Switzerland

WTO Dispute Settlement – January 24, 2020 Statement by Ministers at Davos, Switzerland on Interim Appeal Arrangement Amongst Certain Major Countries

The WTO’s Appellate Body has not been in a position to handle any appeals from panel reports where the appeal was filed after December 10, 2019 and is processing some but not all of the appeals that were pending on that date. This situation flows from the existence of just one of seven Appellate Body slots currently being filled and the Dispute Settlement Understanding (“DSU”)requirement that appeals be heard by three members of the Appellate Body. The slots are unfilled as the United States has blocked the start of the process over the last two years while pressing WTO Members to acknowledge longstanding problems in how disputes are handled and to come up with effective reforms. For the United States, this requires WTO Members to come to grips with why clear requirements of the DSU were being ignored or violated by the Appellate Body.

For most members of the WTO, achieving a resolution of the dispute settlement impasse is a high priority with many countries looking to see if some form of interim approach could be adopted by those with an interest in having an interim process for a second tier review of panel reports by participating members. The European Union had announced bilateral arrangements with Canada and with Norway in 2019 and discussions have occurred with and among other countries about whether arbitration-type arrangements based on Article 25 of the DSU should be agreed to during the period when a solution to the impasse is pursued.

Earlier this week on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum, ministers from a number of WTO Members issued a statement indicating that a large number of WTO Members would work towards contingency measures. The statement was on behalf of seventeen WTO Members (46 Members if the EU’s 28 member countries are counted instead of the EU). The list includes a number of large trading nations including the EU, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Korea along with ten others (Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Sitzerland and Uruguay. The joint statement follows:

Statement by Ministers, Davos, Switzerland, 24 January 2020
“’We, the Ministers of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay, remain committed to work with the whole WTO membership to find a lasting improvement to the situation relating to the WTO Appellate Body. We believe that a functioning dispute settlement system of the WTO is of the utmost importance for a rules-based trading system, and that an independent and impartial appeal stage must continue to be one of its essential features.

“Meanwhile, we will work towards putting in place contingency measures that would allow for appeals of WTO panel reports in disputes among ourselves, in the form of a multi-party interim appeal arrangement based on Article 25 of the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding, and which would be in place only and until a reformed WTO Appellate Body becomes fully operational. This arrangement will be open to any WTO Member willing to join it.

“We have instructed our officials to expeditiously finalise work on such an arrangement.

We have also taken proper note of the recent engagement of President Trump on WTO reform.’”

https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2020/january/tradoc_158596.pdf

Since Australia and Brazil had been looking at a different approach than that announced by the EU and Canada or the EU and Norway, it will be interesting to see what type of contingency measures the larger group agrees upon. The U.S. had significant problems with the EU approach when it was announced last year as it simply continued many of the problems that the U.S. has identified as needing correction. A similar approach by the larger group would likely add complications to finding a permanent solution and also likely discourage at least some other WTO Members from joining the group’s approach.

Likely Coverage of Disputes by the 17 WTO Members

There are 164 WTO Members at the present time and there have been a total of 593 requests for consultations filed by WTO Members since the WTO came into existence in January 1995. The WTO webpage lists all disputes where a Member has been the complainant, the respondent or acted as a third party. Not all requests for consultations result in panels being requested, and not all panel proceedings result in appeals being filed. But a review of number of requests for consultations filed by a Member and the number of such requests where a Member was the respondent helps understand the coverage likely from the seventeen Members (46 at individual country level) who released the joint statement.

However, the data from the WTO webpage needs to be modified to eliminate requests for consultations where one party was not one of the seventeen Members. The following table reviews the data and then corrects to eliminate cases where the complainant or respondent was not another of the seventeen Members.

WTO Member# of cases complainant # of cases respondentcomplainant among 17respondent among 17
Australia91644
Brazil3316117
Canada40231811
China2144519
Chile101346
Colombia5735
European Union10486*/1123323*/49
Guatemala10272
Korea211847
Mexico2515118
New Zealand9030
Norway5030
Panama7161
Singapore1010
Switzerland5020
Uruguay1111
Subtotal306242/26811694/120
All countries593593593593

NOTE: EU numbers as a respondent differ based on whether include cases where EU is listed or just one or more of the EU member states (26 individual member disputes).

While the seventeen Members are obviously important WTO trading nations and participants in the dispute settlement system, the percent of disputes where the seventeen members are engaged in disputes with each other is obviously much smaller than their total number of disputes. Thus, the seventeen members accounted for 51.6% of the requests for consultations filed in the first twenty-five years and were respondents in 45.2% of the requests for consultations. However, when disputes with any of the 118 WTO Members who are not part of the joint statement are removed, the seventeen Members accounted for 19.56% of the cases where one was a complainant and 20.2% of the cases where one was a respondent. This is not surprising as there are many important trading nations who are not part of the seventeen signatories who are active both as complainants and as respondents – United States, Japan, India, South Africa, Argentina to name just five.

Of course, WTO Members do not have to be part of a group interim arrangement to handle ongoing or new disputes. Members can agree not to take an appeal, can agree (as the U.S. and India have done in one case) to hold up appeal until the Appellate Body is back functioning, to name two approaches some are pursuing.

While an interim approach is obviously of interest to many, the core issue remains finding a road forward to address needed reforms to the dispute settlement system. There seems to be little progress on that front. Procedural issues appear easier to resolve if consequences are added for deviation from procedural requirements. However, there is little active consideration of how to address the problem of overreach both prospectively and retroactively to permit a restoration of rights and obligations where panel reports or Appellate Body decisions created obligations or rights not contained in the Agreements.

In a Member driven organization, the hard work of the Secretariat doesn’t overcome fundamentally different views of how the dispute settlement system is supposed to operate. Thus, while it is a positive development that Director-General Azevedo and his team will visit Washington in the near future to discuss U.S. reform ideas, the real challenge is getting agreement on what the system is supposed to be and how to restore the balance that existed when the WTO commenced in 1995.

The U.S. Trade Deficit – Data for First Thirty-Three Months of the Trump Administration (2017-Sept. 2019)

The U.S. trade deficit has been at extraordinarily high levels for many years, having ranged from $766.6 to 818.0.billion/year during 2005-2008 (2nd term of President George W. Bush).  After a sharp contraction in trade during the 2009-2010 period as the country dealt with the great recession flowing from the financial crisis that started in 2008 (with resulting significantly lower trade deficits), trade deficits ran from $689.5 to $745.5 billion/year during the 2011-2016 years of President Obama’s tenure (2016 trade deficit was $735.3 billion).

President Trump has had a significant focus on trade issues during his presidency.  His Administration has attempted to address the chronic trade deficit the country has developed over the last fifty years through improved trade deals, aggressive enforcement of various trade laws and some domestic actions (regulations and taxation).  Despite these actions, the first two years and nine months of the Trump Administration saw a significant expansion of the trade deficit in 2017 ($793.4 billion) and 2018 ($874.8 billion) – an increase by 2018 of 18.97% over 2016 levels) – with a stabilization in the first nine months of 2019 (up 1.43% from the first nine months of 2018 at $647.6 billion).

A growth in the trade deficit during 2017-2019 reflects various causes including:  (1) continued economic growth in the U.S. and slower growth rates in much of the rest of the world; (2) a delay in the trade balance effects flowing from the Administration’s trade actions against China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and against many countries on steel and aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962; (3) retaliation by various trading partners for actions taken by the U.S.; and (4) shifts in currency values.

The huge trade deficit with China declined by $38.5 billion or by 12.77% in the first nine months of 2019 reflecting the large tariffs applied by the U.S. on huge parts of Chinese exports to the U.S. which exceeded the contraction in U.S. exports to China flowing from retaliation by the Chinese.  However, there was more than a $47.7 billion increase in the deficit from trade flows with other countries during the first nine months of 2019.  Below are some of the countries with whom the U.S. trade deficit has increased in the first three quarters of 2019 by more than $5.0 billion.  Data reflect the size of the increase in the U.S. trade deficit with the particular country: :

Country or Group of Countries Increase in U.S. Trade Deficit
9 months 2019
Mexico $17.0 billion
European Union (28) $12.0 billion
Vietnam $11.7 billion
Switzerland   $7.3 billion
Taiwan   $6.5 billion
Subtotal $54.5 billion

Vietnam and Taiwan could be in some significant part the result of shifting shipments from China to neighboring countries where Chinese or other producers have investments, where producers have found alternative sourcing or where there has been shipment of products from China which have been mislabeled as to origin.

Similarly, the large increase from Mexico may reflect in part a move back to Mexico or increased sourcing from Mexico for companies previously sourcing from China.    An UNCTAD Research Paper (No. 37) entitled “Trade and trade diversion effects of United States tariffs on China” released recently made similar findings for imports in the first half of 2019.  https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2569.  As noted in the Abstract to the paper (page 1):

“This paper finds that United States tariffs against China have resulted in a reduction in imports of the tariffed products by more than 25 percent. The analysis finds that China’s export losses in the United States have resulted in trade diversion effects to the advantage of Taiwan Province of China, Mexico, the European Union and Viet Nam among others. The analysis also finds that those effects have increased over time. The analysis finds some preliminary evidence that Chinese exporters may have started to bear part of the costs of the tariffs in the form of lower export prices. Overall, the results indicate that the United States tariffs on China are economically hurting both countries. United States losses are largely related to the higher prices for consumers, while China’s losses are related to significant export losses.”

The shift in trade balance for the mentioned countries and for the U.S. as a whole is explained in the following table which shows the change in U.S. total exports and in U.S. general imports during the first nine months of 2019 vs. the same period of 2018:

Country US Exports US Imports US Trade Balanace
China  -$15.2 BN  -$53.0 BN  +$47.7 BN
Mexico    -$4.3 BN +$12.8 BN   -$17.0 BN
European Union (28) +$14.0 BN +$26.0 BN   -$12.0 BN
Vietnam   +$1.0 BN +$12.7 BN   -$11.7 BN
Switzerland    -$4.5 BN   +$2.8 BN     -$7.3 BN
Taiwan   +$0.5 BN   +$7.0 BN     -$6.5 BN
Subtotal (Mex.-
Taiwan)
  +$6.7 BN +$61.3 BN   -$43.5 BN
From all countries =$15.2 BN    -$6.0 BN     -$9.2 BN

Thus, in the first nine months of 2019, US trade with China fell in both directions, with imports from China declining by $53.0 billion and U.S. total exports to China declining $15.2 billion.  Trade with Mexico and Switzerland saw declines in U.S. total exports to each country (-$4.3 billion and -$4.5 billion respectively) while imports from those countries into the U.S. increased (+$12.8 billion and +$2.8 billion).  For the European Union, Vietnam and Taiwan, the U.S. saw total exports increase, but at much slower amounts than the increase in U.S. imports from those countries.  

When looking at the 2-digit HS categories that saw the largest changes in the U.S. trade balance with China in 2019, the three largest improvements in the U.S. trade balance with China were in HS chapters 84, 85 and 94 dealing with nonelectrical equipment, electrical equipment and furniture respectively. The U.S. trade balance with China improved by $17.0 billion, $18.8 billion and $4.0 billion for these three chapters respectively, largely due to contractions in imports from China on those items.  In a prior post (October 13) on the announced likelihood of a first phase U.S.-China agreement, I reviewed the contraction in U.S. exports of agricultural products, particularly soybeans, that happened in 2018 (down $10.2 billion from 2017).  There has been some limited improvement in U.S. exports of soybeans in the first nine months of 2019 and so no agriculture products saw huge declines in exports in 2019 or large reductions in the US trade surplus with China this year.

 Some of the U.S. trade balance improvement vis-à-vis China on these specific manufactured  goods was offset by increased deficits with Mexico ($1.7 billion for Chapter 84, $1.3 billion for Chapter 85), the EU ($6.9 billion for Chapter 84), Taiwan ($4.3 billion for Chapter 84, $1.7 billion for Chapter 85) and Vietnam ($0.5 billion for Chapter 84, $7.6 billion for Chapter 85, $1.3 billion for Chapter 94).

The challenge for any administration attempting to change trade flows is the time it takes to achieve new agreements, to implement specific actions, and to design and obtain approval for new legislation.  Such challenges reflect the state of play for many of the Trump Administration’s trade efforts to date.  Benefits from the initial agreements with Japan signed on October 7 will likely be seen in 2020 if Japan is able to implement the agreements through legislation this month as is reported as possible in the media.  Changes from the USMCA will depend on whether and when Congress takes up implementing legislation.  The Administration is hoping to conclude and sign a first phase trade agreement with China yet this year.  Such an agreement with China will likely result in at least a standstill on tariffs against China and likely some reductions in tariff levels phased in over time based on results of implementation efforts by both sides.  An agreement with China would also improve market conditions for some U.S. products shipped to China, with reported commitments for increased purchases of various U.S. agricultural products as but one example.  Discussions are ongoing with other countries on specific trade concerns, and so additional improvements in market access may yet occur during the current term of President Trump’s Administration. 

Businesses understandably look for predictability in both the trade environment and the rules of engagement with trading partners.  With the heavy focus on revising domestic trade policy and the aggressive use of legislative tools on the books, the Trump Administration’s efforts to date have created a great deal of uncertainty for businesses.  Some businesses have been harmed at least short term, others have benefited from the actions taken by the Administration.  Whether the changes being pursued by the Administration will achieve the objectives sought is an open question.  A review of the changes in trade flows (U.S. imports and U.S. exports) from the Trump Administration’s first thirty-three months in office show that changes towards greater trade balance will not occur quickly nor without a fair amount of disruption to supply chains, business models and companies and many workers.  A more sustainable trade environment is an important objective.  Not since the early 1970s has an Administration been concerned about large and increasing trade deficits.  The Trump Administration has been concerned and has been attempting to change domestic and international trade policy to restore greater balance.  Whether meaningful change will occur is almost certainly a multiple Administration project.  Whether the project will be pursued will depend in part on what is achieved under the current Administration.

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