Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

8BOL1

9BOL1

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

NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT

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

Member(s) who present the notification

Plurinational State of Bolivia

Necessary product(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ ] No.

[ ] Yes.

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

Date of presentation of the notification

10 May 2021

The WTO news release is copied below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 31bis

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

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

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

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

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

ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APPENDIX TO THE ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT 

Assessment of Manufacturing Capacities in the Pharmaceutical Sector

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

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

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

or
  

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


Notes:

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

An update on COVID-19 data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April_2021_FX_Report_FINAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasury Conclusions Related to the 2015 Act

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

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

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

Treasury Conclusions Related to the 1988 Act

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

While India and South Africa have challenged the legitimacy of the Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs), a great deal of the energy in the WTO in the last several years has been put into the JSIs. See, e.g., February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/; WTO, Coordinators of joint initiatives cite substantial progress in discussions, 18 December 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/jsec_18dec20_e.htm. The WTO press release is copied below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH

Climate change is a major global concern. Indeed, the UN has indicated there is less than a year for countries to get serious about saving the planet by getting their updated national climate action plans (NDCs) submitted. See Time, ‘If This Task Was Urgent Before, It’s Crucial Now.’ U.N. Says World Has 10 Months to Get Serious on Climate Goals, February 26, 2021,https://time.com/5942546/un-emissions-targets-climate-change/; UN Climate Change, Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published, 26 February 2021, https://unfccc.int/news/greater-climate-ambition-urged-as-initial-ndc-synthesis-report-is-published (“’2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency. The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.  Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The major emitters must step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions targets for 2030 in their Nationally Determined Contributions well before the November UN Climate Conference in Glasgow,’ said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.”).

While the largest polluters — China and the United States — haven’t submitted updated NDCs, the Biden Administration is planning on hosting a climate summit in the summer and plans on having more ambitious plans for the U.S. prepared by that time. See Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership, February 23, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/23/roadmap-for-a-renewed-u-s-canada-partnership/ (“The Prime Minister and the President expressed their commitment to have their two countries work together on cooperative action ahead of the US-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit that will allow both countries to increase their climate ambition. The President, in addition to acknowledging Canada’s new strengthened national climate plan and its globally ambitious price on pollution, reiterated his aim to have ready the US nationally determined contribution (NDC) in advance of the Summit and welcomed the Prime Minister’s aim to announce the enhanced 2030 emissions target for its NDC by the Summit as well.”).

At the World Trade Organization, many countries are anxious to explore ways that trade can facilitate addressing the challenges from climate change. Because of the large share of employment around the world by micro-, small- and medium’sized businesses (MSMEs), such businesses are playing and will have to play a critical role in adopting technologies to permit reduction of pollutions threatening the planet.

On February 25, 2021 a group of WTO Members (largely developed countries) submitted a communication to the WTO membership outlining ways that MSMEs can use intellectual property to green their businesses. See INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN, SINGAPORE, SWITZERLAND, THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE UNITED STATES, IP/C/W/675 (26 February 2021). The paper lays out the purpose of the communication in its introduction copied below.

“1. Some of today’s critical global challenges include climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and food security. As an example, climate change matters to our health and increases the risk of infections and pandemics.1

“2. Several international efforts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement are designed to address these challenges. In this context, the role of Green Technology2 is important to provide new alternatives to address these challenges and create opportunities that have economic, social, and environmental benefits, as underscored by the framework of the SDGs. Of these, several underline the importance of Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) for the accomplishment of the above objectives.

“3. Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) can play a pivotal role in this change towards more sustainability. As they provide for more than 50 percent of employment (G20/OECD, 2015), they can constitute core engines of innovation and growth. MSMEs working in the green tech sector represent key economic actors in the effort towards finding solutions to address the abovementioned global challenges. The role of intellectual property rights (IPRs) to enhance the competitiveness of MSMEs should be looked at closely. IPRs enhance the dissemination and protection of innovations – which is key for MSMEs, including those in the green tech sector (Friesike, Jamali, Bader et al, 2009). This submission presents IPR approaches for making MSMEs more competitive in green tech.

“1 Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/cchange/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/ (last consulted: 09.01.2021).”

The communication then provides information on international and national approaches to helping SMSEs obtain IP protection and/or obtain through license or otherwise existing IP technologies to address greening their businesses. For example, on international approaches, the communication reviews the role WIPO and WTO play in providing easy access to lots of information on intellectual property systems of many countries. WIPO has set up support through WIPO Green to facilitate collaboration on environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) including what technologies are available for licensing, etc.

“5. One important initiative to accelerate the development and dissemination of ESTs is WIPO GREEN, a marketplace designed to connect providers and seekers of ESTs. All technologies listed in the online database of WIPO GREEN are available for license, collaboration, joint ventures, and sale. In addition to establishing a network of various partners, WIPO GREEN contains a database of IP experts, supports acceleration projects in different countries and produces briefs and seminars for various green tech areas. It is thus particularly valuable for MSMEs, given that it facilitates the diffusion of their technologies and provides information to technology providers and seekers in all countries.”

The communication from the WTO Members also includes information on the Technology Mechanism provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and provides information on classification of green technology patents by WIPO, the European Patent Office (EPO) and US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

On national approaches Members can take, the communication focuses on actions the national patent office can take.

“12. There are several ways for IP offices to assist MSMEs in making the best use of IPRs.

“• IP offices can provide basic guidance and assistance on various IPR aspects. By preparing reader-friendly IP material, including patent and trademark basics, examination overviews, information on patent searching and resources on legal assistance that could be used by inventors and businesses in the green tech sector, individual questions and needs may be met.

“• IP offices may provide support in the form of assisting applicants with patent searches, landscape analyses and also facilitate free legal assistance.

“• Specifically with a view to promoting ESTs, IP offices could consider accelerated patent examination procedures for such green tech patent applications. This process shortens the time between application and grant, enabling MSMEs to attain financial support more quickly.

“• Customized workshops, seminars, or awards for the best green tech inventions may also help to make MSMEs that are involved in the green tech sector more aware of the benefits that the IP system may hold for them.”

The complete communication is embedded below.

W675-1

Conclusion

While there are presently limited environmental negotiations going on at the WTO (fisheries subsidies), the global race to address a warming world requires greater focus by WTO Members on the role trade can play to improve the global response. Restarting the environmental goods negotiations is one obvious area for negotiations. Addressing carbon leakage through national laws and international negotiations is another. Encouraging collaboration to spread green technology requires no negotiations but is a potentially important component in the global response. Hence the February 25 communication is a valuable contribution to increasing the global focus on how to address the challenges of a warming planet.

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

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

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

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

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

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

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

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

“What did she say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W820

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

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

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

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

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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.

WTACC38

Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

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

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

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

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

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

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

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

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

WTGCW819-1

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

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

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

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

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

The full document is embedded below.

WTGC223

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

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

WTGCW818

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

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

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

agric_report_e

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

208R2-3

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


Early trade action by Biden Administration — reinstating aluminum duties on imports from the United Arab Emirates

On February 1, 2021, President Biden revoked an action by the Trump Administration on aluminum products from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE’s exports of aluminum had been subject to additional duties as a result of an investigation of global imports of aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, where the Secretary of Commerce found that imports were a threat to national security and President Trump had imposed additional duties of 10%. Countries with security relationships with the United States were able to seek alternative approaches to addressing U.S. concerns.

The United States and the UAE have a security relationship of importance to the U.S. Specifically, the United States had worked with the UAE in its efforts to secure greater recognition for the state of Israel. The Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel was agreed by the UAE and Israel on August 13, 2020, signed at the White House on September 15, 2020 and ratified by the two governments in mid-October 2020.

Shortly before leaving office, on January 19, 2021, President Trump through Proclamation 10139 indicated that tariffs would be lifted on imports of aluminum from the UAE with an effective date of 12:01 a.m. on February 3, 2021. In their place, quotas at “historic levels” were agreed to on aluminum exports to the U.S. from the UAE. The Trump Proclamation is found at 86 FR 6,825-31 (January 25, 2021) and is embedded below.

2021-01711

By proclamation on February 1, 2021, President Biden revoked President Trump’s Proclamation 10139. The discussion contained in President Biden’s Proclamation indicates that his Administration views Section 232 as an important tool, that the aluminum industry is critical to U.S. national security and that the tariffs that were imposed on aluminum were having the desired effect prior to the pandemic and were worth maintaining. The Biden Proclamation is reproduced below. While it is not yet published in the Federal Register, the Proclamation can be found on the White House website in the briefing room. See A Proclamation on Adjusting Imports of Aluminum Into the United States, February 1, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/02/01/a-proclamation-on-adjusting-imports-of-aluminum-into-the-united-states/.

BRIEFING ROOM

A Proclamation on Adjusting Imports of Aluminum Into the United States

FEBRUARY 01, 2021 • PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS

ADJUSTING IMPORTS OF ALUMINUM INTO THE UNITED STATES

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

  1. Proclamation 10139 of January 19, 2021 (Adjusting Imports of Aluminum Into the United States), amended Proclamation 9704 (Adjusting Imports of Aluminum Into the United States), as amended, with respect to tariffs on certain imports of aluminum articles proclaimed under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1862). Proclamation 10139 provides that those amendments will not take effect until 12:01 a.m. on February 3, 2021.
  2. I consider it is necessary and appropriate in light of our national security interests to maintain, at this time, the tariff treatment applied to aluminum article imports from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under Proclamation 9704, as amended, as they are currently in effect as of this date. Accordingly, and as provided for in clause (6) of Proclamation 10139, I am terminating the modifications contained in that proclamation before they take effect.
  3. Proclamation 9704 applied tariffs to help ensure the economic viability of the domestic aluminum industry — an industry that the Secretary of Commerce had previously identified as essential to our critical industries and national defense. Because robust domestic aluminum production capacity is essential to meet our current and future national security needs, Proclamation 9704 aimed to revive idled aluminum facilities, open closed smelters and mills, preserve necessary skills, and maintain or increase domestic production by reducing United States reliance on foreign producers.
  4. In my view, the available evidence indicates that imports from the UAE may still displace domestic production, and thereby threaten to impair our national security. Proclamation 9704 authorized the Secretary of Commerce to grant exclusions from the aluminum tariffs based on specific national security considerations or if specific imported aluminum articles were determined not to be produced sufficiently in the United States, such that the imports would not diminish domestic production. Tellingly, there have been 33 such exclusion requests for aluminum imported from the UAE, covering 587,007 metric tons of articles, and the Secretary of Commerce has denied 32 of those requests, covering 582,007 metric tons. This indicates the large degree of overlap between imports from the UAE and what our domestic industry is capable of producing.
  5. Since the tariff on aluminum imports was imposed, such imports substantially decreased, including a 25 percent reduction from the UAE, and domestic aluminum production increased by 22 percent through 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began. In light of that history, I believe that maintaining the tariff is likely to be more effective in protecting our national security than the untested quota described in Proclamation 10139.
  6. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, authorizes the President to adjust the imports of an article and its derivatives that are being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security.
  7. Section 604 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (19 U.S.C. 2483), authorizes the President to embody in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States the substance of statutes affecting import treatment, and actions thereunder, including the removal, modification, continuance, or imposition of any rate of duty or other import restriction.
    Now, Therefore, I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and section 604 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, do hereby proclaim that Proclamation 10139, including the Annex, is revoked.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
    first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

___________________________________________________________

Pending WTO disputes; UAE does not have a pending dispute with the U.S.

While China, India, the European Union, Norway, the Russian Federation, Switzerland and Turkey all have ongoing panel proceedings at the WTO challenging the U.S. imposition of duties on steel and aluminum pursuant to Section 232 investigations, the UAE is not a country that has filed a request for consultations on the additional duties on aluminum on its exports to the United States. See WT/DSB 544 (China), WT/DSB547 (India), WT/DSB/548 (European Union), WT/DSB/552 (Norway), WT/DS554 (Russian Federation), WT/DS556 (Switzerland) and WT/DS564 (Turkey); challenges by Canada and Mexico were withdrawn after agreement with the United States (WT/DS550 (Canada) and WT/DS551 (Mexico). The panel reports were to go to parties in the fall of 2020 and released to the public once translations into the official languages was accomplished. But no report has been released to date. With the impasse on the Appellate Body, it is unclear if the Biden Administration will opt to file appeals should the panel reports not recognize the U.S. national security concerns. Thus, absent a decision by the Biden team, should it lose the WTO cases and not appeal, to eliminate the additional duties on imports from all countries, the UAE’s exports will continue to face the additional 10% duties for the foreseeable future.

Broader interest in Biden Administration approach to Section 232

A recent article in Politico reviews contact by the EU with the Biden team last week seeking an immediate end to tariffs on imports from the EU of both steel and aluminum with a corresponding withdrawal of EU retaliatory tariffs if accomplished. As noted in the Politico article, the tariffs are supported by steel producers, unions (e.g., the USW has many workers in both the steel and aluminum industries) and the primary aluminum producers. Politico, Biden, in first trade move, reimposes a Trump tariff, February 1, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/02/01/biden-aluminum-tariff-uae-464794.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that the U.S. will agree to withdraw the 232 duties at the present time. The Biden team doesn’t have its trade people in place; there are pending WTO disputes; the underlying problems of global excess capacity in both steel and aluminum continue on with no resolution in sight. The main driver of the excess capacity has been China (though others have contributed). There are no WTO rules that permit effective addressing of such problems, and China has largely ignored calls by its trading partners to address the problem in a meaningful manner.

Still the reversal of President Trump’s January 19, 2021 Proclamation is an interesting first step in the trade arena by the Biden Administration to emphasize that restoring economic health to the U.S. economy is an important component of his starting game plan (along with meaningfully addressing the pandemic). Trade issues will likely be seen through that prism even as the U.S. works within multilateral organizations and with allies on a host of issues of common interest and concern.

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.

Vietnam and Switzerland found to be “currency manipulators” in latest U.S. Treasury semiannual report

In the United States, there has long been a concern that trading partners not generate an artificial advantage in international trade by taking steps to undervalue their currencies. The United States Department of the Treasury issues a semiannual report which now examines major trading partners against two U.S. laws to see if consultations are appropriate with particular trading partners. The latest report was issued earlier this month on December 16th. See U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of International Affairs, R E P O R T T O C O N G R E S S, Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States, December 2020, https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/206/December-2020-FX-Report-FINAL.pdf. The press release that accompanied the release of the report is copied below.

“Treasury Releases Report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States

“December 16, 2020

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

The Report concluded that both Vietnam and Switzerland met all three criteria under the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (the 2015 Act) during the period under review. Treasury consequently conducted enhanced analysis of Vietnam and Switzerland in the Report and will also commence enhanced bilateral engagement with each country in accordance with the 2015 Act. This engagement will include urging the development of a plan with specific policy actions to address the underlying causes of currency undervaluation and external imbalances.

Treasury also determined that, under the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (the1988 Act), both Vietnam and Switzerland are currency manipulators. For each country, Treasury assessed, based on a range of evidence and circumstances, that at least part of its exchange rate management over the four quarters through June 2020, and particularly foreign exchange intervention, was for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments and, in the case of Vietnam, for gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade as well. Consistent with the 1988 Act, Treasury will press for the adoption of policies that will permit effective balance of payments adjustments and eliminate the unfair advantages in trade that result from their actions.”

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Vietnam in particular is under pressure from the United States to clean up its currency practices.

First, the U.S. Department of Commerce has preliminarily found that its currency practices are countervailable subsidies in the passenger vehicle and light truck tire investigation. See U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, C-552-829, Passenger Vehicle and Light Truck Tires From the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Preliminary Affirmative Countervailing Duty Determination and Alignment of Final Determination With Final Antidumping Duty Determination, 85 Fed. Reg. 71607-71610 (November 10, 2020); U.S. Department of Commerce Issues Affirmative Preliminary Countervailing Duty Determination for Passenger Vehicles and Light Truck Tires from Vietnam, November 4, 2020,ihttps://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2020/11/us-department-commerce-issues-affirmative-preliminary-countervailing (“Among the subsidies preliminarily countervailed is Vietnam’s undervalued currency – making this the first time that Commerce has ever made an affirmative CVD determination regarding a foreign currency with a unitary exchange rate.”).

Second, the U.S. Trade Representative earlier this year commenced two Section 301 investigations on practices of Vietnam, one of which involves its undervalued currency. See Office of the United States Trade Representative, Docket No USTR-2020-0037, Initiation of Section 301 Investigation: Vietnam’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Currency Valuation, 85 Fed. Reg. 63637-63638 (October 8, 2020); Office of the United States Trade Representative, Notice of Public Hearing in Section301 Investigation of Vietnam’s Acts, Policies and Practices Related to Currency Valuation, 85 Fed. Reg. 75397-98 (November 25, 2020). The notice of initiation contained the following description of the currency practices of concern to the U.S.:

“The Government of Vietnam, through the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), tightly manages the value of its currency—the dong. The SBV’s management of Vietnam’s currency is closely tied to the U.S. dollar. Available analysis indicates that Vietnam’s currency has been undervalued over the past three years. Specifically, analysis indicates that the dong was undervalued on a real effective basis by approximately 7 percent in 2017 and by approximately 8.4 percent in 2018. Furthermore, analysis indicates that the dong’s real effective exchange rate was undervalued in 2019 as well.

“Available evidence also indicates that the Government of Vietnam, through the SBV, actively intervened in the exchange market, which contributed to the dong’s undervaluation in 2019. Specifically, the evidence indicates that in 2019, the SBV undertook net purchases of foreign exchange totaling approximately $22 billion, which had the effect of undervaluing the dong’s exchange rate with the U.S. dollar during that year. Analysis suggests that Vietnam’s action on the exchange rate in 2019 caused the average nominal bilateral exchange rate against the dollar over the year, 23,224 dong per dollar, to be undervalued by approximately 1,090 dong per dollar relative to the level consistent the equilibrium real effective exchange rate.” (85 FR 63637-38).

Third, are the Treasury Department findings under both statutes in its semi-annual report, findings which support USTR concerns being explored in the ongoing Section 301 investigation.

Thus, the pressure for Vietnam to address U.S. concerns on its currency practices is mounting.

Switzerland

For Switzerland, the pressure to date is arising only under the Treasury Department semiannual report. Treasury’s concerns as laid out in the Executive Summary of the semiannual report are copied below.

Treasury Conclusions Related to Switzerland

“Switzerland met all three criteria under the 2015 Act over the four quarters through June 2020. Treasury has conducted enhanced analysis of Switzerland in this Report and will also commence enhanced bilateral engagement with Switzerland in accordance with the Act. The bilateral engagement will include urging the development of a plan with specific policy actions to address the underlying causes of Switzerland’s external imbalances.

“The Swiss franc has long been considered a safe haven currency that investors acquire during periods when global risk appetite recedes or financial volatility accelerates. These large safe haven flows pose challenges for Swiss macroeconomic policymakers, particularly in a period of negative interest rates and deflation. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) over the years has employed a range of tools to try to offset appreciation pressure on the franc and limit any associated negative impacts on inflation and domestic growth. Over the second
half of 2019 and particularly in the first six months of 2020, Switzerland conducted largescale one-sided intervention, significantly larger than in previous periods, to resist appreciation of the franc and reduce risks of deflation, as the SNB’s policy interest rates were significantly negative. While we recognize the extraordinary financial volatility in the first half of 2020 resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, the intervention was taken in the context of an extremely large current account surplus along with a growing bilateral trade
surplus with the United States and contributed to stemming the appreciation of the franc on a real, trade-weighted basis. Further franc appreciation would help facilitate gradual adjustment of Switzerland’s excessive current account surplus. Treasury therefore assesses, based on a range of evidence and circumstances, that at least part of Switzerland’s exchange rate management over the four quarters through June 2020, and particularly its foreign exchange intervention, was for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments. Hence, Treasury has determined under the 1988 Act that Switzerland is a currency manipulator. In the context of forthcoming negotiations with the Swiss authorities, Treasury will press for the adoption of policies that will permit effective balance of payments adjustments.

“• Switzerland was one of the countries in Europe hit early and hard by COVID-19, leading the government to declare a national state of emergency in mid-March. The number of active and new cases declined sharply from mid-to-late April but started rising again from mid-June as the authorities eased public health and mobility restrictions. Since mid-October, the number of new COVID-19 cases has surged, with new infections significantly above spring 2020 highs, leading the Swiss Federal Council to re-introduce several containment measures.

“Switzerland has for many years run extremely large current account surpluses, with the surplus reaching 10.9% of GDP in 2019. The current account surplus declined marginally, but remained elevated, at 8.8% of GDP over the four quarters through June 2020. The United States’ goods trade deficit with Switzerland widened notably over the last year, reaching $49 billion over the four quarters through June 2020, due partially to an increase in Swiss gold exports in the first half of 2020. The SNB disclosed that it spent $93 billion (90 billion francs) on currency interventions in the first half of 2020. Between July 2019 and June 2020, Treasury estimates that SNB net foreign purchases have totaled $103 billion (or 14% of GDP).

“Switzerland should employ a more balanced macroeconomic policy mix. Monetary policy continues to be relied on heavily despite the reduced effectiveness of unconventional tools, especially against a backdrop of persistent deflationary risks. We urge the SNB to deploy a broader and more balanced mix of monetary policy instruments, including domestic quantitative easing. Central to this recommended recalibration of monetary policy, we continue to urge the SNB to limit foreign exchange intervention to lean against large appreciation surges and allow real appreciation in line with the long-term trend. Treasury welcomes the SNB’s recent step to disclose foreign exchange intervention on a quarterly basis. Increased frequency of these disclosures – such as on a monthly basis – will help further improve transparency of the SNB’s actions. Fiscal policy should be deployed to reduce the economy’s reliance on the SNB’s policy measures, rebalance its external sector, and boost potential growth. The authorities should also take steps to raise potential growth by raising labor force participation rates and productivity growth, actions that would reduce Switzerland’s external imbalances and reliance on unconventional monetary policy.” (pages 5-6)

Conclusion

As exchange rates can move by large amounts in short periods of time, whether currencies are properly aligned can be critical to achieving the benefits of liberalized trade and not seeing trade distorted because of over- or undervaluation of one or more currencies. In its recent semiannual report, Treasury notes that the IMF views the U.S. dollar as significantly overvalued which by itself reduces U.S. exports and expands U.S. imports. If the overvaluation is created in part by trading partners deliberately undervaluing their currencies, there is a significant cost to Americans in terms of jobs and performance of companies. Indeed, many industries and workers have been concerned for decades that misaligned currencies were costing the U.S. jobs and manufacturing production and capacity. Congress was pressured for the last several decades to require Treasury to better analyze whether currencies were artificially valued by government action and to call out those countries who were engaged in such activities and to consult to achieve a correction. Last week’s semiannual report reflects the Congressional demand for a more fact-based analysis.

Beside Treasury, under the Trump Administration, there is greater ability of other U.S. agencies or entities to address problems posed by currency misalignment that is caused, at least in part, by government actions. Thus, Vietnam is having to deal with the U.S. Commerce Department, the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Treasury Department.

It is to be hoped that the U.S. focus on important trading partners who have undervalued currencies caused in part by government interventions will be continued by the incoming Biden Administration. Currency misalignment can cause significant distortions in trade flows. A multipronged approach to addressing such problems has been and continues to be needed.

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

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

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

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The United States

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

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

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

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

Other countries

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Third, Members can

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

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

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

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

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

“Fourth, Members can

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

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

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

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

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

Similarly the European Commission press release stated that –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

223

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W249

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar past eight million, up from five million on October 22

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to see an upward spiral in terms of the number of new infections although there has been a recent slowdown in new cases in Europe. Europe and the United States continue to constitute the bulk of the increase over the last 26 days as the following graph taken from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s COVID-19 situation update world wide, as of 17 November 2020 shows.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 17 November 2020

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 17 November 2020


More specifically, in the last twenty-six days, the number of new COVID-19 cases globally over the last fourteen days has shot from five million to over eight million — a near sixty percent increase in a little over three and a half weeks. The total new cases identified since late December 2019 globally are now 55.15 million as of November 17.

On October 22, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recorded the first day where the number of new COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period globally surpassed five million (5,042,415). In just eight days, on October 30, the ECDC reports the fourteen day total shooting past six million new cases (6,093,987), an increase of 1,051,572 or 20.85% in eight days. The report for November 7 shows the total new cases in the last fourteen days crossing the seven million mark — 7,044,267 — or 15.59% over October 30 and 39.70% over October 22. And today, November 17, the ECDC report shows new cases in the last fourteen days as passing eight million (8,031,073) — 14.01% above November 7, 31.79% above October 30 and 59.27% above October 22. As reviewed in three prior posts (October 22 and October 30), the U.S. and Europe were major factors in hitting five million, six million and seven million daily cases and today’s data show them to continue to be the major causes of the continued rapid escalation in global cases. See October 22, 2020, COVID-19 new cases over last 14 days pass 5,000,000 for first time on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/22/covid-19-new-cases-over-last-14-days-pass-5000000-for-first-time-on-october-22/; October 30, 2020,  In last eight days, the number of global new COVID-19 cases over past fourteen days has grown from five to six million, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/30/in-last-eight-days-the-number-of-global-new-covid-19-cases-over-past-fourteen-days-has-grown-from-five-to-six-million/; November 7, 2020:  New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar from five million on October 22 to six million on October 30 to seven million on November 7, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/07/new-covid-19-cases-over-a-fourteen-day-period-continue-to-soar-from-five-million-on-october-22-to-six-million-on-october-30-to-seven-million-on-november-7/

The table below shows the fourteen day totals for selected countries as of October 22, October 30, November 7 and November 17, and the change in new cases from October 22 – November 17. These twenty countries show an increase in the twenty-six days from October 22 – November 17 of 2,772,211 additional new cases while the increase from all countries was 2,988,658. So the 20 countries account for 92.76% of the total growth. In the prior periods (October 30 and November 7), the 20 countries had accounted for more than 100% of the increase in new cases. The 20 countries accounted for 2,558,802 new cases for the fourteen days ending October 22 or 50.75% of the global total at that time. For the fourteen days ending October 30, the 20 countries accounted for 3,584,674 new cases or 58.82% of the global total. For the fourteen days ending November 7, the 20 countries accounted for 4,568,491 new cases or 64.85% of the global total. And for the fourteen days ending November 17, the 20 countries accounted for 5,331,013 new cases or 66.38% of new cases. The table below shows that eight European countries — France, Spain, Belgium, Czechia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia — showed significant new case reductions in the November 17 period compared to the November 7 period.

Country10-22-202010-30-202011-7-202011-17-2020Change
United States786,488966,2691,245,8761,914,2411,127,753
France303,912473,085620,778524,800220,888
United Kingdom244,954291,718315,486336,817 91,863
Spain169,394238,709282,700256,167 86,773
Italy115,708234,993377,812474,293358,585
Russia198,716227,530252,794315,975117,259
Belgium100,119171,522152,663 72,643 -27,476
Poland95,260169,302265,447338,308243,048
Czechia113,555161,058165,174114,627 1,072
Germany81,905151,137224,483255,367173,462
Netherlands103,024126,543125,163 84,442 -18,582
Ukraine76,48989,178109,792143,495 67,006
Switzerland35,26173,418107,837 93,395 58,134
Romania48,53260,55086,030114,508 65,976
Hungary18,16628,38848,845 65,890 47,724
Austria19,38735,43661,823 93,528 74,141
Bulgaria10,59220,64335,665 45,274 34,682
Slovakia18,91327,50333,177 25,447 6,534
Slovenia8,85920,02123,345 19,338 10,479
Sweden9,56817,67133,601 42,458 32,890
Total2,558,8023,584,6744,568,4915,331,0132,772,211

While the United States has the largest absolute increase in the last twenty-five days for a single country and accounted for 40.68% of the increase recorded by the twenty countries for the October 22-November 17 period, the U.S. accounted for 87.65% of the increase of the twenty countries for the November 7-November 17 period. While Europe has been the largest part of the increase in October and November, the rate of increase has slowed or declined for many European countries in the last fourteen days.

Europe led the U.S. in the dramatic increase in new cases in October and in the reintroduction of restrictions in many countries to attempt to bring the coronavirus back under control. Actions in Europe appear to be working at least in a large number of countries as the number of new cases is declining in some countries as can be seen in the table above. The United States is continuing with huge increases in new cases, in hospitalizations and is seeing a growing number of deaths. Many U.S. states are putting in place at least some restrictions to try to slow the growth of new cases and reduce the strain on the health care system. The next week or two will help understand whether the actions being taken in the U.S. are sufficient to reduce the growth in new cases.

Other parts of the world are not experiencing a second wave to the same extent as Europe or the United States, although much of the Americas remain at very high levels of new cases. Some major countries who have been seriously hit in recent months are seeing substantial reductions in new cases. India is one example — on October 22, the last 14 days showed 871,291 new cases; on October 30, for the last 14 days new cases were down to 718,383; on November 7 were down to 647,398 for the 14 days ; and for the fourteen days ending on November 1, India’s new cases were down to 606,667.

The EU and the US face problems on additional aid packages

The EU has at least a temporary crisis as Hungary and Poland have blocked adoption of the aid package that had been agreed to. See, e.g., Euronews, 16 November 2020, Hungary and Poland block EU’s COVID-19 recovery package over new rule of law drive, https://www.euronews.com/2020/11/16/hungary-and-poland-threaten-coronavirus-recovery-package.

The U.S. Congress and Administration have been unable to agree to additional stimulus funds to help the U.S. economy and citizens deal with the continued COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. has more than 22 million Americans still out of work and with government assistance having terminated or to terminate shortly. Aid for small businesses and for sectors particularly hard hit by the pandemic is desperately needed as is funding for state and local governments and much more. While President Trump has urged Congress to pass an additional stimulus package, it is unlikely that action will be taken before the next Congress convenes and the new Administration is sworn in on January 20.

Progress on vaccine development

Two vaccines have completed phase 3 testing — one from Pfizer/BioNTech and one from Moderna — and information from the companies suggests efficacy rates of 90-94.5%. Thus, it is possible that these two vaccines will be approved for use in the coming weeks and will see large scale availability in the first half of 2021. Many other vaccines are in various phases of testing. So 2021 will hopefully see the roll out of various vaccines with significant availability around the world due to efforts of the companies and the efforts of the WHO/GAVI/CEPI to ensure availability to developing and least developed countries as well.

Conclusion

The top priority for many countries around the world remains getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The costs in terms of human life and serious health problems are enormous. So too the costs to the global economy from taking the steps necessary to address the pandemic are enormous.

How to address the pandemic and how to work internationally to secure a return to normalcy and a return to sustainable economic growth are the challenges for all governments and international organizations.

The fact that the number of new cases is continuing to surge globally ten and a half months after the start of global surveillance is obviously troubling and delays the return to normalcy. While some individual countries have gained control of the pandemic and others are making significant strides to reduce the number of new cases, “no one is safe until all are safe”. We have a long road to travel, and the western developed world is currently the major hot spot, struggling with the current extraordinary surge, although there are positive signs in Europe that at least many countries are slowing the spread after a very challenging September and October. We still are not in sight of a global peak although the rate of growth is slowing for the world as a whole though not for countries like the United States.

There is obviously some light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines and therapeutics get closer to public release. With more than 55 million infections recorded to date around the world and with more than 1.3 million deaths globally, the pressing question is how much worse will the situation become before the world gets back to normal with the pandemic controlled. The world is in for a challenging time til at least next summer and more realistically to the end of 2021 and the start of 2022.

New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar from five million on October 22 to six million on October 30 to seven million on November 7

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spiral out of control with the vast majority of the new cases in Europe and the United States as the following graph taken from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s COVID-19 situation update world wide, as of 7 November 2020 shows.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 7 November 2020

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 7 November 2020

More specifically, in the last sixteen days, the number of new COVID-19 cases globally over the last fourteen days has shot from five million to over seven million — a near forty percent increase in a little over two weeks. The total new cases identified since late December 2019 globally are just under 50 million (49.37 million) as of November 7.

On October 22, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recorded the first day where the number of new COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period globally surpassed five million (5,042,415). In just eight days, on October 30, the ECDC reports the fourteen day total shooting past six million new cases (6,093,987), an increase of 1,051,572 or 20.85% in eight days. Today’s report (November 7) shows the total new cases in the last fourteen days crossing the seven million mark — 7,044,267 — or 15.59% over October 30 and 39.70% over October 22. As reviewed in two prior posts (October 22 and October 30), the U.S. and Europe were major factors in hitting five million and six daily cases and today’s data show them to continue to be the major causes of the continued rapid escalation in global cases. See October 22, 2020, COVID-19 new cases over last 14 days pass 5,000,000 for first time on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/22/covid-19-new-cases-over-last-14-days-pass-5000000-for-first-time-on-october-22/; October 30, 2020,  In last eight days, the number of global new COVID-19 cases over past fourteen days has grown from five to six million, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/30/in-last-eight-days-the-number-of-global-new-covid-19-cases-over-past-fourteen-days-has-grown-from-five-to-six-million/.

The table below shows the fourteen day totals for selected countries as of October 22, October 30 and November 7 and the change in new cases from October 22 – November 7. These twenty countries show an increase in sixteen days of 2,009,689 new cases over the fourteen day periods examined or more than the global total increase of 2,001,852 new cases over the same sixteen days The 20 countries accounted for 2,558,802 new cases for the fourteen days ending October 22 or 50.75% of the global total at that time. For the fourteen days ending October 30, the 20 countries accounted for 3,584,674 new cases or 58.82% of the global total. Finally, for the fourteen days ending November 7, the 20 countries accounted for 4,568,491 new cases or 64.85% of the global total.

Country10-22-202010-30-202011-7-2020Change
United States786,488966,2691,245,876459,388
France303,912473,085620,778316,866
United Kingdom244,954291,718315,48670,532
Spain169,394238,709282,700113,306
Italy115,708234,993377,812262,104
Russia198,716227,530252,79454,078
Belgium100,119171,522152,66352,544
Poland95,260169,302265,447170,187
Czechia113,555161,058165,17451,619
Germany81,905151,137224,483142,578
Netherlands103,024126,543125,16322,139
Ukraine76,48989,178109,79233,303
Switzerland35,26173,418107,83772,576
Romania48,53260,55086,03037,498
Hungary18,16628,38848,84530,679
Austria19,38735,43661,82342,436
Bulgaria10,59220,64335,66525,073
Slovakia18,91327,50333,17714,264
Slovenia8,85920,02123,34514,486
Sweden9,56817,67133,60124,033
Total2,558,8023,584,6744,568,4912,009,689

While the United States has the largest absolute increase in the last eight days for a single country, the vast majority of the increase flows from countries within the European Union. With the exception of the United States, the rest of the countries in the chart are from Europe, most from the EU.

It is little wonder, then, that the EU, the UK and Switzerland, with dramatic growth in the number of new cases, are imposing renewed restrictions at least in many countries and facing backlash from citizens suffering COVID-19 exhaustion. See, e.g., Politico, November 1, 2020, Europe is living a coronavirus flashback plus a backlash, https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-is-living-a-coronavirus-flashback-plus-a-backlash/. While health care is handled by the individual countries within the the EU, the EU has been advocating better coordination and maintaining trade flows within the Community as countries come to grips with the current wave. See, e.g., Politico, October 30, 2020, EU leaders link arms for long fight against virus, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-leaders-link-arms-for-long-fight-against-virus/.

In the United States, the number of new cases is spiking again, with new cases now more than 100,000/day in recent days and the fourteen day total new cases of 1,245,876 is more than 20% higher than was recorded on November 1 — the first day where a fourteen day total of new cases in teh U.S. topped one million. See November 1, 2020, United States becomes second country to have more than 1,000,000 new COVID-19 cases in fourteen days, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/01/united-states-becomes-second-country-to-have-more-than-1000000-new-covid-19-cases-in-fourteen-days/. With most attention in the U.S. focused on the election results, the COVID-19 situation is receiving relatively limited press attention and no change in federal government response.

Other parts of the world are not experiencing a second wave to the same extent, although much of the Americas remain at very high levels of new cases. Some major countries who have been seriously hit in recent months are seeing substantial reductions in new cases. India is the leading example — on October 22, the last 14 days showed 871,291 new cases; on October 30, for the last 14 days new cases were down to 718,383, and were down to 647,398 for the 14 days ending on November 7.

Conclusion

The top priority for many countries around the world is getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The costs in terms of human life and serious health problems are enormous. So too the costs to the global economy from taking the steps necessary to address the pandemic are enormous. For example, the European Union recently reduced its projected economic growth in 2021 because of the second wave of COVID-19 cases. See Politico, November 5, 2020, EU cuts economic forecast due to coronavirus wave, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-cuts-economic-forecast-due-to-coronavirus-wave/ (2021 forecast cut from 6.1% growth to 4.2% growth).

How to address the pandemic and how to work internationally to secure a return to normalcy and a return to sustainable economic growth are the challenges for all governments and international organizations, including the WTO, WHO, IMF, World Bank and many others. Recent IMF regional economic outlooks show varied projections for economic growth for different parts of the world and major challenges for areas like Sub-Saharan Africa. See, e.g., IMF Press Release, October 22, 2020, Regional Economic Outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa, a difficult road to recovery, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/10/21/pr20319-sub-saharan-africa-a-difficult-road-to-recovery.

The fact that the number of new cases is continuing to surge globally ten months after the start of global surveillance is obviously troubling and delays the return to normalcy. While some individual countries have gained control of the pandemic and others are making significant strides to reduce the number of new cases, “no one is safe until all are safe”. We have a long road to travel, and the western developed world is currently the major hot spot, struggling with the current extraordinary surge. We still are not in sight of a global peak and the rest of 2020 is likely to continue to stress global capabilities.

In last eight days, the number of global new COVID-19 cases over past fourteen days has grown from five to six million

On October 22, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recorded the first day where the number of new COVID-19 cases globally surpassed five million (5,042,415). In just eight days, on October 30, the ECDC reports the fourteen day total shooting past six million new cases (6,093,987), an increase of 1,051,572 or 20.85% in eight days! As reviewed in a post on October 22, the U.S. and Europe were major factors in hitting five million and continue to be the major causes of the continued rapid escalation in global cases. See October 22, 2020, COVID-19 new cases over last 14 days pass 5,000,000 for first time on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/22/covid-19-new-cases-over-last-14-days-pass-5000000-for-first-time-on-october-22/.

The table below shows the fourteen day totals for selected countries as of October 22 and October 30 and the change in new cases. These twenty-one countries show an increase in eight days of 1,052,784 new cases or more than the global total. The 21 countries accounted for 2,756,890 new cases for the fourteen days ending October 22 or 54.67% of the global total at that time. For the fourteen days ending October 30, the 21 countries accounted for 3,809,674 new cases or 62.52% of the global total.

Country10-22-202010-30-2020Change
United States786,488966,269179,781
France303,912473,085169,173
Brazil298,078324,99026,912
United Kingdom244,954291,71846,764
Spain169,394238,70969,315
Italy115,708234,993119,285
Russia198,716227,53028,814
Belgium100,119171,52271,403
Poland95,260169,30274,042
Czechia113,555161,05847,503
Germany81,905151,13769,232
Netherlands103,024126,54323,519
Ukraine76,48989,17812,689
Switzerland35,26173,41838,157
Romania48,53260,55012,018
Hungary18,16628,38810,222
Austria19,38735,43616,049
Bulgaria10,59220,64310,051
Slovakia18,91327,5038,590
Slovenia8,85920,02111,162
Sweden9,56817,6718,103

While the United States has the largest absolute increase in the last eight days for a single country, the vast majority of the increase flows from countries within the European Union. With the exception of Brazil and the United States, the rest of the countries in the chart are from Europe, most from the EU.

It is little wonder, then, that the EU and the UK, with dramatic growth in the number of new cases, are imposing renewed restrictions at least in many countries. While health care is handled by the individual countries within the the EU, the EU has been advocating better coordination and maintaining trade flows within the Community as countries come to grips with the current wave. See, e.g., Politico, October 30, 2020, EU leaders link arms for long fight against virus, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-leaders-link-arms-for-long-fight-against-virus/.

In the United States, the number of new cases is spiking again, with a new record recorded in the last day, with over 91,000 new cases and with predictions of new cases topping 100,000 each day in the next week or so.

Other parts of the world are not experiencing a second wave to the same extent, although much of the Americas remain at very high levels of new cases. Some major countries who have been seriously hit in recent months are seeing substantial reductions in new cases. India is the leading example — on October 22, the last 14 days showed 871,291 new cases; on October 30, for the last 14 days new cases were down to 718,383.

Conclusion

The top priority for many countries around the world is getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The costs in terms of human life and serious health problems are enormous. So too the costs to the global economy from taking the steps necessary to address the pandemic are enormous. How to address the pandemic and how to work internationally to secure a return to normalcy and a return to sustainable economic growth are the challenges for all governments and international organizations, including the WTO, WHO, IMF, World Bank and many others. The fact that the number of new cases is continuing to surge globally ten months after the start of global surveillance is obviously troubling and delays the return to normalcy. While some individual countries have gained control of the pandemic and others are making significant strides to reduce the number of new cases, “no one is safe until all are safe”. We have a long road to travel, and the western developed world is currently the major hot spot, struggling with the current extraordinary surge. We still are not in sight of a global peak and the rest of 2020 is likely to continue to stress global capabilities.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding comments

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019_Report_on_Chinas_WTO_Compliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section-301-FINAL

301-Report-Update

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

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

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

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

Proposed General Council decision submitted by the United States

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

WTGCW796

Conclusion

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

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

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

Stay tuned.