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

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

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

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The United States

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

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

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

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

Other countries

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Third, Members can

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

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

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

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

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

“Fourth, Members can

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

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

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

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

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

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

223

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W249

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing country hot spots

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

Deaths/100,000 population

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

The effect of COVID-19 on the operation of WTO dispute settlement panels — Australia and others raise at the September 28 Dispute Settlement Body meeting

While most attention on the WTO’s dispute settlement system has focused on the operation of the Appellate Body, the timeliness of disputes is often driven by the actions of the panel. Under Article 12 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), panels are to render their reports within six months (3 months in urgent matters) and no longer than nine months after the panel is composed. Few if any panels in recent years have remotely come close to meeting a nine month report deadline.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting limitations on in person meetings at the WTO and travel restrictions, the panel process has been further complicated. At the recent Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting of September 28, Australia had put on the agenda the issue of “COVID-19 and dispute settlement”. Agenda item 9 of Proposed Agenda for the 28 September 2020 Dispute Settlement Body meeting, WT/DSB/W/670.

The subsequent press release on the DSB meeting contained the following description of the discussion of Australia’s issue on COVID-19 and dispute settlement.

Statement by Australia on COVID-19 and dispute settlement

“On behalf of 14 members (Australia; Brazil; Canada; Ecuador; Guatemala; Hong Kong, China; Mexico; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Singapore; Switzerland; Ukraine; and the United Kingdom), Australia made a statement expressing concern about delays in dispute settlement proceedings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While it is encouraging that DSB meetings have been able to resume at the WTO, ongoing restrictions affecting international travel and immigration place in question the feasibility of physical participation of panelists and capital-based delegates at meetings in Geneva into the future, Australia noted. During 2020, various governments, private sector organizations, and domestic and international adjudicative bodies worldwide have adapted their usual ways of working to continue operating in these difficult conditions; WTO members must ensure the dispute settlement system does the same.

“Australia urged panels to consider, in consultation with parties, flexible, alternative arrangements to ensure dispute proceedings can continue to progress in a timely manner despite the challenge of current restrictions. Australia recalled that Article 12.1 of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) affords panels discretion in the working procedures they adopt in individual disputes, and that panels, after consulting in parties, may determine alternative arrangements that would best serve the satisfactory settlement of the matters. Some panels have already adjusted their procedures to hold substantive meetings virtually through video conferencing technology; Australia welcomed these developments but, to ensure the equitable operation of the dispute settlement system, WTO members must find solutions to enable all current and future matters to move forward in one way or another.

“Several delegations took the floor to comment. Japan said that while virtual meetings are an option, face to face meetings were preferable, and that each panel should consult with parties on how to proceed in order to strike an appropriate balance between prompt settlement of disputes and protection of due process. India said oral hearings were an intrinsic aspect of due process rights guaranteed by the DSU and that panels cannot truncate these rights without the agreement of the parties in a dispute.

“The United States encouraged each panel to consult with the parties on how to proceed, bearing in mind the views of the parties and the relevant provisions of the DSU. China said it was fundamental to provide certainty in dispute settlement in order to avoid any undue delay; it noted some panels have adopted flexible procedures as a response. The EU said that the discretion of panels is not completely unfettered and that they must ensure the prompt settlement of disputes, a principle that was valid for all disputes. Both South Africa and Nigeria (for the African Group) noted the asymmetrical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing country members.”

WTO Dispute Settlement, 28 September 2020, Panel established to review China’s compliance with farm subsidy ruling, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dsb_28sep20_e.htm.

The fact that Australia and others raised the issue at the DSB is certainly welcome, although the comments of Members at the DSB meeting indicates that there are both an array of problems facing different Members and arguably mixed motives for some in concerns about alternative approaches to in person meetings.

First, panels have regularly used the existence of the pandemic as a justification for a lengthy delay in the likely release of a panel report. See, e.g., India – Additional Duties on Certain Products from the United States, WT/DS585/4 (4 June 2020)(panel composed on 7 January 2020, because of pandemic, report to parties not before the second quarter of 2021); India – Measures Concerning Sugar and Sugarcane, WT/DS579/9; WT/DS580/9; WT/DS581/10 (29 April 2020)(complainants are Guatemala, Australia and Brazil)(panels composed on 28 October 2019, report to the parties not before the second quarter of 2021).

Thus, the issue of delay caused by the pandemic is an important one to address to maintain the timely operation of panels. While many developing countries may have greater challenges in terms of internal infrastructure for alternative means of handling disputes remotely, the claim of due process concerns at least for some Members is suspect particularly if the functioning of administrative and judicial activities in-country are being handled remotely/virtually as is true in many countries. For example, in the United States, arguments at federal courts are handled remotely, including at the highest court in the land. No Member should be allowed to delay panel proceedings on due process grounds where their own administrative and court proceedings are handled remotely during the pandemic. The Secretariat should seek transparency from Members on how their agencies and courts are handling matters during the pandemic.

Certainly, WTO Members should identify challenges they face to being able to engage in remote/virtual hearings if in person events are not possible. Where problems exist, the WTO Secretariat in conjunction with other organizations should look to see what technical assistance can be provided to permit active participation. Similarly, if issues affect the ability of panelists to handle matters remotely, there should be a review of options that may exist to facilitate panelists ability to participate. Again, the Secretariat should seek information from Members on challenges they face in participating in dispute proceedings and should have information on potential panelists on the same types of issues.

While the basic premises that panels should consult with parties is clearly the correct path to follow (contrary to the current practice of many panels and that reviewed in detail about the Appellate Body), there is the question of what happens when there is a difference among the parties as to how to proceed. The good offices of the Director-General can be used to possibly bridge the differences. Delay should only be permitted when the concerns of the party objecting to proceeding cannot be reasonably overcome.

It will be interesting to see if Members press for a prompt resolution to the concerns raised at the last DSB meeting, or if they simply let the problems continue to fester and delay the proper operation of panels.

World COVID-19 pandemic continues to spin out of control — more than 4.3 million new cases in last two weeks

After plateauing in terms of new cases during August, COVID-19 new cases are increasing rapidly for the world as a whole. For the period September 28-October 11, data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show new cases in the world being 4,366,825 — an increase of 6.24% from the prior two weeks. Thee period September 14-27, dshow new cases i at 4,110,081. That compares to 3,780,469 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period and 3,558,360 for August 17-30, 3,624,548 for August 3-16 and 3,568,162 for the July 20-August 2 period. Total cases since the end of December 2019 are now at 37.268 million.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (7,718,947) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (214,377), saw the number of new cases increase over the last two weeks following the change in direction recorded in the prior two weeks after three two week periods where the U.S. saw a decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The downtrend was reversed during September 14-27, when the number of new cases increased to 592,690 or a daily average of 42,335 cases. During September 28-October 11, the United States recorded 640,149 new cases (45,725/day). That number is likely to continue upward as recent days have seen the United States recording new cases at more than 50,000/day.

The United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases has started a slow descent from its peak of 1,238,176 new cases two weeks ago, with 1,061,274 new cases recorded during September 28-October 11. India is the only country to have recorded more than one million cases in a two week period.

Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30, 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13, 402,304 new cases during September 14-27 and 364,646 during September 28-October 11.

India, the United States and Brazil accounted for 47.31% of the new global cases during the last two weeks, down from 54.33% during September 14-27 and down from 58.34% in the August 31-September 13 period. The three countries account for prior two weeks) and account for 53.25% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019.

The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 20.70% of total confirmed cases since December 2019 — 4.81 times the share of total cases our population would justify. With the increase in the most recent two weeks, the U.S. was 14.66% of the total new cases during the last two weeks (Sept. 28-October 11) or 3.41 times the U.S. share of global population. The U.S. also accounts for 19.97% of total deaths or 4.64 times the U.S. share of global population.

Changing pattern of growth in cases, developing world still experiencing significant volume of new cases

As reviewed above the United States is seeing a rising number of cases over the last four weeks, a trend that unfortunately seems certain to continue in the near future.

Many developed countries have seen a second wave of cases, as will be reviewed below, which has increased the percent of global new cases occurring in developed countries.

Still a very large part of the new cases are in developing countries as has been true for the last few months. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (181,412), Colombia (96,709), Mexico (87,897), Indonesia (57,613), Iraq (54,155), Iran (53,167), Peru (45,496), the Philippines (35,670), Morocco (31,157), Chile (23,616), South Africa (21,398), Turkey (21,065), Bangladesh (19,200) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases. Of the listed developing countries, only Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Chile and South Africa saw increases from the September 14-27 period.

Continued developed country resurgence in new cases

With the reopening of some international travel and with the end of the summer holiday season and the start of cooler weather in fall for northern hemisphere countries, there has been a noticeable surge of new cases in many developed countries, particularly in Western Europe where is it generally described as the coming of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

France’s spike continued with 191,427 new cases in September 28-October 11 up from 153,535 in the prior two weeks. France’s most recent numbers are 3.36 times the number recorded in August 17-30 period (57,009 new cases) and 1.89 times the number in the August 31-September 13 period, 101,381.

Spain’s spike seems to have plateaued and started a decline in the September 28-Ocotber 11 period with 144,631 new cases. For August 17-30, Spain saw 96,473 new cases. The August 31-September 13 period saw a further large increase for Spain to 127,040 cases. For the period from September 14-27, Spain’s numbers further increased to 150,155.

The United Kingdom is facing major challenges as the last two weeks saw new cases more than double to 161,567 from 64,103 new cases in September 14-27 and just 32,422 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period.

The Netherlands more than doubled its number of new cases during September 28-Ocotber 11 to 59,561 from 27,584 new cases during September 14-27 and just 11,374 during August 31-September 13.

Germany showed a significant increase in the most recent two weeks to 38,724 from 24,712 the prior two weeks and 17,657 new cases in the period from the end of August to mid September.

Czechia which spiked following summer vacations saw its number of new cases during September 28-October 11 grow to 46,080 from 23,893 the prior two weeks and from 11,307 in the August 31 – September 13 period.

Italy jumped to 41,390 new cases during September 28-October up from 21,807 during September 14-27.

Belgium added 40,791 in the September 28-October 11 period more than doubling the numbers from September 14-27 of 17,797.

Romania added 31,168 in the last two weeks up from 18,849 the prior two week.

The Russian Federation had a large spike in the last two week up to 141,513 from 86,209 in the September 14-27 period.

Ukraine saw 60,762 new cases in September 28-October 11, up from 43,645 new cases the prior two weeks.

Canada has seen a second wave in the last four weeks, with new cases in August 31-September 13 time period being 8,468, followed by 15,530 during September 14-27 and 26,466 during September 28-October 11.

Israel’s second wave which reached 73,883 new cases during September 14-27, saw a decline to 62,903 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (214,377) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (9,880) behind only India (13,381). Both the U.S. and India saw the number of new deaths decline from the prior two weeks. The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Argentina (17.95), Israel (5.87), Mexico (5.80), Ecuador (5.27), Costa Rica (4.91), Colombia (4.70), Moldova (4.43), Brazil (4.17), Bolivia (4.03), Panama (3.74), Spain (3.62), Chile (3.59), Iran (3.50), Romania (3.46), Peru (3.33), and the United States (3.00). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.03 deaths/100,000 population. So the U.S.’s death rate over the last two weeks was 2.91 times the global average and was much higher than many large and/or developed countries. China’s number was so low, it was 0.00 people/100,000 population; France was 1.47, Germany 0.19, India 1.01, Italy 0.53, Japan 0.06, South Korea 0.06, Singapore 0.00, United Kingdom 1.18, Taiwan 0.00, Canada 0.86, Australia 0.11, New Zealand 0.00.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through October 11, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 14.14 deaths. The nine countries (of 86 which account for over 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (102.19), Belgium (88.82), Bolivia (72.02), Brazil (71.17), Spain (70.16), Ecuador (70.15), Chile (70.03), Mexico (65.56), the United States (65.15). With the exception of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (the European countries were typically less than 1 death per 100,000). The United States death rate has been 4.61 times the global rate and many times higher than nearly all other developed countries and most developing countries. Consider the following examples: China, where the virus was first found, has a death per 100,000 population of just 0.33 people. India’s data show 7.93 per 100,000 population; Germany has 11.58; Japan has 1.28; Korea is just 0.84; Canada is 25.62; Switzerland is 20.98; Poland is 7.83; Ukraine is 11.11; Norway is 5.16; Australia is 3.56; New Zealand is 0.52.

Conclusion

The world in the first nine and a half months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania had greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been a significant resurgence in many of these countries (particularly in Europe) as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased, schools reopen in many countries and fall comes to the northern hemisphere. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (and there is a new surge in Canada and the start of resurgence in the U.S.), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in limited parts of Africa. A recent WTO Secretariat information paper showed that there has been a reduction in shortages of many medical goods needed to handle the COVID-19 pandemic which is obviously good news, although as the global total of new cases continues to rise, there may yet be additional challenges in terms of supply. See 18 September 2020, Information Note, How WTO Members Have Used Trade Measures to Expedite Access to COVID-19 Critical Medical Goods and Services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/services_report_16092020_e.pdf.

In the northern hemisphere, countries are going into fall where there will likely be greater time spent indoors which could result in a significant spike in cases which could further stretch the global ability to respond.

Moreover, in many countries, stimulus packages have run their course such that large scale increases in unemployment could happen in the coming weeks. This has been the case in the United States even though the President and many of those closest to him have tested positive for COVID-19. Efforts at a new stimulus package have stalled despite a House which passed a package back in May and a second package in recent weeks. It remains unclear if anything will happen before the national elections on November 3. The result has been tens of thousands of employees furloughed in the airline industry, at major employers like Disney and will likely be the case for many state and local government employees with the start of the fiscal year in October and the obligation for most states to run a balanced budget. The failure of a new stimulus initiative will significantly increase the braking action on the economy from the pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2020 in the United States.

Similarly as countries in much of the developed world take new restrictive actions to address the second wave of cases, there will likely be significant ongoing effects to the global economy and international trade.

The last four weeks (beginning on September 14 through October 11) have seen the global number of new cases continue to grow after six weeks in July and most of August of what appeared to be a peak or plateau. For the reasons reviewed above, October – December are likely to see continued growth in the global number of new cases.

The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. Still the timing of outcomes remains unknown though anticipated by the end of 2020 and first part of 2021. China has been distributing one of its vaccines to parts of its population in advance of formal clearance of stage three trials. The Russians have been lining up customers for their vaccine even though the stage three trials are only underway and the results will lag the initial rollout of the vaccine. For other countries (the U.S., European Union, Japan, etc.) the rollout of vaccines if approved will take time to get large parts of the global population vaccinated. It is unclear what the global capacity will be to produce vaccines proven to be safe and effective, although reports suggest a likely significant shortfall despite government assistance in the global supplies that will be available in 2021. This uncertainty about likely capacities, plus the large purchases made by major western governments (U.S., EU, U.K., Japan), will likely place a large cloud over much if not all of 2021 in terms of distribution of vaccines even in an optimistic scenario.

With the world collectively unable to get the pandemic under control in many parts of the world, with likely increases this fall and winter, with fatigue in many countries on the actions needed to slow the spread of the virus and, in at least some countries, the mixed messages from government on the correct actions needed to gain control, the rest of 2020 will be very challenging. With the global death count now over one million, there have already been tens of thousand and likely hundreds of thousands of deaths that didn’t need to occur. The prospect of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands more dying needlessly hang over the global community as an inexplicable failure of at least some governments to protect their citizens and to cooperate for a comprehensive global response.

Thoughts on the Geneva Trade Week session entitled “WTO Dispute Settlement – Where Do We Stand?”

The Graduate Institute of Geneva and other groups have organized an ambitious week of programs that started on September 28 and carries on through October 2 with both various plenary sessions and with breakout sessions where multiple events are happening during the same time period.

On Monday, September 28, after an opening plenary on rethinking trade at 1 p.m., there were three ninety minute breakout sessions at 3:00 p.m., including a session on WTO Dispute Settlement – Where Do We Stand? The dispute settlement session was organized by Gabrielle Marceau of the WTO Secretariat and the University of Geneva. The current Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, H.E. Dacio Castillo of Honduras served as moderator of a panel that included five other Ambassadors/Permanent Representatives to the WTO and two highly respected international trade professionals. Specifically, the panel consisted of EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado, Canadian Ambassador Stephen de Boer, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea, Mexican Ambassador Angel Villalobos Rodriguez and Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen. Ms. Claudia Orozco who had been part of the Colombia Mission, the most frequently selected panelists in WTO disputes and now an arbitrator in the MPIA (Multi-Party Interim Arbitration Arrangement to which 24 WTO Members have signed up pending the resolution of the WTO impasse) was a sixth panelist. Mr. Jorge Miranda, a Senior International Trade Adviser for Cassidy Levy Kent LLP in Washington, D.C., a past Rules Division official and a frequent writer and speaker on WTO dispute settlement was the seventh panelist.

It was an impressive panel with certain understandable limitations. WTO Members at a public event like this will provide a good overview of their existing positions on the topic but are not going to provide clarity of where solutions may be if different from what has been presented previously by their government. Not surprisingly, none of the Ambassadors deviated from that expected framework of comments. Similarly, the observations of panelists who are not speaking for WTO Members can be helpful in identifying possible paths forward but obviously only if Members opt to proceed in one or more of the suggested routes.

I start this post by looking at the positions stated by each panelist in their opening statement, their comments about other statements and their answers to questions. I then present some observations about the positions taken and whether Members are merely talking past each other or testing their priorities against the practical realities that surround the WTO dispute settlement system.

Opening Statements

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

The first panelist to speak was Ambassador de Boer of Canada. He identified three themes to his comments: (1) the key role played by the dispute settlement system in the WTO; (2) the importance of the Appellate Body (AB) in that system; and (3) the role of the Multi Party Interim Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) at the current time.

Amb. de Boer reviewed the elements of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) adopted as part of the Uruguay Round package that came into force in 1995 when the WTO commenced. The DSU provided for binding dispute settlement absent a negative consensus. This was a major improvement over the GATT dispute settlement approach where the losing party could block adoption of a panel decision. Canada is a very strong supporter of the rule of law. Amb. de Boer commented that it is not surprising that panels may err. The two-tier dispute settlement process is designed to address possible erroneous panel interpretations by appeal to the Appellate Body.

At the present time, the lack of a functioning Appellate Body makes the WTO system more uncertain. First, a party or parties unhappy with a panel decision can file an appeal which, with the AB not having three members, means the appeal is into a void where no outcome is possible until the restoration of the AB. If one is left with just panel decisions, there is a higher risk of erroneous decisions which in turn makes the system more uncertain for business. In Canada’s view, the fact that a Member may disagree with specific decisions is not a reason to undermine the dispute settlement system. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Hence timeliness of the dispute settlement system is important.

On timeliness, Canada would note that much more of the delay in disputes is at the panel stage. Delays flow from increased complexity of case. Canada believes that dispute settlement reform needs to include a review of timeliness of both panels and the AB.

Canada’s priority is to find multilateral solutions to the dispute settlement system which would of course include the United States.

Canada was pleased to participate in the creation of the MPIA, which now has 24 Member participants.

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

Amb. Machado started by noting that the WTO’s dispute settlement system is not in a good place and is essentially paralyzed. While all Members do not agree on how we got here, we need to agree on where we go from here.

The top priority for the EU is to find a solution to the impasse. The EU supported the Walker proposal (Amb. David Walker, NZ, serving as a facilitator to the General Council in 2019). It proved not to be sufficient. The EU is open to meaningful reform. However, Members need to move forward not backwards in terms of the type of reform considered.

It is important that agreed rules of the WTO are enforceable. This is critical for predictability and certainty in the system.

For the EU, any reformed dispute settlement system must be binding, two-tiered, and guarantee impartiality of adjudicators.

The EU agrees that panels and the Appellate Body are not courts and that panelists and AB members are not judges. It is the role of WTO Members, not adjudicators, to establish new rules.

On the MPIA, it is the intent of the 24 Members participating to establish an interim mechanism to preserve a second-tier dispute settlement step while the AB is inoperable. The MPIA is open to the participation of all Members, is temporary in nature and is not an attempt at reform of the WTO AB which would require involvement of all Members. However, there are enhancements including the use of a pool of arbitrators.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

Amb. Shea reviewed that there is little doubt where the United States stands on the dispute settlement system. Over three years in Dispute Settlement Body meetings, the U.S. has reviewed how the Appellate Body has violated the DSU both procedurally and substantively. Then USTR in February of this year put out a 174 page report on the Appellate Body of the WTO [https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Report_on_the_Appellate_Body_of_the_World_Trade_Organization.pdf] which pulled the U.S. concerns together in a single document.

The U.S. was very active in the Walker process in 2019. Unfortunately, very little of what the U.S. offered in comments on the draft proposal was taken on board in what was presented to the General Council. The U.S. has raised questions about the utility of the proposals since much of the language put forward was simply a repetition of what is already in the DSU which has been disregarded by the AB. We don’t have answers to why the AB disregarded the specific DSU language limiting the role of the AB or why it felt free to disregard the limits on its authority.

The AB is not an international court, and AB members are not judges. Role of the AB is not to create a body of jurisprudence but rather simply to make recommendations to help the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) resolve a given dispute. The AB’s role is limited.

Unfortunately, some Members see the AB as an independent international court and the AB members as judges who have the ability to create jurisprudence.

On the MPIA entered into by Canada, the EU, China and others, they have incorporated into an arbitration process some of the worst aspects of the AB practices including awards that are precedential, arbitrators engaging in fact finding and more.

The U.S. fundamentally differs on the role of the Appellate Body from that approach and from the approach of those viewing the AB as a type of court.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece by USTR Robert Lighthizer, he proposed a single-stage dispute process similar to commercial arbitration with a process to put aside erroneous decisions. What do other panelists think of that approach?

In the meantime, the WTO dispute settlement system continues to function. There have been eight panel requests made in the last five DSB meetings. Parties are considering how to handle panel reports, such as by agreeing not to appeal panel reports. The central objective of the dispute settlement system remains the same — to resolve a dispute between Members.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos’s comments were short and quite dispirited. He indicated that he was not optimistic for the future of the WTO dispute settlement system based on Amb. Shea’s comments. Amb. Villalobos feels that the dispute settlement system has become a “zombie”.

In talking about efforts in 2019 to address U.S. concerns with the Appellate Body, Amb. Villalobos noted that a large number of Members had come forward with proposals to deal with various aspects of U.S. concerns and that had resulted in the Walker proposal in late 2019 to the General Council which the U.S. had prevented from being adopted to address a range of U.S. concerns.

The impasse on the Appellate Body has led many countries including Mexico to come together in the MPIA. But the MPIA is intended to be temporary only.

Amb. Villalobos believes the WTO will have a more difficult road in the future to restore the two-tiered dispute settlement system.

While the dispute settlement system has been viewed by many as the crown jewel of the WTO, the present situation may be the beginning of the end for the crown jewel.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang views the Appellate Body and the WTO’s dispute settlement system as being on shaky ground. He is not optimistic that Members can reach agreement on substantive issues. However, that doesn’t mean that Members can’t work at improving the system.

When he looks at some of the concerns raised, such as issuing reports/decisions in 90 days, the problem is not entirely the fault of the Appellate Body. There have been a large number of appeals, many more than was envisioned when the WTO was created. Appeals are much more complicated. Thus, Members share some of the “blame”.

Is overreach a problem? Yes for many countries including China. Amb. Zhang cited the cases involving export duties where the Appellate Body viewed China did not have the right to put forward Art. XX defenses. In his view, Amb. Zhang believes that all negotiators know that there are ambiguous provisions in many agreements. These ambiguities have to be addressed in appeals and obviously are problems for the AB.

No matter how serious problems may be with the Appellate Body, the AB has solved many problems for parties which have improved certainty and predictability.

Going back to the system as it was in the 1990s would be problematic as rules will have no enforcement teeth. This lack of enforceability will hurt negotiations going forward.

Ms. Claudia Orozco, International Trade Law Advisor and Arbitrator for MPIA

Ms. Orozco believes that there is a serious crisis, not of the Appellate Body only, but of the dispute settlement system at the WTO and therefore of the rule of law.

The WTO dispute settlement system is intended to ensure that commitments under WTO Agreements are binding on all parties and that disputes are resolved by third party adjudicators.

The current challenges around the Appellate Body are a serious risk to the dispute settlement system and is leading to reduced use of the dispute settlment system.

A second consequence is likely to be erosion of the monitoring function within the WTO if Members can’t resolve the Appellate Body issues. The purpose of monitoring is to understand actions of trading partners. Greater information on actions can result in disputes if problems can’t otherwise be resolved. Where there is no binding dispute settlement system, Members will likely be less focused on notifications.

The third consequence of the AB impasse will be the erosion of the negotiating function, as there will less interest in new rules if they cannot be enforced.

In short, the impasse if not resolved, will affect the credibility and relevance of the WTO.

Are there solutions? Ms. Orozco believes Members need to look at the history of the WTO over the last twenty-five years. In her view, the AB’s role needs to be narrowed down as 25 years of history show that panels typically don’t make major errors of interpretation which was the intended function of the AB. Thus, questions for Members should include:

— how to narrow the focus of the AB;

— what changes are needed to permit the AB to meet the 90 day deadline;

— based on problems in the first 25 years, what type of experience should AB members have (e.g., experience with disputes in the WTO; experience in implementation of agreements);

–should more than three members of the AB participate in appeals where issues are of first impression;

–what is the role of the AB Secretariat vs. the role of AB members (e.g., should there be rotation of AB Secretariat staff).

The WTO dispute settlement system is critical to commercial players where predictability and certainty are key. Lack of predictability and certainty harm willingness to invest and to trade.

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Mr. Miranda stated that the Appellate Body has made some outstanding achievements but has made major errors in the trade remedy area. The errors coupled with the AB refusal to reconsider legal issues. Without a change in approach, it is hard to see progress.

Mr. Miranda’s comments reflect his views as a co-author in a paper [Jorge Mirand and Manuel Sanchez-Miranda, “How the WTO Appellate Body Drove Itself Into a Corner,” https:ssrn.com/abstract=3596217].

Mr. Miranda reviewed two of the five cases reviewed in the paper showing the serious errors by the Appellate. The first was the fasteners case [European Communities – Definitive Anti-Dumping Measures on Certain Iron or Steel Fasteners from China, WT/DS397/AB/R, adopted 28 July 2011] where the AB addressed an issue that was not part of the terms of reference and had not been briefed by the parties. This was a major problem as the issue addressed would potentially be subject to a dispute at the WTO.

A second case was a subsidy case and involved the interpretation of the term “public body” [United States – Definitive Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties on Certain Products from China, WT/DS379/AB/R, adopted 25 March 2011]. Mr. Miranda’s comments focused on the fact that most public bodies in the context of countervailing duty investigations are commercial enterprises. The AB’s decision requires the existence of governmental powers to regulate, control or supervise, but ignored the entrepreneurial functions mentioned in the Subsidies and Countervailing Measure Agreement (Art. 1.1(a)(1)) where no other authority is required.

While Mr. Miranda recognizes the fact that all adjudicators can err, the problem with the WTO AB is its inflexibility and refusal to reconsider interpretations in later cases regardless of arguments put forward.

Mr. Miranda reviews the U.S. system of stare decisis and ability of court’s to reconsider prior decisions in certain circumstances. He also reviews the Mexican system where there need to be multiple decisions on the same issue before there is precedent.

By contrast, the Appellate Body views its interpretation as cast in stone at the first decision. He believes the AB needs to be more flexible in how it views prior decisions/interpretations.

Reactions to Opening Statements of Other Panelists

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

Amb. Machado reiterated the EU view that the AB is not a court. The EU view is that it is in the interest of the WTO membership that rulings are of high quality and that the rulings have consequences. Thus, to the EU, it is important to have a two-tier dispute settlement system so parties can address legal errors in any panel report. The EU is open to discuss how best to get a two-tier system back.

Amb. Machado believes that it is unfair to claim that the MPIA incorporates the worst elements of the AB. The MPIA results in arbitration decisions. The MPIA is not an attempt to create AB reform. Since the MPIA is an interim arbitration process while awaiting the return of the AB, it is understandable that the parties to the MPIA drew on the AB, which is the only second-tier system that has existed over the last 25 years. While the MPIA parties have introduced efficiencies in how MPIA operates, this is not an attempt to reform the AB as any reform would need all Members.

At end of the day, the EU needs a system that is efficient, binding, independent and of the highest quality.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos sees fragmentation of approach facing the WTO dispute settlement system — the MPIA for some; other approaches for others. The fragmentation may last a long time. If so, such fragmentation will weaken the appetite to negotiate, and the increased uncertainty and unpredictability will weaken investment and trade.

Amb. Villalobos noted that a large percentage of disputes are resolved at the consultation stage and that a sizeable portion of cases that do go forward to the panel stage are resolved without appeal.

There are typically not good alternatives for Members to WTO dispute settlement. Regional trade agreements often don’t have dispute settlement on trade remedies (though USMCA between the U.S., Mexico and Canada does) and typically don’t have strong Secretariats.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang noted that the paralysis of the AB is a major challenge to the trading system. Binding rulings from impartial adjudicators are important for predictability and certainty. Regional free trade agreements and any dispute settlement contained therein cannot replace the WTO.

In looking at the path forward, the accountability of the AB can be addressed through peer review and oversight by the WTO Members.

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Regional agreements can’t compete with the WTO dispute settlement system. None have an Appellate Body.

The fact that there are problems with the WTO dispute settlement system, in Mr. Miranda’s opinion, is not a major issue.

On the issue of oversight, there should be a way to address without affecting the independence and impartiality of the AB.

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

It is important to go back to first principles. Members placed great importance on certainty. Fact that any Member believes it didn’t get the right result in a given dispute is not a basis to abandon the system. In a November 2016 statement by then Chairman of the Appellate Body, Thomas Graham, he noted that overreach is in the eye of the beholder. [Thomas Graham, 22 November 2016, Speaking Up: The State of the Appellate Body, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news16_e/ab_22nov16_e.pdf%5D. The dispute settlement system is different than individual disputes or cases.

The fact that there continue to be some disputes filed is not a sign that the system is well. The impasse will have an effect on negotiations.

Canada is willing to talk about change but needs an effective and enforceable system.

Ms. Claida Orzco, International Trade Law Advisor and MPIA Arbitrator

There is agreement that the crisis is very problematic. We must remember that everything the WTO does is for the private sector which needs certainty and predictability.

It is important to solve the problem. That includes looking at how to achieve decisions within 90 days, limiting the role of the AB to focus on issues relevant to a dispute’s resolution, identifying the relevant the credentials for AB Members.

As the AB was created to correct manifest errors in legal interpretations, history over the last 25 years shows that is not a significant problem. This implies, Members can reduce the role of the AB.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

The WTO membership needs to understand that there is a problem with the operation of the dispute settlement system. Efforts of the U.S. over the last three years has finally gotten a recognition by many that there are problems. So that is some progress.

Some Members view the role of the AB as that of a court with the ability to establish rules. The U.S. does not view the AB as a court and views rule making as the sole responsibility of the WTO Members.

While Canada has talked about the need for certainty, the U.S. views certainty as the AB completing its work in 90 days, not investigating facts, and not creating obligations.

While some view the current situation as undermining the ability to negotiate, the United States has viewed the operation of the Appellate Body as leading Members to litigate rather than negotiate.

On the issue of precedent, in 1996, the AB indicated its decisions were not precedential. Twelve years later in 2008, it viewed its decisions as precedential absent cogent reasons.

The U.S. disagrees that the AB is a higher source in dispute settlement. The AB has a limited role only.

In 2020, Thomas Graham gave his farewell speech as an Appellate Body member at Georgetown and listed areas where in his experience the Appellate Body was acting like a court. [see https://nam11.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.wto.org%2Fenglish%2Ftratop_e%2Fdispu_e%2Ffarwellspeechtgaham_e.htm&data=02%7C01%7C%7C892aebd466894f3d774908d86571205c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637370883824924668&sdata=QPkC0ep1OHLIwTtUPpDgTAWV9cfx%2FoDB812iMg%2FrTKk%3D&reserved=0]

Answers to Questions

H.E. Joao Aguiar Machado, European Union

In responding to a question about why a two-tier system of dispute settlement is necessary since other organizations make due with a single tier, Amb. Machado stated that a two-tier system of dispute settlement is important in the WTO since disputes are often dealing with national legislation. The second level of review is needed to review potential errors of law, so Members can go back to their legislatures for domestic changes to bring themselves into compliance with WTO obligations.

In looking at the length of time to resolve disputes, Amb. Machado noted that disputes have become very complex which has contributed to the delays. Members need to take some responsibility to reduce the number of issues in appeals versus the historic approach.

While the EU will discuss reforms, the EU will not agree to have the dispute settlement go back to the GATT system.

H.E. Angel Villalobos Rodriguez, Mexico

Amb. Villalobos responded to a question on likely effect of the current impasse by stating that with no Appellate Body, the appetite of Members for new rules will be reduced.

H.E. Stephen de Boer, Canada

Amb. de Boer indicated that Canada doesn’t view the AB as a court or members as judges.

Canada believes any reforms to the dispute settlement system can only look forward; specifically, reforms of the dispute settlement system can’t look at past decisions.

Amb. de Boer reiterated his opening statement point that delay in the dispute settlement system is not limited to the AB process and so reform should look at the entire dispute settlement system to ensure timely reports and decisions.

Looking at USTR Liighthizer’s Wall Street Journal article, Amb. de Boer stated that it appears to be the first expression of what U.S. wants. Going back to the GATT system seems to be Amb. Lighthizer’s objective.

H.E. Zhang Xiangchen, China

Amb. Zhang stated that a two-tiered system of dispute settlement was adopted in the Uruguay Round as a response to problems with the GATT system of resolving disputes. Amb. Zhang indicated that 90% of Members believe the WTO needs a two-tier system for disputes.

On the question of the recent panel decision on U.S. tariffs imposed on China pursuant to a section 301 investigation, China agrees with the panel report that the U.S. actions violated MFN obligations. China urges the U.S. to bring its actions into conformance with its obligations.

H.E. Dennis Shea, United States

In response to an inquiry about why Members would negotiate new rules where enforcement is not guaranteed, Amb. Shea noted that the U.S. (and many other Members) are actively engaged in negotiations, whether multilateral (fisheries subsidies) or plurilateral (e-commerce). Thus, it is possible for negotiations for new rules to proceed in the current circumstances.

Ms. Claudia Orozco, International Trade Law Advisor and MPIA Arbitrator

Ms. Orozco noted that the concern if rules are not enforceable is that there would be less interest in negotiating new rules. Her hope was that that concern would not materialize.

On a question about the Secretariat, Ms. Orozco noted that some reforms, like rotation of personnel at senior position, time limits for Secretariat personnel might be useful as in the past the head of the AB Secretariat had served longer than any AB member. The WTO also needs oversight of the AB by Members and some form of response where a problem arises and repeats itself (e.g. repeated failure to complete reports in 90 days).

Mr. Jorge Miranda, Senior International Trade Adviser, Cassidy Levy Kent LLP

Mr. Miranda took the view that any type of adjudicatory system would have the adjudicators looking back at what they had done previously. Key, in his view, is to have more flexibility than the AB has shown as to relevance of prior decisions.

Observations

As an outside observer, I provide some comments for what they are worth.

  1. While stating that they don’t view the AB as a court or AB members as judges, the EU and Canada do not identify how that point of agreement with the United States translates into a view of AB reports. If not a court, presumably the AB is not to create law or rules. Yet that is what the AB has repeatedly done. Should the prior reports of the AB have any value? Any value other than their pursuasiveness would seem inappropriate.

2. Wouldn’t the issue of overreach be addressed in part by clarifying what is meant by creating rights or obligations? For example, many of the overreach issues of concern to the U.S. (and possibly others) flow from gap filling, construing silence or adopting a single interpretation on ambiguous language. Clarifying the language in DSU 3.2 and 19.2 to indicate that examples of creating rights or obligations would include gap filling, construing silence or providing a single interpretation of ambiguous language would thus increase certainty and predictability and leave rulemaking to the WTO Members as intended.

3. Ms. Orozco stated that the AB role should be reduced as typically panels have not made manifest errors in legal interpretation based on a review of the first twenty-five years of decision. The AB was done at the end of the Uruguay Round negotiations and was largely a safeguard against wildly erroneous decisions by a panel if adoption of reports was to be automatic. Does the experience of the first 25 years reduce the need for a two-tier system? Reasons for wanting a two-tier system going forward include automaticity of adoption, independence of adjudicator, opportunity to correct errors from a panel report. But automaticity need not be tied to having a two-tier system. Particularly where purpose of dispute settlement is to help find a resolution to the dispute between parties versus an effort to create law through “clarifying” agreements, a single level could be made automatic. There is nothing about a single level of dispute settlement that doesn’t permit independence (whether panels are staffed as they are now or through a different approach as has been suggested by some). Even the opportunities to correct errors could be addressable in a single-tier if there were a process (such as suggested by USTR Lighthizer) for addressing erroneous decisions.

4. Both Canada and the European Union talk about any reform process as being forward looking only and not addressing the harm caused by the long history of AB deviation from obligations. Since the entire purpose of the dispute settlement system is to resolve disputes to permit a restoration of rights and obligations of Members, the notion that a system which has changed the rights and obligations of Members over 25 years cannot be addressed as part of reform is at least bizarre. There is no question that it is easier to simply adopt changes to the DSU and move forward but that basically legitimizes a wide range of erroneous decisions which have significantly changed the balance of rights and obligations for many Members. While the challenge of finding a path to address the past as part of the reform is real, there are undoubtedly ways to do so. I had suggested one approach in a prior post. See July 12, 2020, WTO Appellate Body reform – revisiting thoughts on how to address U.S. concerns, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/12/wtos-appellate-body-reform-revisiting-thoughts-on-how-to-address-u-s-concerns/.

5. The concern about wrongly decided Appellate Body reports is real and not really addressed by most of the panelists. Amb. Lighthizer in his Wall Street Journal piece has a proposal which would change the system to one-tier resembling commercial arbitration and with an ability of Members to correct erroneous decisions. This proposal may reflect U.S. concerns that other WTO Members haven’t meaningfully addressed the problem of erroneous AB decisions (whether overreach or faulty legal analysis). See August 24, 2020:  USTR Lighthizer’s Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal – How to Set World Trade Straight, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/24/ustr-lighthizers-op-ed-in-the-wall-street-journal-how-to-set-world-trade-straight/. If one looks at Mr. Miranda’s paper, there is little doubt that there are decisions from the AB that are pretty clearly wrongly decided. Efforts in the AB reform process to confirm that there are no precedents doesn’t move the ball very far where prior decisions remain as a body for review without means to get the AB to recognize its mistakes in subsequent cases, for the WTO Membership to correct the AB or through other means.

6. The concept that the current situation will adversely affect willingness of Members to negotiate is interesting particularly when juxtaposed with the last twenty-five years of very limited success in negotiations at the WTO. So while there may be some merit in the concern (which is a supposition at this point), it is hard to imagine a less productive negotiating function than what has existed with a functioning dispute settlement system over the last 25 years. The U.S. view that the current system and willingness of the AB to create rights that can’t be found in the agreements is factually the more compelling. I have travelled to Geneva over the last thirty years and have been told in private by virtually every major WTO Member that they know there are issues that before the WTO they would have teed up for negotiations, but because of the activity of the AB, they chose to see if they could get through dispute settlement even though knowing their trading partners had never agreed to what was being sought. So in my mind, there is no doubt that a major contributor to the dysfunction of the negotiating function at the WTO has been the willingness of the Appellate Body to create rights and obligations that cannot be found in the Agreements that sovereign states agreed to.

7. On the MPIA, while there is understanding by all Members that the MPIA is intended to be temporary, there is little doubt that the MPIA includes aspects of the AB that the U.S. has viewed as very problematic. While the EU professes that there is no effort at reform in the MPIA, the MPIA includes aspects that the EU may want as reforms to the dispute settlement system. Finally, other Members have found other approaches to handle disputes in an era when the AB is not functioning. While that is not true for all disputes, the Members choosing to appeal into a void include the EU, a participant of MPIA, on a panel decision adverse to its interests brought by the Russian Federation. See August 29, 2020,  WTO Dispute Settlement Body meeting of August 28, 2020 – how disputes are being handled in the absence of reform of the Appellate Body, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/29/wto-dispute-settlement-body-meeting-of-july-28-2020-how-disputes-are-being-handled-in-the-absence-of-reform-of-the-appellate-body/.

Conclusion

The program on WTO Dispute Settlement – where do we stand? was an interesting update from a number of the major WTO Members, the Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body and two well respected private sector advisers.

While all seem to recognize that the United States has serious concerns that it has articulated for decades but has spelled out in detail in the last three years, there has been little movement on the substantive issues during the last fifteen months. The gap between having a binding system that resolves disputes between parties but doesn’t create jurisprudence and a binding system that creates jurisprudence is wide. While many talk the talk that the Appellate Body is not a court and its members are not judges, there hasn’t been an apparent active effort to translate that into a framework to compare with the U.S. view of the role of the system.

Without a willingness to actually have the Appellate Body serve the very limited role for which it was created, the future for the WTO dispute settlement system will likely look like the hodgepodge of approaches that are presently in play.

In last two weeks global COVID-19 cases increased by more than 4.1 million as virus continues to spin out of control

After plateauing in terms of new cases during August, COVID-19 new cases are increasing rapidly for the world as a whole. For the period September 14-27, data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show new cases in the world topping four million for the first time — 4,110,081. That compares to 3,780,469 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period and 3,558,360 for August 17-30, 3,624,548 for August 3-16 and 3,568,162 for the July 20-August 2 period. Total cases since the end of December 2019 are now above 32.9 million.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (7,078,798) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (204,497), saw the number of new cases increase over the last two weeks after three two week periods where the U.S. saw a decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The downtrend was reversed these past two week, when the number of new cases increased to 592,690 or a daily average of 42,335 cases. The United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases is continuing to increase, and were 1,238,176 in the last two weeks, slightly higher than the 1,211,623 new cases reported in the August 31-September 13 period. India is the only country to have recorded more than one million cases in a two week period and appears to have plateaued at a rate of more than 88,000/day over the last month.

Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30, 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13 and down to 402,304 new cases during September 14-27.

India, the United States and Brazil accounted for 54.33% of the new global cases during the last two weeks (down from 58.34% in the prior two weeks) and account for 54.04% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019 (up from 54.01% through two weeks ago).

The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 21.51% of total confirmed cases since December 2019 — five times the share of total cases our population would justify. With the increase in the most recent two week after six weeks of declines, the U.S. was 14.42% of the total (up from 13.87% of new cases during August 17-30) or 3.35 times the U.S. share of global population. The U.S. also accounts for 20.55% of total deaths or 4.78 times the U.S. share of total population.

Continued growth of cases in the developing world

With the number of new cases in the United States declining over most of the last two months, the trend of new cases being focused on the developing world has shifted with a resurgence in Europe following the summer vacation period with a renewal of at least some international travel. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (166,781), Colombia (97,074), Peru (77,301), Iraq (73,883), Mexico (62,458), Iraq (59,191), Indonesia (56,582), the Philippines (43,393), Iran (43,146), Turkey (23,331), Chile (23,313), Bangladesh (21,829), South Africa (21,284) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases. Of the listed developing countries, only India, Argentina, Iraq, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey saw increases from the August 31-September 13 period.

Developed country resurgence in new cases

With the reopening of some international travel and with the end of the summer holiday season, there has been a noticeable surge of new cases in a number of developed countries, particularly in Western Europe where is it generally described as the coming of a second wave of COVID-19 cases. France overtook Spain for the most new cases during September 14-27 with a total of 153,535. France nearly doubled the large number it had experienced in the August 17-30 period (57,009 new cases) in the August 31-September 13 period with new cases reaching 101,381. Spain continues to show large increases for a developed country that had gotten the COVID-19 spread under control until recently. For August 17-30, Spain saw an additional 96,473 new cases. The August 31-September 13 period saw a further large increase for Spain to 127,040 cases. For the period from September 14-27, Spain’s numbers further increased to 150,155. The United Kingdom nearly doubled the number of new cases to 64,103 up from 32,422 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The Netherlands more than doubled its number of new cases during September 14-27 from the prior two week period going to 27,584 new cases from 11,374. Germany showed a significant increase in the most recent two weeks to 24,712 from the prior two weeks (17,657 new cases; two weeks before that 17,538 new cases). Czechia which spiked following summer vacations saw its number of new cases grow to 23,893 from 11,307 in the August 31 – September period; Italy added 21,807 (up from 19,444 the prior two weeks); Romania added 18,849 (up from 16,553 in the prior two weeks). Other countries in Europe (Russia (86,209 new cases), Ukraine (43,645 new cases) and Hungary (12,189 new cases)) as well as Israel (73,883 new cases) also saw significant additional new cases.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (204,497) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,796) behind only India (15,917), though the U.S. number of new deaths declined slightly from the prior two weeks while India’s number of new deaths continued to climb. The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Argentina (9.68), Colombia (5.09), Brazil (4.83), Peru (4.76), Costa Rica (4.72), Bolivia (4.61), Mexico (4.42), Panama (3.96), Chile (3.67), Puerto Rico (3.65), Israel (3.97) and the United States (3.28). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 0.98 deaths/100,000 population. So the U.S.’s death rate over the last two weeks was 3.35 times the global average and was much higher than many large and/or developed countries. China’s number was so low, it was 0.00 people/100,000 population; France was 1.18, Germany 0.13, India 1.16, Italy 0.36, Japan 0.08, South Korea 0.08, Singapore 0.00, United Kingdom 0.52, Spain 3.16, Taiwan 0.00, Canada 0.25, Australia 0.27, New Zealand 0.02.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through September 13, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 13.10 deaths. The nine countries (of 86 which account for over 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (98.87), Belgium (87.07), Bolivia (67.79), Spain (66.54), Chile (66.44), Ecuador (64.89), United Kingdom (62.97), Brazil (67.00), the United States (62.14). With the exception of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (the European countries were typically less than 1 death per 100,000). The United States death rate has been 4.74 times the global rate and many times higher many other developed countries and most developing countries. Consider the following examples: China, where the virus was first found, has a death per 100,000 population of just 0.33 people. India’s data show 6.92; Germany has 11.39; Japan has 1.22; Korea is just 0.78; Canada is 24.76; Switzerland is 20.81; Poland is 6.38; Ukraine is 8.87; Norway is 5.07; Australia is 3.45; New Zealand is 0.52.

Conclusion

The world in the first nine months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been a significant resurgence in many of these countries (particularly in Europe) as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased and as schools reopen in many countries. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (other than Canada), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in limited parts of Africa. A recent WTO Secretariat information paper showed that there has been a reduction in shortages of many medical goods needed to handle the COVID-19 pandemic which is obviously good news, although as the global total of new cases continues to rise, there may yet be additional challenges in terms of supply. See 18 September 2020, Information Note, How WTO Members Have Used Trade Measures to Expedite Access to COVID-19 Critical Medical Goods and Services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/services_report_16092020_e.pdf.

In the northern hemisphere, countries are going into fall where there will likely be greater time spent indoors which could result in a significant spike in cases which could further stretch the global ability to respond.

Moreover, in many countries, stimulus packages have run their course such that large scale increases in unemployment could happen in the coming weeks. This is obviously the case in the United States in the airline industry (but also elsewhere) and will likely be the case for many state and local government employees with the start of the fiscal year in October and the obligation for most states to run a balanced budget. See, e.g., Bloomberg Businessweek, September 23, 2020, Airlines Face Desolate Future as Attempts to Reopen Crumble, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-23/coronavirus-pandemic-airlines-face-empty-future-as-crisis-continues?utm_campaign=news&utm_medium=bd&utm_source=applenews. The failure of a new stimulus initiative will significantly increase the braking action on the economy from the pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2020.

The September 14-27 period has seen the global number of new cases continue to grow after six weeks in July and most of August of what appeared to be a peak or plateau. October – December are likely to see continued growth in the global number of new cases.

The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. Still the results of the phase three trials are not yet in and as a temporary delay by AstraZeneca with its phase three trial showed, the timing of outcomes remains unknown though anticipated by the end of 2020 and first part of 2021. China has been distributing one of its vaccines to parts of its population in advance of formal clearance of stage three trials. The Russians have been lining up customers for their vaccine even though the stage three trials are only underway and the results will lag the initial rollout of the vaccine. For other countries (the U.S., European Union, Japan, etc.) the rollout of vaccines if approved will take time to get large parts of the global population vaccinated. It is unclear what the global capacity will be to produce vaccines proven to be safe and effective, although reports suggest a likely significant shortfall despite government assistance in the global supplies that will be available in 2021. This uncertainty about likely capacities, plus the large purchases made by major western governments (U.S., EU, U.K., Japan), will likely place a large cloud over much if not all of 2021 in terms of distribution of vaccines even in an optimistic scenario.

The ride is likely to get more complicated going forward with the world collectively unable to get the pandemic under control in many parts of the world, with likely increases this fall and winter, with fatigue in many countries on the actions needed to slow the spread of the virus and, in at least some countries, the mixed messages from government on the correct actions needed to gain control. With the global death count nearing one million, there have already been tens of thousand and likely hundreds of thousands of deaths that didn’t need to occur. The prospect of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands more dying needlessly hang over the global community. 2020 has proven to be a very challenging year. Time will tell if the challenge is confined to this year or continues to inflict substantial costs in 2021 and beyond.

WTO Director-General selection — block voting likely to ensure next Director-General is a female

As the World Trade Organization starts the second round of consultations with Members today to continue to winnow down the list of candidates to move forward to the third round in mid-October, the likelihood of block preferences by countries within the EU and from Africa would seem to guarantee that the two candidates remaining at the end of the second round of consultations are two of the three women candidates — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya.

First, African Members of the WTO have been arguing since before the start of the selection process that it was time for a Director-General to be from Africa. With two of the five remaining candidates being from Africa, if African Members provide as their preferences the two remaining African candidates, those two candidate will have a large support base before one looks at the rest of the world. There are currently some 45 WTO Members from Africa. While it is always possible for Members from Africa to support only one of the two African candidates and to pick a second preference from outside of the continent, it is likely that most Members will provide both African candidates as preferences to improve the chances of an African candidate in fact being selected as the next Director-General.

Second, press articles in recent days have indicated that the 27 European Union countries had given their preferences for the same candidates in round one of the consultations and that had led to three of the four candidates they supported advancing — the three women candidates from Nigeria, Kenya and the Republic of Korea. They had not expressed preferences for either of the two male candidates who advanced, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom. While WTO Members are obviously not limited to prefer in later rounds individuals they expressed preferences for in earlier rounds, it is expected that the EU countries (with limited exceptions) will agree on two of the three women candidates for Round 2. This would be consistent with their apparent desire to see a candidate from a different geographical area than recent DGs and for a candiate who is female supporting gender equality objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is one known likely exception to the EU expressing preferences as a block approach. Specifically, the press has indicated that Hungary intends to identify its preferences as H.E. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Fox of the United Kingdom.

It is expected that each of the women candidates will have reasonable support in other parts of the world as well. With Dr. Seade out of the running, the Americas has no geographic candidate and will certainly provide a fair portion of their preferences to one or two of the women candidates. Similarly, Asia and the Pacific will split preferences among the five remaining candidates ensuring some additional support for each of the women.

While H.E. Al-Tuwaijri and Dr. Fox will certainly receive support in round two of the consultations from a significant number of Members, if the EU and Africa vote largely in blocks, it is hard to imagine how either of them advances to the final round of consultations.

Depending on the block preference approach of Africa and the EU, the two candidates who advance will either be the two African candidates or one of the African candidates and the Korean trade minister.

My assumption is that the third round will be a face off between H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. We will know in early October.

WTO Director-General selection process — what do results from first round of consultations suggest are key criteria for WTO Members in next Director-General?

Last week, five of eight candidates advanced to the second round of consultations when the WTO’s Chairman of the General Council reviewed with the membership the results of the first round of consultations. The second round of consultations starts this week. WTO Members’ preferences in the second round will result in the field being reduced from five to two candidates before the third round selects the candidate viewed as most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members. The selection process should end by November 7, 2020

Can anything be gleaned from the results of the first round results?

  1. The three candidates who did not advance

The three candidates eliminated were Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico, Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt and Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

Dr. Seade has had personal involvement with the GATT during the Uruguay Round and was not only Mexico’s Ambassador to the GATT but then a Deputy Director-General of the GATT at the end of the Uruguay Round and one of the original Deputy Directors-General when the WTO was set up in 1995.

Mr. Mamdouh similarly has had a long and distinguished history with the GATT and WTO that stretches back to the Uruguay Round and continued in various capacities within the Secretariat ending with a sixteen year stint as Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division.

Thus, if one was putting primacy on technical expertise or a deep understanding of the origins of the WTO (arguably relevant to current crisis issues like the impasse over the Appellate Body), then one would have expected both of these individuals to get past the round one consultations. As they didn’t, it follows that depth of technical capability was not a driving consideration for Members in the first round of consultations.

Although Dr. Seade has held various government positions including Under Secretary for North America and chief negotiator for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement), he has never served as a Minister (Secretary) in the Mexican government. Moreover, Mexico, while part of North America, is typically referred to as part of Latin America. Since the last Director-General was from Brazil (also included in “Latin America”), this fact could have been viewed as a negative for Dr. Seade.

For the enormous history that Mr. Mamdouh has had with the WTO, he never served as either an Ambassador or took the position of Minister for the Egyptian government. Thus, to the extent Members were putting primacy on candidates who had served in a high political position for their host government, Mr. Mamdouh would have been viewed as not meeting that criteria.

Amb. Ulianovschi served both as Moldova’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (including being Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the WTO) and later served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thus, he has both familiarity with WTO issues and had a prior senior political position. Since Moldova is part of Europe and most Directors-General of the GATT and WTO have been from Europe, this could have been viewed as a negative for Amb. Ulianovschi (though the same was also true for Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom who has advanced to the second round of consultations).

2. The five candidates who have advanced to round two

Of the five candidates who have advanced, all have served as a Minister in their home government with four — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom having served two terms or in two different Minister positions. The fifth, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea is the current Minister for Trade in Korea.

The differentiation between those who advanced and those who didn’t thus seems to hinge in significant part of the perception of political weight a candidate would bring based in part on the senior government role each has played. While Amb. Ulianovschi of Moldova did not advance and yet was a Minister, his being from a European country may have been the distinguishing factor. He was also the youngest candidate by more than a decade which may have been another factor for some.

Moving into the second round of consultations, what considerations may influence who makes the next cut?

The Chairman of the General Council indicated that WTO Members viewed all eight candidates as highly qualified and respected. This means for many Members the important factors may be less about the qualifications but more about geographical diversity of the membership. The Procedures adopted at the end of 2002 for the selection of Directors-General has a paragraph dealing with the representativeness of candidates (WT/L/509 at para. 13):

“Where Members are faced in the final selection with equally meritorious
candidates, they shall take into consideration as one of the factors the desirability of reflecting the diversity of the WTO’s membership in successive appointments to the post of Director-General.”

As there has not been a Director-General from Africa or from the Middle East and only one from Asia, geographical diversity could have aided four of the five candidates who advanced to the second round of consultations.

In addition, no GATT or WTO Director-General has been a woman to date. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gender equality (SDG 5). Three of the candidates who have advanced are female. A fourth, Dr. Liam Fox, committed to ensuring that half of the senior WTO Secretariat would be women if he were selected as the next Director-General.

While all eight candidates indicated their preference for the selection to be of the best qualified candidate, it is certainly likely that other criteria will weigh in the second and third round consultation process which leads to the selection of a single candidate.

The three women candidates

Among the three women candidates, H.E. Mohamed has a proven track record on trade within the WTO and as Chair of the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial. H.E. Yoo’s career has been entirely in trade, and she has dealt with each of the U.S., China and the EU in her trade capacity for Korea. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has never been Minister of Trade though her role (twice) as Minister of Finance for Nigeria included some trade-related areas (customs, trade facilitation) and she had a distinguished career at the World Bank and is now active in various organization relevant to the recovery from COVID-19 such as GAVI (focused on getting vaccines to countries in need).

Obviously two of the three women candidates have serious trade/WTO backgrounds. The third is often viewed as having the largest political profile. Depending on how large the preference is for a strong leader with significant political experience or a strong leader with significant understanding of the trade problems before the WTO, this could lead to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and H.E. Mohamed as being the top two women candidates or H.E. Mohamed and H.E. Yoo filling that role.

Possible wild cards that could hurt one or two of the women candidates are (1) the ongoing Japan-South Korea conflict that H.E. Yoo has been involved in; (2) China’s view towards H.E. Yoo if concerned about whether China will maintain a Deputy-Director General slot going forward if an Asian candidate is selected as the next Director-General; (3) the late disclosure that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a dual Nigerian-U.S. citizen and whether that is problematic for China or other Members.

The two remaining male candidates

It is unlikely that Dr. Fox makes it to the third round based simply on the Paragraph 13 indication of importance of geographical diversity and the long history of European Directors-General. He would bring a unique viewpoint to the Director-General position being the only candidate who has repeatedly stood for election in his country. His commitment to ensure half of the senior WTO Secretariat are women may also be a plus for him if only one of the women candidates advances.

Similarly, unless the membership decides that what they want as a Director-General is someone who will move the organization to a more business-like functioning approach, it is unlikely that H.E. Al-Tuwaijri makes it past round two. He has the advantage of being from an area (Middle East) that has not had a Director-General. Moreover, he has worked closely with G20 countries which could be a plus if only one of the women candidates advances to round three.

Likely outcome of Round Two Consultations

The second round of consultations starts on September 24 and concludes on October 6. At the meeting of the Heads of Delegation that follows the close of the consultations (probably October 8), it is likely that H.E. Amina C. Mohamed and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala advance to the third round of consultations.

Who will likely emerge as the sole remaining candidate after Round Three?

If H.E. Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala advance beyond round two, the selection of a candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the WTO Members in round three will depend on whether Members prefer a candidate who has a record of achieving results in the WTO or prefer a candidate with a large record of in-country reform and of achievement within the World Bank and ability to focus Members on post COVID-19 recovery needs.

Either would be an interesting choice and would bring great energy to what will be a very challenging job at a time of multiple crises for the WTO and concerns about its continued relevance. Based on what seems to have mattered in Round One of the consultations, I would predict that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next Director-General with the one caveat of whether her dual citizenship with the U.S. in addition to her home country of Nigeria becomes problematic in fact. If the caveat applies, then look for H.E. Amina C. Mohamed to be the next Director-General.

Race for becoming the next Director-General of the WTO — five candidates advance; three are asked to withdraw

At a Heads of Delegation meeting held at the World Trade Organization this morning (11:00 a.m. Geneva time), the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker, and his facilitators, Amb. Dacio Castillo of Honduras (Chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body) and Amb. Harald Aspelund of Iceland (Chairman of the Trade Policy Review Body) informed the WTO Members that their consultations with Members had identified the five candidates (of eight total) who had received the broadest and deepest support and hence would be moving on to round two of the consultation process.

The five candidates who move to the second round of consultations include (in order that they were put forward as a candidate by their government):

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria;

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea;

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, of Kenya;

H.E. Mohammed Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia;

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom.

The three candidates who have been asked to withdraw based on the results of the first round of consultations include:

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico;

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt;

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

The WTO press release can be found here, WTO members narrow field of DG candidates, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/hod_18sep20_e.htm

A field that had originally consisted of five men and three women with two being Europeans, three being Africans, one being from the Middle East, one being Asian, and one being North American (Latin) is now a field of three women and two men with one from Europe, two from Africa, one from the Middle East and one from Asia.

As the biographies posted on the WTO webpage and the candidates prepared statement to the General Council, subsequent press conference, and interviews, webinars and other press report make clear, the eight candidates were all highly qualified individuals with a good grasp of issues currently facing the WTO and the challenges of reform. This fact and that all eight candidates were respected by the Membership was confirmed by Amb. Walker at today’s Heads of Delegation meeting.

The elimination of the three candidates removes two with the longest engagement with the GATT/WTO — Dr. Jesus Seade and Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh and the youngest candidate, Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi.

Of the five remaining, only two have extensive WTO/trade experience — H.E. Amina C. Mohamed, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee, although Dr. Liam Fox served as the U.K. Secretary of State for trade for a period of time as well and H.E. Al-Tuwaijri has a broad portfolio with trade issues included. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has extensive experience as Nigeria’s Finance Minister (with customs responsibilities) and as a senior official at the World Bank.

Second Round of Consultations

During the Heads of Delegation meeting, Amb. Walker announced that the second round of consultations would start on September 24 and run until October 6 after which there will be another Heads of Delegation meeting to review which two candidates advance to the third and final round of consultations.

During the first round, each Member was asked to identify four candidates as preferences. During the second round, each Member will be asked to identify two candidates as preferences. The three Ambassadors who are conducting the consultations with Members will then announce the results further narrowing the field from the current five to just two candidates.

Third Round of Consultations

The timing of the third round of consultations will be announced at the next Heads of Delegation meeting when the second round is completed. It is anticipated that the third round and its results will be completed ahead of November 7 consistent with the procedures adopted by the General Council back in December 2002. Procedures for the Appointment of Directors-General, WT/L/509. The results of the third round of consultations will be the candidate that is viewed as most likely to achieve consensus from the Membership. If consensus is likely, a General Council meeting will be called to confirm the selection. If consensus is not achieved, the process forward is unclear but can include taking a vote instead of pursuing consensus.

Conclusion

The selection process to date is running smoothly. The WTO was fortunate that so many talented individuals were willing to step forward to seek to become the next Director-General of the WTO and go through the grueling process that has characterized the first three months. Congratulations to the five candidates who advance. Heartfelt thanks go out to the talented candidates whose run is now ended.

The procedures adopted in 2002 seem overly complicated and time consuming to many who look in from the outside. Complicated and time consuming the procedures certainly are. However, the procedures were adopted in an effort to have Members focus on the positive question – who is your preference — and avoid Members politically committing to who was unacceptable as had happened in 1999.

Let’s hope that the remainder of the selection process proceeds smoothly and without incident.

COVID-19 cases increase in last two weeks, setting new global record for new cases in fourteen day period.

In my last two posts of August 30 and August 16, I suggested that it appeared that the global spread of COVID-19 may have peaked or plateauted. See August 30, 2020, The global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases passes 25 million with more than 843,000 deaths – increased race to lock-up vaccine supplies, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/30/the-global-number-of-confirmed-covid-19-cases-passes-25-million-with-more-than-843000-deaths-increased-race-to-lock-up-vaccine-supplies/; August 16, 2020, Is the world at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic?  Last two weeks suggest a peaking of the growth of global infections may be at hand, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/16/is-the-world-at-the-peak-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-last-two-weeks-suggest-a-peaking-of-the-growth-of-global-infections-may-be-at-hand/. However, data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for the August 31-September 13 period shows a return to growth in new cases. The latest two weeks show total new cases of 3,780,469. This compares to the total new cases for the August 17-30 time period of 3,558,360, 3,624,548 for August 3-16 and 3,568,162 for the July 20-August 2 period. Total cases since the end of December 2019 are now just shy of 29 million.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (6,486,108) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (193,701), had a third two-week decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The most recent period is still 28.21% higher than what had been the prior peak during April 13-26 of 409,102 new cases. Even with the significant reduction in new cases in the August 31-September 13 period, the United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases is continuing to rapidly increase, and were 1,211,623 in the last two weeks (the first country to have more than one million cases in a two week period). Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are also falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30 and 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13. India, the United States and Brazil accounted for an extraordinary 58.34% of the new global cases during the last two weeks and account for 54.01% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019. The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 22.52% of total confirmed cases since December 2019. With the continued declining numbers in the last two weeks while the overall total of new cases grew, the U.S. was still 13.87% of new cases during August 17-30 or roughly three times the U.S. share of global population.

Continued growth of cases in the developing world

With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues although there has been some significant resurgence of new cases in a number of developed countries during the summer vacation period with a renewal of at least some international travel. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (143,681), Colombia (109,050), Peru (83,397), Mexico (72,261), Iraq (59,332), Indonesia (45,562), the Philippines (44,732), South Africa (25,663) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.

Developed country resurgence in new cases

With the reopening of some international travel and with the end of the summer holiday season, there has been a noticeable surge of new cases in a number of developed countries, particularly in Western Europe. Spain showed the largest increase of a developed country that had gotten the COVID-19 spread under control until recently. For August 17-30, Spain saw an additional 96,473 new cases. The August 31-September 13 period saw a further large increase for Spain to 127,040 cases. France nearly doubled the large number it had experienced in the August 17-30 period (57,009 new cases) in the latest two weeks, with new cases reaching 101,381. Germany was up slightly from the prior two weeks (17,538 new cases) at 17,657 new cases. Italy added 19,444; Romania added 16,553; the United Kingdom added 32,422; the Netherlands increased by 11,374; Czechia increased by 11,307. Other countries in Europe (Russia and Ukraine) as well as Israel also saw significant additional new cases.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (193,701) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,922) behind only India (15,088), though the U.S. number of new deaths declined from the prior two weeks while India’s number of new deaths continued to climb. The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Ecuador (24.91), Bolivia (20.49), Colombia (7.29), Argentina (6.48), Peru (6.11), Mexico (5.32), Brazil (5.09), Panama (4.05), Chile (3.77), Puerto Rico (3.65), Costa Rica (3.41) and the United States (3.32). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.02 deaths/100,000 population in the last two weeks.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through September 13, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 12.13 deaths. The ten countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (94.10), Belgium (86.59), Bolivia (63.38), Spain (63.38), Chile (62.76), Ecuador (62.53), United Kingdom (62.45), Brazil (62.17), Italy (58.98), the United States (58.86). With the exception of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (the European countries were typically less than 1 death per 100,000).

Conclusion

The world in the first eight months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been some resurgence in many of these countries as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased and as schools reopen in many countries. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (other than Canada), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in parts of Africa. Since most new cases are now in developing countries, it is unclear how many of these countries will be able to handle a significant number of cases, whether their healthcare infrastructure will be overwhelmed and whether they will have the medical goods needed to handle the cases safely.

The August 31-September 13 period has seen the global number of new cases growing after six weeks of what appeared to be a peak or plateau. That is not good news for the world as in many parts of the world schools are reopening and fall and winter will bring greater time indoors likely resulting in continued growth in new cases.

The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. Still the results of the phase three trials are not yet in and as a temporary delay by AstraZeneca with its phase three trial shows, the timing of outcomes remains unknown though anticipated by the end of 2020 and first part of 2021. Still the rollout of vaccines if approved will take time to get large parts of the global population vaccinated. This will likely place a large cloud over much if not all of 2021 even in an optimistic scenario.

Whether the world will rise to the challenges in terms of improving access to medical goods, to maintaining an open trading system, to aiding not only national populations but ensuring assistance to the most vulnerable, and when vaccines are approved to ensuring an equitable and affordable access by all are open questions. If the world is not able to collaborate on these issues, the 2020s will be a lost decade and will threaten global security.

Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

The eight candidates for the Director-General spot at the World Trade Organization have just eight days left in their efforts to get themselves known to the WTO Members before the phase three process of finding the candidate most likely to achieve consensus within the membership starts.

In prior posts I have provided a summary of statements made at the General Council meetings during July 15-17 and the press conferences that followed and then did a series of posts looking at each candidate’s publicly expressed views on four issues of importance drawing from the same two sources as well as a series of webinars hosted by the Washington International Trade Association and the Asia Society Policy Institute. See July 19, 2020, The eight candidates for WTO Director-General meet the General Council – recap of prepared statements and press conferences, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/19/the-eight-candidates-for-wto-director-general-meet-the-general-council-recap-of-prepared-statements-and-press-conferences/; August 10, 2020 [updated August 27],  The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  reform of the Appellate Body, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/10/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-reform-of-the-appellate-body/; August 13, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  eligibility for special and differential treatment/self selection as a developing country, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/13/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-eligibility-for-special-and-differential-treatment-self-selection-as-a-developing-country/; August 17, 2020, The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, background on issues, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/17/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-address-dist/; August 19, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 2, comments by the candidates, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/19/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-addre/; August 23, 2020 [updated August 27], The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  fisheries subsidies and e-commerce/digital trade, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/23/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-fisheries-subsidies-and-e-commerce-digital-trade/.

Today I review some other press articles about the candidates to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. There is no intention to be exhaustive and the research has been limited to press pieces in English. Today’s post looks at a few articles featuring Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri from Mexico, the first candidate nominated.

  1. CNBC, August 26, 2020, China needs to make ‘a greater, clear contribution’ to solve trade disputes, WTO hopeful says, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/26/china-has-to-make-greater-efforts-in-trade-disputes-wto-hopeful-says.html.

The press excerpt from the interview states that Dr. Seade indicated that “China must make greater efforts to overcome trade disputes with its World Trade Organization (WTO) partners.”

“There are issues with China that China needs to make a greater, clear contribution to resolve those issues between them and everybody else.”

“He argued that there needs to be progress over a price mechanism and over technological differences, adding that in 19 years of membership, there have been 44 disputes initiated against China. ‘That’s a lot,’ he said, although he noted that ‘at the same time, China has been very engaged in many other respects.'””

The video interview of Dr. Seade on CNBC is available at the following link, https://www.cnbc.com/video/2020/08/27/china-is-very-important-to-the-wto-say-director-general-candidate.html.

2. Successful Farming (Reuters article), August 17, 2020, Time for Forceful Leader to Fix WTO, Not a “Butler,” Mexico’s Pick Says, https://www.agriculture.com/markets/newswire/time-for-forceful-leader-to-fix-wto-not-a-butler-mexicos-pick-says.

“To restore U.S. faith in the dispute resolution body that Washington accuses of overreach, he said members could consider a stronger supervisory mechanism to make sure the powerful appellate body did not stray beyond its mandate.”

3. The Jamaica Gleaner, August 11, 2020, Jesus Seade Commentary, Caribbean’s Place at the World Trade Organization, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20200811/jesus-seade-caribbeans-place-world-trade-organization.

“POSSIBLE TO SUPPORT SVEs (small and vulnerable economies)

“Later on, during my time with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the WTO, I gained invaluable experience working with many Caribbean countries. From that involvement, I believe that it is possible to support SVEs with developing risk-management programmes and cooperative schemes to mitigate the impact of external shocks, supporting faster recovery, and promoting economic diversification. As the only candidate to have the honour of having served at senior positions in all three Bretton Woods organisations, I believe that I fully understand the intertwined interaction among trade, development, and finance and how comprehensive policies can solve problems in different areas.

“Back to the WTO. The organisation is facing important challenges itself. It has failed to achieve significant progress in much-needed negotiations since its creation 26 years ago, its Appellate Body is in a state of disrepair, and the organisation will now have to face the severe dislocation of world trade caused by the pandemic. Staying as it is now, the WTO will fail to offer the support SVEs need. The Caribbean, in particular, has been struggling in recent years with the weakness of global trade, compounded by the region’s economic dependence on the trade of a limited array of goods and services, and its fragility vis-à-vis climate change. Those issues require suitable flexibilities and support from the WTO. Moreover, they require the scaffolding that goes beyond stop-gap measures.

“As members recognise, there is a need to reignite our work at the WTO and engage in a true 21st-century agenda, with development at the core. In that sense, CARICOM will play a vital role in improving the WTO’s work on small developing economies, with emphasis on special and differential treatment. It is imperative to enhance the work at the councils and committees. Moreover, the WTO must invest more in training and technical assistance, possibly leveraging resources with assistance in kind from member countries and other partner agencies.”

4. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, July 31, 2020, Seade: Transparency could help break WTO divide on industrial subsidies, https://insidetrade.com/trade/seade-transparency-could-help-break-wto-divide-industrial-subsidies

Inside U.S. Trade has done a series of interviews with the candidates for the WTO Director-General position. The Seade interview is summarized in the July 31 article cited above. Dr. Seade highlighted the potential importance of transparency in helping WTO Members forge a path forward on industrial subsidies and other issues.

There has been a serious concern by the U.S., EU and others on inadequate transparency of subsidy programs provided by some Members (including China and India) as is clear from counternotifications filed by the U.S. in the past.

The article indicates that Dr. Seade viewed the issue of industrial subsidies as “perhaps the most serious” one before WTO Members. As Dr. Seade has commented in other settings, it is up to those seeking changes in industrial subsidies (U.S., EU, Japan) to work with China to see what package of issues need to be addressed for China to be at the table.

5. Archyde, August 2, 2020, Candidate for the presidency of the WTO, Jesus Seade wants to revive international trade, https://www.archyde.com/candidate-for-the-presidency-of-the-wto-jesus-seade-wants-to-revive-international-trade/.

What do you propose to overcome the blockade of the United States which prevents the appointment of new judges to the Appellate Body (OA) and cripples the dispute settlement mechanism?

J. S. : These problems are not insurmountable. The United States complains not about the trade agreements, but about their interpretation by the AB. This is autonomous and must remain so. In order to move forward, I propose the creation of a supervisory committee of the OA, made up of five ambassadors and three lawyers. It is up to him to determine whether the appeals body is confined to applying the agreements or whether it has exceeded its powers. We could thus reassure the Americans and relaunch the WTO.”

6. CGTN, 24 July 2020, WTO ‘in a very serious situation’: Leadership candidate Jesus Seade urges reform, https://newseu.cgtn.com/news/2020-07-24/WTO-in-a-very-serious-situation-Leadership-candidate-urges-reform-SkWda4vrDq/index.html.

“He stressed that the WTO had to provide more space for new negotiations on international trade to adapt to the demands of contemporary geopolitics, especially the rise of emerging economies.

“‘Now you have major new players on the block. China was not a member; now, it is formidably important.’ 

“He warned that the WTO had to overhaul the ‘broken’ system for dispute resolution to accommodate such shifts. But in spite of its challenges and shortcomings, Seade described the organization as ‘a fundamental piece of global architecture.'”

7. Nikkei Asian Review, July 13, 2020, Interview, Good listener or strong negotiator? WTO candidates make case for top job, https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Interview/Good-listener-or-strong-negotiator-WTO-candidates-make-case-for-top-job.

Jesus Seade

Q: How do you see the situation of trade at this moment?

“A: I feel bad that an organization I helped to create is now in a situation that needs a serious fix. I think I can provide that fix.

“The crisis in the WTO is in good measure a crisis between the United States and Europe, not China, for dispute settlement.

“For Europe, the dispute settlement system had to be like a “court” who decides things and establishes jurisprudence, whereas the United States always wanted a more basic approach for facilitation of the solutions.

“The United States is very uncomfortable about how things have happened and has taken extreme measures, strong measures. That is why the appellate body now is no longer functional. So that’s a crisis as important as COVID or as differences with China.

“We need to fix that, urgently. It is a very complicated process it’s not one country versus another country. There are many parties in many aspects. This is a very complex crisis. That is why we need a real expert. 

“Q: How will you become the bridge between the U.S. and China?

“A: The United States and China are not talking. The director general has to get involved and lead the discussions. What they need is a strong personality, a strong leader to call them to discussions and be engaged on that discussion.

“For the [director general] position, you need to be a top trade negotiator. Because if you come from a background in finance and politics, you can have fantastic leadership and leadership is very important, but at the first difficult discussion between the United States and China, or between the United States and Europe, what will happen?

“I don’t think we should have a director general only encouraging [the parties] to discuss. He has to be part of that, he has to lead the discussion.

“Q: How would you enable the appellate body to function again?

“A: What I have in mind is taking measures that diverse countries — most of them, except the United States — have proposed, which is called the Walker Principles, a package of measures [put forth by New Zealand’s Ambassador to the WTO David Walker] that basically reinforce the measures that already exist. The United States is not rejecting the proposal, just saying that’s not enough.

“So what I’m saying is that I will propose those proposals and then two other measures I have in my mind that would have to be developed in detail, but the fundamental idea is already in my mind and would be additions to those proposals. I see no reason why Japan or the European Union or China would reject my extra proposals. What I hope is for the United States to say, ‘Ah! With those extra proposals maybe, this is going to be interesting,’ and then we’ll hear from the United States.

“It’s not a very complex thing because nobody — not the United States, not Japan, not Europe — nobody is saying that it’s necessary to change the dispute settlement understanding. I think there is something we should be able to solve in the matter of the weeks.”

Conclusion

Each candidate has been very busy these last several months meeting with WTO Members both in Geneva and in capital (whether in person or virtually), talking to the media, doing events with academia and think tanks and others. The above additional materials on Dr. Seade are a small sample of what is out there. The excerpts have largely been limited to some of the key issues my previous posts have examined (appellate body reform, industrial subsidies, etc.).

Future posts will look at additional materials for other candidates.

The global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases passes 25 million with more than 843,000 deaths — increased race to lock up vaccine supplies

In my post of August 16, I suggested that it appeared that the global spread of COVID-19 may have peaked in the August 3-16 period. See August 16, 2020, Is the world at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic?  Last two weeks suggest a peaking of the growth of global infections may be at hand, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/16/is-the-world-at-the-peak-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-last-two-weeks-suggest-a-peaking-of-the-growth-of-global-infections-may-be-at-hand/. Data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show total new cases for the August 17-30 time period to be 3,558,360 compared to 3,624,548 for August 3-16 and 3,568,162 for the July 20-August 2 period. Thus, global new cases seem to have peaked or to have reached a plateau.

The United States which has more confirmed cases than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19, had a second two-week decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period. The most recent period is still 46.76% higher than what had been the prior peak during April 13-26 of 409,102 new cases. Even with the significant reduction in new cases in the August 17-30 period, the United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases is continuing to rise and were 953,051 in the last two weeks. Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are also falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16 and to 529,057 new cases during August 17-30. India, the United States and Brazil accounted for an extraordinary 58.5% of the new global cases during the last two weeks and account for 53.39% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019. The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 23.82% of total confirmed cases since December 2019. With the declining numbers in the last two weeks, the U.S. was still 16.87% of new cases during August 17-30 or roughly four times the U.S. share of global population.

Continued growth of cases in the developing world

With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues although there has been some significant resurgence of new cases in a number of developed countries during the summer vacation period with a renewal of at least some international travel. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Colombia (143,225), Peru (113,632), Argentina (109,585), Mexico (73,998), Iraq (54,863), the Philippines (55,213), South Africa (38,898) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.

Spain showed the largest increase of a developed country that had gotten the COVID-19 spread under control until recently. For August 17-30, Spain saw an additional 96,473 new cases. France added 57,009 new cases; Germany saw 17,538 new cases. Other countries in Europe as well as Japan and Korea also saw significant additional new cases.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (182,779) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (13,298) behind only India (13,518). The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population were the following: Colombia (8.45), Bolivia (8.12), Peru (7.79), Brazil (6.27), Argentina (6.12), Mexico (5.70), Panama (5.58),Chile (4.15), United States (4.04). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.01 deaths/100,000 population.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through August 30, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 11.10 deaths. The nine countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Belgium (86.34), Peru (87.99), United Kingdom (62.27), Spain (61.81), Chile (59.00), Italy (58.77), Brazil (57.08), Sweden (which did not impose any restrictions)(56.90), the United States (55.54). With the exception of Brazil, Chile, Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (all the European countries were less than 1 death per 100,000).

Race for vaccines

There have been many press articles looking at efforts by the United States, by the EU and by others to lock up large quantities of vaccines from companies whose vaccines are in third phase trials for early availability to their populations. See, e.g., European Commission, 14 August 2020, Coronavirus: Commission reaches first agreement on a potential vaccine, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1438. The Russian Federation has released a vaccine that did not go through a third phase trial and has received interest from some developing countries. After international criticism, the Russian Federation is now pursuing Phase 3 trials. AP, Putin touts Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine as effective and safe, August 27, 2020, https://apnews.com/f505b2fe730b56b558b8f76bf1932af0.

China has been promising some trading partners preferential access to its vaccines. See, e.g., Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2020, China Seeks to Use Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for Diplomacy, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-seeks-to-use-access-to-covid-19-vaccines-for-diplomacy-11597690215

For the Philippines, their President has been shopping with the U.S., Russia and China for early access. See, e.g., Nikkei Asia, August 11, 2020, Duterte takes Russia’s offer of COVID vaccine after asking China, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Duterte-takes-Russia-s-offer-of-COVID-vaccine-after-asking-China.

Beyond the national or regional efforts to secure priority for vaccines when developed, joint efforts continue as part of the WHO effort to ensure that vaccines and other medical goods relevant to addressing COVID-19 are available equitably to all people and at affordable prices. See, e.g., European Union, Coronavirus Global Response, https://global-response.europa.eu/index_en.

So while it may not be surprising to see countries looking first and foremost about the health of their own citizens, the World Health Organization has warned that no one is safe until all are safe from the COVID-19. The next six months to a year will be a test of whether the efforts of many to provide funding and other resources to ensure greater equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices can coexist with national efforts to prioritize their own citizens.

Conclusion

The world in the first eight months of 2020 is struggling to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been some resurgence in many of these countries as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased and as schools reopen in many countries. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (other than Canada), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in parts of Africa. Since most new cases are now in developing countries, it is unclear how many of these countries will be able to handle a significant number of cases, whether their healthcare infrastructure will be overwhelmed and whether they will have the medical goods needed to handle the cases safely.

August has seen the global number of new cases peak and possibly start to decline. That is some good news although the number of new cases on a daily basis continues to strain the global supply system.

The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. While this puts a lot of money at risk should one or more of the vaccines in trials not prove safe or effective, it saves a great deal of time in getting product to market if approved. In a global economy in which least developed countries, small and vulnerable economies and other developing countries are experiencing significant economic challenges because of travel restrictions and trade contractions flowing from efforts to address the pandemic, achieving equitable and affordabale access to vaccines when available is a global imperative. Time will tell if the imperative is achieved or not.

WTO Dispute Settlement Body Meeting of August 28, 2020 — How disputes are being handled in the absence of reform of the Appellate Body

No forward movement has been made on resolving the impasse of the WTO’s Appellate Body which effectively ceased to operate for new appeals after December 10, 2019 when the number of active Appellate Body members fell below the minimum of three needed to hear appeals. At every monthly Dispute Settlement Body meeting, one of the Members presents the proposal to start the process of selecting new Appellate Body members and the U.S. indicates it is not in a position to agree to that action.

While the impasse continues, Members are dealing with how to proceed on specific disputes that have been filed and how to deal with panel decisions that get issued. For the EU and 22 other Members who are parties to the multi-party interim appeal arrangement (MPIA), disputes involving two members of the MPIA are handled through the MPIA after a panel decision if one or both parties are dissatisifed with the panel decision. Current members of the MPIA are Australia, Benin, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the European Union, Guatemala, Hong Kong (China), Iceland, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Singapore, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uruguay. This means that more than 110 WTO Members are not parties to the MPIA including the United States, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Argentina, Peru, Egypt, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation and many others.

Disputes between all other WTO Members or between other Members and one of the MPIA members require the parties to the dispute either before the panel decision or afterwards to decide how they will proceed. Concerns of many WTO Members is that a party dissatisfied with a panel decision will take an appeal which will effectively stop resolution of the matter as an appeal cannot be heard while there is no functioning Appellate Body.

MPIA members can take appeals where they are in a dispute with a non-MPIA member instead of seeking resolution through other means. For example, the Russian Federation is not a member of the MPIA. Their dispute with the EU on its antidumping methodology resulted in a panel decision that the EU found problematic. The EU filed an appeal on August 28, 2020. See WTO, Dispute Settlement, EU appeals panel report on EU dumping methodologies, duties on Russian imports, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ds494apl_28aug20_e.htm. When raised at the August 28 dispute settlement body (DSB) meeting, Russia provided the following comment:

“The Russian Federation made a statement regarding the European Union’s appeal of the panel ruling in in DS494 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds494_e.htm) (EU —
Cost Adjustment Methodologies and Certain Anti-Dumping Measures on Imports from Russia). Russia said it was disappointed with the EU’s decision and that that the EU’s action, in the absence of a functioning Appellate Body, essentially meant that the matter was being appealed “into the void.” The EU was seeking to escape its obligations by not trying to resolve the dispute,
Russia said.” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dsb_28aug20_e.htm.

Interestingly, the EU has been working to be able to retaliate on any WTO Member who is not a party to the MPIA who appeals from a panel decision where the EU is a party. Presumably they understand that their action will encourage countries like the Russian Federation to take unilateral action against the EU where the EU appeals a panel decision instead of seeking a mutually agreeable solution.

The United States has reviewed at prior DSB meetings that there are many ways for Members to resolve disputes between themselves. At the recent DSB meeting, the U.S. in its prepared statement, after reviewing its ongoing concerns with the Appellate Body and the need to understand why the Appellate Body ignored the clear limits on its authority under the Dispute Settlement Understanding, provided examples of how Members are resolving disputes since December 10, 2019:

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

“ The central objective of that system remains unchanged: to assist the parties to find a solution to their dispute. As before, Members have many methods to resolve a dispute, including through bilateral engagement, alternative dispute procedures, and third-party adjudication.

“ As noted at prior meetings of the DSB, Members are experimenting and deciding what makes the most sense for their own disputes.

“ For instance, in Indonesia – Safeguard on Certain Iron or Steel Products (DS490/DS496), Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, and Vietnam reached procedural understandings that included an agreement not to appeal any compliance panel report.3

“ Similarly, in the dispute United States – Anti-Dumping Measures on Certain Oil Country Tubular Goods from Korea (DS488), Korea and the United States agreed not to appeal the report of any compliance panel.4

“ Australia and Indonesia have agreed not to appeal the panel report in the dispute Australia – Anti-Dumping Measures on A4 Copy Paper (DS529).5

“ Parties should make efforts to find a positive solution to their dispute, consistent with the aim of the WTO dispute settlement system.

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

“3 ‘Understanding between Indonesia and Chinese Taipei regarding Procedures under Articles 21 and 22 of the DSU’, (WT/DS490/3) (April 11, 2019), para. 7 (‘The parties agree that if, on the date of the circulation of the panel report under Article 21.5 of the DSU, the Appellate Body is composed of fewer than three Members available to serve on a division in an appeal in these proceedings, they will not appeal that report under Articles 16.4 and 17 of the DSU.’) and ‘Understanding between Indonesia and Viet Nam regarding Procedures under Articles 21 and 22 of the DSU’, WT/DS496/14 (March 22, 2019), para. 7 (‘The parties agree that if, on the date of the circulation of the panel report under Article 21.5 of the DSU, the Appellate Body is composed of fewer than three Members available to serve on a division in an appeal in these proceedings, they will not appeal that report under Articles 16.4 and 17 of the DSU.’).

“4 ‘Understanding between the Republic of Korea and the United States regarding Procedures under Articles 21 and 22 of the DSU’, (WT/DS488/16) (February 6, 2020), para. 4 (‘Following circulation of the report of the Article 21.5 panel, either party may request adoption of the Article 21.5 panel report at a meeting of the DSB within 60 days of circulation of the report. Each party to the dispute agrees not to appeal the report of the Article 21.5 panel pursuant to Article 16.4 of the DSU.’).

“5 Minutes of the Meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body on January 27, 2020 (WT/DSB/M/440), paras. 4.2 (‘Indonesia also wished to thank Australia for working together with Indonesia in a spirit of cooperation in order to reach an agreement not to appeal the Panel Report’ and 4.3 (‘Australia and Indonesia had agreed not to appeal the Panel Report and to engage in good faith negotiations of a reasonable period of time for Australia to bring its measures into conformity with the DSB’s recommendations and rulings, in accordance with Article 21.3(b) of the DSU.’).”

Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settle- ment Body, Geneva, August 28, 2020 at 14, https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Aug28.DSB_.Stmt_.as-deliv.fin_.public.pdf.

Thus, there are ways for WTO Members to resolve disputes between themselves even with the Appellate Body inoperative. Some countries, like Australia, have sought positive resolutions where the other disputing party is not a member of MPIA. To date, the European Union has not sought resolution with members who are not party to the MPIA but have rather filed appeals so cases will sit in limbo until such time as the impasse is resolved.

Concluding comments

While each of the eight candidates to become the next Director-General of the WTO believe resolution of the dispute settlement system impasse is an important priority for the WTO, they differ in how quickly they believe Members will be able to overcome the impasse — Dr. Jesus Seade (Mexico) believes it can be resolved in the first 100 days. Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi believes that the challenges presented will not be resolved ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference in 2021 but will be resolved sometime thereafter. Most other candidates hold out hope that the impasse can be resolved by the next Ministerial in 2021. Thus, the current situation of no functioning Appellate Body may continue for some time.

The U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in an Op Ed last week in the Wall Street Journal suggested that reform of the dispute settlement system is critical but may involve changing the system from its existing two-tiered configuration under the DSU to a one-tier process more like commercial arbitration. If that is the path that the United States pursues, resolution of the current situation will take years. See August 24, 2020,  USTR Lighthizer’s Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal – How to Set World Trade Straight, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/24/ustr-lighthizers-op-ed-in-the-wall-street-journal-how-to-set-world-trade-straight/.

Similarly, if dispute settlement reform is lumped into the broader WTO reform being discussed, the timing will be significantly delayed if reform of the WTO is to be meaningful and return the organization to a place of relevance in the 21st century.

With the queue of panel decisions that are yet due this year involving some high profile issues (e.g., national security actions by the United States on steel and aluminum and retaliation taken by many trading partners) and with the recent panel report on the U.S. countervailing duty order on Canadian softwood lumber, pressure will likely build on WTO Members to find a lasting solution to the current impasse. Increased pressure suggests heightened tensions in an organization already suffering from distrust among Members and, as a result, largely nonfunctioning pillars of negotiation, notification/monitoring, dispute settlement. In short, 2021 promises to be a challenging environment for the WTO Members and the incoming Director-General.

The race to become the next WTO Director-General — where the candidates stand on important issues: fisheries subsidies and e-commerce/digital trade

[Updated on August 27 to incorporate comments by Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova at a WITA webinar held on August 26.]

The eight candidates for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization, in looking at what topics should be moved forward or completed in negotiations were uniformly in support of an early conclusion to the negotiations on fisheries subsidies and on updating the rule book by moving the plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce/digital trade forward to at least a draft document by the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference in 2021.

Background on fisheries subsidies

Fisheries subsidies have been subject to negotiation within the WTO since the launch of the Doha Development Agenda in December 2001 with limited forward movement in recent years. With the world’s wild caught supply of fish under severe pressure from overfishing, curbing illegal fishing and overfishing through subsidy disciplines became part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 (Goal 14.6)(SDG). This led WTO Members at the eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires to commit to completing the negotiations on fisheries subsidies by the twelfth Ministerial Conference which was scheduled for early June 2020 to permit completion within the time frame laid out in the UN SDG. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown in Geneva and in many countries, the time frame for completing the fisheries subsidies has slipped, although in late June, the Chair of the Rules Negotiating Group released a draft consolidated text to permit Members to see if a final push to complete negotiations could be made possibly yet in 2020. I have reviewed the fisheries subsidies in a number of prior posts. See, e.g., June 29, 2020, Update on fisheries subsidies draft consolidated text from June 25, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/29/update-on-fisheries-subsidies-draft-consolidated-text-from-june-25/; June 27, 2020, Chair of Rules Negotiating Group releases draft consolidated fisheries subsidies text at informal meeting on June 25, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/27/chair-of-rules-negotiating-group-releases-draft-consolidated-fisheries-subsidies-text-at-informal-meeting-on-june-25/; January 13, 2020, Fisheries Subsidies – Will the WTO Members Reach Agreement Before June 2020? https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/13/fisheries-subsidies-will-the-wto-members-reach-agreement-before-june-2020/.

Background on electronic commerce/digit trade

The agenda for the Uruguay Round was established in 1986 with negotiations completed in 1993 and the agreements that created the WTO signed in 1994. At that time, there was little electronic commerce. The driver of world economic growth over the last twenty-five years has increasingly been the rapidly developing technology that permits large amounts of communication and business activity to occur electronically. Music, movies, television, books, magazines have largely gone digital. Consumer purchases of goods and services have increasingly been done digitally. During the COVID-19 pandemic much of the world has depended on electronic communications to buy groceries, handle some medical needs, eliminate in person meetings replaced by virtual meetings and much more.

While the WTO as early as the second Ministerial Conference in 1998 agreed to study issues surrounding electronic commerce to develop rules that might be necessary, the WTO’s efforts have struggled for more than twenty years with periodic agreement to continue the review and extend a moratorium on customs duties on electronic commerce. See, e.g., Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, adopted by the General Council on 25 September 1998, WT/L/274 (30 Sept. 1998); Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, Ministerial Decision of 13 December 2017, WT/Min(17)/65, WT/L/1032 (18 December 2017). These two documents are embedded below.

274

65

At the eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, WTO Members with an interest in particular issues issued Joint Statement Initiatives basically indicating that the group of listed Members were going to move forward developing potential rules on the subject matter of interest, keeping the process open to any Member wishing to participate. One of the Joint Statements was on Electronic Commerce. See JOINT STATEMENT ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, WT/MIN(17)/60 (13 December 2017). The statement is embedded below.

60

The JSI on e-commerce has been making good progress under the leadership of Australia, Japan and Singapore. A review of progress from the March 5 General Council meeting minutes is copied below (WT/GC/M/182 at 117):

“47. Australia (Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce)

“I will first provide a report on negotiations under the Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce on behalf of the co-convenors: Australia, Japan and Singapore.

“I will start with a short summary of the informal meeting of Ministers on the Ecommerce JSI held in Davos on 24 January.

“At this meeting, Ministers underscored the importance of this initiative both commercially and systemically for the WTO and affirmed their commitment to a high standard outcome, with the participation of as many WTO members as possible.

“Ministers welcomed the good progress achieved over the first year of negotiations, including the range of proposals received, the diversity and growing number of participants, and the strong levels of engagement in negotiating rounds.

“Ministers emphasized the need to keep working hard to ensure substantial progress by MC12 and agreed to develop a consolidated negotiating text by MC12 and a pathway for the future conclusion of the negotiations.

“The Philippines also announced it would join the JSI, bringing the number of signatories to 83, representing over 90% of global trade.

“Since our last report at the December HODS/TNC, we have held an organisational meeting, on 16 December, that set a work plan leading up to MC12.

“We also convened a negotiating round from 11-14 February, which covered electronic transactions, non-discrimination and liability, consumer protection, transparency, domestic regulation, cooperation and telecommunications. These negotiations were structured around revised streamlined texts drawn from proposals made by Members, and made further progress on streamlining text.

“Two more rounds are scheduled before MC12: 17-20 March and 28 April-1 May.

“We look forward to a continuation of the constructive engagement and momentum demonstrated in February with the aim of developing a consolidated negotiating text by MC12.

“The co-convenors continue to ensure this JSI is transparent and inclusive: meetings are open to all WTO Members; and all proposals and reports are available on the WTO’s web portal.”

The JSI group had hoped to have a consolidated draft text by the 12th Ministerial Conference in June this year before the Ministerial Conference was cancelled because of the pandemic. While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down progress for a few months, the joint convenors (Australia, Japan and Singapore) remain confident that a draft agreement can be achieved with a roadmap for completion by the 2021 Ministerial. Most documents generated by the JSI group are not publicly available. However, the titles of documents are available publicly. As of August 21, 70 documents are listed as having been submitted by Members on the JSI on electronic commerce. The most recent document is dated August 19 and is titled a “Stocktake text” (INF/ECOM/57). A July 23 document is titled “Facilitator’s note – Services Market Access — List of Proponents’ sectors of interest”).

Statements by the eight candidates seeking to become the next WTO Director-General

What follows are excerpts from candidates’ prepared statements to the General Council, my notes of their responses to questions at their press conferences following meeting with the General Council, and my notes on their comments at webinars hosted by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and the Asia Society Policy Institute.

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

In his prepared statement to the General Council on July 15, Dr. Seade listed completion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations as an issue to be resolved in the first 100 days of his becoming Director-General. The Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce was one of a number of JSIs announced at the 11th Ministerial Confernce in Buenos Aires in 2017. Dr. Seade included all JSIs as areas where he would be expecting concrete results by June 2021.

“1. Within the first hundred days: I will work closely with
members in seeking to i. reach agreement on fisheries subsidies.” (Google translation from French).

“2. Second horizon, towards our MC12 conference, and aware of the fact that its date is not yet fixed, it is important that we look for concrete results
by June 2.021, both in joint initiatives and in issues that aim to give us a more transparent and effective WTO.” (Google translation from French).

At his press conference on July 15 after his meeting with the General Council, Dr. Seade was not asked any questions about the fisheries subsidies negotiations or about the e-commerce JSI.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Seade on July 7. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-seade/. During the webinar, Dr. Seade was not asked specifically about either the fisheries subsidies negotiations or about the Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce. However, he was asked a question on whether, if he was selected as the next Director-General, he would encourage plurilateral negotiations. All of the JSIs are plurilateral negotiations open to any Member who wishes to join. Below are my notes on the question asked and Dr. Seade’s response on plurilaterals.

Q: On the role of plurilaterals in the WTO, would you encourage their use if you are selected as the next Director-eneral?

A:  On plurilaterals, Dr. Seade tries to take a pragmatic and historic approach.  Looking at the history of the multilateral trading system, the Tokyo Round created a host of plurilaterals which were powerful to create rules that were accepted by many of the most important countries on a range of subjects (AD, Subsidies) — the so-called Tokyo Round Codes.  It was a great way to move the process of liberalization forward.  In Dr. Seade’s view, the great achievement in the Uruguay Round was to move to substantively universal rules (agriculture and textiles which had previously been outside of GATT rules were brought inside; the Tokyo Round Codes moved to Agreements applicable to all).  The Uruguay Round was possible because there were huge inducements for developing countries to accept services, TRIPs in exchange for textiles and agriculture liberalization.  However, the negotiating environment has changed. It is no longer possible to get liberalization through negotiations just betweenthe U.S. and the EU where the results are then accepted by others (e.g., agriculture). Now negotiations need to include China, India and others who need to be part and where large differences in objectives may make multilateral negotiations more difficult.  Therefore the WTO needs plurilaterals to permit forward movement.  However, the WTO and its Members need to work largely on the basis that any benefits from plurilaterals will be provided to all Members and that the agreement is open to any Member to join later if desired.  In Dr. Seade’s view, if the WTO doesn’t allow use of plurilaterals, progress at the WTO will stop.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala mentions both concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations and updating the WTO rules to include rules on e-commerce. She adds the need to bridge the digital divide so that any such rules will have broader application and broader input.

“The WTO appears paralysed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as e-commerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies. Issues of women and trade and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are important to ensure greater inclusion. Bridging the digital divide to enable Least Developed Countries and other developing countries to participate will be key.”

“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues such as the fisheries negotiations. With political will, outstanding issues of subsidies that lead to overfishing and unsustainable fishing can be concluded.”

“A rejuvenated WTO must also take on fresh challenges, such as ensuring optimal complementarity between trade and the environment and ensuring that WTO rules best respond to the realities of e-commerce and the opportunities and challenges of the digital economy.”

“Should I be elected, I would work with Members to prioritize delivering a successful MC12 with good outcomes on fisheries, agriculture and other areas. I would also prioritize updating the rulebook * * *.”

During the press conference on July 15 after her meeting with the General Council, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was asked a question on what progress in negotiations was achievable by the next Ministerial Conference and was also asked a question on how she would work towards ensuring a successful outcome on e-commerce negotiations. My notes on her responses to those questions follow.

On the question of what is achievable by the next Ministerial in 2021 and whether it is best to go after issues one at a time or in a larger grouping, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated that she hoped the WTO Membership would make a decision soon on who should be Director-General so whoever is selected has more time before the next Ministerial. But even if a decision is not made until November 2020, there are some areas that could be ready by the next Ministerial. For example, a fisheries subsidies agreement should be achievable. There was a lot of discussion in the General Council on trust and building trust to move negotiations along. Trust is obviously an important issue. So the WTO may need to sequence issues to build trust by achieving a win or two. Once there are some successes, it should be possible to handle more issues in parallel.

The question on what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would do as Director-General to see that an agreement on e-commerce was pursued was answered by noting that there was extensive work being done plurilaterally by many Members as one of a number of joint statement initiatives. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala agrees that an agreement on e-commerce is very important, but she notes that there is a digital divide where many poorer countries don’t have the infrastructure to take advantage of e-commerce. The WTO, working with other multilateral organizations, needs to see that resources are put together to help countries address the digital divide. Once the digital divide is addressed, all Members should want to and be able to participate in the e-commerce negotiations, so that the agreement becomes a multilateral one.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. During the webinar, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala made an opening statement in which she reviewed the need to generate some early wins for the WTO at the 12th Ministerial Conference including both fisheries subsidies and e-commerce. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was also asked speciically about e-commerce and digital trade and how to move those talks forward. Below are my notes on those portions of the webinar.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO is really at a critical moment, an existential crisis.  She believes that something needs to be done to give a lift to the organization.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would focus as Director-General on the next Ministerial Conference and what wins could be obtained at the Conference.  She believes that concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations with its issues of overcapacity and overfishing should be pursued and could be concluded even before the Ministerial Conference.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also believes that the WTO must update the rule book to cover 21st century issues.  As she has noted, the digital economy is driving the world during the COVID-19 pandemic and is of great importance to many Members.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes that the WTO needs to develop rules for e-commerce as e-commerce is the future of much of trade. At the same time, the WTO must address the digital divide so participation and benefits are available to all.

Q: On e-commerce and digital trade, how do you see rules being developed? Should the rules be based on the historic principles of the WTO?

A:  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes that ecommerce and digital trade are very important topics. The WTO must ensure two things. First, traditional WTO principles should apply (non-discrimination, etc.).  She believes that it would be important to get many more countries to join the talks. Stated differently, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala believes the WTO should always prefer a multilateral negotiation and agreement. However, sometimes plurilaterals are needed to make progress.  Second, the WTO working with other organizations needs to address the digital divide. In Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s view, the fact that many developing countries are not participating flows from the fact that they don’t have the infrastructure to engage in e-commerce to a significant extent and hence neither participate in the talks nor gain benefits.  This is the digital divide.  WTO is not a financial institution, so the WTO needs to team with other organizations to help developing countries overcome the digital divide which will permit these Members to then participate in the negotiations.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also believes that the level of commitments under an e-commerce agreement will need to vary based on the ability of Members to accept obligations and to contribute.

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

Mr. Mamdouh’s prepared statement to the General Council on July 15 identified both fisheries subsidies and the various Joint Statement Initiatives, including e-commerce, as priorities for movement by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“For the immediate future, we need to set clear priorities. MC12 is around the corner and it needs to be a turning point in the direction of the WTO and take it on a different path towards ‘positive territory’. I believe we need to do two things: 1) agree on a reform agenda and 2) achieve concrete progress on issues currently under negotiation.

“On current negotiating subjects, fisheries subsidies come first as the one item expected to be concluded by the end of 2020. It is crucial for our future to have a successful conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations.

“There are also the Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, domestic regulation in services, MSMEs and investment facilitation. These initiatives address pressing issues of importance to many Members and pause new challenges.”

During Mr. Mamdouh’s press conference after his meeting with the General Council, he was asked one question about the agenda for the twelfth Ministerial Conference which resulted in an answer that included pursuing completion of the fisheries subsidies agreement and work on the Joint Statement Initiatives. My notes on Mr. Mamdouh’s response is provided below.

Mr. Mamdouh was asked if there will be enough time to prepare for the next Ministerial to have a positive agenda/outcome. He answered that if the selection process concludes before November, there should be sufficient time. In his view, the next Ministerial needs to be a turning point for the WTO. At MC12, the WTO must have a clear agenda for reform. There is not currently a mainstream focus on reform; issues are being raised ad hoc. Second, the WTO needs to score successes – fisheries subsidies and progress on joint statement initiatives are the likely areas for success.

WITA had a webinar with Mr. Mamdouh on June 23. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-candidate-hamid-mamdouh/. During the webinar, Mr. Mamdouh was asked a question about e-commerce and was also asked his views on plurilaterals and whether he would support their use if he becomes the next Director-General. As all of the Joint Statement Initiatives involve plurilateral negotiations, the question applies to e-commerce along with the other JSIs. Below are my notes on the questions and Mr. Mamdouh’s responses.

Q: U.S. has raised various issues of importance to them. How do you see elements of a reform agenda getting U.S. support if U.S. concerns are not addressed or included in the agenda?

A: Mr. Mamdouh indicated that U.S. concerns were being examined at the WTO. He took e-commerce as an example. Looking at the e-commerce agenda at the WTO, Mr. Mamdouh is of the view that there needs to be discussions that haven’t taken place at the WTO in a very long time.  Trade issues today are of increased complexity where issues of increased trade liberalization are juxtaposed with regulatory interests. E-commerce/digital trade has a slew of legitimate regulatory issues where Members can have very different perspectives. Examples would include privacy policies, cyber security, localization among others.  In Mr. Mamdouh’s view, these regulatory policy issues are both legitimate and of different importance to different Members.  So the question arises as to how new rules deal with these diversities of Member needs while ensuring rules that respect different needs while ensuring actions by Members are the least trade restrictive  While the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement are examples of issues with similar types of competing regulatory needs, many of the new issues are as or more complex. These new complex areas are not seeing discussions to date between trade folks, regulators and lawyers to help clarify the needs, challenges and options that may be available to permit WTO progress on fashioning new rules. In Mr. Mamdouh’s view, WTO Members must do a much better job of discussing issues and clarifying them so the options can be taken back home and reviewed to permit Members to get into real negotiations.

Q: Plurilaterals can be defined as agreements by like minded countries on topics.  How do you view plurilaterals and would you support them if you were selected as the next Director-General?  Should most favored nation treatment be eliminated for plurilaterals, so the benefits of plurilateral liberalization only goes to those who are participating?

A:  In Mr. Mamdouh’s view, one needs to clarify what is meant by plurilaterals.  Are we talking about plurilateral processes or outcomes?  Mr. Mamdouh views that there are two types of plurilaterals that have been pursued over time. The first is a plurilateral process that produces plurilateral outcomes — that is where the Agreement applies only to the signatories to that agreement. These are like the agreements in Annex 4 to the WTO (civil aircraft, government procurement, dairy and bovine meat). While these can be pursued they are less likely as they require the consent of all Members.  There are also plurilateral negotiations that produce multilateral outcomes. That is, the resulting agreement provides benefits to all even though the agreement was among some of the Members.  These are quite normal and are clearly within the spirit of the WTO.  Practically, Members engaged in plurilaterals will want there to be a critical mass of Members engaged for these types of plurilateral agreements to move forward. Moreover, Mr. Mamdouh noted that there is no requirement that all Members agree to the launch of plurilateral negotiations. That is not a requirement of the WTO and should not be assumed.  On the question of whether plurilateral agreements will opt increasingly to limit benefits to members, Mr. Mamdouh believes that the concept of most favored nation treatment in plurilaterals will undergo a stress test in the coming years as there are issues re reciprocity.    

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

On July 16, Amb. Ulianovschi was the first candidate to meet with the General Council. In his prepared statement when Amb. Ulianovschi got to what he thought the immediate priorities for the new Director-General should be, completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations and making progress on Joint Statement Initiatives were two of the priorities listed.

“In terms of immediate priorities for the future Director General of the WTO, the following should be considered (including in the preparation process for MC12):

“2. Build upon the progress achieved already on the fisheries subsidies negotiations and strongly support Members to achieve a negotiated text by MC12;

* * *

“4. Further encouraging and supporting discussions on new and existing Joint Initiatives, particularly: on Elecronic Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development, Domestic Services Regulation, as well as the dialogs of the informal group on MSMES and SMEs and others.

“5. Promoting negotiations of new commercial disciplines and address issues of the digital environment and new areas of intellectual property.”

During Amb. Ulianovschi’s press conference after his meeting with the General Council, the last question he was asked had Amb. Ulianovschi point to the Joint Statement Initiatives (which include electronic commerce) as a sign Members could make progress on reform issues. Amb. Ulianovschi was not asked specifically about either fisheries subsidies or electronic commerce. My notes on the question asked and Amb. Ulianovschi’s answer are provided below.

Q: The last question asked was about getting the WTO out of crisis; in particular, what is the core factor causing the crisis and how would Mr. Ulianovschi address the factor if he was selected as Director-General.

A: Mr. Ulianovschi answered that this is an existential question for the WTO. The first priority, in his view, to get out of the crisis is for there to be trust among Members. The role of the Director-General is to enhance feelings of trust through confidence building steps. Many issues which have been unresolved for a long time have undermined trust. Joint initiative statement issues are advancing and give hope that the organization is relevant and can deliver. This is a good sign that there is a common purpose among the Members.

WITA held a webinar with Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi on August 26, 2020.  https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-tudor-ulianovschi/. During the webinar, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked two questions where his response included views on the fisheries subsidies negotiations and/or on e-commerce/digital trade. My notes on the questions asked and on Amb. Ulianovschi’s responses are provided below.

Q:  If you are the next Director-General, what would be your priorities for the 2021 Ministerial Conference and how would you define success?

A:  In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, the next Ministerial must show some results.  He believes the top priority would be completing the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies, which is important to fulfill U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.  He believes that the Members are close to getting language agreed to.  Completing the fisheries subsidies agreement Is just the first step, but it is an important one.  He would also focus on ongoing Joint Statement Initiatives (JSI) such as on  digital trade/e-commerce.   JSIs are plurilateral negotiations as opposed to multilateral ones.  As seen by Members during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital trade is of growing importance.  A key question is how to help least developed countries get involved and get help building the infrastructure so such Members can participate.  Also Members will need to deal with a range of issues surround digital trade such as cybersecurity, privacy, etc.  Amb. Ulianovschi stated that a Ministerial declaration would be expected at the 2021 Ministerial on e-commerce.  He also noted that there are other JSIs as well that are being discussed.  He believes that at the next Ministerial Members should have a clear message of support for small, medium and micro enterprises.  Such enterprises are a huge issue for most Members.  Many of these businesses are being severely challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and many will likely go bankrupt.  WTO Members need to help identify how the WTO and other organizations can work with them (financial institutions and ICC). 

Q:  You say that business as usual isn’t viable anymore.  What has changed?  If plurilateral work is where we are headed,  do we need to rethink the most favored nation principle?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi stated that when one looks at the WTO, one sees that there is a lack of trust which in turn has meant there is lack of forward movement on negotiations.  Thus, it is clear that  business as usual isn’t working.  But that recognition doesn’t mean that the organization starts from zero.  What is clear is that things need to change.  The WTO is not responding to 21st century issues which cannot continue if the organization is to maintain relevance.  On the issue of multilateral vs. plurilateral negotiations, the only multilateral negotiation that is proceeding is on fisheries subsidies.  As noted, Amb. Ulianovschi hopes that the fisheries subsidies negotiations will be completed by the next Ministerial in 2021.  Where trust is lacking, he belives Members need to seek progress from the bottom up – finding like-minded Members who are concerned about an issue and willing to negotiate rules on the issue.  Plurilaterals are going on (JSIs are an example).  This is a good sign as plurilaterals show that a number of members are concerned with a topic.  Any plurilateral negotiation must be done in a transparent and inclusive manner.  Based on his discussions with Members, Amb. Ulianovschi knows that there is a large support for keeping MFN applicable to benefits from plurilaterals.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea)

Minister Yoo in her prepared statement to the General Council identified both fisheries subsidies and the JSI on electronic commerce as priorities for the 12th Ministerial.

“MC12 will be a critical milestone of Members’ ability to deliver results and set the agenda for the future. The new Director-General must help make it a success in order to build trust in the WTO.

“A successful outcome on fisheries subsidies will demonstrate the credibility of the WTO and its ability to contribute to global objectives on sustainable development. It will also provide the world with the benefits for
trade and environmental sustainability. I will do everything I can to support these negotiations and bring them swiftly to a successful conclusion, for endorsement by Ministers at MC12.

“Electronic commerce is also an area in which we should work towards tangible outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue. A comprehensive agreement by next summer may be ambitious, but I think we can take some concrete steps and lay out the path forward for post-MC12 work.”

During Minister Yoo’s press conference after her meeting with the General Council, she was asked questions on how she would restore trust if selected the next Director-General and how she would bring major Members onto issues being considered. Fisheries subsidies and e-commerce are mentioned in one or the other answers. My notes on the questions and answers provided are presented below.

Q: A question was asked as to how Minister Yoo would restore trust if selected as the next Director-General.

A: Minister Yoo noted her experience in negotiating trade deals with all level of countries around the world. She knows what it takes to negotiate and what it takes to bring negotiations to a close. She is confident that she can earn confidence from Members and achieve tangible outcomes. The key is to obtain even a small success at the MC12 (e.g., fisheries subsidies agreement by then) which would help build trust and convince the world that progress can happen at the WTO.

Q: What does it mean for the WTO to be relevant, and how would you bring on major members who may not agree with the issue being considered?

A: Minister Yoo stated that the WTO needs to revitalize its negotiating function and must be able to enforce its rules (by restoring the Appellate Body). Given 21st century realities, the WTO needs to update its rule book and to achieve agreement on issues that have real global effects such as the joint initiative efforts on e-commerce, MSMEs, investments, and other issues. That said, there are open issues from The Doha Development Agenda that are not moving because there are different views on how to move forward. In terms of how you bring members to the negotiating table, part of the answer is to obtain small successes to build trust and momentum.

WITA had a webinar with Minister Yoo on August 11.  https://www.wita.org/event-videos/candidate-h-e-yoo-myung-hee/. During the webinar, Minister Yoo was asked both about the e-commerce negotiations and about the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations. My notes on the questions and her responses are provided below.

Q: How important is it to move forward with a WTO reform agenda? In particular digital trade and e-commerce have become much more important to global trade during the pandemic.  How important is it for the WTO to address the lack of rules on digital trade and e-commerce?

A:  Minister Yoo indicated that the negotiations on e-commerce were important before the pandemic and are even more important now. Thus, it is critical to have successful negotiations.  WTO reform is very important generally.  All three pillars of the WTO — negotiations, dispute settlement and notifications and monitoring — need to be strengthened.  The WTO rule book was largely created 25 years ago.  Minister Yoo noted that the world didn’t have the smart phone or even much e-commerce back then.  So the existing WTO rules are limited in their ability to deal with current commercial reality.  It is important that the WTO achieve an agreement on e-commerce to show that the WTO can adapt to 21st century needs.  That said, Minister Yoo cautioned that Members have different views on various aspects of e-commerce.  She believes there are some low hanging fruit — e-signature and trade facilitation issues — that Members could be able to agree on relatively quickly.   However, Minister Yoo also noted that there are difficult issues in e-commerce tied to other government policy objectives — e.g., data transfer, localization — that may take longer to reach agreement on.  In tackling the more difficult set of issues, WTO Members need to look to see if the proposed rule serves a legitimate policy objective of Members.  If yes, then Members need to see if there is a way to achieve the objective in the least trade restrictive manner while facilitating e-commerce.  Considering the full set of issues that are present in the e-commerce talks, it may be too ambitious to achieve an agreement by the 12th Ministerial Conference in 2021.  Hopefully, WTO Members engaged in the talks can achieve a consolidated text by the Ministerial.  And then hopefully Members could agree on a path forward.  Minister Yoo is optimistic that Members will be able to come up with an ambitious agreement.

Q: Fisheries subsidies negotiations were hopefully going to conclude by this summer before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed negotiations. What are your thoughts on how talks can be brought to a successful conclusion?

A:  Minister Yoo stated that the fisheries subsidies negotiations are important to conclude to show the continued relevance of the WTO. The fisheries subsidies negotiations are the only multilateral talks at the WTO that are active (most others are plurilateral).  Achieving agreement on fisheries subsidies can also contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals.  For both reasons, concluding the negotiations is very important.  Minister Yoo believes that Members should focus their energies on completing the negotiations by the end of this year so that the agreement can be endorsed by Ministers at the next Ministerial Conference in 2021.  For the next Director-General, the most urgent agenda item is to help facilitate the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies talks by the end of this year or at the very latest by the next Ministerial Conference in 2021.

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

Minister Mohamed was the last candidate to appear before the General Council on July 16. Minister Mohamed did not address specifically either fisheries subsidies or the Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce in her prepared statement to the General Council.

Similarly, during Minister Mohamed’s press conference after her meeting with the General Council, she was not asked a question dealing specifically with fisheries subsidies or the Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce, nor did she include mention of either in answer to any of the questions asked.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Mohamed on August 6. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/ambassador-amina-mohamed/. During the webinar, Minister Mohamed referenced digital trade in her opening comments and was asked a question about plurilateral negotiations. As noted before all of the Joint Statement Initiatives (including e-commerce) are plurilateral negotiations . My notes on her comments on these issues are provided below.

Opening statement:  Once the world recovers from the pandemic, the WTO will still face challenges of renewal and updating the rules to address global issues such as climate change, the digital revolution, and sustainable development.

Q: on developing new rules at the WTO, it has proven difficult to get agreement among all Members.  This has led to many Members turning to plurilaterals to achieve progress.  What are your views on plurilaterals?  Should MFN treatment of benefits be reconsidered where plurilateral agreements are the basis for liberalization or new rules?

A:  Minister Mohamed noted that plurilateral agreements are not new in the WTO; there were plurilateral agreements in the GATT.  She believes that plurilateral agreements will continue to be pursued and be part of the trading system.  Indeed, Minister Mohamed stated that the completion and/or start of plurilateral negotiations was a “good” that came out of the Nairobi and the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conferences in 2015 and 2017 respectively.  Countries that want to take on additional obligations will come together to negotiate new obligations for themselves.  In this way, plurilaterals complement the multilateral system.  Minister Mohamed stated that once there is a plurilateral agreement, it is important to share the benefits on an MFN basis if you want broad acceptance by Members.  Minister Mohamed had been the chair of the Nairobi Ministerial at which an update to the Information Technology Agreement (ITA2) was agreed to. Before the Ministerial, Minister Mohamed had had to travel to a number of capitals to get agreement to apply benefits on an MFN basis. At the end, the benefits of ITA2 are shared on an MFN basis and the agreement is open to all Members who want to join at a later date.  This led to unanimous acceptance of the ITA2 at Nairobi in 2015.  Minister Mohamed believes that it is important for ongoing plurilateral negotiations to ensure that the benefits are applied on MFN basis and that the agreement is open to all Members.

H.E. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

Minister Al-Tuwaijri was the first candidate to meet with the General Council on July 17. In his prepared statement, Minister Al-Tuwaijri identifies fisheries subsidies and e-commerce as two early deliverables for the WTO at the 12th Ministerial Conference in 2021.

“And finally, concerning the first question on what opportunities and solutions will emerge from current challenges, the existing delay in convening Ministers for the 12th Ministerial Conference may be a blessing in disguise. If we move quickly to take advantage of the opportunity of having an additional year to prepare, we could find and deliver solutions at MC12, particularly on fishery subsidies and electronic commerce and digital trade, which would demonstrate that the WTO can address issues in the public good – that would deliver on your goal of ‘optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development’ – while recognizing the contribution of e-commerce to economic growth in all markets, which has been emphatically affirmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although concluding the fishery subsidies negotiations would be a welcome sign that WTO Members can agree on something, we should not exaggerate the impression that this small step will make on our constituents. We need to aim higher, and the DG must work overtime to support a more complete agenda for the future of the WTO by MC12.”

During Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s press conference after meeting with the General Council, one question asked about WTO reform resulted in an answer by the Minister which provided both fisheries subsidies and e-commerce as issues where results by the 12th Ministerial Conference were possible. My notes on the question and Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s answer are provided below.

On the issue of WTO reform, Minister AlTuwaijri recognized that the WTO is a member driven organization. Second, the Director-General has a function to facilitate and to assess, but there is also room to improve the Director-General’s role. For example, the next ministerial (MC12) has been delayed til 2021. The delay provides an opportunity to improve the discussion at MC 12 and the outcomes that are possible. Bringing management and leadership skills to the Director-General position will permit setting goals, metrics for measuring progress in achieving those goals and providing a feedback loop on gaps that need to be addressed. Certain current issues should be achievable, such as fisheries subsidies and e-commerce. In the Minister’s view, COVID-19 and post-pandemic recovery provide the WTO an opportunity to address core needs of Members by doing a performance assessment. Where are the gaps in performance? Why did those gaps develop? How should the WTO proceed to eliminate the gaps? From his business and government experience, Minister Al-Tuwaijri knows that this type of transformation of the WTO to a more goal-oriented organization is possible.

WITA held a webinar with Minister Al-Tuwaijri on August 5, https://www.wita.org/event-videos/director-general-candidate-he-mohammed-al-tuwaijri/. During the webinar, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was asked his views on plurilateral agreements, which include the Joint Statement Initiatives such as the one on e-commerce. My notes on the question and Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s response follows.

Q: Do you see plurilateral negotiations as a good alternative to the lack of progress in multilateral talkes?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri responded that his short answer would be Yes.  Members need to be able to move on where multilateral talks are blocked or not occurring.  So in Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view plurilateral negotiations and agreements are part of the answer.  Because plurilateral agreements have existed for some time, Minister Al-Tuwaijri is interested in why some Members don’t join the agreement over time if the agreement is open to all and provides MFN benefits.  The answer to the “why” question is important if plurilaterals are to be more effective and lead to the agreements becoming multilateral over time.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

Dr. Fox was the last candidate to appear before the General Council. His prepared statement has a section which reviews what Dr. Fox considers one of the new Director-General’s first tasks, delivering a successful 12th Ministerial Conference in 2021. Among the issues to be addressed are completion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations and progress on the Joint Statement Initiatives, including on e-commerce.

“Now, one of the first tasks for a new DG will be to deliver a successful 12th Ministerial Conference. The contents are, of course, for the members to agree but it is essential that the DG works with members to produce ideas and an agenda that, yes, excites us here at the WTO but is also seen as relevant outside. It must focus on outcomes, not process, helping the real businesses – large, medium, small and micro – upon which real prosperity depends.

“So what are some of our specific challenges?

“Well, despite remaining gaps, members are perhaps closer than they have been in the past to agreeing new rules to discipline harmful fisheries subsidies, and we must push for an outcome as soon as possible to meet the SDG goal set by Leaders. But, this is not just about fish, but about showing that the WTO can take steps on sustainability more generally – an area where members are rightly bringing forward other ideas, and where the public attach great importance.

“I know many members are also keen to make progress on Joint Initiatives on e-commerce, services, MSMEs and investment – these will be an important part of the discussions in the coming months.”

During Dr. Fox’s press conference after his July 17th meeting with the General Council he was asked one question on the types of reform needed. In his answer Dr. Fox mentioned fisheries subsidies as one topic. My notes on the question and his answer are provided below.

The last question inquired into what reform is needed. Dr. Fox articulated that reform should be viewed in three buckets. The first is conceptual reform. By this he means, Members recommitting to the basic principles of the WTO (most favoured nation, national treatment and transparency of commitments). He believes this is what MC 12 needs to focus on. The second is organizational reform. By this Dr. Fox means what does the team look like, the Director-General being first among equals; selecting Secretariat staff that are the most talented and challenging group. The third is policy reform. By that, Dr. Fox means what issues will be addressed — legacy issues and issues to update organization such as fisheries subsidies; resolution of the Appellate Body impasse. Dr. Fox concluded by saying that the Director-General position is a job for a politician and not for a technocrat at this time.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Fox on July 30, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-dr-liam-fox/. During the webinar, Dr. Fox referenced each of the fisheries subsidies negotiations and updating the rules to cover e-commerce briefly. My notes on his comments are provided below.

Dr. Fox opined that the fisheries subsidies negotiations and around that the broader question of sustainability are issues which are not being addressed in the best way by the WTO Members.  The WTO and its Members don’t seem interested in using NGOs and young people who have a deep interest in the oceans by including them in the communication process so that there is better understanding that what the WTO is concerned about are issues of interest to the people of the world.  In Dr. Fox’s view, there is a disconnect between what the WTO is doing and what the general public is concerned about that has undermined the sense of joint endeavor that was important in the Uruguay Round.

Dr. Fox reviewed the importance of taking forward issues on e-commerce and trade in services. For Dr. Fox, the key question is how does the WTO bring its rule book up to date particularly on the changes in technology. Once the rule book is brought up to date, then the key is ensuring that all Members comply with the rules.

Conclusion

All eight of the candidates to become the next Director-General of the WTO view the completion of the fisheries subsidies as an important early objective and deliverable to demonstrate the WTO’s continued relevance. An agreement on fisheries subsidies would also help support the UN’s sustainable development goals.

All candidates also understand that there is an urgent need to update the WTO’s rule book with the most obvious example being the lack of agreed rules on electronic commerce and digital trade. All recognize that the role of digital trade has been critical to help countries during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be a critical aspect of global trade in goods and services going forward. The Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce announced at the 2017 Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference currently has more than 80 WTO Members participating in the negotiations. Those Members account for more than 90% of global e-commerce. Reports from the co-convenors indicate the likelihood that there will be at least a consolidated text available by the next Ministerial Conference to be held in 2021. However, because the JSI is a plurilateral negotiation and not a multilateral one, it is envisioned that benefits will be available on an MFN basis (i.e., to all Members of the WTO whether part of the negotiations or not) and that the agreement will be open to all Members to join as desired.

The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues: convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 2, comments by the candidates

[Updated on August 27 to incorporate comments by Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova at a WITA webinar held on August 26.]

In a post on August 17, I provided background on a group of issues that are important to various Members though opposed by some that for shorthand will simply be referred to issues surrounding WTO rules’ applicability to economies operating differently than market economies. See August 17, 2020, The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where the candidates stand on important issues:  convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, background on issues, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/17/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-the-candidates-stand-on-important-issues-convergence-vs-coexistence-of-different-economic-systems-possible-reform-of-rules-to-address-dist/.

What follows is a review by candidate of his/her prepared statement to the General Council (Juy 15-17, 2020), my notes from the press conference for each candidate which followed immediately after his or her meeting with the General Council and my notes on each candidate’s webinar organized by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and generally also by the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI).

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

Dr. Seade did not in his prepared comments address directly any of the issues surrounding the question of compatibility of different economic systems with the WTO rules, or whether changes in rules to address some of the distortions perceived to be caused by economic systems which vary widely from market-economy structures are needed. Dr. Seade did include at the end of his prepared statement an indication of neutrality to all Members.

“All along my career I have worked with Ministers and legislators, often Heads of State. I present myself to you with my fullest energy, passion and experience, at a difficult time for the WTO. My commitment is to achieve with you the reform and restoration of a WTO back at the center of global governance for the benefit of world economic growth. My solemn commitment to you is to be an effective DG and interlocutor, close to all members north and south, east and west, and indeed fully equidistant from you all.”

During the press conference held after his meeting on July 15 with the General Counsel, Dr. Seade was not asked a question dealing with any of the issues surrounding different economic systems.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Seade on July 7. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-seade/. During the webinar, Dr. Seade was asked several questions that dealt with U.S.-China tensions. My notes on Dr. Seade’s responses (and on at least one of the questions) follow.

The animosity between the United States and China in a way is understandable.  The hardest part of negotiations during the Uruguay Round for GATT Contracting Parties to conclude was not the agriculture negotiations or the negotiations on intellectual property but rather the negotiations on antidumping.  To simplify, the antidumping negotiations pitted the U.S. and EU against the Asian tigers who were excessively competitive and creating problems in world markets.  But the Asian tigers were much smaller in size than China is today and were much more market oriented than China is today.  So the chasm in the system was much smaller than what exists today   So it is not surprising that there is a big challenge today.  But challenges are there to be met and solutions found. Dr. Seade is convinced that China will want to respond to avoid chaos in the system.  Once they view the U.S. as serious about engaging, China will want to know what they need to do to get the WTO functioning again.  The same question should apply to the U.S. and the EU.  So we should be able to save the system.

Question on the U.S.-China dynamic: USTR Lighthizer has indicated he has three criteria for next DG – he or she must support a robust reform agenda; he or she must acknowledge that the current system doesn’t adequately deal with China’s economy and state trading practices; he or she can’t have a “wiff” of anti-Americanism.  China may have a different set of priorities.  How do you get US and China to do business in the WTO? 

Dr. Seade response:  on the US-China conflict, how do you handle China?  One way is through dispute settlement.  To date there have been 44 cases brought by WTO Members against China.  This is a good way to address problems a Member has with another Member, and it has worked.  We have to resolve the problems with the dispute settlement system and make it work better. At the same time, there are initiatives that have been begun by the US (e.g., EU, Japan and US) on industrial subsidies.  Dr. Seade believes that it is really for US to work out with China how to incorporate more disciplines on industrial subsidies or other issues. This will likely require the U.S. and others to add items of interest to China to make negotiations more acceptable to China.  While China is a tough negotiator, China will not risk bringing down the WTO.  In Dr. Seade’s view, the most important thing China has done in last fifty years other than the start of the reform process back in 1978 was joining the WTO.  So we need to amend the dispute settlement system which would be a good starting point to helping address existing problems.  Dr. Seade agrees with the U.S. that there have not been real negotiations on most agreement areas in the last 25 years. As China was not part of WTO in the 1990s, there can be little question that rules need to be updated both to reflect changing trade realities and to incorporate China in the process and resulting rules.   

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in her prepared statement reflected that Members have differenting views on “new or enhanced rules” identifying state-owned enterprises (SOEs) but by implication including industrial subsidies.

“Members’ views differ on a number of fundamental issues, such as special and differential treatment or the need for the WTO to tackle new issues and develop new or enhanced rules to deal with SOEs and agricultural subsidies, for example. Trade tensions among the membership have flared up, threatening the fundamental architecture of the MTS. With all these, the WTO, unfortunately, is now perceived by some as an inefficient organization that has failed to keep abreast of developments in the global economy.”

Her prepared statement goes through a range of issues that need to be addressed by the WTO but does not include in that list any of the issues flowing from different economic systems. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala does link being able to renew the WTO to getting Members to recall core objectives and principles. The objectives and principles to many would be understood to require updating rules so that different economic systems are subject to effective rules to eliminate or minimize distortions.

“Renewing and improving the organization will require recalling the core objectives and principles on which the MTS was built – the value of open trade, competition and non-discrimination, security and predictability of market access, and transparency. These principles have contributed to economic growth and development and will continue to do so if Members renew their commitment to them.”

During the press conference on July 15th after Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had met with the General Council, she was asked one question about what she would say to the U.S. about staying in the WTO. The question doesn’t directly address different economic systems, but concerns about U.S. staying in the WTO are generally understood to reflect U.S. problems with many aspects of the WTO including rules which do not effectively address distortions created by non-market economies. My notes on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s answer to the question are provided below.

On the question of why the U.S. should stay in the WTO, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indicated she would communicate to the U.S. that the WTO delivers for all Members. The GATT and WTO have provided shared prosperity which has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Where the trading system is not working, Members need to fix the problems. Peace, security and stability are needed now just as they have been over the last decades. These are what the WTO rules-based system provides. If we didn’t have the WTO, we would need to invent it.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. During the webinar, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was asked a number of questions that resulted in answers that touched on tension between the U.S. and China, industrial subsidies and more. My notes on Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s responses and to some of the questions follows:

Q: On the important issue of building trust between Members, there are major differences between the U.S. and China, including (for the U.S.) whether existing WTO rules adequately discipline Chinese policies and (for China) whether US is abiding by the rules.  What do you see to be the main challenges to building trust among Members to permit a reform agenda to move forward?

A:  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that building trust between the Members is critical.  When developed countries bring an agenda item to the WTO, developing countries may view the issue as not in their interest (and vice versa) because of a lack of trust.  On the conflicts between the U.S. and China, we need to find areas of common interest for the two Members. We are used to looking at what are the differences between the Members, but we should be looking for common interests among Members. If we can use those common interests to accomplish incremental progress, that will help build trust..  You build trust negotiation by negotiation (using the issue of special and differential treatment as example).  If we can solve any problem, it helps build trust.  Another way to build trust between developed and developing Members is to conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations taking into account the needs of individual Members.  If the WTO Members can wrap up those negotiations, the success will start to build trust. 

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

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

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

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

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

Mr. Mamdouh in his prepared statement to the General Council on July 15 made only one reference to the issues pertaining to differences in economic systems when he acknowledged that addressing industrial subsidies should be a priority.

“Reviving the built-in agenda of agriculture and services must be a priority because WTO Members agreed on this, and it has not happened. Trade distorting subsidies, both agricultural and industrial, will also be a priority.”

During Mr. Mamdouh’s press conference on July 15 after his meeting with the General Council, Mr. Mamdouh was asked one question about the U.S.-China conflicts. My notes on his response to the question are provided below.

A question was asked on what should be the role of the US and China in the new WTO. Mr. Mamdouh responded that the role of these two Members is to engage in the WTO. Start from the point that bilateral disputes should be resolved in the WTO. Since we all believe in the multilateral process, Members must keep in mind that bilateral disputes and solutions have effects on other Members. Moreover, bilateral solutions are less likely to be effective and are likely to be short lived.

WITA had a webinar with Mr. Mamdouh on June 23. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-candidate-hamid-mamdouh/. During the webinar, Mr. Mamdouh was asked various questions that dealt with the U.S.-China conflicts, need for better rules on industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises and more. My notes on Mr. Mamdouh’s response and to some of the questions follows.

Q:  Why are you well suited to deal with the deep and potentially ruinous conflicts between US, China, EU?  How would you get these big powers to do business with each other?

A:   Mr. Mamdouh responded that this issue is the first frontier for a new Director-General.  The key is to have the right attitude toward the conversation (less political).  The types of problems that Members face deal with noncompliance and with inadequacy of rules.  Both need to be handled. The issues must be addressed in an intellectually honest and politically courageous way if there is to be progress.  In the past, reform occurred at the GATT when there was a perceived threat to the survival of the system.  Mr. Mamdouh believes that the WTO is facing such a threat now.  Do WTO Members have a common purpose?  Do Members need a WTO?  If the answer to the latter question is no, the conversation among Members has nowhere to go.  It is in everybody’s interest to have the answer to the question be “yes”.  For progress, the Director-General needs to bring the players to the table to identify problems with the current system.  The system needs more transparency.  For progress, it is important to keep the conversation at the level of looking at the contract and whether the contract adequately addresses the problems identified.  If the contract is not adequate to the current needs, then WTO Members must modify the contract.

Q:  is the near death experience the WTO is experiencing now an opportunity to move to a meaningful reform agenda?

A:  Mr. Mamdouh responded that yes the current crisis can lead to a meaningful reform agenda, if there is the political will of the Members.  But political will can only be generated if there is a common purpose. 

The WTO needs to address issues of interest to Members, including those raised by the US (e.g., e-commerce, SOEs, forced technology transfer).  Increasingly, the WTO is facing complex issues that go beyond simple trade liberalization but also deal with regulatory objectives. In these complex areas, such as e-commerce, the WTO Members need to find ways to accomplish differing regulatory objectives in a least trade restrictive manner. That can only be accomplished if there is a thorough discussion of the regulatory needs and development of factual information on possible trade options that can be taken back to capitals for review and for negotiation.  Unfortunately, the deliberative function has nearly died at the WTO. To address the increasingly complex issues of importance to Members, the WTO needs to restore the deliberative function.

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

Amb. Ulianovschi’s prepared statement that he provided to the General Council on July 16 doesn’t contain direct reference to any of the issues dealing with different economic systems. Amb. Ulianovschi does indirectly reference the need to address other important issues through negotiations.

“In terms of immediate priorities for the future Director General of the WTO, the following should be considered (including in the preparation process for MC12): * * *

“3. Facilitating dialogue with Members regarding on-going negotiations on the remaining and other important issues.”

During the July 16th press conference following Amb. Ulianovschi’s General Council meeting, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked a question about U.S.-China conflict and how he, as Director-General, would be able to reduce tensions. My notes on his response to the question are provided below.

On the question of how he would use the role of Director-General to ease tensions between U.S. and China, Mr. Ulianovschi responded that this topic had been discussed with Members during his meeting with the General Council. In his view, the role of the Director-General is to be an honest broker between WTO Members. The Director-General must be able to listen to concerns with a view to using his offices to engage Members involved in a dialogue process. At the same time, the Director-General is not there to impose a solution but to listen and raise awareness of the impact of actions on the larger organization and to mitigate harm to others. The next Director-General needs to engage in talks both in Geneva and in capitals and see that any outreach is transparent and inclusive.

WITA held a webinar with Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi on August 26, 2020, https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-tudor-ulianovschi/. During the webinar, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked several questions where answers dealt with some aspect of the U.S.-China conflict, differences in economic system, need for improved rules, etc. My notes on the questions and responses from Amb. Ulianovschi follow.

Q:  How important is it to have a reform agenda, and how can you convince the major Members to agree on a common agenda?

A:    Amb. Ulianovschi stated that reform is absolutely necessary.  In his view, cosmetic reform is not sufficient, a fact made clear by major Members.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that political experience and dialogue by the Director-General will be key to get those who have put forward proposals to get into a discussion that is inclusive and transparent.  There are a large number of issues that are affecting the environment at the WTO.  For example, the current situation between the U.S. and China is affecting the system. 

Q:  US-China relations and how it affects the WTO.  Amb. Lighthizer says he is looking for a Director-General who recognizes that the current system doesn’t address Chinese trade practices and that changes need to be made.  Do you agree?  There has been some work done by the U.S., EU and Japan on industrial subsidies and other topics.  Would you support improving industrial subsidies?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that the topic has to be of priority for the next Director-General.  The Director-General can provide his/her good offices to the U.S. and China to take up any issue, but such discussions must be consensual.  Based on Amb. Ulianovschi’s conversations with the broader membership, he knows that there is interest by many on the spillover effects on other economies from the US-China conflict.  Having said that, Amb. Ulianovschi reiterated the need for the organization to have a Director-General with political experience not to politicize the organization but to reach out to the decision makers and raise awareness of the concerns of the larger membership and encourage the two Members to sit down and discuss issues they consider appropriate.  On industrial subsidies and other issues, we need to have more indepth discussions at the WTO to have a better understanding of the issues, coverage of the current rules and the existing situation.  As a member driven organization, the incoming Director-General will have to see whether the membership is willing to move to more discipline on industrial subsidies.  Amb. Ulianovschi also believes  that a review of transparency and notifications could be useful.  An open, sincere dialogue based on timely and full information would lead to a better understanding of the issues of concern and then lead to a better decision making process to address the issues.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea)

Minister Yoo included a general reference in her July 16 prepared statement to the General Council to “sensitive” proposals for reform which presumably include the U.S. proposal on non-market economies and the efforts by the European Union, Japan and United States to tighten disciplines on industrial subsidies.

“I am well aware of the proposals that Members have put forward on WTO reform. I also know how sensitive these issues can be to individual Members. A high degree of trust among Members must be the starting point in exploring cooperative solutions.”

Minister Yoo was not asked a question during her press conference that dealt with different economic systems or distortions flowing therefrom.

WITA had a webinar with Minister Yoo on August 11.  https://www.wita.org/event-videos/candidate-h-e-yoo-myung-hee/. Minister Yoo was asked some questions on how she would address the U.S.-China conflicts and the U.S. view that the current WTO rules don’t adequately address the market distortions caused by the Chinese economic model. Below I provide my notes on the questions and Minister Yoo’s responses.

Q: In prepared statement you mention you can serve as a bridge between US and China.  Please elaborate.  Second, Amb. Lighthizer is looking for a Director-General who recognizes that current rules don’t adequately discipline China. Do you agree there is a problem in terms of adequacy of WTO rules for China’s policies?

A:  On the first issue of serving as a bridge, Minister Yoo believes that the WTO can provide a good place for US-China issues to be addressed if the negotiating function is working.  In her view, part of the problem which has led to actions outside of the WTO has been the lack of progress on negotiations.  Thus, Minister Yoo believes WTO Members need to revitalize the negotiating function, so Members will use the WTO to ensure adequacy of rules in an evolving world.  Minister Yoo believes the next Director-General needs to engage in dialogue with the U.S. and China to find and understand the real issues between them.  Minister Yoo reviewed that she has done negotiations with both the United States and China.  She believes that she can use that experience to engage in dialogue with each country and find commonalities between them among the real issues.  By focusing on commonalities, Minister Yoo believes that one can find a path forward to achieve a negotiated success, even if small, and build trust.  After finding small successes, the Members then move forward to address the more challenging issues.

On the second question relating to Amb. Lighthizer’s concern that current rules are not sufficient to discipline China’s practices, Minister Yoo believes one needs to look at the rule book.  In her view, all policies adopted by governments can have spillover effects on trade.  If policies do have such spillover effects and are not covered by existing WTO rules, one needs to evaluate whether the policies are consistent with WTO principles (fair competition, nondiscrimination, etc.).  If a policy is not consistent with WTO principles and has spillover effects on trade, one must determine if current rules can be used to address the policy. If not, then the WTO needs to look at whether modifications to existing rules or the addition of new rules are needed.  Minister Yoo believes Members will need to be willing to engage in this type of process.

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

Like other candidates, Minister Mohamed didn’t directly address the issue of different economic models reflecting the conflicting positions of some major Members. Rather, Minister Mohamed acknowledged that there were different reform priorities for different Members and that Members needed to get past the challenges in current negotiating approaches. The following four paragraphs from Minister Mohamed’s prepared statement to the General Council on July 16 provides some general comments on the road forward which can be viewed as applicable to differing economic models and many other contentious issues.

“12. You do not all share the same reform priorities. This makes it essential to work together for convergence around elements that all can support. We need to break the cycle of despair and enter into a new phase of hope and realism.

“13. Renewal has to start with facing up to the defects that have weakened the system in recent years: the inability to update rules to reflect the changing realities of how trade is conducted; the sterility of ideological standoffs; the retreat into defensiveness; and the sense of the benefits of trade not being equitably shared.

“14. The WTO has to engage again in good faith negotiations, and this means openness to change and to new ideas, within a culture of inclusiveness and transparency.

’15. Renewal should also build upon the WTO’s core values and achievements. Trade has been transformational. It has helped to lift close to 1 billion people out of poverty and facilitated the attainment of higher living standards in countries at all levels of development. These successes were possible because Members did not see trade as a zero-sum game. They understood that trade-offs were needed to produce outcomes. All Members should contribute to trade opening and facilitation efforts, especially those most in a position to do so.”

During Minister Mohamed’s press conference on July 16 after her meeting with the General Council, she received two general questions about how she would work with major players to resolve trade tensions. Below is my summary of the questions asked and her response.

Q: If selected as the next Director-Generaly, will you be more engaged in resolving trade tensions between major players? If yes, what tactics would you use?

A: Minister Mohamed reviewed the types of powers that a Director-General has to work with Members. For example, the Director-General has engagement powers and can encourage members to consult, to use the good offices of the Director-General. So while the Director-General has only limited powers, those powers ca be used effectively by a Director-General to help Members to use the WTO system to resolve differences.

When asked what her approach would be to deal with trade tensions between US and China, Minister Mohamed stated that she would encourage all members to resolve their trade differences within the WTO rules.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Mohamed on August 6. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/ambassador-amina-mohamed/. During the webinar, Minister Mohamed addressed briefly the rise of China as a major trading nation and was asked about whether current WTO rules adequately address distortions that flow from China’s policies. My notes from Minister Mohamed’s comments follow.

Minister Mohamed stated that since the WTO was set up in 1995, new and powerful players have emerged onto the trade scene, in particular China.  The resulting tensions with the United States have fed the dysfunction within the WTO.  Minister Mohamed believes that to address the tensions, the WTO needs to pursue reform.  However, governments don’t share the same reform priorities.  The WTO needs to identify issues all can support if reform is to move forward. 

Q: Amb. Lighthizer has raised his concern that the current WTO rules are not capable of disciplining conduct of non-market economies, particularly China.  Do you agree?  How would you go about finding common ground?

A:  Minister Mohamed’s response was that one needs to start by looking at the existing rule book.  The rule book is outdated in some cases.  Moreover, some rules are weak and are being circumvented.  If you have candid discussions with WTO Members, you will find the problems are with the adequacy of the rules.  If the rules are inadequate, WTO Members need to address them to achieve modifications or new rules.  For example, the U.S.-EU-Japan effort on industrial subsidies is potentially important.  If Minister Mohamed becomes the next Director-General she would urge the U.S., EU and Japan to table their proposal, so all WTO Members can discuss what are being raised as the real issues.  It is important to understand what conduct is driving up the tension between Members.

H.E. Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

Minister Al-Tuwaijri was the first candidate the General Council met with on July 17. In his prepared statement, Minister Al-Tuwaijri did not directly address the issue of different economic systems and the potential distortions created by non-market economies. Rather he indicated that any negotiating agenda would work only where all Members view the agenda as including items of interest to them. Applied to different economic systems, this would suggest that for negotiations to occur on the topic it would have to be part of a larger package of issues of interest to those Members (like China) who would potentially perceive themselves the target of the industrial subsidies issue or the differing economic systems issue.

“Concerning working together through negotiations, I believe that Members will participate in negotiations when they are convinced that the agenda includes an incentive for them to participate. Therefore, in order to have a successful multilateral negotiation, the agenda needs to be balanced – it needs to include something for everyone.”

At the press conference after his meeting with the General Council, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was not asked any questions dealing with the issue of differing economic systems or on industrial subsidies.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Al-Tuwaijri on August 5. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/director-general-candidate-he-mohammed-al-tuwaijri/. During the webinar, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was asked several questions dealing with the relationship between some of the major trading Members (U.S., China, EU) and specifically whether he supported negotiations on industrial subsidies to address U.S. concerns that existing rules don’t discipline the policies of China. Below are my notes on the questions asked and answers provided.

Q: Can you have a successful launch of a reform agenda if the leaders in key Members (China, US, EU) aren’t committed to help you make it work?  In the first six months as the new Director-General if selected, how would you get these Members to buy into a reform ageanda?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri started his response by noting his involvement in working with G20 countries where the major WTO Members are involved. He noted that one of the issues G20 countries have supported is engaging in reform at the WTO.  Individual countries may have different views on reform — how, when, and what — but all agree reform is needed.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that six-months is too long a period to determine if there is support among the major Members for a reform initiative.  He believes that within the first two – three months of becoming the next Director-General he should know if the intent of the major Members is to support reform or not.  He would reach out with a specific set of questions (e.g., here are top five issues for reform discussions) and seek input on where Members are on a willingness to address the issues.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri has the ability to reach out to the major Members and be viewed as an honest broker.  Saudi Arabia has always been a neutral country and has been serving as President this year in the G20. 

Q:  On China, Amb. Lighthizer is looking for a candidate to be the next Director-General who understands that the current WTO rules don’t discipline China.  Do you agree that the current rules don’t adequately discipline China?  Would you support efforts to improve disciplines on industrial subsidies?

A:  Minister Al-Tuwaijri supports all efforts of WTO Members to engage in negotiations.  China is a major country and major trading nation.  He believes that the more that is done to promote negotiations and promote timely resolution of issues, the better it is for restoring the negotiation function.  He believes that the U.S. and China should bring all of their issues with each other to the table.  He knows that there are many.  But WTO Members need to move the negotiating process forward to ensure rules are adequate.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

Dr. Fox was the last of the candidates to meet with the General Council and the second candidate who met on July 17. His prepared statement talks about the array of issues likely to be addressed heading into the twelfth Ministerial Conference in 2021 and the agreed need for broader reform. However, he does not mention in his prepared statement the issues surrounding different economic systems or the need for revised rules on industrial subsidies.

During Dr. Fox’s press conference on July 17, he was asked one question that was broad but fairly did include the U.S. effort to address non-market economies (how would you deal with the broad U.S. concerns with the WTO). Dr. Fox viewed the main U.S. concerns as being with the Appellate Body and limited his remarks to that issue.

He was asked a different question on why the multilateral trading system is important to large parties. My notes on his response are provided below.

Q: Why is the multilateral trading system important to the large parties?

A: Dr. Fox indicated that he viewed the Director-General position to not be one of taking sides in bilateral disputes but to maintain the international trading system. If Members don’t enforce what currently exists, what is the credibility of new rules signed onto later? He stated that all Members have benefited from the multilateral trading system. The alternative to a rules- based system is not acceptable. That is true for most countries, not just smaller countries. He used the examples of the 4th and 5th largest economies, Germany and UK, for whom global trade is a major component of their economies.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Fox on July 30, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-dr-liam-fox/. During the webinar, Dr. Fox was asked several questions about China, including whether existing rules adequately discipline China’s policies and whether new negotiations on industrial subsidies are needed. My notes on the questions asked and Dr. Fox’s responses are provided below.

Q:  USTR Lighthizer has indicated there are three factors he is looking for in considering candidates for the Director-General post: (1) no anti-Americanism; (2) a belief that there is a need for broad reform at the WTO; and (3) someone who understands that the current WTO rules don’t adequately discipline China’s policies.  Do you agree with Amb. Lighthizer’s last point on the need for new rules to address Chinese policies?

A:  Dr. Fox’s answer dealt with all three factors including that he is not anti-America. He also believes there is a need broad-based reform.  In Dr. Fox’s view, the reform needed is both internal at the Secretariat as well as in changing the rule book.  For example, Dr. Fox had had dozens of meetings by the time of the webinar with WTO Members. Many countries felt that if you weren’t a large Member or a squeeky wheel, your voices were not heard.  In Dr. Fox’s view, the next Director-General needs to review the operation of WTO Secretariat to be sure all Members can be heard and improve the outreach to all Members and listening to their views and concerns.   Dr. Fox believes that there is also a need to reform how the WTO operates during negotiations.  He used the example of the fisheries subsidies negotiations. He opined that better outreach to NGOs and other groups about the negotiations and encouraging their engagement with Members would help constituencies better understand that the WTO is engaged in issues that are importance to them. The failure to have such engagement can undermine the concept of shared endeavor which is important to forward movement at the WTO.  So different forms of reform are needed at the WTO.

On the question about whether rules adequately discipline the policies of China, Dr. Fox stated that reform is not about focusing on any one country.  He stated that, of course, all Members must comply with the existing rules.  In his view, Members need an effective dispute resolution system to ensure such compliance.  Beyond that, the question is how do WTO Members take forward and address common challenges (e.g., e-commerce).  The key for the WTO is to bring the rule book up to date with the changing commercial realities.  Up-to-date rules and getting all Members to comply are the main objectives of reform.

Q:  what about industrial subsidies.  Is this an area that needs to be updated.

A:  Dr. Fox indicated that WTO Members have a lack of trust in each other.  One way to improve trust is to improve transparency.  Dr. Fox used as an example, efforts by the OECD to quantify subsidies to aluminum producers around the world. He had visited the OECD recently and heard from them about the extraordinary efforts they went to to make up for a lack of available data on items like production capacity and production. The efforts undertaken were both expensive and time consuming.  The example of aluminum indicates that it is important to improve objective data that are provided by Members to the WTO.  If WTO Members want improved transparency and improved accuracy of information provided, the WTO also will need to find better ways to verify data submitted.

Conclusion

The question of whether non-market economies or state-directed economies or state-capitalist economies properly fit within the WTO Agreements was not addressed by any candidate, though Dr. Okonjo-Iweala took the position that the nature of the economic system of any Member was not an issue for the WTO to consider.

On whether the current rules of the WTO adequately discipline the policies of China (and more broadly other non-market economies), candidates generally were of the view that the reform process should permit an evaluation of the changing global landscape and developments and where issues were not addressed or inadequately addressed by current rules, Members should consider what changes would be appropriate. Dr. Seade noted that since China was not part of the GATT in the 1990s during the Uruguay Round negotiations, with all the change that has occurred in the first 25 years of the WTO and limited update of rules, there is little doubt that rules need to be updated both to address practices of new Members and to incorporate their views on needed updates. Minister Yoo suggested a somewhat similar approach.

On the question of the need for an update to the rules on industrial subsidies, Minister Mohamed and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala were of the view that the proposal being worked on by the U.S., EU and Japan should be tabled in Geneva so all Members could start the process of understanding the concerns and appropriateness of the approaches recommended to address. Mr. Mamdouh included updating industrial subsidies rules as one of the priority issues to be addressed by the WTO.

The race to become the next WTO Director-General — where the candidates stand on important issues: convergence vs. coexistence of different economic systems; possible reform of rules to address distortions from such economic systems – Part 1, Background on issues

Background

When China acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2001, it had had a long working party process as WTO Members focused on the wide array of changes to laws, regulations and practices that China would need to undertake to have an economic system and policies that were consistent with WTO norms. China made many changes to its policies ahead of accession. However, the extent of modifications needed to the Chinese system that were still not accomplished by 2001 meant that the Protocol of Accession and the Working Party Report that China and WTO Members agreed to were unprecedented in terms of the number of additional changes that needed to be made for China’s system to be compatible with WTO norms. Indeed, periodic reviews over a decade were included of China’s actions to permit other WTO Members to understand the extent of compliance with the wide ranging modifications still needed. As China was moving from a state-controlled economy towards a market economy, WTO Members insisted on special rules to address some of the likely distortions a large economy like China with significant state controls was anticipated to create. A country-specific safeguard and special recognition of nonmarket economy provisions in trade remedies were included in the Protocol of Accession. While China accepted all three provisions to obtain membership in the WTO, China always expressed its views that these additional provisions were discriminatory and an effort to hold China back in terms of economic growth.

While China continued to make progress in its reform program for a number of years after acceding to the WTO, beginning with the financial crisis of 2008-2009 China reversed direction and increased the importance of state-owned and state-invested enterprises, state planning and state control of a wide array of factors of production. A former Director-General of the WTO and former EC Trade Commissioner reviewed the challenges for market economy countries in dealing with a country with a large share of its economy controlled by the state. See July 27, 2020, Pascal Lamy’s recent comments on the challenges facing the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/27/pascal-lamys-recent-comments-on-the-challenges-facing-the-wto/.

Many major trading partners have worked with China since its WTO accession to address perceived distortions flowing from its economic system and to help China handle the obligations it had undertaken upon joining the WTO. Many commitments for change were made by China with limited actual forward movement achieved in the views of at least some trading partners. Members like the United States undertake their own annual review of China’s compliance with WTO obligations in an effort to chronicle China’s changing economic system and whether there are distortions of concern to China’s trading partners. See, e.g., U.S. Trade Representative, 2019 Report to Congress on China’s WTO Compliance (March 2020)(embedded below). As stated on page 4:

“Over the past nearly two decades, a variety of bilateral and multilateral efforts were pursued by the United States and other WTO members to address the unique challenges presented by China’s WTO membership. However, even though these efforts were persistent, they did not result in meaningful changes in China’s approach to the economy and trade.

“In our past reports, we identified and explained the numerous policies and practices pursued by China that harm and disadvantage U.S. companies and workers, often severely. We also catalogued the United States’ persistent yet unsuccessful efforts to resolve the many concerns that have arisen in our trade relationship with China. We found that a consistent pattern existed where the United States raised a particular concern, China specifically promised to address that concern, and China’s promise was not fulfilled.

“The costs associated with China’s unfair and distortive policies and practices have been substantial. For example, China’s non-market economic system and the industrial policies that flow from it have systematically distorted critical sectors of the global economy such as steel and aluminum, devastating markets in the United States and other industrialized countries. China also continues to block valuable sectors of its economy from foreign competition, particularly services sectors. At the same time, China’s industrial policies are increasingly responsible for displacing companies in new, emerging sectors of the global economy, as the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party powerfully intervene on behalf of China’s domestic industries. Companies in economies disciplined by the market cannot effectively compete with both Chinese companies and the Chinese state.”

2019_Report_on_Chinas_WTO_Compliance

The 11th Ministerial Conference and a Joint Statement by EU, Japan and the United States

The challenges of China’s economic system have been felt in many global industries in a number of ways. There has been massive excess capacity created by China’s policies (and those of some other countries). Efforts to address excess capacity in steel proved unsuccessful. But literally dozens of industries faced excess capacity in China which has resulted in flooded global markets and harm to competing producers in other countries.

At the same time there have been major concerns about forced technology transfers for companies wanting to operate in China, a myriad and changing set of barriers (formal and informal) discriminating against imports and foreign owned enterprises in certain sectors.

By the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, the United States, European Union and Japan had decided more formal action was needed to address the ongoing distortions being created by China and other countries emulating the Chinese model of economic system. At the end of the Conference, the three WTO Members issued a joint statement which stated in large part,

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

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

https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2017/december/joint-statement-united-states

There have been a series of meetings of the three trade ministers since then providing an update on their joint efforts. A joint statement in January 2020 outlined the types of industrial subsidies where the three major WTO Members believed greater disciplines were needed and outlined other areas where joint efforts were underway. The 2018, 2019 and 2020 joint statements can be found here, with the 2020 statement embedded after the links. See Joint Statement on Trilateral Meeting of the Trade Ministers of the United States, Japan, and the European Union, 09/25/2018, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/august/statement-meetings-between-united; Joint Statement of the Trilateral Meeting of the Trade Ministers of the United States, European Union, and Japan, 05/23/2019, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2019/may/joint-statement-trilateral-meeting; Joint Statement of the Trilateral Meeting of the Trade Ministers of Japan, the United States, and the European Union, 01/14/2020, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/january/joint-statement-trilateral-meeting-trade-ministers-japan-united-states-and-european-union.

1-14-2020-Joint-Statement-of-the-Trilateral-Meeting-of-the-Trade-Ministers-of-Japan-the-United-States-and-the-European-Union-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

U.S. Section 301 Investigation of Certain Chinese Policies, U.S. imposition of tariffs and Chinese retaliation

In August 2017, the U.S. Trade Representative initiated an investigation on certain of China’s Acts, Policies and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation. 82 Fed. Reg. 40,213-40,215 (Aug. 24, 2017). The investigation resulted in a determination by USTR on March 22, 2018 that various Chinese acts, policies and practices violated Section 301 of the Trade Act of 194, as amended. The President authorized the imposition of additional duties to encourage China to address the problems raised. China retaliated and through a series of further escalations, the U.S. has imposed additional duties on some $350 billion of imports from China and China has imposed additional duties on the vast majority of U.S. exports to China. The 301 report and supplement are embedded below.

Section-301-FINAL

301-Report-Update

The United States viewed the Section 301 investigation as necessary to address practices of China not addressed by WTO rules or not adequately addressed. China viewed the investigation as not permitted under WTO rules. The trade conflict and efforts to find a solution, resulted in a Phase 1 Agreement between the United States and China with most additional duties remaining in place, some substantive changes made on some issues of concern to the United States and a Phase 2 negotiation to resolve outstanding issues which has not begun as of mid-August 2020.

China’s effort to be treated as a market economy under trade remedies

China has long felt that nonmarket economy methodology employed by trading partners discriminated against China and was unjustified. On December 12 2016, the day after certain language in China’s Protocol of Accession became ineffective, China filed requests for consultations with each of the European Union (WT/DS/516) and the United States (WT/DS/515). China has not actively pursued the action against the United States. On the action against the European Union, after the matter was fully briefed at the panel stage and it was understood that an interim panel report was released to the parties, China requested on 7 May 2019 the panel to suspend its proceedings in accordance with Article 12.12 of the DSU. The panel proceeding was suspended on 14 June 2019. On 15 June 2020, the Secretariat released a note indicating that the panel’s authority in the dispute had lapsed since China had not requested the resumption of work within one year.

Thus, China remains subject to nonmarket economy methodologies by certain of its trading partners.

Proposed General Council decision submitted by the United States

The United States has raised an issue for WTO Member consideration in the form of a proposed General Council decision. The issue goes to whether the WTO is predicated on market-oriented economic principles and rests on the concern that some large WTO Members (including China) have economic systems that are characterized as non-market and that create various distortions in the global marketplace including creating massive excess capacity and other issues. While the issue has been raised by the United States for the last several years within the WTO, the U.S. permanent representative to the WTO made a strong case at the General Council meeting (Dec. 9, 2019), raised the matter again along with the draft General Council decision at the March 3, 2020 General Council meeting and raised it again at the July 22-23, 2020 General Council meeting. The proposal was opposed by China at each General Council meeting. Many Members provided comments either supporting, opposing, raising questions with the proposal or indicating the matter was being considered in capital (minutes for the July General Council meeting are not yet available). Members besides the U.S. and China who spoke include the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Chinese Taipei, Uruguay, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Russian Federation, and Sri Lanka. See, e.g., Minutes of General Council Meeting, 9-10 December, 2019, WT/GC/M/181 at 59-64 (24 February 2020); The Importance of Market-Oriented Conditions to the World Trading System, Draft General Council Decision, Communication from the United States, WT/GC/W/796 (20 February 2020)(embedded below); Minutes of General Council Meeting, 3 March 2020, WT/GC/M/182 at 35-44 (16 April 2020); General Council Meeting of 22-23 July 2020, Proposed Agenda, WT/GC/W/802 (item 11)(20 July 2020).

WTGCW796

Conclusion

The crisis at the WTO has many elements but a central concern of many is whether the current WTO can be effective in ensure competitive markets when one or more major Members have an economic system largely at odds with that of most Members. The tensions created by the distortions caused by different systems has led both to increasing use of trade remedies, efforts to identify changes or additions to rules needed if convergence is not required of Members, and actions outside of the WTO where long term discussions have not resulted in the level of changes needed by countries working from market-oriented economies.

While the U.S. has reviewed provisions of the WTO that indicate the system is premised on market economy principles, a number of Members disagree that the WTO can address different economic systems. One of the Deputy-Directors General has identified core principles of the WTO and opined that the system supports convergence not coexistence. See Remarks before the Korean International Trade Association. 27 May 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/ddgaw_27may20_e.htm back to text

It is against this complex background that candidates for the Director-General post of the WTO will be evaluated by many Members. In the next post, I turn to how the eight candidates have addressed these complex issues in terms of their prepared statements to the General Council, press conference after the General Council meeting and in the WITA webinars.

Stay tuned.

Is the world at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic? Last two weeks suggest a peaking of the growth of global infections may be at hand

Much of the world recorded sharp contractions in GDP during the second quarter as countries restricted travel, issued mandatory stay at home orders and took other steps to try to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries have been easing restrictions in the last several months that were imposed typically in March. The hoped for revival of the global economy is being slowed by the continued high incidence of new COVID-19 cases, the resurgence of cases (albeit so far at low levels) following reopening actions in many of the countries who had gotten control of the virus. In a number of countries, schools are reopening presenting additional challenges for governments in trying to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. News reports continue to be promising that one or more vaccines may be approved by the end of 2020 or early 2021, and the Russian Federation has gone into production of a vaccine which reportedly has not undergone a phase three trial.

One question of potential importance in mid-August is has the world gotten to the peak of the number of new cases during the last two weeks or will the number of new cases resume an upward trajectory in the coming weeks?

The world has seen a rapid growth of new cases during the March – July period. As recently as the two week period of May 11-May 24, the total new cases globally in the two week period was 1.28 million. The next two weeks (May 25-June 7) showed new cases of 1.57 million. June 8-June 21 recorded 1.93 million new cases; June 22 – July 5 added 2.46 million. July 6-July 19 added 3.02 million new cases. July 20-August 2 added 3.57 million new cases. The data for the last two weeks, August 3-16 added 3.62 million new cases. So the rate of growth is slowing. While the number of new cases in the most recent two weeks was nearly three times as many as recorded in mid-May, in the last two weeks, the growth was only 1.4%.

The United States for the first time since early June has seen the number of new cases fall from the prior two weeks, although the new cases in August 3-16 were still the second largest (740,721) after only India (838,959) and remain two and a half times as high as the May 25-June 7 period (297, 391) and were 81.5% higher than the original peak figure (409,102) in the latter part of April. Complicating the picture going forward for the United States are the early problems with school reopenings in certain states with most school districts working to open in person, remotely or in some combination in the coming weeks. The U.S. also has a very high incidence of affirmative tests in large parts of the country which is problematic particularly as testing (while large in number) continues to have problems in timeliness of results. Despite the need for even larger numbers of tests (that are timely), the number of tests has been declining in the U.S. despite the continued high level of new cases on a daily basis. In addition, the U.S. continues to suffer from mixed messages from government officials on actions needed to control the virus, and from a general fatigue by large parts of the public with the efforts to minimize the spread. This past week’s Sturgis motorcycle rally, where some 250,000 bikers from around the country were expected to attend, is an example of a huge social gathering where limited safety precautions have been seen at least at some events with unknown consequences for the spread of the virus not just in South Dakota (Sturgis is a small town in South Dakota) but across the United States.

Brazil was also slightly lower in the last two weeks (609,219) than the preceding two-week period (633,017) but remains a major source of new cases. South Africa showed a significant decline from 152,411 new cases in the July 20-August 2 period to 80,363 new cases in the last two weeks.

India has taken over the top spot for most new cases in the last two weeks, 838,959, more than 160,000 higher than the prior two weeks (673,108).

There have been upticks in the number of new cases in a number of developed countries reflecting presumably the effects of reopening the economy — Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. The spike of cases (though still small compared to prior volumes) has led for some tightening up on the economic restrictions in particular cities or more broadly.

Continued growth of cases in the developing world

With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Colombia (150,508), Peru (103,620), Argentina (91,135), Mexico (83,521), South Africa (80,363) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date and in the last two weeks. If one looks at deaths/100,000 population, in the lats two weeks, the countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population were the following: Peru (20.91), Colombia (8.90), Bolivia (8.16), Mexico (7.11), Panama (6.99), Brazil (6.48), South Africa (6.02), United States (4.57). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.06 deaths/100,000 population.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through August 16, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 10.09 deaths. The seven countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Belgium (86.73), Peru (80.20), United Kingdom (62.06), Spain (60.97), Italy (58.54), Sweden (which did not impose any restrictions)(56.53), the United States (51.50). With the exception of Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (all the European countries were less than 1 death per 100,000).

Conclusion

The world in the first seven and a half months of 2020 has not managed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, that has not been true for the Americas (other than Canada), for parts of Asia and for parts of Africa where the pandemic has turned its attention or where the pandemic has not been brought under control.

That said, the last two weeks suggest the global total of new cases in a two week period may have just peaked in August. There are major challenges ahead as reopening of economies gets tested against possible resurgence of cases, schools reopen in many countries, and greater indoor months approach. So there are potentially unwelcome scenarios that could see the huge number of new cases resume an upward trend. But with effort, the world may see the backside of the growth curve.

With the sharpest global economic contraction since World War II, with slumping global trade, with even the wealthier countries struggling to maintain the needed stimulus to reduce the severity of the economic contraction and with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world losing their jobs, and food insecurity rising with increasing poverty, the world needs to see the pandemic receding and needs breakthroughs in both vaccines and therapeutics, although realistically, 2021 is more likely than the rest of 2020 for the medicaL breakthroughs.

The WTO webpage has a page dedicated to COVID-19, and the WTO Secretariat has generated a host of information notes reviewing the range of challenges that the pandemic is presenting to nations. The most recent looks at the increased costs of trade that flow from the travel and other restrictions. My post from yesterday, looked at the rising food insecurity for dozens of countries facing rising extreme poverty because of the economic contraction being experienced around the world. Stated differently, the trade, economic, health and humanitarian challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic are extraordinary. Stemming the number of new cases is an important step to reduce the pressures on governments, companies and citizens.

The race to become the next WTO Director-General — where candidates are on important issues: eligibility for Special and Differential Treatment/self-selection as a developing country

[Updated August 27 to incorporate comments by Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova at a WITA webinar held on August 26]

During the years of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, countries engaged in a series of rounds of tariff liberalization. The basic principle of Most Favored Nation ensured that any participating country or customs territory would receive the benefits of trade liberalization of others whether or not the individual country made tariff liberalization commitments of its own.

Moreover, the GATT and now the WTO have recognized that countries at different levels of economic development will be able to make different contributions and some may need special and differential treatment to better participate.

Historically, there has been a distinction between developed countries and developing countries, with special and differential (S&D) treatment reserved for the latter. Typically, S&D treatment would permit, inter alia, lesser trade liberalization commitments and longer phase-ins for liberalization undertaken.

During the Uruguay Round, least-developed countries, as defined by the United Nations, were broken out from developing countries to receive lesser obligations than other developing countries. But the categorization as a developing country has always been a matter of self-selection within the GATT and now within the WTO.

Some three quarters of WTO’s current 164 Members have self-declared themselves to be developing countries or are least-developed countries under UN criteria. Thus, only one fourth of WTO Members shoulder full obligations under the current system.

While the Uruguay Round negotiations attempted to deal with “free riders” by requiring all countries and customs territories to bind all or nearly all tariff lines, the results at the creation of the World Trade Organization was a system where the vast majority of Members had relatively high tariff rates in their bindings while developed countries typically have very low tariff rates bound.

After twenty-five years of operation and dramatic economic development by many Members and limited trade liberalization through WTO multilateral negotiations, questions have been raised by the United States and others as to whether the concept of self-selection by countries of developing country status has contributed to the inability of the WTO to achieve further liberalization through negotiations. The U.S. has put forward a definition of who would eligible for developing country status based upon a country not qualifying under any of four criteria. See December 28, 2019, WTO Reform – Will Limits on Who Enjoys Special and Differential Treatment Be Achieved? https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/12/28/wto-reform-will-limits-on-who-enjoys-special-and-differential-treatment-be-achieved/. Countries who would not qualify under the U.S. proposal include:

Member of the OECD or in the accession process:

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

Member of the G-20:

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

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

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

0.5% of Merchandise Trade (includes):

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

For many countries who have self-declared as developing countries, the concept of changing their status, regardless of economic development, is untenable and has been actively opposed at the WTO (including by China, India and South Africa).

Four WTO Members who had self-declared as developing countries — Korea, Singapore, Brazil and Costa Rica — have indicated to the WTO that they will not seek special and differential treatment in ongoing or future negotiations (but maintain such rights for existing agreements). Other countries who are self-declared developing countries have blocked an Ambassador from one of the four who have agreed to accept greater obligations from assuming the Chair post for one of the WTO Committees.

The United States has also raised questions about the imbalance of tariff bindings which have flowed from economic development of some countries without additional liberalization of tariffs by those countries and the lack of progress on negotiations. Thus, for the United States there is also the question of whether tariff bindings should be reexamined in light of economic developments over the last twenty-five years. From the WTO’s World Tariff Profiles 2020 the following simple bound tariff rates for all goods are identified for a number of countries. See https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/tariff_profiles20_e.pdf. While for developing countries, bound rates are often much higher than applied rates, the bound rates give those countries the ability to raise applied tariffs without challenge:

“Developed Countries”

United States: 3.4%

European Union: 5.1%

Japan: 4.7%

Canada: 6.4%

“Developing Countries”

China: 10.0%

Brazil: 31.4%

Chile: 25.2%

Costa Rica: 43.1%

Republic of Korea: 16.5%

India: 50.8%

Indonesia: 37.1%

Singapore: 9.5%

South Africa: 19.2%

Thus, for the eight candidates competing for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization, a challenging topic within the WTO for possible reform is whether the issue of Special and Differential treatment needs review to ensure that its provisions apply to those who actually have a need and not to three quarters of the Members simply because they self-selected. While not necessarily encompassed by the S&D question, for the United States, the issue also subsumes whether WTO reform needs to permit a rebalancing of tariff bindings based on changing economic development for WTO Members.

What follows is a review of the prepared statements to the General Council made by each candidate during July 15-17, my notes on candidates’ responses to questions during the press conference immediately following each candidate’s meeting with the General Council, and my notes on candidates’ responses to questions during webinars hosted by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) (as of August 13, seven of the eight candidates have participated in such webinars; the webinar with the Moldovan candidate is being scheduled).

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

Dr. Seade did not take up the question of special and differential treatment directly as part of his prepared statement. One can read part of his statement to indicate that part of the challenges facing the WTO flow from the lack of success of the negotiating function on traditional issues (which would include further tariff liberalization). Also one could construe the need to modernize the organization as including the need to better reflect the need for all Members to carry the extent of liberalization that their stage of economic development permits.

“In the medium and long term, and in order to prevent the Organization from becoming obsolete and obsolete, it is important that mechanisms be
adopted to modernize it. I will seek to establish an informal dialogue on the
weaknesses and challenges of the Organization in the current context, through annual forums or specialized conferences.

“But thinking about long-term expectations, I am convinced that they have been affected by the lack of significant results in the negotiations since the
creation of the WTO. Thus, as results are achieved on 21st century issues, it will be very important to also energetically take up the traditional priority issues on the sustainable development agenda.” (Google translation from French)

During the press conference, Dr. Seade was asked a question on the issue of developed versus developing country designation. My notes on his response are as follows:

On the question of developed vs. developing country, Dr. Seade looks at it from the perspective of special and differential treatment. On the one hand the world keeps changing, so it’s reasonable to ask what a Member can do. The idea of changing classification of countries from developing to developed will take a very long time and so is probably the wrong approach. The question should be what contribution can a particular member make, which may be different in different industries.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Seade on July 7. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-seade/. Dr. Seade was asked about the issue of self-selection of developing country status and how he would try to get Members to address. My notes on his response follow:

Dr. Seade had this to say:  he believes countries are looking at the issue the wrong way.  Special and differential treatment is like a discount card which you can use at a store.  Some customers have the discount card; some don’t.  The reality in the WTO is that everything is negotiated.  When you negotiate, you can talk to every Member.  If Members make whether and what type of special and differential treatment a Member needs part of negotiations, the outcome can be tailored so that Members are contributing what they can while still accommodating Members where there is a real need. While seeking to define who is a developing country may be an approach that can be taken, Dr. Seade believes that actually getting Members to agree to changing status is an impossible issue.  In his view, status is “theological” for many Members. 

One can look at the trade facilitation agreement for an example of where Members were asked to take on obligations to the extent they could; there were negotiations if more was felt possible from a Member.  The same type of approach can be taken in ongoing and new negotiations.  He believes this is the way to go.  The key question is not who is eligible, but for what does a Member need S&D.  This will be true at a country level (e.g., in Dr. Seade’s view Mexico and Brazil don’t need the same flexibilities as Angola).  But the need for differentiation in a given country may also differ by sector.  In fact the need for special and differential treatment can vary by product. Dr. Seade mentioned Mexico’s agriculture sector, where corn production is not efficient or modern and hence S&D may be necessary but where that is not the case for fruits and vegetable production.  Thus, Dr. Seade believes that going about it on a more practical way is the right way to make progress in the WTO.  Negotiate by agreement by country, etc.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s prepared statement directly notes the differing positions on the issue of special and differential treatment and also mentions concerns of Members in terms of imbalances in rights and obligations and distribution of gains (which presumably includes the U.S. concern about high bound tariff rates of many countries who have gone through significant ecoonomic growth in the last 25 years).

“Members’ views differ on a number of fundamental issues, such as special and differential treatment or the need for the WTO to tackle new issues and develop new or enhanced rules to deal with SOEs and agricultural subsidies, for example.”

“While a key objective of the WTO is the liberalization of trade for the mutual benefit of its Members, it appears that this very concept is now a divisive issue as a result of the perceived imbalances in the rights and obligations of Members and the perceived uneven distribution of the gains from trade. I would constantly remind Members about the value of the MTS and help energize them to work harder to overcome the challenges that have paralyzed the WTO over the years.”

During the press conference on July 15th, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was not a question on S&D treatment, classification of developing countries or on tariff bindings.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her opening comments identified the issue of special and differential treatment as an issue that could be considered as part of WTO reform, although it wasn’t in her list of topics for tackling by the next WTO Ministerial Conference. She was asked a question about how to restore trust among Members and used that question to review her thoughts on special and differential treatment and the question of self-selection by Members as developing countries. Below is my summary of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s discussion of the issue.

One issue being pushed by the United States and others that is very divisive is the issue of special and differential treatment and self-selection of developing country status.  The concern of those wanting a change is that self-selection and the automatic entitlement to S&D treatment shifts the balance of rights and obligations to advanced developing countries.  There is no disagreement that least-developed countries need special and differential treatment. In her view, the real question is whether other countries that view themselves as developing should get special and differential treatment automatically.  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes the WTO needs a creative approach to resolve the issue.  For example, Members should address the need of individual Members for special and differential treatment on a negotiation by negotiation basis.  Members should, as part of each negotiation, consider what other Members believe their needs are based on level of development.  She references the Trade Facilitation Agreement as an example where Members took on obligations based on their level of development vs. a one size fits all approach.  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes that if the Members can reach a resolution on this issue, the resolution would help build trust among Members and hence help the WTO move forward.

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

Mr. Mamdouh’s prepared statement did not directly deal with the topic of special and differential treatment or the changing economic competitiveness of Members. There is one statement towards the end of his statement which recognizes the evolving nature of the Membership.

“Since then, global trade has transformed, and trading powers have evolved. The circumstances and dynamics have changed. But the skillset we require of the leadership: imaginative thinking, and the ability to come up with legally sound and enforceable solutions – remain the same.”

During his press conference on July 15, Mr. Mamdouh was not asked a question on S&D treatment or the criteria for being a developing country.

WITA had a webinar with Mr. Mamdouh on June 23. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-candidate-hamid-mamdouh/. Mr. Mamdough was asked a question during the webinar on whether the large number of WTO Members who have self-declared as developing countries and hence are eligible for special and differential treatment doesn’t undermine the credibility of the organization and what he would do about it if he was Director-General. Below is my summary of Mr. Mamdouh’s response.

Mr. Mamdouh believes that the issue should be addressed in a pragmatic maner. He referred back to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiated during the Uruguay Round and noted that the GATS contains no special and differential treatment provisions.  Thus, in the GATS, Members moved away from a system of country classifications.  In Mr. Mamdouh’s view, obligations should be customized based on a Member’s needs/abilities through negotiations.  Flexibilities to address particular Member needs can be determined individually.  While this was the approach in GATS, Members can do that on goods on any area that can be scheduled but also rule making areas.  In Mr. Mamdouh’s view for any substantive obligations, there is room to customize obligations through negotiations.  He believes that big developing countries wouldn’t oppose different countries taking on different obligations.  He doesn’t believe that a solution will be in negotiating a different categorization system.  The solution for the WTO is to take a pragmatic approach and customize the outcome based on negotiations.  Mr. Mamdouh referenced fisheries subsidies as an example where that could occur.  He believes customizing obligations based on individual Member needs will be increasingly necessary, citing the 164 current Members.  But he cautions that no “one size fits all”.  Every solution would need to be tailored on the basis of the area being negotiated.

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

Amb. Ulianovschi’s prepared statement to the General Council on July 16 covers a wide range of issues that need to be addressed going forward, but, does not mention the issue of special and differential treatment or which Members should not be eligible to be developing countries based on economic developments. Amb. Ulianovschi does have one sentence in his prepared statement which talks generally about addressing global inequalities.

“The WTO is one of the most complex organizations in the world today, and it’s one of the most needed as to ensure open, predictable, inclusive, rule based multilateral trading system, as well as – to address global inequalities and bridge the gap between the least developed, developing and developed countries.”

At the press conference on July 16, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked many questions but none of the developing country/special and differential treatment issue.

WITA held a webinar with Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi on August 26, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-tudor-ulianovschi/. During the webinar, Amb. Ulianovschi mentioned special and differential treatment both in his opening statement and in answer to a question. My notes on Amb. Ulianovschi’s comments are provided below.

From his opening statement, Amb. Ulianovschi noted that as a member driven organization, the WTO needs Members to negotiate to move forward.  He believes that a diplomatically active Director-General can help the WTO move forward, and he can help address lack of trust which he believes is largely psychological primarily based on unfinished business but also dispute settlement, special and differential treatment and other issues.

Q:  How important is it to have a reform agenda, and how can you convince major Members to agree on a common agenda? A:    Amb. Ulianovschi stated that reform is absolutely necessary.  In his view, cosmetic reform is not sufficient, a fact made clear by major Members.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that political experience and dialogue by the Director-General will be key to get those who have put forward proposals to get into a discussion that is inclusive and transparent.  There are a large number of issues that are affecting the environment at the WTO.  For example, the WTO needs to address the horizontal issue of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D).  The S&D principle is at the core of the organization, but it is how you apply the principle which determines commitments of Members.  From that point of view, Amb. Ulianovschi sees it as a positive signal that major players are putting forward proposals on this topic.  The proposals should be the starting point for discussions.  Amb. Ulianovschi would invite those who have put forward proposals to start discussions with other Members.  Negotiations need political will to succeed, and Members need to agree on how to proceed.  He believes that if he is Director-General, he can get Members to that point.

H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea)

Minister Yoo’s prepared statement covers many issues but does not address the issue of special and differential treatment/developing country classification.

In her press conference on July 17 after meeting with the General Council, Minister Yoo was asked a question on developing vs. developed country status. My notes on her response follow:

A question was asked how Minister Yoo viewed the question of the status of Members as developed or developing countries particularly in light of Korea viewing itself as a developing country in the WTO although Korea has indicated it will not seek additional special and differential treatment under future WTO Agreements. Minister Yoo started her response by noting that the Marrakesh Agreement requires that the WTO work to help developing and least developed countries secure their fair share of trade. There are competing issues at the WTO. Should the WTO make special and differential treatment provisions more operational in existing Agreements is one issue. Should the WTO change the classification status of some countries based on economic development is the other issue. For Korea, the. world has changed, and countries have changed in terms of their stage of economic development. Korea decided to take on more responsibility based on its changing level of economic development. But many countries continue to need special and differential treatment. It would be ideal for developing countries to take on more responsibilities as they are able. But this is a sensitive issue on which there is no consensus as yet.

WITA had a webinar with Minister Yoo on August 11.  https://www.wita.org/event-videos/candidate-h-e-yoo-myung-hee/. Below is my summary of the question asked on the issue of special and differential treatment and self-selection of developing country status, and Minister Yoo’s response:

Korea has informed the WTO that Korea will not seek S&D treatment in ongoing or future negotiations.  Many Members thinks the self-selection of developing country status is undermining the system.  How do you evaluate the issue and how important is it to resolve?

Minister Yoo indicated that this is an important issue to resolve to make progress in ongoing and future negotiations.  She believes it is important to reflect on a core principle of the WTO to ensure that developing countries and least-developed countries secure their fair share of global trade.  The question for the WTO is how to effectuate this embedded principle.

Over half of WTO Members are developing countries and 36 others are least developed countries. In total roughly three fourths of all Members get special and differential treatment.  If so many are eligible for special and differential treatment, it likely means that the countries with the greatest needs are not receiving the assistance actually needed to help their development and greater participation in international trade.

In Minister Yoo’s view, the WTO has very divergent views among Members about changing the classification process for Members from self-selection to a set of factual criteria.  US has put forward a proposal to categorize members as developed based on different factual criteria.  However, there is no consensus at the WTO at the moment which means that changing the classification process will not happen until there is consensus.  In light of the lack of consensus, a pragmatic approach may be to have countries who can take on more responsibilities to do so voluntarily.  This will permit those who need assistance to get it.

Looking at the Trade Facilitation Agreement, while the Agreement is not necessarily representative of other areas under negotiation, it shows one way to handle the issue of special and differential treatment in a pragmatic way.  Some developing countries take on more responsibility than others without S&D treatment and without a transition period.  This is an example of how through negotiations, Members can customize obligations to individual Member capabilities.  Such an approach is practical and pragmatic.

In Korea’s case, Korea indicated that they would not seek S&D treatment in ongoing and future negotiations based on Korea’s state of economic development.  It was not an easy decision and required extensive internal consultations.  Korea wants to promote the WTO system.  She believes it is useful for each country to step up and take on more responsibility if they are capable of doing so.  The U.S. proposal has been important in raising the issue.  While no consensus exists at the moment, the U.S. action has gotten Members discussing the matter.  If Minister Yoo is selected to be the next Director-General, she would continue to raise the issue with Members to achieve a good outcome for all. She believes resolution of the issue can help unlock progress in ongoing and future negotiations.

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

Minister Mohamed’s prepared statement contains a number of statements which recognize the need of Members to contribute according to their ability, although she does not address the classification of developing countries or the need for special and differential treatment specifically.

“Renewal has to start with facing up to the defects that have weakened the system in recent years: the inability to update rules to reflect the changing realities of how trade is conducted; the sterility of ideological standoffs; the retreat into defensiveness; and the sense of the benefits of trade not being equitably shared.”

“All Members should contribute to trade opening and facilitation efforts, especially those most in a position to do so.”

“We need a WTO that is fair and equitable, taking into account the level of economic development of each member. All WTO Members must be prepared to contribute to improving and strengthening the organization, so that it can facilitate trade for the benefit of all, and contribute to economic recovery from the effects of the pandemic.”

During Minister Mohamed’s press conference on July 16, no questions were asked about developing country status or on special and differential treatment.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Mohamed on August 6. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/ambassador-amina-mohamed/. During the webinar, Minister Mohamed both made several comments on special and differential treatment and self-selection of developing country status, but also answered a question. My notes on her comments and the question asked are summarized below:

One of issues needing to be addressed by the WTO are the current “divisions over developing country status”.

We need a WTO that is fair and equitable considering the level of economic development of each Member.  The WTO should give effect to its development objectives in a practical and enabling way that takes into account needs and results.  All WTO Members must be prepared to contribute to strengthening and improving the WTO system.

Q: The U.S. has raised the issue of self-declaration of developing country status.  How would you handle the issue if you become Director-General?

Minister Mohamed noted that special and differential treatment is an integral part of existing agreements.  However, going forward, the journey to modify the approach to S&D has already begun. ” The train has already left the station.” Minister Mohamed noted that in the Trade Facilitation Agreement, any special treatment was based on the need of the individual Member. Countries assumed obligations they were able to, so different developing countries assumed different levels of obligations with or without transition periods.

Second, self-declaration by certain countries that they would no longer seek special and differential treatment has already occurred (Korea, Brazil, Singapore and Costa Rica).  Minister Mohamed believes the WTO will see more of this going forward by other countries.  If Minister Mohamed is selected to be the next Director-General, she would continue discussions among the Members and have candid discussions with some of the Members.  But she believes moving forward, special and differential treatment will be increasingly based on actual need.

H.E. Mohammed Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia)

Minister Al-Tuwaijri in his prepared statement to the General Council on July 17 addressed briefly the proposal from the U.S. on special and differential treatment (classification of developing countries):

“Concerning Special and Differential Treatment, the bottom line is, without negotiations that include incentives for everyone to participate actively, I do not think it will be possible for Members to address the issue of SDT. This is one of the main reasons that the negotiating function needs to start working. Members have various capacities to implement and take advantage of new rules and commitments, so it is clear that each Member must decide for itself what is in its own interest.”

At his press conference on July 17, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was not asked a question on special and differential treatment or of classification of developing countries.

WITA did a webinar with Minister Al-Tuwaijri on August 5. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/director-general-candidate-he-mohammed-al-tuwaijri/. During the webinar Minister Al-Tuwaijri was not asked a question on self-selection of developing country status or on special and differential treatment.

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP

Dr. Fox’s prepared statement to the General Council on July 17 did not include any references to special and differential treatment or to the classification of developing countries.

During his press conference on July 17, Dr. Fox was not asked a question dealing with special and differential treatment or the classification of developing countries.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Fox on July 30, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-dr-liam-fox/. Dr. Fox was asked about the concerns expressed by the U.S. and others that the process of self-selection of developing country status had resulted in too many Members having special and differential treatment. There was a need to see that S&D is limited to those who actually need help. How would Dr. Fox address this issue if he were selected as the Director-General? What follows reflects my notes on Dr. Fox’s response.

Dr. Fox stated that first, the WTO must reassess that we are all aiming at the same goal.  As the WTO has expanded membership, Members knew that the organization would have countries with vast differences in capabilities and that it would take different countries different amounts of time to get to full implementation.  Thus, special and differential treatment is available. However, Dr. Fox understands that there are some WTO Members who want to be perpetually exempted from undertaking full obligations regardless of the level of economic development they have achieved. Dr. Fox views this approach as unacceptable. Membership in an organization envisions equal rights and obligations, though it may take some members longer to get there.

On the topic of special and differential treatment, Dr. Fox believes that it is important to accelerate the rate of development for countries that are developing or least-developed, so that their improved level of economic development means they don’t need special and differential treatment.  One of the reasons some Members gave Dr. Fox for not wanting to be moved into a different category, was the concern over loss of trade preferences.  Dr. Fox used as an example, small coastal economies who can experience wide swings in per capita GDP based on external events (hurricanes, etc.) which can move them from high income to low income and back in short order.  Dr. Fox believes WTO Members must think creatively on how to address concerns of Members that giving up developing country status will put them in difficulties. On his example, he suggested using multiple year averages.

Conclusion

As the WTO has become a much more universal organization, membership has widely expanded beyond the historical developed country proponents of the GATT. At the same time, in recent decades there has been tremendous economic development by many countries which should mean that the ability of Members to handle full or increased obligations of the WTO has increased for many countries.

Yet, the current system does not provide a means for modifying obligations of Members who joined as developing country members regardless of the level of development achieved after joining. The view of some Members is that this disconnect between actual economic development and level of commitments undertaken has contributed to the inability to conclude negotiations. The issues raised by the United States have resulted in a few countries indicating that they will not seek special and differential treatment in ongoing or future negotiations. In at least one recent agreement, the Trade Facilitation Agreement, countries have assumed obligations based on their perceived need and not as a general right with the result of countries who may have self-selected developing country status taking on more obligations with lower or no delay in implementation than other developing countries.

For the incoming Director-General, finding a solution to this issue acceptable to all Members could be critical to unlocking progress on other negotiations.