New Zealand

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

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

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

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

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

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

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

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

“What did she say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

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

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Report on WTO Accessions

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

Overview of activities in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full report is embedded below.

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Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

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

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

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

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

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

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

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

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

WTGCW819-1

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

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

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

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

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

The full document is embedded below.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


WTO Special General Council meeting called for 3 p.m. on February 15, 2021 to consider appointment of a Director-General

Via communications sent out to the WTO membership on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, there will be a special General Council meeting next Monday, February 15, to consider the recommendation by the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker (NZ) that Members appoint Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the WTO. the notices follow the withdrawal of the South Korean candidate, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee last Friday and the press release from the United States Trade Representative’s Office last Friday that the U.S. strongly supported the candidacy of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. As other Members appeared to be on board with a consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala following the third round of consultations last October, movement by the Republic of Korea and the United States were the remaining steps for the Chairman of the General Council to be able to move forward with making his recommendation (supported by his facilitators) to the membership in a special General Council meeting. It is believed that Amb. Walker has been doing outreach to other Members since those announcements to confirm consensus and address any other issues relevant to the appointment of the next Director-General. So after the General-Council meeting next Monday, the WTO should finally have a new Director-General. The four Deputies Director-General have been jointly carrying on since the last Director-General departed at the end of August last year.

The two documents sent out today are embedded below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

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

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

agric_report_e

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

208R2-3

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


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

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

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

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

U.S. perspective

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

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

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.

The WTO selection process for the next Director-General — possible steps that can be taken in the coming weeks

According to the Procedures adopted by the General Council at the end of 2002 for appointing Directors-General, the current selection process of a new Director-General should have concluded with a General Council meeting that was called for November 9, 2020 but then postponed. See PROCEDURES FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTORS-GENERAL, Adopted by the General Council on 10 December 2002, WT/L/509 (20 January 2003), paragraphs 8, 15-19; November 6, 2020, Postponement of WTO General Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/06/postponement-of-wto-general-council-meeting-to-consider-recommendation-of-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-director-general/.

In prior posts, I have reported on the developments in the third and final round of consultations that the troika (Chairs of the General Council, Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body) had with Members between October 19-27 and the informal meetings with Heads of Delegation on October 28. See October 29, 2020, WTO press release from informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/wto-press-release-from-informal-heads-of-delegation-meeting-on-october-28-and-amb-walkers-statement-to-the-wto-membership-on-the-outcome-of-the-third-round-of-consultations-in-the-director-general/; October 29, 2020, October 29th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of results of third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/october-29th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-third-round-of-consultations-and-u-s-aanouncement-of-not-backing-the-candidate-with-the-greatest/; October 29, 2020, U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/u-s-support-for-minister-yoo-for-wto-director-general-premised-on-need-for-person-with-trade-expertise/; October 28, 2020, WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/28/wto-director-general-selection-process-doesnt-generate-immediate-consensus/.

There were two strong candidates being considered by Members in the third round of consultations — H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of Korea (Trade Minister) and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria (Chair of GAVI, former Finance Minister of Nigeria, and senior official at the World Bank). As reported by the Chairman of the General Council, Amb. David Walker of New Zealand, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the candidate found based on the preferences of Members to be most likely to attract consensus of the Members and whose name would be put forward to the General Council in a special meeting as recommended by the troika consistent with the procedures (para. 19).

Because the Republic of Korea did not withdraw the Korean candidate and because the U.S. indicated it could not support a consensus for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, the Chair of the General Council was faced with additional consultations ahead of the planned special General Council meeting that was scheduled for November 9. On November 6, the meeting was postponed for an indefinite period reflecting reimposed restrictions by the Swiss government in light of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland, thus permitting the Chair more time to consult and seek a resolution.

We are now 13 days after the postponement was announced. Absent a resolution through consultations, the option exists to move to a vote on who should be the next Director-General. WT/L/509, para. 20. While a possibility, to date at least, there has been no move to shift from a consensus approach to a vote, although that may happen in the coming weeks or months.

Steps that could be taken to help resolve the current situation

  1. Withdrawal of H.E. Yoo Myung-hee as a candidate

Since the procedures were adopted at the end of 2002, all candidates who have been put forward have done so understanding that the procedures envision any candidate who is not moved to the next round or who is not found to be the candidate most likely to attract consensus in the final round will withdraw. WT/L/509, para 18 (“It is understood that the candidate or candidates least likely to attract consensus shall withdraw.”). The withdrawal of candidates not receiving the requisite support was followed by all candidates who didn’t advance in 2005 and in 2013 and in the first two rounds of the 2020 consultation process. So the failure of Korea to withdraw its candidate was surprising and inconsistent with the agreed procedures.

Korea is a strong supporter of the WTO as was recognized by Amb. Walker is his prepared comments at the meeting on October 28 (JOB/GC/247).

” 4 TRIBUTE TO CANDIDATES AND TO MEMBERS

“4.1. Before I conclude, I would like to acknowledge H.E. Yoo Myung-hee for her participation in this selection process.

“4.2. As I said at the start, Members consider her a highly qualified individual. H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has vast experience, which she has acquired in a number of leading positions, and her outstanding
qualifications are highly valued and respected by all Members. In her distinguished career, H.E. Yoo Myung-hee has always been a tireless promoter of the multilateral trading system, and I am certain that the WTO can continue to count on that commitment.

“4.3. We would also like to acknowledge the Government of the Republic of Korea and its Geneva Representative Ambassador PAIK Ji-ah for their commitment to this institution and to the multilateral trading system.”

The government of Korea has indicated that it has not decided a course of action and press accounts suggest that Minister Yoo is still in the fight for the Director-General position. Hopefully, Korea will take the correct action even if belatedly and withdraw its candidate. There is no doubt that Minister Yoo is a qualified individual. But that has been true of many candidates who did not ultimately succeed. The procedures adopted by the General Council obviously don’t work if candidates who do not receive the broadest and largest support don’t withdraw. Korea’s and Minister Yoo’s actions in having Minister Yoo stay in the competition are hurting the organization that both have actively supported. In an organization where Members already have a low level of trust, having important Members disregard procedures all have agreed to simply compounds the challenge of restoring trust and permitting the WTO to get on with the critical work before it.

2. Carry on in the existing configuration until the Biden Administration is in place in late January

While it is unlikely that the incoming Biden Administration will have its full team in place for a number of months after President-elect Biden is sworn in on January 20, my belief is that there will be a reasonably strong likelihood that the new Administration will not prevent a consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be appointed the next Director-General of the WTO. Thus, holding the special General Council meeting sometime in February would likely permit the recommendation identified by Amb. Walker and his two facilitators at the October 28 informal meeting of Heads of Delegation to proceed unopposed. While a February date drastically reduces the time for an incoming Director-General to help Members prepare for the Ministerial to be held in Kazakhstan midyear 2021, many of the priority short term objectives identified by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala (such as completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations and getting the plurilateral on e-commerce to an advanced state) are being worked by existing groups within the WTO and so hopefully will be positioned for early harvest.

Conclusion

The WTO has many needs for reform going forward. There are issues where drawing a line in the sand may be warranted by Members. I believe that the U.S. has correctly drawn a line in the sand on dispute settlement, an issue of concern to Administrations and Congress for more than 20 years. Hopefully reform of the dispute settlement system can happen in 2021 to restore the balance of rights and obligations that sovereign states negotiated during the Uruguay Round and that will limit the role of panels and the Appellate Body to that which was originally envisioned.

While all decisions by Members are obviously for them to make regardless of outside views, as an outside observer I don’t see the justification for drawing a line in the sand in the selection process for a new Director-General. Both candidates in the final round of consultations were highly qualified and respected. The organization needs a new Director-General. The organization will be well served by either candidate. But only one was found through the 2002 procedures to be the candidate most likely to attract a consensus. With a change in U.S. Administrations a few months away, hopefully the 2002 procedures can be respected again without the need to resort to voting and with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General of the WTO.

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

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

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

W249

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed on November 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The agreement has twenty chapters some of which have annexes:

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

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

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

Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement

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

RCEP Chapter 7, Trade Remedies

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

rcep-chapter-7

Safeguard actions

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

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

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTGCM185

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):

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

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

Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting at WTO confirms Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to third (final) round of consultations in selection of next Director-General

This morning’s 11 a.m. informal heads of delegation meeting in Geneva saw Ambassadors David Walker (New Zealand), Dacio Castillo (Honduras) and Harald Aspelund (Iceland) communicate the results of the second round of consultations with WTO Members to the membership. Pursuant to the procedures adopted in 2002 for the selection of the Director-General, the Chair of the General Council together with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body (the “troika”) consult with each Member of the WTO to receive their preferences in successive rounds of consultations. In the second round, each Member was asked to provide two of five remaining candidates as the Member’s preferences.

As leaked yesterday, the two candidates who advance to the third round of consultations are Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Minister Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea. The selection of these two candidates was based “on the depth and breadth of preferences articulated” by Members to the troika. “The result creates an historic precedent for the WTO in that it assures that the 7th Director-General will become the first woman to lead the organization.”

The WTO press release from today (October 8) from which all quotes are taken, “WTO members narrow field of DG candidates,” can be found here, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/dgsel_08oct20_e.htm.

“During the DG selection processes of 2005 and 2013, breadth of support was defined as ‘the distribution of preferences across geographic regions and among the categories of members generally recognized in WTO provisions: that is (least developed countries), developing countries and developed countries.’ The Chair said he and his colleagues were guided by the practices established in these General Council proceedings and he further explained that the decisions made clear that ‘breadth of support means the larger membership’.”

The three candidates not advancing are Amb. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya, Mr. Mohammed Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia and Dr. Liam Fox of the United Kingdom. Amb. Walker (Chair of the General Council) said “On behalf of the entire membership, I would like to express deep gratitude for their participation in this selection process. It was clear that members consider them individuals of outstanding qualifications. I am sure you will all agree with us that in participating in the selection process, the candidates have all made a significant contribution to the standing and image of the WTO.”

The third round of consultations will start October 19 and end on October 27. There will be another informal heads of delegation meeting so that Amb. Walker and his facilitators can present the results of the third round of consultations, probably on Thursday, October 29.

The Chair of the General Council will then call a General Council meeting before November 7 to present their recommendation of the candidate most likely to obtain consensus. If Members agree, that candidate becomes the next Director-General. If there is a lack of consensus, the 2002 procedures provide for the possibility of a vote.

As reviewed in my post yesterday, the two candidates who are advancing have significantly different backgrounds presenting Members with an interesting choice. See October 7, 2020, Nigerian and Korean candidates advance to final round of consultations to become next WTO Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/07/nigerian-and-korean-candidates-advance-to-final-round-of-consultations-to-become-next-wto-director-general/.

While politics obviously has a role in the selection process, both candidates bring high-level government experience and an ability to work with various levels of government officials from many countries. Minister Yoo touted the fact that Korea has gone through significant economic development during her lifetime and so she has seen the needs of her country at various stages of economic development which would help her understand the needs of all WTO Members. She has also engaged in negotiations with many of the major WTO Members, including the U.S. and China. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a development economist and has expressed an interest in various issues where working with other international organizations would be important to ensure participation by all WTO members in WTO issues (e.g., addressing the digital divide which prevents many developing and least developed countries from engaging on e-commerce; ensuring access by all Members to vaccines and therapeutics to address the COVID-19 pandemic).

While the process of selecting a new Director-General is cumbersome, it was developed after the challenges in 1999 when no consensus was reached on a single candidate to give a greater likelihood of Members reaching a consensus on candidates put forward. The procedures worked in 2005 and in 2013 and appear to be working this year.

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.

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.

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.

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.

APEC Trade Ministers’ Virtual Meeting on July 25 — Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods during COVID-19

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has twenty-one members whose territories borders the Pacific Ocean. The twenty-one members include Australia; Brunei Darussalem; Canada; Chile; China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; the Philippines; Republic of Korea; Russia; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States; and Viet Nam. According to a 2019 USTR note on U.S.-APEC Trade Facts, APEC countries account for 38% of the world’s population, 60% of the world’s GDP and 47% of world trade. See https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/other-initiatives/asia-pacific-economic-cooperation-apec/us-apec-trade-facts#:~:text=APEC%20has%2021%20members%2C%20referred,percent%20of%20the%20world’s%20trade.

In May 2019, APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (“MRTs”) issued a statement on COVID-19 recognizing both the centrality for all members in halting the spread of the pandemic and the need for members to also focus on remedying the economic challenges flowing from the pandemic. Like the G20 and other groups, APEC MRTs recognized the importance of keeping markets open, of limiting emergency restrictive measures and ensuring such measures are “targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and should not create unnecessary barriers to trade, and are consistent with WTO rules.” APEC MRTs encouraged cooperation and the sharing of information and more. See Statement on COVID-19 by APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade, 5 May 2020, WT/GC/213. The May 2019 statement is embedded below.

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At the July 25, 2020 virtual meeting of MRTs, the ministers issued a joint statement and included as Annex A the Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods. See MRTs joint statement, https://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Sectoral-Ministerial-Meetings/Trade/2020_MRT; Annex A,https://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Sectoral-Ministerial-Meetings/Trade/2020_MRT/Annex-A. Both are embedded below.

Ministers-Responsible-for-Trade-Virtual-Meeting-Joint-Statement-2020

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The joint statement reiterates the May 2019 key points and incorporates the Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods “which is a clear indication of the region’s continued support for WTO work.” The MRTs “recognize the need for discussions to reduce non-tariff barriers which restrict trade in essential goods.” There are other supportive statements about the importance of WTO work. “We encourage continued constructive engagement on WTO issues, including in the lead-up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.” At the same time, the MRTs are looking to the development of a “post-2020 Vision” which they are hopeful leaders can launch at the end of 2020. Presumably, such a vision will include trade- related components which may include reforms at the WTO or simply be regional cooperation on certain important topics (supply chain issues on adequacy of supplies, e-commerce, movement of people as region recovers from COVID-19, etc.).

The Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods has ten specific actions that are declared.

The first two deal with export restrictions and prohibitions. The first is that each APEC member will ensure that any emergency trade measures introduced to address COVID-19 are consistent with WTO rules. The second commits APEC members to notify all such measures in accordance with WTO obligations.

The third declared action addresses non-tariff barriers. Specifically APEC members “are encouraged to work together to identify and resolve any unnecessary barriers to trade in essential goods.”

The next five declared actions pertain to trade facilitation — to expedite and facilitate the flow and transit of essential goods; to enhance coordination, efficiency and transparency of border clearance of essential goods; expediting the release of essential goods upon arrival; facilitating the entry, transit and departure of air cargo dealing with essential medical goods; abiding by the International Health Regulations of 2005.

The ninth declared action deals with tariffs and while not committing APEC members to liberalize tariffs for essential medical supplies, notes that some economies have taken such liberalizing actions and notes that the business community supports such action.

The last statement deals with reviewing progress on the APEC initiatives annually until COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency.

Conclusion

Many countries and customs territories around the world have expressed objectives which are generally not significantly different than those put forward by APEC members.

With the large share of global trade accounted for by APEC members and with similar-type commitments by the G20 (which includes major members of the EU and has the EU participating), one would think it should be possible to obtain WTO commitments along similar lines to the APEC Declaration. The Declaration would need to have added some of the developing country and least developed country needs that have been already presented to the WTO so that the concerns of all are addressed.

While the WTO is doing an excellent job of providing information about the pandemic and trade measures taken by Members (at least those notified), the WTO Members have yet to get behind a set of principles that all Members can sign off on. Perhaps the APEC MRT joint statement and Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods provides a good starting point for the full WTO membership. While some WTO Members have not wanted to address COVID-19 issues during the pandemic, obviously collective action during the pandemic would be most effective. The post-pandemic needs also should be addressed but can await individual and group developments of views.

COVID-19, EU move to permit some international travel in addition to intra-EU travel, effects on tourism

Many countries have imposed travel restrictions on visitors from other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (“IATA”) reports that there are 163 countries that have some travel restrictions and that 96 countries impose quarantine requirements. See IATA, COVID-19 Government Public Health Mitigation Measures, https://www.iata.org/en/programs/covid-19-resources-guidelines/covid-gov-mitigation/.

Travel and tourism is one of the most seriously harmed economic sectors from the global COVID-19 pandemic for many countries. The UN World Tourism Organization has created “the first global dashboard for tourism insights”. https://www.unwto.org/unwto-tourism-dashboard. The dashboard indicates that COVID-19 will result in the reduction of some 850 million to 1.1 billion tourists with a loss of US$ 910 billion to US $ 1.2 trillion in revenues from tourists with the potential loss of as many as 100-120 million jobs in the sector. These are obviously staggering figures for a sector that has contributed to global economic growth over recent decades. The dashboard has ten slides which shows data for tourism through April 2020 with some projected figures for full year 2020 under various assumptions. Data are presented both globally and for some slides by regions and in a few within regions by country. Thus, in slide 2, global tourism grew 2% in January 2020, declined 12% in February, declined 55% in March and declined 97% in April for a January-April total decline of 43.8%. By region, Europe declined 44%, Asia and the Pacific declined 51%, the Americas declined 36%, Africa declined 35%, and the Middle East declined 40%. While data for May and June are not yet available and may be less severe in terms of contraction than April, the decline in global tourism through June will likely exceed 50% and possibly be even more severe. For data through April 2020 see the link, https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19.

In prior posts, I have provided background on the sector and the likely toll from the COVID-19 pandemic. See April 30, 2020, The collapse of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/04/30/the-collapse-of-tourism-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/; May 3, 2020, Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/03/update-on-the-collapse-of-travel-and-tourism-in-response-to-covid-19/.

As many countries in parts of Asia, Oceania, Europe and a few other countries have seen significant declines following first wave peaks of COVID-19 cases, restrictions within countries and increasingly on international travel are starting to be relaxed.

The European Union is a large tourist destination and on June 30 announced recommendations for member states to consider in opening up for tourists from both other EU countries and for travelers from outside of the area for nonessential travel. Specifically, the Council of the European Union adopted Council Recommendations on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction on 30 June 2020. See https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-9208-2020-INIT/en/pdf. Intra EU travel, travel from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and certain other countries is not part of the third country nonessential travel affected by the recommendations (to the extent adopted by EU members).

The EU Council selected third countries whom the Council recommended have access based on criteria which “relate to the epidemiological situation and containment measures, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations, and are applied cumulatively.” Page 6. The Council lists three critieria: (1) whether the number of new cases over the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average (15 June 2020); (2) whether the trend of new cases over the prior 14 day period is stable or decreasing; and (3) considering “the overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting as well as the reliability of available information and data sources and, if needed, the total average score across all dimensions for International Health Regulations (IHR).” Page 6.

Based on these criteria, the EU Council recommends that 15 countries (with China being subject to confirmation of reciprocity by China to EU travelers) “whose residents should not be affected by temporary external borders restriction on non-essential travel into the EU” (Annex I, page 9): Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China. The Council may review every two weeks whether the list should be modified.

Annex II to the Council recommendations provides an identification of travelers with essential functions for whom the restrictions should not apply. These include healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals, frontier workers, seasonal workers in agriculture, transport personnel, diplomatic personnel, passengers in transit, passengers traveling for “imperative family reasons,” seafarers, third-country nationals traveling for the purpose of study and a few others. Annex II, page 10.

The EU Council Recommendations are embedded below as is a Council press release on the recommendations.

ST_9208_2020_INIT_EN

Council-agrees-to-start-lifting-travel-restrictions-for-residents-of-some-third-countries-Consilium

Obviously many countries are not included on the list of third countries where loosening of restrictions on travel is recommended. The United States, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are just a few for whom nonessential travel restrictions are not recommended to be lifted. For most of these countries, either the number of new cases has not peaked or has not receded significantly.

For the EU, getting agreement among its members to lift travel restrictions for other EU countries and to start lifting restrictions for travelers from thrid countries has been important as the summer holiday season of July-August arrives. Data from EU tourism statistics showed 710 million international visitors in 2018 (when there were 28 EU members, including the UK). 81% or 575 million visitors were intra-EU, that is traveling from one EU country to another. Thus, for the EU, the biggest return of tourism business involves reopening to travelers from other EU countries. By contrast, visitors from third countries in total were some 19% of the total or 135 million visitors. The US accounted for 11.6% of third country visitors in 2017, some 15.7 million in number. While an important source of third country tourists, The U.S. was just a little over 2.2 percent of total EU global visitors. See http://www.condorferries.co.uk (tourism in Europe statistics). Thus, for tourism, the EU’s reopening recommendations will not return travel and tourism to pre-COVID-19 levels. But the partial reopening could result in a significant rebound in its tourism sector which will be good news for EU businesses involved in the travel and tourism space. Time will tell just how much of a rebound actually occurs.

For other nations, the more countries who get COVID-19 under control and are thus able to open international travel and tourism responsibly, the greater the likely rebound in global travel and tourism will be. However, because many businesses in the travel and tourism space in any country are small businesses, the risk for many countries (whether in the EU or elsewhere) is that the rebound whenever it occurs will happen with a much smaller business base to serve customers. While governments can provide targeted assistance through legislative initiatives, operating conditions for many such businesses post opening do not permit profitable operation where social distancing and other important steps remain critical to safe functioning. So unlike other global crises in the past, there may be large and permanent job losses in the travel and tourism sector flowing from COVID-19.