The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP

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

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

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

  1. The three candidates who did not advance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The five candidates who have advanced to round two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three women candidates

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

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

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

The two remaining male candidates

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

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

Likely outcome of Round Two Consultations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria;

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri of Mexico;

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh of Egypt;

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova.

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

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

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

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

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

Second Round of Consultations

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

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

Third Round of Consultations

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Race for WTO Director-General — additional material on The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP (United Kingdom)

The two month period for candidates for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization to make themselves known to the WTO Members ends today, September 7, 2020. The Chairman of the General Council along with the Chairs of the Dispute Settlement Body and Trade Policy Review Body will now start the process of holding “confessionals” with WTO Members to receive in confidence the four candidates whom each Member believes could generate consensus among the membership as part of the first round of reducing the candidates from eight to five. Two other rounds will follow to reduce the candidates from five to two and then from two to one.

Today I review some other press articles about the candidate from the United Kingdom to provide additional perspective on important issues or the candidate’s approach to the position of Director-General if selected. The other seven candidates were reviewed previously. Yesterday, I posted material about H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), the day before on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), on September 4 on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), on September 3 on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Modolva), On September 2 on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), on September 1 on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) and on August 31 on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri. See September 6, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/06/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-mohammad-moziad-al-tuwaijri-saudi-arabia/; September 5, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/05/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-amina-c-mohamed-kenya/; September 4, 2020:  Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on H.E. Yoo Myung-hee (Republic of Korea), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/04/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-h-e-yoo-myung-hee-republic-of-korea/; September 3, 2020,   Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/03/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-amb-tudor-ulianovschi-moldova/; September 2, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/02/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-mr-abdel-hamid-mamdouh-egypt/; September 1, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/01/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-nigeria/; August 31, 2020, Race for WTO Director-General – additional material on Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/31/race-for-wto-director-general-additional-material-on-dr-jesus-seade-kuri-mexico/.

There is no intention on my part to be exhaustive, and the research has been limited to press pieces or videos in English. Rather the intention is to identify information not addressed in my earlier posts that may be of interest to readers.

As noted above, today’s post looks at a few articles featuring The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP from the United Kingdom, the eighth and final candidate nominated for the position of Director-General.

  1. The Asean Post, September 5, 2020, Pandemic Is ‘Kiss of Death’ For Managed Trade, https://theaseanpost.com/article/pandemic-kiss-death-managed-trade.

“The coronavirus pandemic has heaped pressure on the troubled World Trade Organization (WTO), a WTO leadership candidate said, warning the crisis could spell the end of rules-based international trade altogether.

“Liam Fox, Britain’s first post-Brexit international trade secretary and one of eight candidates vying to become the WTO’s next director-general (DG), voiced concern that countries might turn their backs on its multilateral trading model.

“‘The reaction of some countries to the COVID emergency will be to seek solace in protectionism and to believe that they will get more resilience by … closing themselves off, if you like, from the global economy,’ he said Thursday in an interview.

“‘Exactly the opposite I believe is true,’ he explained during a conversation using the video link Zoom, insisting that countries will find more security by opening up and ensuring diversity of supply.

“‘For the rules-based trading system, COVID could be the kiss of life if we embrace the right policies – or the kiss of death if we don’t.'”

2. Government of the United Kingdom, Department for International Trade, 19 August 2020, Liam Fox pledges half his team will be women if he is the WTO DG, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/liam-fox-pledges-half-his-team-will-be-women-if-he-is-the-wto-dg.

“Dr Liam Fox has pledged that women will make up at least half of his senior leadership team if he is appointed the next Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The UK has nominated former International Trade Secretary Dr Fox to be a candidate to replace current Director General Roberto Azevedo who stepped down this month after seven years.

“Dr Fox, the only elected politician in the running for the role, believes changes need to be made to attract more women into senior trade roles at the WTO. He states:

  • “Women’s economic empowerment through trade can only continue with widespread commitment to advancing the WTO and rules-based trading systems
  • “There is a need for the WTO to embrace the ‘talents, innovation and creativity’ of women to ensure it can lift another one billion people out of poverty
  • “Thirty years of progress is under threat from rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism and those bearing the economic impact will disproportionately be women

“Dr Fox believes securing the input of women at a senior level at the WTO will help reduce the many barriers women face in accessing trading opportunities.

He said:

“‘As someone who trained and practised as a medical doctor I was used to half, and sometimes more, of my colleagues being female. But, despite real progress being made, women continue to face disproportionate barriers in accessing trading opportunities and markets due to discriminatory attitudes, poor conditions and harassment as well as unequal access to inputs such as credit and land.’

“‘And, as we look around us at the rising levels of unilateral actions and protectionism, we know that the remarkable achievement of the last three decades is under threat and that those bearing the brunt will be women.’

“Dr Fox believes the WTO and rules-based trading systems have created opportunities for women in both developed and developing countries which will be key to helping the global economy recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In 2016, McKinsey estimated that creating more opportunities for women to work, including in export-led sectors, could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

“Dr Fox said:

“‘What could be more counterproductive than failing to utilize the talents, innovation and creativity of half the planet’s population? Women’s economic empowerment through trade can and has played a key role in creating political stability and so the conditions for wider economic progress. This matters to all of us, wherever we are.’

“Currently, neither the Director General nor any of the four Deputy Director Generals at the WTO are female. The latest diversity breakdown of the WTO secretariat shows that of the 24 staff members in the most senior grades, only five were female.

Dr Fox said:

“‘To attract more women into the architecture of trade, we need to make changes at all levels.’

“‘We need more input for women, by women if the WTO is to play its part in taking another one billion people out of extreme poverty. That is why, if I am successful in my candidacy, women will account for at least half of my senior leadership team.'”

3. Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

The article reviews statements by Dr. Fox that his political thinking would identify outreach to the U.S. Congress after the upcoming election as a way to make progress in resolving the impasse on the WTO’s Appellate Body. Dr. Fox opines that the renewal of trade promotion authority (“TPA”) in the front half of 2021 gives Congress significant say on trade matters which could be used to find solutions on the Appellate Body impasse.

4.  Chatham House, 10 August 2020, In Conversation with The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP: Candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organization, https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/conversation-rt-hon-dr-liam-fox-mp-candidate-director-general-world-trade-organization.

Chatham House has conducted interviews with each of the candidates for Director-General. The session with Dr. Fox was held on August 10, 2020 and was on the record. My notes of some of the questions asked and of Dr. Fox’s responses are contained below.

Q:  You are a free trader.  Could you share your philosophy about international trade?  What is your vision of trade?

A:  One of the great benefits of international trade is its contribution to moving one billion people out of poverty in a generation, one of the greatest accomplishment in history.  We live in a very interdependent and interconnected world.  Trade is not an end in itself but a means to spread prosperity around the world which leads to security.  If countries try to block trade, there are consequences such as mass migration of peoples.

Q:  How do you deal with the view that many people in developed world feel that trade has undermined their prosperity?

A:  Such views flow from a failure to understand the benefits that come from free and open trade.  In developed countries we take benefits of trade for granted and simply look at the downside costs.  If you consider benefits to consumers from trade, the benefits include a much broader selection of goods and services at lower prices.  Countries always have the trade off between trade liberalization and protectionism.  Those seeking protection may have better lobbyists, but they don’t have better products.  Typically trade ministers don’t mention consumers at all when discussing trade policies.  Yet that is one of the basic advantages of trade – greater choice, lower prices.

Q:  What are the top three challenges you would face if selected as the next Director-General?

A: Dr. Fox views there are different types of issues facing the WTO.  The most important issue in his view is to get Members to reconnect with the vision of a shared endeavor.  One of the dangers of undermining the multilateral system is the resulting free-for-all that would result among countries which will hurt most countries including major countries like the United Kingdom and Germany.  Secondly, there are a host of practical issues – restoring the appellate body would be one. Without the ability to enforce rights and obligations, the WTO is denying Members one of the value added elements of membership. Other practical issues include dealing with and recovery from the COVID crisis and how we treat our members.  At the time of the webinar with Chatham House, Dr. Fox had done 72 bilaterals with Members. There is a common view that small members who are a nuisance get listened to as do the large members. However, the rest of the 164 Members don’t feel that they do get listened to. This is a big problem for the WTO.  For the organization to function well, the Members need trust among themselves. For Member who don’t feel that their views are being listened to, the trust breaks down.

Q:  Members will be much more involved in their own economies post-COVID.  What can WTO do to get ahead of this situation?

A:  Governments will be much more concerned with domestic issues in the post-COVID world.  The focus on domestic needs will potentially lead to more protectionism, greater subsidies and other trade distorting measures. The key point for Members and the WTO is the resilience of the multilateral system.  What we have learned during the COVID pandemic is that the way we have organized global value chains has shifted from a structure of resilience to one of efficiency. The world will likely get some rebalancing of global value chains to improve resilience. The role of the WTO is to make the case openly and constructively that resilience is to be found in greater diversity of supply, not from massive onshoring or attempting to go it alone.  If a country onshores everything, the country potentially will be more vulnerable in another crisis.  During the COVID pandemic, one can see many elements of global trade that have been disrupted.  Vessels ended up in the far east disrupting timing of the movement of goods. With far fewer passenger flights, there has been less air cargo which has raised costs. The lock down in countries has led to less government work on various trade related ares (e.g., certifications).  Yet all of these problems we have seen during the pandemic are not technical in nature but rather political.  That is the reason Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General of the WTO needs to have a political background.  Many issues will be sorted out in capitals based on political will and not in technical discussions in Geneva.

Q:  How would you engage the big players, like the U.S., China and the EU?

A:  Engaging the major players is about getting the political commitment from them to wok within the system.  What their voters want is a successful economy. In Dr. Fox’s view, a successful economy is enhanced by open trade.  In terms of the US-China dispute, typically disputes end when costs become too great for the disputants to sustain.  In a global environment like existed in 2018 and much of 2019 where growth was occurring, costs may have been sustainable by the U.S. and China.  Dr. Fox believes that the costs are less likely to be sustainable in the post-COVID world.  If true, one would expect there would be increased internal pressures to come to a compromise in the two countries.

Q:  UNCTAD has confirmed a major contraction of trade during the pandemic. What is most important for the WTO to do to facilitate dismantling trade barriers?

A:  The first task for the WTO and the next Director-General is to deal with the COVID export-restriction measures.  In Dr. Fox’s view, nothing is as permanent as temporary measures entered during a crisis.  The WTO needs to improve notifications (export restrictions or other barriers). Dr. Fox is worried how existing export barriers on medical goods may apply to vaccines when they are developed.  Moreover, many countries are dependent on open trade to avoid starvation.  Must understand of where we differ from the end of the financial crisis.  During the financial crisis only 0.7% of G20 trade was subject to trade restrictions. In 2018 more than 10% of G20 trade was covered by trade restrictions.  This change is a major problem. The G20 countries have to lead by example in terms of eliminating trade restrictions.  Getting an understanding that we are in a bad place and likely to worsen is important.  We cannot have business as usual.

Q: As the next Director-General, if selected, would you try to pick a particular sector (e.g., digital trade) to make progress?

A:  Dr. Fox believes that the next Director-General needs to look at connected problems – trade crisis, COVID crisis and environmental crisis — and see where the crises intersect.  Fisheries subsidies is all about sustainability.  The WTO needs to get NGOs and the young people who are concerned to put pressure on their governments.  As stated before, it is not just what happens in Geneva that is important but what happens in capitals.  An Environmental Goods Agreement is another potentially important issue.

Q:  The EU has been talking about a border carbon tax/tariff.  Where should WTO stand on carbon border adjustment mechanisms?

A:  This is going to be a big issue for the WTO.  For developed countries, a price should be paid to achieve reduced carbon levels.  The difficulty will come in the concept of a green subsidy.  If the subsidy becomes distortive in areas like agriculture, that will be problematic for many Members.  Then again the question of a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a political issue.  If we want to see environmental objectives met there will be a price to pay.

Conclusion

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

WTO Director-General candidates — Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the United Kingdom’s Dr. Liam Fox generate potential controversy

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s candidate to become the next Director-General. When she was put forward by the Nigerian government her biographical sketch submitted did not contain information on her having also become a citizen of the United States in 2019. Her biography as available from the WTO webpage is embedded below.

bio_nga_e

In the highly politicized atmosphere that characterizes the current dysfunction at the WTO, omitting her U.S. citizenship may become a liability to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s chances of becoming the next Director-General. Chinese and other news reports raise that very issue. See, e.g., South China Morning Post, September 4, 2020, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s US passport will not help her chances in WTO leadership race, Chinese trade experts say, https://www.scmp.com/economy/global-economy/article/3100280/ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-us-passport-will-not-help-her-chances; Naija247News, September 2, 2020 (posting a Bloomberg News piece), WTO Hopeful Economist Okonjo-Iweala Balances Nigeria, U.S. Citizenships, https://naija247news.com/2020/09/02/wto-hopeful-economist-okonjo-iweala-balances-nigeria-u-s-citizenships/#.X1OeZ5PsZ9A.

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

In an article earlier this week, Inside U.S. Trade reported that Dr. Fox had indicated that the next Director-General should prioritize the U.S. Congress over the U.S. Administration (President and USTR) to seek a resolution of the WTO’s Appellate Body impasse, seeking Congress to mandate a resolution as part of its consideration of renewal of Trade Promotion Authority. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, September 2, 2020, Fox: Congress should leverage TPSA renewal to resolve WTO appellate impasse, https://insidetrade.com/trade/fox-congress-should-leverage-tpa-renewal-resolve-wto-appellate-impasse.

Congress may well have an interest in the topic as part of trade promotion authority. However, for a candidate seeking to be selected as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization to suggest the path to progress is by circumventing the U.S. Administration seems likely to raise concerns about his objectivity. Circumventing the U.S. Administration essentially indicates Dr. Fox’s belief that the problem at the WTO on the issue is U.S. intransigence. While that may be the European Union view, articulating such a position is unlikely to win friends at USTR. While Dr. Fox apparently believes he has the U.S. support, his statement on the approach he would take as Director-General may result in the U.S. supporting others. The Inside U.S. Trade piece quotes Dr. Fox as saying that when he is being frank, it usually gets him in trouble. Time will tell whether his recent comments repeat that self appraisal.

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

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

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

Background on fisheries subsidies

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

Background on electronic commerce/digit trade

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

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

274

65

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

60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what are some of our specific challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Member of the OECD or in the accession process:

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

Member of the G-20:

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

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

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

0.5% of Merchandise Trade (includes):

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

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

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

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

“Developed Countries”

United States: 3.4%

European Union: 5.1%

Japan: 4.7%

Canada: 6.4%

“Developing Countries”

China: 10.0%

Brazil: 31.4%

Chile: 25.2%

Costa Rica: 43.1%

Republic of Korea: 16.5%

India: 50.8%

Indonesia: 37.1%

Singapore: 9.5%

South Africa: 19.2%

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

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

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt)

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

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

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

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

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

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

The race to become the next WTO Director-General — where candidates are on important issues: reform of the Appellate Body

[Post updated on August 27 to incorporate comments by Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi of Moldova made at the WITA webinar on August 26. The post was previously updated on August 11 to incorporate comments by Minister Yoo Myung-hee of Korea at the WITA webinar that morning]

With less than a month to go before the last phase of the selection process begins for the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization, the eight candidates have engaged in large numbers of meetings (in person or virtually) with Missions in Geneva, with trade officials in capitals and have done outreach to the media and have participated in webinars put on by various organizations. These meetings and outreach are part of Phase 2 of the selection process where candidates make themselves known to the WTO Members. This phase ends on September 7.

All candidates are understandably guarded on specifics about many issues, all recognizing the WTO is a member driven organization. Similarly, with sharp divisions within the WTO membership, candidates are also careful not to express support for any of the major Members as a general rule. At the same time, all candidates have been asked about current pressing issues before the WTO and the topic of overall WTO reform.

Today’s post looks at how candidates have positioned themselves on one such issue — the impasse over the functioning of the Appellate Body.

Presentations to the General Council and Later Press Conferences

During the three days of meetings of the General Council in mid-July, each candidate was able to provide a statement of his/her vision for the WTO, answer questions posed by WTO Members and also had a thirty minute press conference. In a prior post, I had summarized the prepared statements and the press conferences. See July 19, 2020, The eight candidates for WTO Director-General meet the General Council – recap of prepared statements and press conferences, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/19/the-eight-candidates-for-wto-director-general-meet-the-general-council-recap-of-prepared-statements-and-press-conferences/. In addition to prepared statements and press conferences after meeting with the General Council, I am also including selected comments made by the candidates during webinars held by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) with six of the candidates (through August 6; a seventh is scheduled for August 11).

On the topic of the Appellate Body, the eight candidates had the following public comments:

Dr. Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico):

From his prepared statement to the General Council, Dr. Seade made it clear that a top priority for him if selected as the next Director-General would be to get the Appellate Body refunctioning, something he would work to see happened in the first 100 days he was Director-General: “It is also necessary to give back to the dispute settlement mechanism its strength and certainty.” (Google translation from Spanish) “Within the first hundred days: I will work closely with members in seeking to * * * ii. restore the second instance of the dispute settlement system.” (Google translation from French).

In the press conference, Dr. Seade was asked how he would address the Appellate Body impasse. My notes on his answer are as follows:

On the question of the Appellate Body impasse, Dr. Seade noted that none of the Members were denouncing any provision within the Dispute Settlement Understanding. Rather concerns had been voiced on how DSU provisions had been applied. Dr. Seade believes that what is missing is the way to operationalize the role of the Dispute Settlement Body (all WTO Members sitting as the DSB) which is organizationally above the Appellate Body but for which there are currently no procedures for communications from the DSB to the Appellate Body to address issues generally (vs. in specific disputes). Such procedures were needed. He also had other ideas for how to resolve the impasse that he was interested in reviewing with Members to see if there could be movement. On the question of the interim arbitration arrangement, Dr. Seade thought a temporary arrangement made sense as it provided Members a second stage to dispute settlement as provided in the DSU. Key is finding a solution to the impasse so the two-tier dispute settlement system is restored for all.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Seade on July 7. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-seade/. During the webinar, Dr. Seade addressed the need to get the Appellate Body functioning again. In pointing out why he would be the right person to be the next Director-General, Dr. Seade reviewed the importance of bringing to the table a knowledge of the underlying Uruguay Round negotiations and the purpose of the provisions in the agreements. He asked “Why is the U.S. frustrated with the Appellate Body?” It is because of the history of the negotiations and what was actually agreed to. Dr. Seade also viewed restoring the dispute settlement system as important to address problems other Members are having with China (in addition to negotiations on issues like industrial subsidies). He stated that the U.S. points about problems with the Appellate Body are good. The U.S. is not challenging the Dispute Settlement Understanding (“DSU”), but rather is arguing that the provisions of the DSU are not being respected by the Appellate Body. Thus, the problem is with the application of the DSU not the terms of the DSU as such. Dr. Seade believes that it is possible to find solutions that all Members can live with. He noted that the Appellate Body issue reflects different views of the DSU by the EU and the U.S.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria):

From her prepared statement, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had relatively short statements about the Appellate Body: “A refreshed WTO must find solutions to the stalemate over dispute settlement. It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time.” “I would also prioritize updating the rulebook, unlocking the dispute settlement system, working on transparency and notification, enhancing the work of regular bodies, and strengthen the Secretariat.”

While Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was asked many questions at the press conference, none dealt with the Appellate Body.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on July 21. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-wto-dg-candidate-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted that addressing the Appellate Body impasse was a priority for the next Ministerial and repeated her view that a WTO without effective dispute settlement would lose its legitimacy over time.

In response to a question on how she would restore dispute settlement, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala noted that there is a common desire among WTO Members to have the dispute settlement system work and function. The question is how. There is a common belief that the panel process has been working well, so that places the focus on the Appellate Body. To address the various issues that have been raised by the United States, the WTO has the work product of the Walker process (note: Amb. Walker (NZ) was a facilitator to the General Council in 2019 to see if he could work with Members to find a solution to issues raised by the U.S.). Some of the proposals made by Amb. Walker can be used to move the process forward. The U.S. is seeking to go back to what the existing Dispute Settlement Understanding requires — 90 days for decisions, not creating rights or obligations (“overreach”), Appellate Body members working on appeals after their terms have expired, etc. We should take them up one at a time and find solutions that work. Can Members agree that appeals should be resolved in 90 days? Very likely. Can Members agree that the Appellate Body is limited to reviewing issues of law and not reviewing fact finding by panels? Very likely.

Mr. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt):

Mr. Mamdouh in his prepared statement reviewed the challenge to the WTO from the imbalance resulting from growing importance of dispute settlement while the negotiating function has been reduced in effectiveness:

“In my view, over the past quarter of a century, the WTO has suffered from a chronic imbalance across all its vital functions. That is, dispute settlement, negotiation, and the transparency/deliberative functions

“In any legal system, there needs to be a balance between the ‘legislative’ and the ‘judicial’ functions. For the WTO, these are the negotiating and the dispute settlement functions. While dispute settlement gained strength due to the inherent automaticity of procedures, the negotiating function has broken down. This created an unsustainable imbalance.” (Page 3)

During the press conference, Mr. Mamdouh was asked about how to bring the Appellate Body back. My notes on his answer are as follows:

Asked what he would do to revive the Appellate Body, Mr. Mamdouh responded that he would build off of the work already done. Most logical and productive first step is to build on that work and see what else is needed. And there is a need to look deeper into causes which he believes are rooted in differences in legal and regulatory systems. Mr. Mamdouh has not heard any suggestions that rules within the Dispute Settlement Understanding need to be changed. He concluded by saying that the size of the problem needs to be put into perspective and one needs to remember that on this issue, the WTO Members are not starting from zero.

WITA had a webinar with Mr. Mamdouh on June 23. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-candidate-hamid-mamdouh/. There were no specific questions asked on dispute settlement, but Mr. Mamdouh provided some introductory thoughts on the genesis of the crisis in the WTO. He noted that the WTO has been suffering from a chronic imbalance between the negotiating function and the dispute settlement function.  He indicated that the negotiating function has underperformed miserably.  Dispute settlement system, being automatic adoption at the end of disputes absent a negative consensus has grown in importance and hence has created imbalance.  Mr. Mamdouh views that there is a critical need to reboot the negotiating function to help restore better balance.

Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova):

Amb. Ulianovschi, in his prepared statement, had reform of the Appellate Body as a top priority for the incoming Director-General:

“Dispute Settlement

“The reform of the dispute settlement mechanism and particularly the reform of the Appellate Body will be one of the main priorities for the next Director General. This process needs to be open, inclusive and constructive. We need to find a way for all members to accept a two-step binding independent Dispute Settlement system.

“I believe that the issues and concerns were clarified by the members already and now they have to be addressed.

“I am aware of the on-going consultations on this important matter among the Members. In my opinion, there is a general common understanding on fundamentals of the DSU, which is already a good start.

“The least a DG can do is to facilitate discussions among Members to agree together on how to move forward and eventually agree on a roadmap and mechanisms – ‘agree on how to agree’ on this sensitive but crucial issue and devise a process of further engagement to reach an acceptable solution.”

During the press conference following his appearance before the General Council, Amb. Ulianovschi was asked several questions about the Appellate Body impasse. Below are my notes on Amb. Ulianovschi’s answers.

There were several questions on the Appellate Body including how Mr. Ulianovschi would reactivate the Appellate Body and whether reform of the dispute settlement system should be broader than getting the Appellate Body back functioning. Mr. Ulianovschi indicated that on the provisions of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, all Members agree on the provisions as written. With the application of the DSU by the AB, there are concerns raised by the U.S. and others. The Director-General can provide a process to help Member’s discuss. Solutions to the concerns raised need to be found, but the parameters of the solutions need to be found by members themselves. In his view, the Director-General’s role is to help Members identify how to move forward on the Appellate Body impasse with resolution by the next Ministerial Conference. On the question of breadth of action on the dispute settlement system, Mr. Ulianovschi stated that Members are not looking for a complete redrafting of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. What is needed is a targeted approach to address issues raised by certain members on the operation of the Appellate Body.

WITA held a webinar with Amb. Tudor Ulianovschi on August 26, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-tudor-ulianovschi/. Amb. Ulianovschi referenced the impasse on the Appellate Body (dispute settlement system) both in his opening statement at the webinar and in answer to a number of questions. My notes on his statements are provided below.

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

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

A:    Amb. Ulianovschi stated that reform is absolutely necessary.  In his view, cosmetic reform is not sufficient, a fact made clear by major Members.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that political experience and dialogue by the Director-General will be key to get those who have put forward proposals to get into a discussion that is inclusive and transparent.  There are a large number of issues that are affecting the environment at the WTO.  For example, the current situation between the U.S. and China is affecting the system.  Also the impasse on dispute settlement and the concerns raised by the United States and the EU position on an interim arbitration agreementwith MPIA.  He sees a positive signal that major players are putting forward proposals; this should be starting point for discussions.  He would invite those who have put forward proposals to start discussions.  The process will require political will, and members will need to agree on how to proceed).  Amb. Ulianovschi believes he can get Members to that point.  On dispute settlement, Members have the paper from Amb. Walker which can be used to move forward.  Will have to see how deep reforms will be.

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

A:  In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, the next Ministerial must show some results.  He believes the top priority would be completing the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies, which is important to fulfill U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.  He believes that the Members are close to getting language agreed to.  Completing the fisheries subsidies agreement Is just the first step, but it is an important one.  On the current impasse on the Appellate Body (and hence the lack of a second-tier dispute settlement stage), Amb. Ulianovschi doesn’t see a clear cut resolution of the reform needed by the next Ministerial but rather hopes the Members will have a road map of how to proceed by the Ministerial. 

Q:  On dispute settlement, it is becoming quite clear that the divergences are growing between the Trump Administration and some of our trading partners.  Many Members have shared the view that there have been problems with the Appellate Body engaging in overreach in certain situations.  The recent Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal by USTR Lighthizer suggests that Amb. Lighthizer is looking to eliminate the Appellate Body and change the system so that panels’ role is limited to helping resove specific disputes between Members, more like commercial arbitration, without broader effect of the decisions.  Is it realistic to go back to a system without an Appellate Body?

A:  Amb. Ulianovschi responded that understand the U.S. concerns at the WTO on the Appellate Body both procedural (e.g., decisions within 90 days; Appellate Body members not involved in appeals after their four year term expires) and substantive (e.g., overreaching).  He recognizes that the U.S. concerns are shared by other members of the organization.  Amb. Ulianovschi believes that this is the moment to put forward different opinions on both problems and how to proceed, but all issues have to be negotiated.  The role of the Director-General is to put Members together to permit Members to present the details of their proposals.  In Amb. Ulianovschi’s view, the Recent Op Ed by Amb. Lighthizer is another idea put forward to find a solution to the ongoing problem at the WTO.  He has talked with all of the major Members on how to deal with the broader issue of Appellate Body reform.  The Director-General is there to encourage members to put forward proposals but also to use his/her good offices to encourage discussions.  Having said that, Amb. Ulianovschi noted that some Members have undertaken different initiatives under Rule 25 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, such as MPIA, to provide a second-tier of review.  These initiatives are interim efforts.  Such actions don’t have to distract the Members from the main task of finding a common understanding on the purpose of the dispute settlement understanding or on a sustainable solution.  So the WTO Members have to identify the consensual solution and how we can ensure a compliance mechanism so that the system works as intended and agreed to.  This should be a top priority of the next Director-General.

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

In her prepared statement, Minister Yoo includes one paragraph on the Appellate Body impasse:

“Another urgent, pressing issue is restoring the dispute settlement system. We need a stable and fully-functioning dispute settlement system which would effectively contribute to the prompt and satisfactory resolution of the disputes. I will act as an honest broker to facilitate constructive discussions to find an effective and permanent solution.”

During the press conference, Minister Yoo was asked two questions about dispute settlement, one dealing with resolving the impasse on the Appellate Body and the other on the Multi-Party Interim Arbitration Agreement. My notes of Minister Yoo’s responses to these questions follows:

On the issue of The Appellate Bidy impasse, Minister Yoo was asked how she would solve the impasse. She indicated that Members have very divergent views on the role of the Appellate Body. All members understand the need for a two-tier dispute settlement system. If selected as the next Director-General, Minister Yoo would accelerate members’ consultations to resolve the issue.

On the interim arbitration mechanism adopted by the EU, China and about 20 other Members, Korea is not a party. Does Minister Yoo have any concerns that the interim arrangement (MPIA) might become permanent? Minister Yoo responded that the MPIA was being used by some Members to overcome the current vacuum with the Appellate Body being shut down. The key for the WTO is to focus on finding a permanent solution, and she would do that if selected as the next Director-General.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Yoo scheduled on August 11,https://www.wita.org/event-videos/candidate-h-e-yoo-myung-hee/. My summary of Minister Yoo’s comments on dispute settlement follow.

from her opening comments: Restoring dispute settlement system is an urgent need.

Questions asked on Dispute settlement – do you share assessment of US and others that there have been problems of overreach by AB?  Secondly, there are procedural flaws that need to be addressed?  What can a DG do about it?

Minister Yoo’s response: Clearing impasse on the Appellate Body is a top priority.  The WTO needs a prompt resolution to restore the two-tier dispute settlement system.  There are divergent views of the proper role of the Appellate Body.  Some countries, like the United States, have said the Appellate Body has gone too far — overreaching by creating or diminishing rights and obligations of Members.  However, some members say that the Appellate Body has been working to clarify of the provisions of Agreements to provide stability to the multilateral trading system.  So there are competing views of what the role of the Appellate Body is supposed to be.  The Walker process has put forward certain ideas.  Still the gap is very wide between the two views.  If we look at three pillars of WTO (negotiations, notifications, dispute settlement), over the first 25 years of the WTO, there have been no major agreements from negotiations other than Trade Facilitiation Agreement. This failure of the negotiating function to work has put much strain on the dispute settlement system.  Members are resorting to dispute settlement to address issues not handled by negotiations.  So, lacking periodic updates through negotiations, it is easy for the Appellate Body to engage in creating obligations to fill gaps.  So Minister Yoo agrees to some extent with US (and others) about of overreach.  The question for the WTO and the incoming Director-General is how to move forward to find solutions acceptable to all.  There have been very divergent views within the WTO for a long time.  If Minister Yoo becomes the Director-General, she would try to increase communication with missions in Geneva and ministers in capital.  Need some political involvement to resolve the impasse.  Minister Yoo would also look at some ideas floated by academia as well to see if those views might provide different approaches that would be of interest of Members.  Several examples would include strengthening qualifications of AB members and what role of Appellate Body Secretariat should be, etc.  I would encourage Members to engage in open, transparent and inclusive discussions on these issues. 

Minister Yoo wanted to highlight importance of revitalizing negotiating function. If there is a more active negotiating functions, Members would be able to address needs to update and clarify agreements which should be done by Members and not the dispute settlment system.

H.E. Amina C. Mohamed (Kenya):

Minister Mohamed in her prepared statement reviewed the need for a functioning dispute settlement system:

“The WTO’s dispute settlement function is key to the credibility and effectiveness of the rules. We need to find a way through its problems to make it once again an instrument that all Members can use with confidence.”

During the press conference, Minister Mohamed was asked about the Appellate Body impasse. My notes on her response are as follows:

On the issue of how to remove the impasse on the Appellate Body, Minister Mohamed indicated that Members need to consult and negotiate. The WTO needs members to find solutions to permit the second-tier of dispute settlement to be restored. A Director-General DG can offer technical assistance and process to help Members find the solutions.

WITA had a webinar with H.E. Mohamed on August 6. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/ambassador-amina-mohamed/. Minister Mohamed had a number of comments about the Appellate Body impasse.

Restoring the Appellate Body is an important priority for the incoming Director-General.

The WTO dispute settlement process is key to the credibility and effectiveness of the WTO.  Members have been working for some time on finding solutions.  Minister Mohamed takes seriously US concerns about the operation of the Appellate Body. If she becomes Director-General, she will use her skills at building consensus to help Members find solutions.  Finding solutions is important so that the WTO Members can get back to a dispute settlement system that all can use.

Minister Mohamed was Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body in 2004.  She made sure that there was continuous flow of information from the Dispute Settlement Body to the Appellate Body.  She had lunch with the Appellate Body quarterly.  Issues she had been raising back in 2004 as of concern to Members remain unresolved today. 

WTO Members designed a system that was complete from negotiations to dispute settlement.  In Minister Mohamed’s view the system was designed really well.  Now there is a gap in the system with the inoperability of the Appellate Body.  The WTO needs to fill the gap quickly. Absent a resolution, some Members will comie up with an interim system (MPIA).  Thus, Minister Mohamed believes the WTO needs to deal with the issues raised by the United States urgently.  She agrees with some of the issues raised by the U.S.  Many of those same concerns were around in 2004 when she chaired the Dispute Settlement Body.  In her quarterly meetings with the Appellate Body, Minister Mohamed told the Appellate Body members that they had a specific mandate laid out by Members in the Dispute Settlement Understanding.  It was not the role of the Appellate Body to add to or diminish the mandate.  Minister Mohamed believes that Members need to see where the Appellate Body veered off of the mandate.  She believes that the new Director-General should look at te Walker process (note: Amb. Walker (NZ), as facilitator to the General Council in 2019 had met with Members to see if solutions to the U.S. concerns could be found) and see how to move forward.  But it is critical for the WTO to resolve the issues raised by the U.S. to permit the Appellate Body to resume.

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

In his prepared statement, Minister Al-Tuwaijri referenced the challenges in the dispute settlement system but did not identify any specific approach to addressing Appellate Body reform if selected as the next Director-General other than his overall approach reviewed in the statement on all issues. Several quotes from his prepared statement follow:

“As you all know, the WTO has three main functions for monitoring trade issues, settling disputes, and negotiations, which include improvements to existing rules, new rules and market access.”

“We also need to recognize the consequences for the WTO of over-performance in litigation, while neglecting the negotiating and monitoring functions. A system out of balance cannot move forward.”

During the press conference, Minister Al-Tuwaijri was asked what his plan was to address U.S. concerns with the Appellate Body. My notes on his response are provided below.

On the Appellate Body, what is your plan to addressing U.S. concerns and do you plan to get it back functioning? Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s approach is the same as reviewed elsewhere. Determine what is the root cause of AB not functioning. He believes it is because negotiations are not functioning well. Therefore, he wants to get the negotiating process to improve and to gain data to improve the system. For example, he believes it is important to be able to quantify the effect of delay of even one month in resolution of disputes.

WITA did a webinar with Minister Al-Tuwaijri on August 5. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/director-general-candidate-he-mohammed-al-tuwaijri/.

Minister Al-Tuwaijri provided some comments in his opening statement and responded to a question on the dispute settlement system.

The structure of the organization is not functioning – negotiations, dispute settlement, notifications.  Key is what type of change is needed to help organization be fit for the 21st century.

Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes the correct analysis for any issue is: what is the problem, what needs to be done, consult with the Members for possible solutions.

Does Dispute Settlement reform need to be taken up as a condition precedent to broader WTO reform?

In Minister Al-Tuwaijri’s view, the role the Director-General can play is resolving the impasse on the Appellate Body is somewhat limited. Can the Director-General help with a procedural question?  Yes. Is there an interpretation issue that the Director-General may be able to assist in resolving?  Yes.  In 2019, the General Council had Amb. Walker, acting as a facilitator, work with Members to see if solutions could be found to the issues raised by the U.S. So that work product is available.  The EU has also pursued a multi-party interim arbitration agreement to help at least some Members handle a second stage dispute process while the Appellate Body is not functioning.  Despite these efforts, there is the question why resolution of the impasse is not happening.  Minister Al-Tuwaijri believes that the answer goes back to his core point, the WTO must fix its negotiating function.  If Members want to change the rules on the operation of the Appellate Body, that is for the Members to decide.  As Director-General, Minister Al-Tuwaijri would encourage Members to think differently about the impasse and the options for finding solutions.

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

Dr. Fox’s prepared statement talked about many topics, including WTO reform, but did not speak specifically about the impasse on the Appellate Body or needed reforms to permit reactivating the second stage of dispute settlement.

During the press conference, Dr. Fox was asked about how he would address U.S. concerns with the WTO. My notes on his response are provided below:

A question was asked of how Dr. Fox would address the broad concerns of U.S. with the WTO. Dr. Fox noted that the U.S. has some very specific concerns with the WTO, particularly with regards to the Appellate Body. Dr. Fox stated that the WTO has the Appellate Body because countries felt panels in GATT disputes went too wide. The Appellate Body was set up with a limited mandate. He is aware that there are different views of the role of Appellate Body and whether it has engaged in mission creep or handled incomplete texts by filling them out. If WTO Members are able to get back to a more narrow definition of the function of the Appellate Body, there may be some concept of precedent being set. Dr. Fox asks the question, does everyone want the AB to be functioning properly or not. If not, the multilateral trading system is under threat as obligations can’t be enforced. Believe there is room for compromise.

WITA had a webinar with Dr. Fox on July 30, 2020. https://www.wita.org/event-videos/conversation-with-dr-liam-fox/. His comments on dispute settlement from the webinar are summarized below.

A rules-based system must have a functioning dispute settlement system, a top priority for the incoming Director-General.  To have a rules-based system without a functioning dispute settlement system is nonsensical.  For many countries, the dispute settlement system is the value added that membership in the WTO brings.

All members need to focus on adhering to the rules that they have already agreed to.  The WTO needs an effective dispute settlement system for that.  The WTO needs all Members to adhere to all rules they have signed up for and not decide that some rules don’t apply to them.

Questions asked of Dr. Fox: There have been some problems with the Appellate Body overreaching.  Do you agree we need a more realistic approach by Appellate Body where there is ambiguous language in an agreement?  How would you resolve the impasse on the Appellate Body?

Resolution of the Appellate Body impasse is the most urgent task facing the incoming Director-General.  Dispute Settlement is the value-added to many Members of joining the WTO.  Many members view the Appellate Body as having gone beyond the Dispute Settlement Understanding.  Moreover, the excessive length of time to render an appeal decision undermines the system by itself — Members violating their obligations can get a three-year free ride.  The WTO needs to tighten up the parameters and limit the areas that the Appellate Body examines.  While the Appellate Body can’t create binding precedent, the need for consistency supports the ability to review how issues have been handled in other cases.  Thus, looking at prior disputes makes sense, but the Appellate Body can’t create law through the process.

On any negotiation there are technical, political and timing issues. WTO Members are not going to see any concessions from the U.S. before the presidential election.  It may be possible for the U.S. to make compromises, but the timing of major political events affects the ability to do so.    

Conclusion

One of the major current challenges for the WTO and its Members is finding solutions to the impasse on the Appellate Body. The eight candidates for the Director-General post have all expressed views on the importance of resolving the issue and where in the hierarchy of issues to be addressed by an incoming Director-General the impasse is found. Presumably, most Members will be carefully considering each candidate’s views and suggested approach on all key issues, including resolving the Appellate Body impasse.

The fundamental disconnect between the EU (which has been reluctant to recognize any deviation from the Dispute Settlement Understanding by the Appellate Body) and the United States (which has focused on the limited role of the Appellate Body as laid out in the Dispute Settlement Understanding) remains. The role of honest broker and consensus builder that the incoming Director-General will assume later this year will be tested by the gulf in positions of two of the WTO’s major Members.