ahead of the General Council meeting, and there is more time for their governments to court support from other WTO Members. Particularly when there is interest in expediting the selection process because of the near-term departure of existing Director-General Azevedo, such opportunities for pre-General Council wooing of other Members and media outreach will be more limited for candidates joining closer to the end of the nominating time period. The General Council meeting to meet and hear from the candidates is understood to likely be sometime in the week of July 12. If there is actually an effort to expedite the selection process after July 8, time will be very limited for candidates after the General Council meeting.

It is clear that at least the first three candidates are taking advantage of media to articulate their vision for the WTO and their role if selected as the next DG. Nominating governments are also doing outreach to trading partners seeking to build up support for their candidate.

For example, Jesus Seade Kuri, the Mexican candidate, provided an interview to the South China Morning Post which was published on June 18, 2020, Mexico’s nominee for top WTO job, Jesus Seade, vows to ‘bring US and China back to the table’, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3089452/mexicos-nominee-top-wto-job-jesus-seade-vows-bring-us-and.

Similarly, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had her views on the WTO DG job published in various publications including the Pulse, ‘I’m a strong negotiator, reformer,’ Okonjo-Iweala makes her case for ‘challenging’ WTO job, June 17, 2020, https://www.pulse.ng/business/okonjo-iweala-former-minister-makes-case-for-wto-job/y123dsb.

Outreach has also been made by Egypt’s Abdel Hamid Mamdouh as he laid out what he considered to be important aspects of his candidacy in an article that appeared in The Africa Report on June 11. See Egypt’s Abdel Hamid Mamdouh bid for the WTO – Five things to know, June 11, 2020, https://www.theafricareport.com/29730/egypts-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-bid-for-the-wto-five-things-to-know/.

All candidates have recognized the challenges with the tensions between the United States and China, the need to be an honest broker, how their background gives them strengths needed to address the role of Director-General amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and need for reform at the WTO.

While Mexico is working on shoring up support for Mr. Seade amongst WTO Members in the Americas (and elsewhere), the two African candidates are working to gain support from their African colleagues (and others). Little has been in the press as yet as to what actions Moldova or its candidate are taking in the early days after Tudor Ulianovschi’s nomination.

Egypt has attempted to have Nigeria’s candidate disqualified on the grounds that Nigeria had another proposed candidate submitted to the African Union but withdrew that candidate and put forward Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala past the deadline for such nominations. The African Union’s counsel concurred but that position has been challenged by Nigeria. In any event, WTO procedures limit who may nominate candidates to WTO Members. Nigeria is a member while the African Union is not. Therefore, whatever is relevant for African Union member consideration, it is not relevant to whether Nigeria or any other AU member can propose a candidate to the WTO by July 8. See The Cable, Okonjo-Iweala still eligible to run for office of DG, says, WTO, June 20, 2020, https://www.thecable.ng/exclusive-okonjo-iweala-still-eligible-to-run-for-office-of-dg-says-wto. This type of public discord will not be helpful to obtaining solidarity around a single African candidate which has been the presumed purpose of the African Union’s process.

Conclusion

With roughly half of the nomination time period having run, it is clear that there will be a significant number of candidates. It is unclear how many developed country candidates will end up running and to what extent members will focus more on geographical area, development status, or gender of the candidates in their considerations.

With the U.S., the EU and China having very different views of what needs to be done to return the WTO to relevance and with the recent USTR statement that any candidate to receive U.S. backing must “understand the need for reform and the problems of free economies in dealing with China” (New York Times, U.S. Wants WTO Head Who Understands Problems Dealing with China: Lighthizer, June 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/06/17/world/asia/17reuters-usa-trade-wto.html), the road ahead will be challenging for all candidates with no guarantee that the process will succeed in either an expedited or normal time period.

Hopefully, the Chairman of the General Council (Amb. David Walker) and the WTO Secretariat have the four Deputy Directors-General warming up in case one of them is needed to serve as the Acting Director-General beginning September 1st.

WTO possible actions to facilitate recovery from COVID-19, the Ottawa Group’s June 16 Communication

A number of WTO Members have submitted proposals for action by the WTO Membership to address the global trade challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic including speeding recovery and minimizing future disruptions from later health challenges. Most proposals address what to do about export restrictions, simplifying import procedures and/or reducing import duties, and improved transparency of actions taken.

The Ottawa Group June 2020 Statement: Focusing Action on COVID-19

The latest contribution comes from the “Ottawa Group” and was submitted on June 16, 2020. June 2020 Statement of the Ottawa Group: Focusing Action on COVID-19, WT/GC/217. The Ottawa Group is a group of WTO Members who describe themselves as “champions of WTO reform”. The group consists of the following WTO Members — Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland.

The Ottawa Group statement provides the following introduction followed by six areas for potential WTO action:

“The world continues to grapple with the profound human health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to these challenges, thinking has begun on trade policy actions that would support an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient recovery as well as what trade rules should be adapted or developed to guide collaborative policy responses to future global crises. In this context, the WTO must play an important role in helping ensure coordination and coherence between actions its members take. This will require initiative and engagement by WTO Members in order to be successful.

“In this environment, there is an opportunity for the Ottawa Group to provide leadership, critical thinking and analysis, as well as ideas and proposals on potential actions that the broader WTO membership could take. In order to make best use of resources, this paper sets out six areas where concrete actions could be taken.” Page 1

The six action items are identified with a discussion of why the area is important and what steps the Group views as important to take. The Ottawa Group recommendations are summarized at the end of the communication (pages 4-5):

Summary:

Action Item 1: Transparency and Withdrawal of Trade-Restrictive Measures

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to: 1) ensure any measures introduced in response to COVID-19 are promptly notified in accordance with relevant WTO requirements; 2) support efforts by the WTO Secretariat to collect and share information and best practices on trade-related measures taken in response to COVID-19 5/; 3) discuss the principle of ‘targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with WTO rules’; and 4) lead by example and withdraw or end any trade restrictive measures introduced in response to COVID-19 as quickly as possible.

“5/ Including by: (a) returning to the quarterly cycle of trade monitoring reports as during the financial crisis; and (b) including trade-related economic support measures in the trade monitoring reports and (c) and to the extent possible, making a technical assessment of members’ trade-related economic support measures in reaction to COVID-19.

Action Item 2: Keeping Open and Predictable Trade in Agricultural and Agri-Food Products

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to: 1) engage in ongoing discussions on the fulfilment of joint declarations on maintaining predictable and open agriculture trade; 2) lead by example, and withdraw or end any emergency measures introduced in response to COVID-19 that may adversely affect trade in agriculture as quickly as possible; and 3) advance analysis and consideration on what steps WTO Members could take to continue improving agriculture trade based on the lessons learned from COVID-19 to ensure that future crises will not undermine trade, food security, and the stability of agricultural markets in the long-term.

Action Item 3: E-commerce

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to prioritize and accelerate work on the Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce, including through informal and virtual discussions, ahead of the rescheduled MC12 in 2021, including by the development of a consolidated negotiating text by the end of 2020 at the latest. In this regard, we will support the efforts of the co-convenors.

Action Item 4: Trade Facilitation – Use of Information Technology and Streamlined Procedures

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to identify ways to take full advantage of the opportunities for trade facilitation in the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and to promote best practices for the implementation of the TFA. This includes how the adoption of digital solutions can support the movement of essential goods across borders as smoothly as possible.

Action Item 5: Initiative on Medical Supplies

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to advance analysis and consideration in order to identify what steps WTO Members could take to facilitate trade in medical supplies to help ensure that the world is better positioned to deal with future health emergencies and to help ensure that versatile, diversified and resilient supply chains exist that allow all members access to vital medical supplies. This work should include analysis of the objectives and effects of policies affecting trade of medical supplies in response to the current pandemic and support for international organizations, including the WTO, in analyzing the potential impacts and outcomes of measures and recommending policies.

Action Item 6: Deepen Engagement with Stakeholders

Action Point: Ministers instruct officials to explore how best to pursue intensified engagement with stakeholders in order to better inform policymaking.”

The Ottawa Group proposals include topics not addressed in other proposals, such as the importance of prioritizing conclusion of the e-commerce joint statement initiative. During the pandemic, the critical importance of e-commerce to and expanded use by many businesses and consumers has reduced the damage to economies and to global trade. All Ottawa Group members are participating in the ongoing e-commerce talks, talks involving 84 countries or territories.

On issues like export restraints, the Ottawa Group has some positive ideas while reflecting the reality that some Ottawa Group members have used export restraints on medical goods during the pandemic. The idea of giving definition to the terms “targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with WTO rules” could be useful for administrations to be able to evaluate intended actions. However, the spread of a pandemic such as COVID-19 and internal political pressures to help one’s own population will render any such clarifications of marginal actual assistance if the underlying challenge of global supply/demand imbalance is not addressed on an ongoing basis.

As has been seen in agricultural goods, increasing information on global supplies both reduces the likelihood of countries imposing export restraints and gives trading partners greater leverage in pushing for roll backs of export restraints imposed by individual countries where there is no actual shortage. The Ottawa Group’s recommendations on agricultural goods reflects that the ability to disarm restrictions where shortages do not in fact exist.

The Ottawa Group submission from June 16 is embedded below.

WTGC217

EU’s June 11, 2020 Concept Paper, Trade in Healthcare Products

Some WTO Members, including Ottawa Group member countries, have taken unilateral action to liberalize trade in medical goods by reducing tariffs (at least temporarily) and by streamlining entry of medical goods needed for handling the pandemic. Some members, like the EU, have suggested creating an expanded medical goods duty-free agreement to go beyond the 1995 pharmaceutical agreement. For example, in a concept paper of 11 June 2020 entitled Trade in Healthcare Products, the EU, inter alia, provides in the Annex (pages 9-14) a list of goods that WTO Members could consider for total duty elimination. https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2020/june/tradoc_158776.pdf The EU notes in a footnote that its concept paper “is meant to contribute to an exploratory discussion on a possible initiative to facilitate trade in healthcare products and is without prejudice to the EU’s position in potential negotiations.” Page 1 footnote 1.

The EU concept paper covers a number of other areas besides tariff eliminations, but for purposes of this note, the discussion will be limited to the product coverage for possible duty elimination. The EU provides a list of 152 6-digit HS categories in its Annex. At the six-digit level, import categories may cover many products not relevant to a particular pandemic, but the six-digit HS level is the most fragmented level of harmonization provided by the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding Systems. Interestingly the EU Annex does not cover all products identified by the World Customs Organization and World Health Organization as relevant to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, there are thirty products (with accompanying HS numbers that are in the WCO list that are not in the EU proposed Annex. See World Customs Organization Prepared jointly with the World Health Organization, HS classification reference for Covid-19 medical supplies, 2.1 Edition, http://www.wcoomd.org/-/media/wco/public/global/pdf/topics/nomenclature/covid_19/hs-classification-reference_2_1-24_4_20_en.pdf?la=en.

Specifically, under the WCO’s Section II dealing with face and eye protection, there are two face and eye protection products which are not part of the EU list (HS 9004.90 and 3926.90); four of five glove categories are not in the EU list (HS 3926.20, 4015.19, 6116.10, 6216.00); and eight of nine of the other products are not in the EU list (HS 6505.00, 3926.20, 4015.90 and 4818.50, 6210.40, 6210.40, 6210.50, 6210.50).

Similarly, in Section III, disinfectants and sterilisation products, two products in the WCO list are not covered by the EU (HS 2207.10, 2208.90).

In Section IV, oxygen therapy equipment and pulse oximeters, there is one product in the WCO list not covered by the EU Annex (HS 9026.80).

In Section V, other medical devices and equipment, the EU Annex doesn’t cover three products covered by the WCO list (HS 8413.19, 9028.20, 7324.90).

In Section VI, other medical consumables, there are four products shown in the WCO list that are not part of the EU Annex (HS 2804.40, 3923.29, 3926.90, 3926.90).

Section VII of the WCO list covers vehicles; with the exception of wheelchairs (which are covered by the EU Annex), the other three WCO products are not covered — ambulances, mobile clinic vehicles, mobile radiological vehicles (HS 8703, 8705.90, 8705.90).

Finally, in the WCO’s Section VIII, other products, three of four products in the WCO list are not covered by the EU Annex (HS 8421.39, 7311.00, 7613.00).

Because the WCO/WHO list reflects items needed by countries dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear what the logic is of not including such items in a proposed duty-free list compiled by the EU. Many of the items not included in the EU Annex (e.g., gloves, face shields, etc.) would be needed in addressing the current as well as future pandemics. If there is an effort to seek a duty-free agreement on medical goods, presumably the list will change from that put forward by the EU to be more comprehensive.

While the United States under the Trump Administration is not likely to enter into an agreement to eliminate tariffs on medical goods while the pandemic is afoot (as indicated by Amb. Lighthizer), the reality is that nearly all of the goods in the EU Annex are already duty free in the United States. Specifcally, 135 of the 152 6-digit HS items are duty free (Column 1 rate) in the U.S. in 2020. That is 88.8% of the HS categories. On a dollar value basis, 98.4% of imports into the U.S. during 2019 of products in the EU Annex are under HS numbers that are duty free. Of the remaining 1.6% of imports, a large part of the imports would be duty free under an FTA or GSP or other preferential program. Imports from China, some of which may be subject to supplemental duties flowing from the Section 301 investigation and resulting additional tariffs on Chinese goods, are 6.2% of total imports and some of those goods, if covered by additional duties, are subject to existing or potential exclusions.

Stated differently, should there be an effort to do a sectoral duty free agreement, in considering whether there is a critical mass, sponsors should be evaluating the existing tariff structures of non-participants.

The EU Concept Paper and the WCO list are embedded below.

tradoc_158776

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Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff’s Jun 17 speech, Pandemic underlines need to improve trading system’s relevance and resilience

This past week, Deputy Director-General Wolff spoke at a Think20 virtual panel on Policy Recommendations for a Post-COVID 19 World. DDG Wolff reviewed both actions that the WTO has taken (transparency on actions taken by Members; developing a trade forecast; providing a forum for members to share proposals and consider collective action) and proposals that had been put forward by Members. See https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_18jun20_e.htm.

DDG Wolff identified two imperatives — “where the current rules are least prescriptive, they should be strengthened”; “where collective action would be helpful it should occur.” He then reviews WTO Members who have put forward proposals (Korea, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Ottawa Group, the Cairns Group) and provided his summary of some of the suggestions made:

“Some specific suggestions that have been made include the following:

” A major effort can be undertaken to increase transparency. Member notifications can be supplemented by enhanced monitoring and reporting of measures by the Secretariat.

“There is little guidance in the WTO rules as to the appropriate use of export controls where it is felt that there exists short supply. Further guidance could be crafted. Sometimes the existence of extensive policy space is contrary to the common interests of all.

“Government interventions to procure needed supplies reduce the scope for market forces to determine competitive outcomes. A number of the practices witnessed in the last three months in response to the pandemic are not explicitly regulated by the current WTO rules. Included under this heading would be subsidization conditioned on supplying the domestic market, and pre-emptive government purchasing and investment. Additional disciplines could be considered.

“Leaving the allocation of scarce necessities solely to market forces may also not be a completely satisfactory alternative if the poorest countries are priced out of participation.

“Consideration can be given to agreeing, as in the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, to require that a country planning to impose an export restriction consider the effect on others of applying the measure.

“Additional provisions could provide for prior notice before export restrictions are put into place and a commitment to engage in timely consultations.

“Consideration can be given to including in any restrictions a sunset clause and providing for a roll-back of current trade restrictions.

“Multilaterally-agreed guidance could be given for the sharing of scarce medical supplies, including vaccines.

“Concerted efforts could be made to have relevant tariff liberalization, not just for medical goods, equipment and pharmaceuticals, but more broadly.

“Consideration can be given to creating, a Members’ Emergency Task Force or other mechanism to flesh out options for consideration by Members.

“Where options are devised by groups of Members, an effort and process are needed to gain broader Member support for their recommendations and to assure implementation of concrete steps forward.

“A Long-Range Policy Planning Network for the Multilateral Trading System could be created. There is insufficient attention paid to assessing the future needs of the multilateral trading system, in part due to the daily need to deal with current challenges.

“For the recovery, there are at least three immediately identifiable ways
in which the multilateral trading system can contribute. Consideration
can be given to:

“Lowering the costs of trade by lowering tariffs and other impediments to trade broadly;

“Engaging in a collective effort to accelerate the implementation of
the Trade Facilitation Agreement, and

“Working with international financial institutions and banks to
foster the restoration of trade finance.”

A broad array of suggestions have been made at the WTO as can be seen. The challenge, of course, is in generating momentum for group action. If the major players are not pulling in the same direction, it is hard to see how that momentum will be generated. Typically times of crisis create opportunities for bold action. Is today’s crisis such an opportunity considering the significantly different perspectives of China, the EU and the U.S.?

Many developing countries (and those who claim developing status at the WTO) typically have the highest tariffs and can be motivated for short-term tariff action on specific goods (as this pandemic has demonstrated), but have not shown a willingness to lead on tariff liberalization when developed countries typically have very low tariff levels already. Is the pandemic a reason for such countries to rethink their contribution to the global trading system?

A number of the proposals go to the functioning of the WTO and its governance. Considering the desire by many for broader reform but with significant differences in what type of reforms are appropriate, can the proposals identified generate consensus support in the coming months?

With the economic damage to the world’s economies much larger than originally projected, certainly there has never been a greater need for collective action to minimize human health and economic costs from the pandemic and to speed economic recovery. The coming months will show whether the great divides among the majors can be bridged for the good of all.

U.S. approach to trade – USTR Lighthizer’s Foreign Affairs article and Congressional testimony on June 17

Every year, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Ways and Means and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hold hearings to understand the Administration’s trade agenda for the year. This year both Committees held hearings on June 17 where the sole Administration witness was U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Ambassador Lighthizer had separately prepared an article for Foreign Affairs entitled “How to Make Trade Work for Workers, Charting a Path Between Protectionism and Globalism” which had been reviewed by many of the Committee members prior to the hearings. The article is available here and presents the Trump Administration’s approach to trade policy. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-06-09/how-make-trade-work-workers.

The Foreign Affairs article

Ambassador Lighthizer uses the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to state that it is time for discussions to reach a new consensus on “the future of U.S. trade policy.” Amb. Lighthizer’s summary of the approach of the current Administration are repeated below:

“That debate should start with a fundamental question: What should the objective of trade policy be? Some view trade through the lens of foreign policy, arguing that tariffs should be lowered or raised in order to achieve geopolitical goals. Others view trade strictly through the lens of economic efficiency, contending that the sole objective of trade policy should be to maximize overall output. But what most Americans want is something else: a trade policy that supports the kind of society they want to live in. To that end, the right policy is one that makes it possible for most citizens, including those without college educations, to access the middle class through stable, wellpaying jobs.

“That is precisely the approach the Trump administration is taking. It has broken with the orthodoxies of free-trade religion at times, but contrary to what critics have charged, it has not embraced protectionism and autarky. Instead, it has sought to balance the benefits of trade liberalization
with policies that prioritize the dignity of work.”

The paper reviews the history of trade liberalization, what the Administration views as its limits, their perception that many trade advocates have extolled the benefits of liberalization while discounting or ignoring the economic costs of liberalization. Unlike other areas of government policy, trade liberalization was viewed as an absolute good and not weighed against the costs of the policy in fact.

The section of the article entitled “The dark side of free trade” reviews the steep economic and human costs for the United States over the period 2000-2016 noting the loss of manufacturing jobs, stagnation of median household incomes, and the devastation to the populations left behind in manufacturing locations. While outsourcing reduces costs, it increases vulnerabilities and reduces the nation’s ability to respond to certain situations, such as the pandemic.

Amb. Lighthizer opines that “A sensible trade policy strikes a balance among economic security, economic efficiency, and the needs of working people.” He reviews how he believes the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”) achieves that balance looking at specific improvements from NAFTA.

The article then goes on to look at “two of the most significant trade challenges [the U.S.] will face in the coming years: market-distorting state capitalism in China and a dysfunctional WTO.”

The Trump Administration changed the approach of trying to deal with China’s trade policy issues pursued by prior Administration (e.g., through bilateral talks and through the WTO dispute settlement system) by going after some of the larger issues through the section 301 investigation with resulting tariffs on imports from China which led to the creation of the Phase 1 Agreement and, depending on success of Phase 1, a potential Phase 2.

On the WTO, the article focuses on the WTO’s Appellate Body and its deviation from its original purpose.

“The challenges in the WTO are also vexing. Like many international organizations, the WTO has strayed from its original mission. Designed as a forum for negotiating trade rules, it has become chiefly a litigation society. Until recently, the organization’s dispute-resolution process was led by its seven-member Appellate Body, which had come to see itself as the promulgator of a new common law of free trade, one that was largely untethered from the actual rules agreed to by the WTO’s members. The Appellate Body routinely issued rulings that made it harder for states to combat unfair trade practices and safeguard jobs. This was one of the reasons why the Trump administration refused to consent to new appointments to it, and on December 11, 2019, the Appellate Body ceased functioning when its membership dipped below the number needed to hear a case.

“The United States should not agree to any mechanism that would revive or replace the Appellate Body until it is clear that the WTO’s dispute-resolution process can ensure members’ flexibility to pursue a balanced, worker-focused trade policy. Until then, the United States is better off resolving disputes with trading partners through negotiations—as it did from 1947, when the General Agreement on Tarifs and Trade was signed, until 1994, when the WTO was created—rather than under a made-up jurisprudence that undermines U.S. sovereignty and threatens American jobs.”

Congressional Hearings

The Congressional hearings provide the opportunity for the Administration to present its record of accomplishments as well as identifying pressing issues being pursued and for members of Congress to inquire about specific issues of importance to their constituents, to challenge the narrative of the Administration (typically by the opposition party), to press for commitments on actions deemed of importance and otherwise to gain clarification of matters of interest to Congressional members.

Yesterday’s hearings had all of the above. Amb. Lighthizer’s opening statement to both Committees stressed what the Administration viewed itself as having achieved and the benefits to working Americans with a focus on China (and the US-China Phase 1 Agreement), USMCA, the US-Japan Phase 1, disputes at the WTO and WTO reform proposals as well as the Administration’s game plan for the WTO, for pending negotiations with the U.K. and Kenya and for WTO reform, and enforcement of existing agreements. His opening statement to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is embedded below but mirrors his prepared statement to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

17JUN2020LIGHTHIZERSTMNT1

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Wyden (D-OR) in his opening statement painted a different picture of the first three years of the Trump Administration’s trade agenda and whether successes had been achieved. His statement is embedded below.

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There were many questions in both chambers on the USMCA agreement, with particular focus on enforcement of labor, environment and other issues. With the final revised USMCA receiving strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and with the agreement taking effect on July 1st, many of the questions flagged areas where one of the countries was viewed as not in compliance with obligations in the Agreement (e.g., energy practices in Mexico) and commitments by Amb. Lighthizer to pursue matters where compliance wasn’t in place.

On the issue of Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum products from Canada and Mexico, some members inquired whether examining imposition of such tariffs would be consistent with U.S. agreement with the two countries which had excluded them from the additional tariffs. Amb. Lighthizer reviewed that the agreement excluded Canada and Mexico where volumes remained at historic levels. If the U.S. found surges and decided to impose the tariffs, any retaliation by Canada or Mexico would be limited to the same sectors (i.e., could not retaliate against agricultural products). Amb. Lighthizer indicated that the U.S. was considering whether tariffs should be imposed in light of surges that had been occurring.

There were also many questions about the U.S.-China Agreement with a focus on whether China was likely to meet its obligations on the purchase of goods (with most questions focused on agricultural purchases). Ranking Member Wyden (D-OR) cited a Peterson Institute paper claiming poor compliance with purchase commitments. See https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/us-china-phase-one-tracker-chinas-purchases-us-goods Amb. Lighthizer on a number of occasions reviewed what were described as inadequacies in the Peterson data and reviewed strong growth in orders from China on agricultural goods to the present time (vs. exports through April shown in the Peterson graphs which look at January-April, even though the agreement didn’t take effect until February 14, 2020).

There were many questions about reshoring manufacturing of medical goods, particularly personal protective equipment (“PPE”), challenges to such reshoring because of the failure of the Administration to enter into long-term contracts to permit manufacturing to start up, whether broader tariff exclusions should be provided to imports of such products while there were inadequate supplies, concerns about existing supplies of PPEs amidst the ongoing pandemic. The issue featured prominently in Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley’s (R-IA) opening statement and in the questions of a number of Senators and House Representatives in the two sessions. Amb. Lighthizer discussed use of tariffs as a longer term issue to support reshoring and contested arguments that the Administration had not done enough to secure supplies during the pandemic. Chairman Grassley’s opening statement is embedded below.

Grassley-at-Hearing-on-the-President

There was also interest in both Houses of the ongoing or soon to be initiated FTA negotiations with the United Kingdom (ongoing, two rounds completed) and with Kenya (to start after July 4). There were questions or statements of support for the U.S.-Japan Phase 1 Agreement particularly by members with agricultural export interests to Japan.

On U.S.-EU trade relations, there were a few questions raised dealing either with the perceived abuse of geographical indications on food products by the EU and its push to get other countries to accept EU indications or with changing EU SPS provisions that appear to members of Congress and USTR as not science based. Amb. Lighthizer characterized both as protectionist trends from our friends in the EU. He also indicated that USTR is considering whether the U.S. should initiate a 301 investigation on the non-science based SPS measures.

On digital services taxes, questions arose about yesterday’s announced U.S. withdrawal from the OECD negotiations. Amb. Lighthizer reviewed USTR’s role in conducting 301 investigations first on France and now on a host of other countries where taxes are being imposed or considered on digital services on a discriminatory basis and on companies with no physical presence in countries imposing the taxes. The OECD effort was started to achieve a global agreement that could be accepted by all. The U.S. withdrew from the talks based on its view that the talks were building in discrimination against U.S. companies. If there is not a solution in the OECD, Amb. Lighthizer made it clear that results from the 301 investigations would permit the U.S. to take appropriate action against countries who proceed without a global agreement.

While Amb. Lighthizer’s opening statement had reviewed various WTO issues relevant to reform efforts — addressing Appellate Body; putting teeth into WTO notification requirements; clarifying which Members are eligible for special and differential treatment, and the concern about bound tariffs which have proven not to reflect current economic realities between countries, there were few questions about WTO reform during the two hearings. Amb. Lighthizer did go through the challenge of a WTO system where tariffs are bound, where the U.S. over 70 years has removed the vast majority of its tariffs and many other countries have maintained very high bound and even applied tariffs with little likelihood that those tariffs would be reduced regardless of the economic advances made by countries with high bindings. India and Indonesia were two of the countries used as examples of where bound tariffs today of such countries were not reflective of their economic advances and hence were unfair to the U.S.

There were also questions that arose from press reports about statements President Trump allegedly made to President Xi in Japan seeking China’s help in his reelection effort and to reports about two USTR professional staff members who had set up a webpage and been contacting automotive companies about helping them with USMCA compliance at a time when they were still USTR employees. Amb. Lighthizer was in a meeting with the U.S. and Chinese Presidents in Osaka, Japan in 2019 and denied that any request for assistance was made by President Trump at that meeting. On the latter issue, Amb. Lighthizer indicated that political appointees clearly could not do what was done by professional staff and that the professional staff had reportedly sought and obtained clearance from the USTR ethics office.

Conclusion

It has long been obvious that the Trump Administration was adopting a significantly different approach to trade policy than had been pursued by prior Administrations over recent decades. Ambassador Lighthizer’s Foreign Affairs article provides an articulation of the underlying concerns that have driven the Administration to the current policy approach. While there are many who remain skeptical about the benefits vs. costs flowing from the modified approach being pursued by the Trump Administration, there is little question that the change in approach has gotten attention of trading partners and at least some important modifications in agreements.

The USMCA has many novel elements, many of which are interconnected in terms of achieving stated objectives. Changes in rules of origin coupled with a high level of labor needing to make a minimum level of hourly wages and labor enforcement provisions are intended to address longstanding concerns of labor and is consistent with Amb. Lighthizer’s articulated objective of making trade work for workers. The willingness to work with the Democrats to achieve the labor and environment provisions contained in the revised agreement objectives permitted broad bipartisan support when implementing legislation was considered in the United States. Similarly, the USMCA provision of a sixteen year sunset of the agreement, extendable every six years should permit Canada, Mexico and the United States to update the agreement on a regular basis preventing the loss of relevance or coverage that normal FTAs have experienced with the passage of time.

On the importance of the U.S. relationship with China, the current Administration has come to the conclusion that China is not interested in converting to a market economy in fact. Reciprocity is unlikely under WTO Agreements since the WTO is premised on market economy Members, and the WTO agreements do not address many of the distortions flowing from the Chinese-style economy. Thus, the Administration has pursued a different approach to achieve a different outcome and greater reciprocity. The importance of the U.S.-China Phase 1 is best understood in that context. While the jury is out on how successful the Phase 1 Agreement will be, Amb. Lighthizer’s review of USTR information on growing orders from China in agriculture and China’s implementation of many of the specific commitments in the SPS area and other areas is encouraging.

On the WTO, the U.S. is looking for fundamental reform to achieve an organization that has rules for all and that reflects the changing capabilities of Members. With the differences in views of the purpose of the Appellate Body between the U.S. and the EU (and others), there is no likelihood of rapid restoration of the Appellate Body. With the EU moving towards taking unilateral action against Members who don’t engage in a second stage review of disputes with them, we are likely facing a period of heightened trade tensions between the U.S. and the EU.

Other U.S. proposals that have already been made at the WTO (notification requirements; eligibility for special and differential treatment; WTO being an organization for market economies ) or are working on jointly with others (e.g., EU and Japan on industrial subsidies and state-owned enterprises), have different challenges in terms of reaching consensus to adopt. The issue not yet formally raised on revisiting tariff bindings and/or how the system addresses changes in economic might over time with existing bindings would seem to require a further major shock to the operation of the WTO to have any chance of being considered.

As trading partners struggle to find new sources of revenue, particularly following the economic challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic, many have looked to tax foreign companies in the digital services space. As the U.S. has many of the major players, there are looming major confrontations over EU and other country efforts to impose discriminatory taxes. The U.S. will defend its interests if an OECD agreed approach cannot be found. Based on yesterday’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the OECD process, major disputes are likely by the end of 2020.

The Trump Administration will continue to utilize all legal tools available to it under U.S. law and pursuant to various Agreements to achieve a rebalancing of the U.S. trade relationship with our major trading partners and with all nations. The Foreign Affairs article provides the Administration’s logic for the approach being pursued.

Trade liberalization with Africa – notice of intent from US to start negotiations with Kenya

The United States Trade Representative on March 17, 2020 provided notice to the U.S. Congress of the Administration’s intention to enter negotiations for a trade agreement with Kenya which would hopefully provide a model trade agreement for use with other countries in Africa. See, e.g., https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/march/trump-administration-notifies-congress-intent-negotiate-trade-agreement-kenya. Yesterday’s press release indicates that –

“’Under President Trump’s leadership, we look forward to negotiating and concluding a comprehensive, high standard agreement with Kenya that can serve as a model for additional trade agreements across Africa. Kenya is an important regional leader, a strategic partner of the United States, and a commercial hub that can provide substantial opportunities for U.S. trade and investment,’ said Ambassador Lighthizer.”

Kenya is one of 38 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa covered by the U.S. trade preference program for Africa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act enacted in 2000 (though individual countries have been removed or added back based on market developments in country). See https://legacy.trade.gov/agoa/index.asp. The 38 countries included within U.S. trade data for AGOA 2020 are the following (listed in order of U.S. trade balance in 2019, from largest trade deficit to largest trade surplus):

South Africa
Nigeria
Madagascar
Cote d`Ivoire
Angola
Congo-Brazza
Lesotho
Kenya
Mauritius
Botswana
Ghana
Malawi
Chad
Rwanda
Guinea-Bissau
Comoros
Sao Tome & Prin
Zambia
Eswatini
Gabon
Cabo Verde
Uganda
Cen African Rep
Niger
Namibia
Liberia
Gambia
Sierra Leone
Mozambique
Mali
Burkina Faso
Senegal
Djibouti
Guinea
Tanzania
Benin
Ethiopia
Togo

In 2019 the 38 AGOA countries exported $20.423 billion to the United States (U.S. imports for consumption) with Kenya being the 7th largest exporter of the group with 2019 exports of $667 million (or 3.27% of the total imports for consumption to the U.S. from the 38 countries). Most of Kenya’s exports to the U.S. consist of apparel products (16 of the top 22 6-digit HS categories of US imports for consumption from Kenya are clothing). South Africa was the largest source of U.S. imports from the 38 countries with $7.634 billion in 2019 (37.35%), and Nigeria was second with $4.966 billion (23.32%).

Kenya was the seventh largest importer of U.S. exports (U.S. domestic exports) in 2019, with the U.S. exporting $375 million to Kenya or 2.33% of the $13.717 billion total U.S. domestic exports to the 38 countries. The largest 6-digit HS category of U.S. domestic exports to Kenya for the 2015-January 2020 period was HS 8800.00, civilian aircraft, engines and parts, but U.S. exports declined from $620.2 million in 2015 to $50.3 million in 2019. South Africa and Nigeria are the two largest of the 38 countries receiving U.S. exports, with South Africa in 2019 receiving $4.645 billion (33.86%) and Nigeria $3.085 billion (22.49%).

The U.S. has run a trade deficit with the 38 countries collectively and with Kenya individually in the 2015-2019 time period. In 2019, the U.S. trade deficit (domestic exports – imports for consumption) was $6.706 billion with all 38 countries and $292 million with Kenya (8th largest deficit, 4.25% of total). Again South Africa (deficit of $2.989 billion, 44.57%) and Nigeria (deficit of $1.881 billion, 28.05%) were the largest two countries within the 38 in terms of U.S. trade deficit.

While U.S. trade with Kenya and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively small compared to U.S. trade with other major areas of the world, there is significant interest in expanding trade relationships with Kenya and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa within the business community and politically in the United States. Business interest flows from the rapid growth that is ongoing in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the World Bank data on Gross Domestic Product and GNI per capita (in current dollars) shows the total Sub-Saharan Africa area as having very rapid growth since 2000. Total GDP went from $372.5 billion in 2000 to $1.831 trillion in 2014 (+391.5%) before declining to $1.71 trillion in 2018 (+359.1% from 2000). Similarly GNI/capita went from $552.868 in 2000 to $1,809.31 in 2014 (+272.6%) and $1,517.054 in 2018 (+ 174.4%) . See https://data.worldbank.org/region/sub-saharan-africa?view=chart.

While the per capita GNI and total GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa are far lower than comparable figures in other regions of the world, the rate of growth over the last two decades in Sub-Saharan Africa is significantly higher, making the area an important area for trade negotiations for the U.S. For example, World Bank data show growth in the Europe and Central Asia area as being 130.0% for GDP between 2000 and 2018 and 94.3% for GNI/capita. See https://data.worldbank.org/region/europe-and-central-asia?view=chart. Thus, the growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is three times as fast for GDP and more than twice as fast for GNI/capita when compared to Europe and Central Asia.

A Challenging 2020 for New FTA Negotiations

The U.S. has a very challenging agenda for 2020 before adding new negotiations with Kenya – a phase two agreement with China and one with Japan; ongoing negotiations with the EU; negotiations with the United Kingdom; and negotiations with India. There is thus what looks like a full agenda already in place for the United States which, of course, has elections this fall which may cut the level of engagement at least in the later months of the year.

Add the global complications from the worldwide coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic, and it could be a challenge for government personnel in both Kenya and the United States to be able focus attention and resources on negotiating an ambitious free trade agreement in 2020. The short-term challenge may be greater for the U.S. with its large and rapidly growing number of covid-19 cases than for Kenya where to date there are only seven covid-19 cases confirmed (all flowing from travellers coming from countries with significant numbers of cases). See, e.g., https://www.nation.co.ke/news/Kenya-coronavirus-cases-rise-to-seven/1056-5495482-meafutz/index.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-51917920.

That said, talks with Kenya are an important opportunity to improve trade relations with a significant country in Sub-Saharan Africa and potentially create a blueprint for regional efforts for the current or future Administrations. Moreover, with the recently completed USMCA, the Trump Administration has an agreement it views as the model for the future with other trading partners. One would expect the U.S. to present many of the chapters from USMCA as applicable to any FTA with Kenya. Depending on Kenya’s willingness to enter into an ambitious FTA, there could be a path to a deal with the U.S. or at least the possibility for significant progress in 2020. Let’s hope meaningful progress can be made in the coming months despite the health and other challenges that are present.