United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director, heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden

Today is International Women’s Day. With the pandemic still occupying center stage in global affairs, the UN effort on its Sustainable Development Goal 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is in trouble. Women have been disproportionately adversely affected by the pandemic, tens millions leaving the workforce to take care of children, tens of millions losing jobs and having no safety net. Various reports have reviewed the disparities and the loss of progress towards achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. See, e.g., UN Women, From Insights To Action, Gender Equality in the Wake of COVID-19 (September 2020); (“The pandemic has widened gender and economic inequalities.” “COVID-19 is exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems. It is forcing a shift in priorities and funding across public and private sectors, with far-reaching effects on the well-being of women and girls. Action must be taken now to stop this backsliding.”); UN Women, SPOTLIGHT ON GENDER, COVID-19 AND THE SDGS, WILL THE PANDEMIC DERAIL HARD-WON PROGRESS ON GENDER EQUALITY?, https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/spotlight-on-gender-covid-19-and-the-sdgs-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5013.

It is against this backdrop that statements and actions today on the importance of Women to the achievement of sustainable development goals should be seen. Below are materials from the UN Women’s Executive Director, the heads of the three Geneva organizations with a trade mission or function that are headed by women, and the announced actions today by President Biden in the United States.

UN Women Executive Director Statement

The following statement was made today by the UN Women Executive Director. See International Women’s Day Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, on International Women’s Day 2021, Change up the pace: women at the table, March 8, 2021, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/statement-ed-phumzile-international-womens-day-2021. The statement is copied below in its entirety.

“International Women’s Day this year comes at a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but at a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless drive for gender equality and human rights. Our focus is on women’s leadership and on ramping up representation in all the areas where decisions are made – currently mainly by men – about the issues that affect women’s lives. The universal and catastrophic lack of representation of women’s interests has gone on too long.

“As we address the extraordinary hardship that COVID-19 has brought to millions of women and girls and their communities, we also look ahead to the solid opportunities of the Generation Equality Forum and Action Coalitions to bring change.

“During the pandemic, we have seen increased violence against women and girls and lost learning for girls as school drop-out rates, care responsibilities and child marriages rise. We are seeing tens of millions more women plunge into extreme poverty, as they lose their jobs at a higher rate than men, and pay the price for a lack of digital access and skills. These and many other problems cannot be left to men alone to solve. Yet, while there are notable exceptions, in most countries there is simply not the critical mass of women in decision-making and leadership positions to ensure that these issues are tabled and dealt with effectively and this has affected the pace of change for women overall.

“There are breakthroughs to celebrate, where women have taken the helm of organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank and we look forward to more such appointments that help to change the picture of what a leader looks like. Yet this is not the norm. In2020, as a global average, women were 4.4 per cent of CEOs, occupied just 16.9 per cent of board seats, made up only 25 per cent of national parliamentarians, and just 13 per cent of peace negotiators. Only 22 countries currently have a woman as Head of State or Government and 119 have never experienced this – something that has important consequences for the aspirations of girls growing up. On the current trajectory, we won’t see gender parity in the highest office before 2150.

“This can and must change. What is needed is the political will to actively and intentionally support women’s representation. Leaders can set and meet parity targets, including through appointments for all executive positions at all levels of government, as has occurred in the few countries with gender equal cabinets. Special measures can work; where countries have put in place and enforced quotas, they have made real progress on women’s leadership, as have those that have policies to address representation. Where these measures do not exist, progress is slower or even nonexistent and easily reversed.

“No country prospers without the engagement of women. We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.

‘This is the vision of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals and the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is the vision of civil society and multitudes of young people who are already leading the way and of all those who will join us in the Generation Equality Action Coalitions. We need bold decisive action across the world to bring women into the heart of the decision-making spaces in large numbers and as full partners, so that we can make immediate progress on a greener, equitable and inclusive world.”

Video of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the WTO, Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant of UNCTAD, and Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton of the International Trade Centre

For International Women’s Day, the three heads of multilateral organizations in Geneva involved in trade put out a video entitled, International Women’s Day — Leading global trade: Three women, three organizations. The note accompanying the video states “For the first time, all three major global trade organizations have women leaders: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the WTO, Isabelle Durant at UNCTAD and Pamela Coke-Hamilton at ITC. On International Women’s Day, they talk about the importance of looking at trade through a gender lens, and how trade can help tackle the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news_e.htm.

Top priorities to boost recovery outlined by the three leaders include the following. For Director-General Okonjo-Iweala, her first priority to boost economic recovery, is the health aspect. “It is absolutely a top priority for me that we should look at how to make equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics happen. It is unconscionable that any countries or peoples should be waiting for any of these medical products. And we know that until we tackle the health challenges, we will not be able to really get a handle on the economic challenges and return to a sustainable growth path that would spell recovery from the pandemic. So that’s a really important priority. Second is what can trade do to boost the economic recovery? How can we liberalize trade in certain sectors to make sure that supply chains stay open and work and that countries can produce more and sell more? So what can trade contribute to that? It’s a priority for me that export restrictions and prohibitions that have been put by countries during this time of the pandemic be dropped or minimized or phased out very quickly so that we can have a freer flow of goods and intermediate inputs. So those are two top priorities that I think we need to focus on to boost economic recovery.”

For Acting Secretary-General Durant, her first priority is “to ensure that our institutions contribute to making trade a real tool for recovery, especially for those countries, groups and sectors that have paid a high price due to the pandemic. My priority is that everything we provide them in terms of analysis, data, technical and intergovernmental support helps them steer their recovery towards more inclusive and greener sectors and strategies. Climate change is indeed the greatest threat to current and future generations. Countries need urgently to start planning and implementing actions to adapt their production and trade to the ruthless effects of climate change: what does this imply for better production methods; new comparative advantages; investments; diversification of their economies; and regional integration and value chains? I have the same concern for fairness in the digital revolution. How can developing countries derive the greatest benefit for their development, and become players in it, when digital technology has become the driving force of the economy? COVID has shown the importance of digital infrastructure, policies and skills. More than ever, we need the cooperation, expertise and experience of all to build the road to recovery, because we all know that countries we are far from being equal when it comes to these issues.” (English translation from French as provided in the video).

For Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton, her first priorities are “empowerment and equality — empowerment by building resiliency for MSMEs through partnership; empowerment for recovery by moving towards greener trade. ITC is starting a new initiative to support MSMEs and green trade, helping MSMEs adopt more sustainable practices, pursue opportunities in the circular economy and participate in greener supply chains. Empowerment through digital inclusion by promoting greater integration of MSMEs in digital economies and facilitate digital access for all. Empowerment of women and youths. A dedicated program at ITC will lead the way to women’s economic empowerment, and we will continue to work with governments to build an eco-system of new and innovative jobs for youths. And secondly, equality. Ultimately we want to make sure that no one is left behind as we seek paths for recovery, and build resilience against future shocks. COVID-19 has loaid bare the depths of inequality still prevailing from the global economic system. We must choose to challenge the status quo, and as women we will.”

Action by President Biden

President Biden provided a statement on International Women’s Day and issued two Executive Orders. See Statement by President Biden on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/08/statement-by-president-biden-on-international-womens-day/; Executive Order on Establishment of the White House Gender Policy Council, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/08/executive-order-on-establishment-of-the-white-house-gender-policy-council/; Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/08/executive-order-on-guaranteeing-an-educational-environment-free-from-discrimination-on-the-basis-of-sex-including-sexual-orientation-or-gender-identity/; Fact Sheet: President Biden to Sign Executive Orders Establishing the White House Gender Policy Council and Ensuring Education Free from Sexual Violence, March 8, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/08/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-sign-executive-orders-establishing-the-white-house-gender-policy-council-and-ensuring-education-free-from-sexual-violence/. The President’s statement is copied below as is the fact sheet on the two Executive Orders.

“Women’s history is American history — and world history. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and progress of women and girls in the United States and around the globe.
 
“My Administration is committed to honoring women by investing in their opportunity, security, and wellbeing. I was proud to issue an Executive Order today establishing the White House Gender Policy Council, to ensure that every domestic and foreign policy we pursue rests on a foundation of dignity and equity for women. My Administration is also committed to ensuring that women are represented equally at all levels of the federal government. That starts with Vice President Harris, who broke through a barrier that stood for more than two centuries. And it includes a record number of diverse women whom I’ve nominated to serve in Cabinet-level roles and appointed to senior-level positions.
 
“In our nation, as in all nations, women have fought for justice, shattered barriers, built and sustained economies, carried communities through times of crisis, and served with dignity and resolve. Too often, they have done so while being denied the freedom, full participation, and equal opportunity all women are due. Their contributions have been downplayed. Their stories have been neglected. That is why International Women’s Day is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to the cause of equity and equality for women the world over, and to shine a light on the systemic obstacles that fuel gender disparities and undermine women’s potential.
 
“Despite persistent obstacles, women are leading every day. Over the past year, women have played a critical, often outsized role in responding to the global coronavirus pandemic. They are our vaccine researchers and public health officials. They are our doctors and nurses. They are our essential workers — so many of whom are women of color — in fire stations and nursing homes, on farms and in grocery stores, in schools and in shelters.
 
“Around the world, we are seeing decades of women’s economic gains erased by this pandemic. It’s forcing millions more girls out of school, which could impact economic growth for decades to come. Incidents of violence against women in their homes and communities have spiked. And, as is so often the case, COVID-19 is hitting the poorest and most marginalized women the hardest. These global trends damage all of us, because we know that governments, economies, and communities are stronger when they include the full participation of women — no country can recover from this pandemic if it leaves half of its population behind.
 
“Elevating the status of women and girls globally is the right thing to do — it is a matter of justice, fairness, and decency, and it will lead to a better, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all.  On International Women’s Day, let us recommit to the principle that our nation, and the world, is at its best when the possibilities for all of our women and girls are limitless.”

Fact Sheet

Biden-Harris Administration establishes a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world

“The full participation of all people – including women and girls – across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic well-being, health, and security of our nation and of the world. This is a matter of human rights, justice and fairness. It is also critically important to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth, increasing access to education, improving health outcomes, advancing political stability, and fostering democracy.

“Today, President Biden will sign two Executive Orders. The first establishes the White House Gender Policy Council to ensure that the Biden-Harris Administration advances gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls. The second directs the Department of Education (ED) to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies for consistency with the Administration’s policy to guarantee education free from sexual violence.

“A year into COVID-19, women are still contending with the public health crisis, an ensuing economic crisis, and on top of those challenges, a caregiving crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated barriers that have held back women, especially women of color, forcing many to leave the workforce, manage virtual schooling, and absorb additional caregiving responsibilities. Many women are also on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19 – as essential workers keeping our economy, communities and families going. As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and reckons with the scourge of systemic racism, President Biden knows that we need a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world, restoring America as a champion for gender equity and equality.

“Today’s actions will:

“Establish the Gender Policy Council. The first Executive Order formally establishes the Gender Policy Council within the Executive Office of the President, with a role in both domestic and foreign policy development. The Council will work in coordination with the existing policy councils to advance gender equity and equality, including by:

“Combatting systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment;

“Increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force, decreasing wage and wealth gaps, and addressing the caregiving needs of American families and supporting care workers, predominantly low-paid women of color;

“Ensuring access to comprehensive health care and preventing and responding to gender-based violence;

“Promoting equity and opportunity in education and leadership; and

“Advancing gender equality globally through diplomacy, development, trade, and defense, and by recognizing the needs and roles of women and girls in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, democratic rights-respecting governance, global health and humanitarian crises and development assistance.

“The White House Gender Policy Council will be an essential part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to ensure we build a more equal and just society – by aggressively protecting the rights and unique needs of those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including individuals who are Black, Latina, Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI+.

“The Executive Order requires the Co-Chairs of the Council to submit to the President a Government-wide strategy to address gender in policies, programs and budgets, and an annual report to measure progress on implementing the strategy. To prevent and respond to gender-based violence, wherever it occurs, there will be a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on Gender-Based Violence on the Council staff. The Executive Order also requires engagement with non-profit and community-based organizations, state and local government officials, Tribal Nations, foreign government officials and multilateral organizations.

Ensure education free from sexual violence. President Biden will sign an Executive Order that will direct the Department of Education (ED) to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden-Harris Administration’s policy that students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence. It also directs ED to specifically evaluate the Title IX regulation issued under the previous administration and agency action taken pursuant to that regulation, to determine whether the regulation and agency action are consistent with the policies of the Biden-Harris Administration.”

Conclusion

The WTO at its 2017 Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires saw a joint declaration on women and trade released. There are currently 127 WTO Members who support the declaration. There was an interim report released in 2019 and an informal working group on trade and gender working on a voluntary basis to share information and best practices in ways to increase women’s role in global trade. Such activities are a start for the WTO, but much more could be done if there was greater support by the Members. The 2020-21 selection of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was an important action and will likely presage change at the Secretariat. Her priorities as reviewed in today’s video address trade issues that are important to economic recovery which may facilitate greater movement towards gender equality.

The challenges women face globally during the pandemic are significantly greater than those faced by men both in terms of lost employment, withdrawal from the workforce to deal with child care and much more. The UN Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls is important for many reasons. In trade, gender equality will promote growth and innovation. This is true in all societies regardless of level of economic development.

The pandemic has pushed back progress in economic development for much of the world as has been often reported and has slowed or reversed the drive for gender equality and empowerment of half the world’s population.. More focus and efforts are needed to ensure achieving the UN SDG 5 by 2030. Trade is but one aspect of the challenge.

Today’s speeches by the three leaders of multilateral organizations handling trade show some of the broader issues facing global trade to recover from the pandemic and highlight the capabilities of women leading important organizations. The UN Women’s Executive Director highlighted the deep societal challenges that continue to retard gender equality in fact in many parts of the world.

Finally, the actions by President Biden and his Administration are the types of actions needed by countries who have not achieved gender equality to date. More can and must be done by nations around the world. International Women’s Day is a reminder of the enormous global opportunities that exist if gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is achieved.

U.S. and EU issue joint statement suspending for four months retaliatory tariffs from large civil aircraft WTO disputes (Airbus-Boeing)

Yesterday, the U.S. and United Kingdom announced a four month suspension of retaliatory tariffs from the Airbus-Boeing WTO disputes to provide time to seek a negotiated solution. As noted in my post on the development, it was expected that a similar agreement would be reached with the EU. See March 4, 2021, First step in resolving the Airbus-Boeing WTO dispute — U.K. and U.S. announce four month suspension of retaliatory tariffs effective March 4, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/first-step-in-resolving-the-airbus-boeing-wto-dispute-u-k-and-u-s-announce-four-month-suspension-of-retaliatory-tariffs-effective-march-4-2021/

Today a joint statement was released by the U.S. and the European Union on a similar four-month suspension of retaliatory tariffs. See USTR, Joint Statement of the European Union and the United States on the Large Civil Aircraft WTO Disputes, March 5, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/march/joint-statement-european-union-and-united-states-large-civil-aircraft-wto-disputes. The text of the joint statement is copied below.

“’The European Union and the United States today agreed on the mutual suspension for four months of the tariffs related to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Aircraft disputes. The suspension will cover all tariffs both on aircraft as well as on non-aircraft products, and will become effective as soon as the internal procedures on both sides are completed. 

“’This will allow the EU and the US to ease the burden on their industries and workers and focus efforts towards resolving these long running disputes at the WTO.

“’The EU and the US are committed to reach a comprehensive and durable negotiated solution to the Aircraft disputes. Key elements of a negotiated solution will include disciplines on future support in this sector, outstanding support measures, monitoring and enforcement, and addressing the trade distortive practices of and challenges posed by new entrants to the sector from non-market economies, such as China.

“’These steps signal the determination of both sides to embark on a fresh start in the relationship.’”

The agreement to suspend the retaliatory tariffs for four months was the result of a phone call between President Biden and EC President von der Leyen.

The White House has the following readout of the phone call:

Readout of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

“MARCH 05, 2021 • STATEMENTS AND RELEASES

“President Joseph R. Biden spoke today with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. He underscored his support for the European Union and his commitment to repair and revitalize the U.S.-EU partnership. Noting our shared values and the world’s largest trade and investment relationship, the leaders agreed to suspend the tariffs related to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Aircraft disputes for four months and to work toward resolving these long running disputes at the WTO.  They discussed the importance of close U.S.-EU cooperation to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and enhance global health security, pursue a sustainable global economic recovery, tackle the climate crisis, and strengthen democracy.  The leaders also agreed to coordinate on issues of shared interest, including China, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Western Balkans.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/05/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-call-with-european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen/.

The European Commission President von der Leyen issued a press release after her conversation with President Biden. See European Commission, Statement by President von der Leyen following her phone call with President of the United States Joe Biden, March 5, 2021, The press release is embedded below but the relevant paragraphs on the suspension of tariffs are copied below before the full press release.

“As a symbol of this fresh start, President Biden and I agreed to suspend all our tariffs imposed in the context of the Airbus-Boeing disputes, both on aircraft and non-aircraft products, for an initial period of 4 months. We both committed to focus on resolving our aircraft disputes, based on the work our respective trade representatives. This is excellent news for businesses and industries on both sides of the Atlantic, and a very positive signal for our economic cooperation in the years to come.”

Statement_by_President_von_der_Leyen_following_her_phone_call_with_President_of_the_United_States_Joe_Biden

EC Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in a tweet indicated the suspension had been agreed and stated that “This is a major breakthrough that provides a welcome boost to EU exporters & it gives both sides time & space to resolve this long-running dispute.” https://twitter.com/VDombrovskis/status/1367888145505783810. See also Financial Times, EU and US agree to suspend tariffs in Airbus-Boeing dispute, March 5, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/3da1759f-894e-4c1d-813f-5012d96bf52b.

While the development was not unexpected in light of yesterday’s announcement, it is a further sign of the major effort of the Biden Administration to work with our allies such as the European Union and is another manifestation of the Biden Administration’s embrace of multilateral solutions and working with allies.

First step in resolving the Airbus-Boeing WTO dispute — U.K. and U.S. announce four month suspension of retaliatory tariffs effective March 4, 2021

For the U.S., EU and U.K., finding a path to resolving the long-running dispute on civil aircraft subsidies is a major priority. Both the U.S. and the EU have been authorized to retaliate by the WTO in recent years. Some efforts at finding a resolution were pursued during the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration has made it clear that it wants to find ways to work with our allies and resolving the underlying civil aircraft dispute has been a topic covered by President Biden’s USTR nominee Katherine Tai in her confirmation hearing. See March 2, 2021, Katherine Tai, USTR designate, on addressing WTO reform including dispute settlement if confirmed; the USTR 2021 Trade Policy Agenda, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/02/katherine-tai-ustr-designate-on-addressing-wto-reform-including-dispute-settlement-if-confirmed-the-ustr-2021-trade-policy-agenda/.

Today the U.S. and the United Kingdom released a joint statement following agreement to suspend retaliatory tariffs for four months from March 4, 2021 to provide space for seeking a negotiated solution. The U.K. had suspended retaliatory tariffs since January 1st. See USTR, Joint US-UK Statement on Suspension of Large Civilian Aircraft Tariffs, March 4, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/march/joint-us-uk-statement-suspension-large-civilian-aircraft-tariffs. The joint statement is embedded below.

US-UK-4-month-tariff-suspension-to-ease-the-burden-on-industry-while-seek-resolution-of-Airbus-Boeing-disputes

The announcement does not include the EU as a party, but it is expected that the EU will join such action since they are the major European party and face the largest amount of retaliation. In early December 2020, during the last months of the Trump Administration, EC Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis had indicated the EU would suspend retaliatory tariffs if the U.S. did as well. See Bloomberg, EU Says Boeing-Airbus Dispute Can Be Settled Under Trump, December 3, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-03/eu-says-boeing-airbus-dispute-can-be-settled-under-trump (“EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said ‘it’s possible’ that both sides will reach an agreement by Jan. 20 governing aid to Boeing Co. and Airbus SE. He reiterated an offer to remove EU retaliatory tariffs on $4 billion of American goods if the U.S. does the same for its duties on $7.5 billion of European products. ‘The solution which would be preferred by the EU would be that both sides withdraw or at least suspend their tariffs and we reach agreement on future disciplines in the area of civil aviation,’ Dombrovskis said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday. ‘We are still intensively engaged with the current U.S. administration.'”).

The U.S. goal is certainly to find a solution that works for the Boeing Company and that permits the U.S., EU and U.K. to turn their attention to the challenges in the civil aircraft industry by major new entrants like China. Today’s action with the U.K. is the first step in the Biden Administration’s efforts to get this dispute resolved.

WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her second day on the job in Geneva had an opinion piece in the Financial Times taking to the public her message to the WTO membership that “WTO members must intensify co-operation”. Financial Times, Opinion, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: WTO members must intensify co-operation, March 2, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/0654600f-92cc-47ad-bfe6-561db88f7019. To a large extent, the opinion piece reflects her opening statement to the General Council on March 1st. See March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/. The opinion piece starts with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for equitable and affordable access to vaccines and other medical goods. The Director-General (DG) then goes through the reforms and ongoing negotiations that need to be addressed. The topics include completion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, dispute settlement reform, updating the rule book to include topics like digital trade and other Joint Statement initiatives, restarting negotiations on environmental goods and services, various topics in agriculture (market access, domestic subsidies, removal of export restrictions on farm products purchased for humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme) and rules to address distortions flowing from industrial subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

For this post, I will focus on the access to vaccines issue and recent actions by the United States (but also others) on this topic.

Two paragraphs from the opinion piece lay out the views of the Director-General on access to vaccines. They are copied below.

“However, for the global economy to return to sustained growth, we must intensify co-operation to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapetics and diagnostics. The WTO can and must play a more forceful role in encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment.

WTO members have a further responsibility to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism while co-operating on promising new treatments and vaccines. We must find a ‘third way’ on intellectual property that preserves the multilateral rules that encourage research and innovation while promoting licensing agreements to help scale-up manufacturing of medical products. Some pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and the Serum Institute of India are already doing this.”

While India and South Africa have sought a waiver for all WTO Members from most TRIPS Agreement obligations during the pandemic, that proposal has not received the backing from various developed countries with pharmaceutical industries, a fact the new DG saw first hand during the General Council meeting of March 1-2 where the TRIPS Council reported that there was not yet agreement on what to recommend on the proposal. Rather through the WHO, GAVI and CEPI and the creation of COVAX to buy vaccines for low- and middle-income countries and others wishing to participate, the expectation has been that some 2 billion doses would be available through COVAX in 2021 starting in February and ramping up, with 1.3 billion doses going to 92 countries needing assistance.

In her opening statement to the General Council, DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala indicated that COVAX would not be enough even though shipments had started. The latest COVAX interim distribution forecast is embedded below and dates from February 3 and shows the number of doses from the AstraZeneca/Serum Institute, from AstraZeneca’s own facilities and from Pfizer/BioNTech.

COVAX-Interim-Distribution-Forecast

Press accounts identify Ghana as the first recipient from COVAX, but other countries have already received the vaccines as well. See, e.g., World health Organization, First COVID-19 COVAX vaccine doses administered in Africa, March 1, 2021,https://www.who.int/news/item/01-03-2021-first-covid-19-covax-vaccine-doses-administered-in-africa; Pan American Health Organization, Colombia receives the first vaccines arriving in the Americas through COVAX, March 1, 2021, https://www.paho.org/en/news/1-3-2021-colombia-receives-first-vaccines-arriving-americas-through-covax. The Financial Times vaccine tracker shows that by March 3, 2021, 268.6 million doses had been administered in 128 locations/countries. Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, March 3, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=isr&areas=usa&areas=eue&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=1.

In recent weeks, the United States confirmed it was contributing $4 billion to COVAX ($2 billion immediately and $2 billion over the rest of 2021 and 2022). Other countries and the EU increased contributions as well and some countries have agreed to send some vaccine doses as well. See February 19, 2021, COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines  to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum received from G-7 virtual meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/19/covaxs-efforts-to-distribute-covid-19-vaccines-to-low-and-middle-income-countries-additional-momentum-from-g-7-virtual-meeting/

From a recent WHO release it is clear that GAVI and the other COVAX partners are working at expanding available vaccines and seeking additional funding beyond what has already been provided or promised. Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and potentially from Novavax were identified. See UN News, Equitable vaccine delivery plan needs more support to succeed: COVAX partners, March 2, 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086142. The release is embedded below.

Equitable-vaccine-delivery-plan-needs-more-support-to-succeed_-COVAX-partners-_-_-UN-News

“intensify co-operation”

There have been efforts at co-operation from the beginning as AstraZeneca’s licensing of its product to India’s Serum Institute demonstrated.

In the United States, President Biden on March 2 announced co-operation between Merck and Johnson & Johnson where Merck will convert two facilities to help in the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This has been supported by the United States through use of the Defense Production Act to speed access to equipment needed for the conversion. Merck is a major vaccine producer but doesn’t have a viable COVID-19 vaccine of its own. See NPR, How The White House Got 2 Pharma Rivals To Work Together On COVID-19 Vaccine, March 3, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/03/03/973117712/how-the-white-house-got-2-pharma-foes-to-work-together-on-covid-19-vaccine. This is the type of co-operation that DG Okonjo-Iweala referenced in her opinion piece yesterday.

Johnson & Johnson in late February had struck an arrangement with Sanofi in France for similar cooperation at one of Sanofi’s facilities in France. Similarly, Sanofi had earlier struck a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech. See Sanofi, Sanofi to provide manufacturing support to Johnson & Johnson for their COVID-19 vaccine to help address global supply demands, February 22, 2021, https://www.sanofi.com/-/media/Project/One-Sanofi-Web/Websites/Global/Sanofi-COM/Home/media-room/press-releases/2021/20200222-Sanofi-statement-EN.pdf.

The world’s largest vaccine producer, GlaxoSmithKline, has entered an agreement to help produce CureVac produce some of CureVac’s first generation COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 and “to jointly develop next generation mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 with the potential for a multi-valent approach to address multiple emerging variants in one vaccine.” See GSK, GSK and CureVac to develop next generation mRNA COVID-19vaccines, 3 February 2021, https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/gsk-and-curevac-to-develop-next-generation-mrna-covid-19-vaccines/.

There are, of course, other vaccine producers — China has multiple vaccines developed, Russia, India, Cuba has two in development — including companies who do not have a COVID-19 vaccine in development. Thus, additional opportunities for co-operation should exist for those producers as well.

Conclusion

There is understandably great focus within the WTO and its Members in getting past the COVID-19 pandemic and getting economies back on growth paths. The rapid development of vaccines has been critical and has seen extraordinary success in the 15 months since COVID-19 was first identified. The R&D efforts globally have been stunning and have received some government support which has undoubtedly been important particularly in giving pharmaceutical companies an assist in early efforts to ramp up production. There is no question that the R&D efforts would not have occurred at the level that has taken place without strong intellectual property protections.

There has been great efforts by the WHO along with GAVI and CEPI to prepare to be able to get large quantities of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries when vaccines are available including by contracting with multiple companies pursuing a vaccine, reserving capacity, etc. There have been efforts by many countries to help build support for the COVAX approach and to provide funding for the purchase of vaccines for those in need. The effort is having success and can be more successful as 2021 moves into the second quarter and as countries, NGOs, businesses and individuals contribute to see that there is adequate funding for the effort being undertaken.

In addition to COVAX, a number of countries have been sending some of their production of vaccines to other countries. These include China, Russia and India. The U.S. has been in discussions with Japan, Australia and India for helping in getting vaccines to some countries as well. See Financial Times, US and Asia allies plan Covid vaccine strategy to counter China, March 3, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/1dc04520-c2fb-4859-9821-c405f51f8586. These efforts are likely to accelerate as 2021 moves into the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Moreover, many of the major Western pharmaceutical companies engaged in vaccine production have partnered with other companies around the world to expand capacity and production of vaccines that have proven successful. So cooperation is already occurring. The Biden Administration’s efforts in recent weeks with Johnson & Johnson and Merck show that government involvement to encourage cooperation for expanding capacity and production and providing assistance in terms of availability of supplies can be an important assist to ramping up production.

Thus, the track record to date does not support a waiver of most TRIPS obligations as has been requested by the world’s largest producer of vaccines (India) and South Africa. Private companies have worked with partners on developments and in a number of cases on producing vaccines. Early success vaccines like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have led to significant increases in plans for production by those companies through their own operations or through partnering with others. A number of other vaccines are now approved in major markets or are close to being approved. Significant funding has been provided or promised to make vaccines available to those in need at no cost.

All of the above is “the third way” sought by the new Director-General. It is already working. The WTO should focus its efforts on export restraints on medical goods and collaborate with other multilateral organizations to understand bottlenecks in capacity expansions, supply chain issues, distribution challenges and other aspects to determine if there are matters requiring WTO attention.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND INNOVATION: MAKING MSMES COMPETITIVE IN GREEN TECH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complete communication is embedded below.

W675-1

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

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

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

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

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

“What did she say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W820

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

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

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

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

229

Report on WTO Accessions

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

Overview of activities in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full report is embedded below.

WTACC38

Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

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

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

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

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

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

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

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

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

WTGCW819-1

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

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

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

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

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

The full document is embedded below.

WTGC223

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

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

WTGCW818

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership — Implications for WTO initiatives

On February 23, 2021 President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau had a virtual meeting to review a wide range of topics and released an agreed “Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership”. Major topics addressed included (1) combating COVID-19, (2) building back better (i.e., economic recovery after the pandemic), (3) accelerating climate ambitions, (4) advancing diversity and inclusion, (5) bolstering security and defense and (6) building global alliances. A number of these topics are relevant to the work of the World Trade Organization (ongoing or possible). See Roadmap for a Renewed U.S. Canada Partnership, February 23, 2021,https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/23/roadmap-for-a-renewed-u-s-canada-partnership/. This post reviews briefly some of the issues in the roadmap that resonate more broadly in a global trade context.

Combating COVID-19

For example, on combating COVID-19, several of the paragraphs in the roadmap review working together to help ensure equitable access to vaccines through COVAX. Whether sufficient vaccines can be made available to low- and middle-income countries is a matter of concern to many WTO Members including some who have been pushing for waiving TRIPS Agreement obligations during the pandemic. Many developed countries have viewed there being adequate flexibility within the TRIPS Agreement to address the present pandemic and have pointed to the collective efforts of the WHO, GAVI and CEPI in setting up COVAX to procure billions of doses of vaccines both for countries needing assistance and for other countries wanting to acquire vaccines through COVAX. The big issue for COVAX has been adequate funding. The U.S. is donating $2 billion in the near term and another $2 billion over the rest of 2021 and 2022. Canada has also made pledges of support to COVAX. Thus, the roadmap is both supportive of global efforts to get vaccines to countries in need and likely supportive of opposing efforts to waive TRIPS rights and obligations during the pandemic. Some excerpts from the combating COVID-19 section are copied below.

“The top priority of the President and the Prime Minister is to end the COVID-19 pandemic. They agreed to strengthen comprehensive and cross-sectoral efforts to control the pandemic, collaborate on public health responses, and build resilience against future outbreaks.

‘The Prime Minister and the President committed to working closely together to defeat the virus, including by surging the health and humanitarian response to the global pandemic, responding to new variants, following expert advice, and supporting global affordable access to and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, including through the COVAX Facility.

“The leaders emphasized their strong support for the multilateral institutions that are on the front lines of COVID-19 response, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN development agencies, and committed to rapidly fulfilling national pledges to COVAX.”

While not addressed in the roadmap document, both Canada and the U.S. at the WTO have been supportive of not imposing restrictions on agricultural exports and through the G-20 have been supportive of limiting the role of export restraints on medical goods. There is discussion in the building back better section of strengthening “Canada-U.S. supply chain security” which may have implications for whether some actions relevant to medical goods are adopted that will diversify supply or encourage more production within the U.S. and Canada.

The interest by the United States under the Biden Administration in supporting multilateral organizations like the WTO may also suggest that the U.S. will now be more amenable to working with the Ottawa Group (of which Canada is a member) on the Trade and Health Initiative that was introduced last December. See Government of Canada, Minister Ng announces tabling of Ottawa Group’s Trade and Health Initiative at WTO General Council, December 17, 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/12/minister-ng-announces-tabling-of-ottawa-groups-trade-and-health-initiative-at-wto-general-council.html (“Through this Trade and Health Initiative, Canada and the other 12 Ottawa Group member nations are calling for further cooperation among all WTO members to strengthen global supply chains and facilitate the flow of essential medicines and medical supplies, including vaccines, amid the current crisis. The Trade and Health Initiative identifies a range of actions that members are encouraged to adopt. These include implementing trade-facilitating measures in the areas of customs and services, limiting export restrictions, temporarily removing or reducing tariffs on essential medical goods, and improving transparency overall.”); December 18, 2020, The WTO ends the year with General Council and Dispute Settlement Body meetings, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/18/the-wto-ends-the-year-with-general-council-and-dispute-settlement-body-meetings/; November 27, 2020, The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/.

Building back better (recovery from the pandemic)

Much of the section on building back better addresses the collective needs to support groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic including “women, youth, underrepresented groups and indigenous peoples.” Assistance to such groups and to small and medium-sized enterprises is an important component of building back better. It also reflects present WTO focus on helping women and micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses better participate in the global economy and in international trade in particular. Actions by Canada and the U.S. will be pursued in part under existing commitments within the USMCA but also will be supportive of WTO initiatives and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Other agreed steps by Canada and the U.S. in this section deal with building supply chain for battery development and production which is consistent with the leaders’ objective of advancing reductions in greenhouse gases. The U.S. and Canada also encourage “international regulatory cooperation” to enhance “economic competitiveness” “while maintaining high standards of public health, safety, labor, and environmental protection.” As reviewed below, trade and climate change/environment are likely to be of greater interest within the WTO moving forward. The WTO SPS and TBT Agreements also encourage international regulatory cooperation to facilitate trade. Thus, U.S.-Canada actions are supportive of existing rights and obligations and leading the way on future needs.

Accelerating Climate Ambitions

With the U.S. having rejoined the Paris Agreement since President Biden took office, the U.S. position is now more aligned with Canada and with that of the European Union in terms of needing “to increase the scale and speed of action to address the climate crisis and better protect nature.” Of particular interest is the commitment to action against countries who don’t take adequate action to reduce greenhouse gases .

“The President also restated his commitment to holding polluters accountable for their actions. Both the President and the Prime Minister agreed to work together to protect businesses, workers and communities in both countries from unfair trade by countries failing to take strong climate action.”

The language in the roadmap suggests that the U.S. and Canada will be interested in exploring options similar to those being prepared by the European Union on a duty or tax on imported products produced with higher levels of greenhouse gases to prevent leakage. The incoming Director-General has acknowledged that Members are looking at how to make trade help address the climate crisis. See APPOINTMENT OF THE NEXT DIRECTOR-GENERAL, STATEMENT OF THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL ELECT DR. NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA TO THE SPECIAL SESSION OF THE WTO GENERAL COUNCIL, 15 February 2021, JOB/GC/250 (16 February 2021)(para. 1.14, “1.14. We should also work to ensure that the WTO best supports the green and circular economy and addresses more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change. Trade and environmental protection can be mutually reinforcing, both contributing to sustainable development. It will be important for Members to reactivate and broaden the negotiations on environmental goods and services. This would help promote trust and encourage Members to explore further ways in which trade can contribute positively to an improved climate. Care must, however, be taken to ensure that any disciplines are not used arbitrarily or as a disguised restriction on trade, and that they take into account the need for developing countries to be assisted to transition to the use of greener and more environmentally friendly technologies.”); February 16, 2021, Special Session of the General Council at WTO appoints Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the seventh Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/16/special-session-of-the-general-council-at-wto-appoints-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-the-seventh-director-general/.

Building Global Alliances

While much broader than just trade, the commitment to multilateralism announced by President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau included “firm commitment to the United Nations, G7 and G20, as well as NATO, the WTO, and the Five Eyes community.” Both Canada and the United States support significant reform at the WTO. One can expect closer collaboration between the U.S. and Canada on many reform initiatives at the WTO.

This section of the roadmap also addresses the need to jointly address China. “They also discussed ways to more closely align our
approaches to China, including to address the challenges it presents to our collective interest and to the international rules-based order. This includes dealing with its coercive and unfair economic practices, national security challenges, and human rights abuses, while cooperating with China on areas where it is in our interest, such as climate change.” WTO reform to be meaningful will have to have elements that will address the noncoverage of various actions by state-capital countries like China that distort global trade flows, create massive excess capacity, force technology transfer, limit transparency and market access in fact. While some efforts can be through consultations by the U.S. with other trading partners like Canada and the EU, multilateral reform is also critical for the functioning of the global trading system.

Conclusion

President Biden’s efforts are restoring strong relationships with our neighbors and renewed engagement with multilateral organizations has been apparent during the first five weeks of his Presidency. Yesterday’s virtual meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau reflects the strong bonds between the U.S. and Canada. The roadmap presents areas of joint interest and future activity to deepen our close partnership. The roadmap also has a number of signals of likely U.S.-Canada cooperation in global trade and on WTO reform which should attract support from a number of other major trading partners at the WTO.

The roadmap and joint press statements are embedded below.

Roadmap-for-a-Renewed-U.S.-Canada-Partnership-_-The-White-House

Remarks-by-President-Biden-and-Prime-Minister-Trudeau-of-Canada-in-Joint-Press-Statements-_-The-White-House

An early test for the incoming WTO Director-General — helping Members get the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations to a conclusion

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her statement to the WTO membership during the virtual Special Session of the General Council on February 15 after the Members appointed her the next Director-General made clear that an early deliverable for the WTO was completion of the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations which have been going on since the end of 2001 and were due to have been completed in 2020. See February 16, 2021, Special Session of the General Council at WTO appoints Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the seventh Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/16/special-session-of-the-general-council-at-wto-appoints-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-the-seventh-director-general/.

The Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Amb. Santiago Wills of Colombia, has held two sets of meetings so far in 2021, one in January and one just last week. See WTO Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies, WTO members resume work on fisheries subsidies negotiations using latest revised text, 22 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_22jan21_e.htm; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Fisheries talks chair: Divides remain, but members have what they need for a deal, February 19, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/fisheries-talks-chair-divides-remain-members-have-what-they-need-deal. The press releases following the meetings indicate that there has been little movement in fact in 2021 on the host of major issues that remain for Members to resolve. A review of the second revision of the draft text that was released on December 18, 2020 and the Chair’s explanatory note that accompanied the second draft make clear that Members remain divided on a huge array of issues. See RD/TN/RL/126/Rev.2 and RD/TN/RL/126/Rev.2/Add.1.

For example, there is still no agreement on whether the scope of the agreement will cover fuel subsidies (Article 1.2).

Similarly there is not currently agreement on whether the definition of “fishing related activities” in Article 2(c) include coverage of provisions “of personnel, fuel, gear and other supplies at sea”.

Article 3 which deals with the “prohibition on subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing” (IUU) consists of nine sub-articles, many of which remain bracketed whether it revolves around which entity can make a finding of IUU activity, whether leniency will be provided for non-serious violations and which violations will always be addressed, the length of sanctions, the level of transparency and obligations of Members, and whether there are exceptions (special and differential treatment (S&DT)) from the prohibitions on IUU. As is true throughout the revised draft, there are deep divides on the special and differential treatment provisions reflecting the concerns expressed by Members like the U.S. and EU on the overbreadth of Members seeking such treatment and the views of Members like India who view such S&DT as applicable to all who claim developing country status.

Article 4 addresses prohibition on subsidies concerning overfished stocks, there continues to be disagreement, inter alia, on when a fish stock is overfished (two alternatives provided) and on what S&DT will be provided.

Article 5 addresses the prohibition on subsidies concerning overcapacity and overfishing contains. Article 5 contains seven sub-articles, a number of which maintain brackets including on “non-recovery of payments under government-to-government access agreements” (Art. 5.3.2), for subsidies provided to a vessel “not flying the flag of the subsidizing member” (Art. 5.4) on whether there will be a provision for “capping” (Art. 5.5) or a “list of non-harmful subsidies” (Art. 5.6) or for S&DT language (Art. 5.7). Art. 5.3 also deals in part with subsidies for fishing or fishing activities outside of a Member’s territory, obviously a very important and contentious issue.

Article 6 dealing with “specific provisions for LDC Members” has not been discussed and remains in brackets but reflects the proposal put forward by LDC Members.

Article 7 is for technical assistance and capacity building. While bracketed, the proposal has not received significant opposition at this point and appears to be largely non-controversial.

On Articles 8-10 (notification and transparency, institutional arrangements, dispute settlement), discussions are ongoing as to what needs to be notified and ability of Members to request additional information. Articles 9 and 10 depend on whether the fisheries subsidies agreement is treated as a stand-alone Agreement or is treated as an Annex to the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement. If an Annex, dispute settlement is already provided for; if treated as a stand alone Agreement, then there will need to be an article providing for dispute settlement.

Article 11 covers final provisions and addresses issues such as whether Members will “exercise due restraint” when providing subsidies to fishing or fishing related activities for stocks where the status of the stock (overfished or not) is unknown (Art. 11.2). It also lays out possible exceptions for responding to disasters (and what limits such response shall have)(Art. 11.3) The article also makes clear that the Agreement (or Annex) is not germane to issues of “territoriality or delimitation of maritime jurisdiction” (Art. 11.4).

While the revised draft consolidated text could result in meaningful reform and limitations on harmful subsidies, much of the ongoing debate amongst Members seems to be about how to create exceptions that will permit continued subsidy practices for many Members both within territorial waters and outside of them. The perennial problem within the WTO that reform should be undertaken by others, not by me, is present in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. Can Members demonstrate the ability to come together for the common good? Hard to know as WTO Members have been negotiating for twenty years on fisheries subsidies reform. The Sustainable Development Agenda item 14.6 is designed to help save fishing for all peoples for generations to come. The WTO and the incoming Director-General have an important opportunity to show that global trade can promote sustainability. Let’s hope that a meaningful agreement is yet achievable.

Afterthought

While the revised draft consolidated text provided to Members on December 18, 2020 is clearly a Chairman’s draft, like many drafts in other areas that have routinely be released publicly, the WTO has been slipping into an increased pretense that such texts are “unofficial room documents” and hence not released publicly. While both documents (RD/TN/RL/126/Rev.2 and RD/TN/RL/126/Rev.2/Add. 1) can be found on the internet for those trying to understand the ongoing negotiations, the WTO does not promote transparency and public understanding by pretending that core negotiating documents or draft texts are “unofficial room documents”. Hopefully, the chairs of Committees and leadership within the WTO will correct course and improve transparency in fact and end the misuse of room documents, job documents and other “unofficial” documents which often are the core documents in a negotiation or Committee work.

COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum from G-7 virtual meeting

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations around the world with more than 110 million people having been infected and with more than 2.4 million deaths, the world is anxiously awaiting vaccines to permit vaccinations for vulnerable populations. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-leads of the COVAX initiative which seeks to provide equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. More than 2 billion vaccine doses have been or are being contracted to supply to 92 low- and middle-income countries as well as other countries who have agreed to buy vaccines through COVAX.

The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about “vaccine nationalism” as large and wealthier countries have contracted for large amounts of vaccines. In a joint statement with the UNICEF Executive Director on February 10, the WHO DG laid out what is needed in 2021 to achieve vaccine equitable distribution. See In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together, Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 10 February 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/10-02-2021-in-the-covid-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together. The joint statement is embedded below.

In-the-COVID-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together

The problem of vaccine availability can be traced to a number of sources including the inability to predict which development efforts would succeed, efforts by governments to support development through funding and advance contracts which do not always support the early vaccine successes, challenges of approval processes in different countries and more. However, it is clear that in the early days of the vaccine rollout, a handful of countries have been able to obtain the largest amount of vaccine doses and to provide vaccinations to citizens. For example, the Financial Times has an update of its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” published today (February 19) that looks at data for 99 countries or territories where vaccinations are reported through mid-February. Of a global total of 194.4 million vaccinations, 91.6% are reported by the following 10 countries or groups of countries: United States, 57.2 million; China 40.5 million; European Union, 24.7 million; United Kingdom, 17.0 million; India, 10.2 million; Israel, 7.1 million; Brazil 6.2 million; Turkey, 5.9 million; United Arab Emirates, 5.4 million; Russian Federation, 3.9 million. Of the 99 countries or territories, 24 reported vaccinations of at least 10/100 residents, an additional 30 reported vaccinations of at least 5.0-9.9/100 residents and an additional 10 reported vaccinations of at least 3.0-4.9/100. Gavi views 3% as the percent of population needed to be vaccinated to address health care workers. See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, February 19, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=usa&areas=eue&areas=ind&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=0

At today’s G-7 virtual meeting, there were new pledges from G-7 countries to contribute to COVAX to permit the purchase of vaccine doses contracted and with some countries agreeing to share surplus vaccine doses with the world’s poorest countries. The Gavi press release of today is embedded below.

G7-backs-Gavis-COVAX-Advance-Market-Commitment-to-boost-COVID-19-vaccines-in-worlds-poorest-countries-_-Gavi-the-Vaccine-Alliance

In the December 2020 stimulus package, Congress authorized some funding for COVAX. President Biden outlined the U.S. contributions in a Fact Sheet posted on the White House webpage yesterday and at the G-7 virtual meeting today. See White House, Fact Sheet: President Biden to Take Action on Global health through Support of COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing, February 18, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/18/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-take-action-on-global-health-through-support-of-covax-and-calling-for-health-security-financing/; New York Times, Biden Declares ‘America is Back’ on International Stage: Live Updates, February 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/19/world/g7-meeting-munich-security-conference#global-leaders-chart-a-new-course-in-post-trump-era. The fact sheet is embedded below and reports the U.S. will be contributing $2.0 billion quickly and $2.0 billion more over the remainder of 2021 and 2022.

Fact-Sheet_-President-Biden-to-Take-Action-on-Global-Health-through-Support-of-COVAX-and-Calling-for-Health-Security-Financing-_-The-White-House

Conclusion

Much of the activity at the WTO over the last year has focused on the trade challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Trade restrictions on exports of medical goods and agricultural goods have been tracked with various efforts to minimize scope and duration. Efforts at expediting the movement of medical goods and agricultural products have also been pursued, and debates have occurred on whether TRIPS rights should be waived during the pandemic to improve access to medical goods during the pandemic. Most advanced countries with pharmaceutical producers have argued that there are sufficient flexibilities within the WTO TRIPS Agreement to handle the current challenges. At the same time over recent years there have been efforts through the WHO, CEPI and GAVI and with the assistance of UNICEF to provide the infrastructure to permit collective purchasing of vaccines and other medical goods and the collection of funds to permit assisting low- and middle-income countries in terms of vaccine availability. COVID-19 is a truly global pandemic. The pressure on governments to find solutions is obviously enormous. Actions like those by the G-7 today and by other governments, NGOs and others to address the COVID-19 challenge are along the lines of what is needed to have more equitable distribution of vaccines. As the UN and WHO keep saying, no one is safe until all are safe.

The challenges for COVAX are huge and the goal for 2021 is to get 20% of the populations part of the program vaccinated. Developed countries and others able to do so need to continue to cooperate to see that these goals for 2021 are met and that further help is available moving into 2022. A study commissioned by the ICC estimates the global costs of not moving quickly to get all people in the world vaccinated at being more than $8 trillion — a figure that dwarfs the costs to get the vaccines produced, distributed and shots given. Hopefully, the world will cooperate and do what is needed to see that all countries can recover from the current pandemic in a timely manner.

The amended European Union enforcement regulation — hypocrisy or a reasonable move?

The amended EU enforcement regulation took effect on February 13, 2021. The amendment was pursued within the EU following the collapse of the Appellate Body at the WTO and is designed to give the EU the ability to impose retaliation whenever it perceives it has won some part of a panel proceeding at the WTO but the other party has filed an appeal where the Appellate Body is not functioning. The amended regulation also permits such action against trading partners under other agreements where dispute settlement is blocked or there is no dispute settlement. The announcement by the European Commission is embedded below and is followed by the amended regulation..

Strong_EU_trade_enforcement_rules_enter_into_force_-1-1

CELEX_32021R0167_EN_TXT

The EU presents itself as simply ensuring that it receives the benefits of the agreements it is a party to. The challenge of disputes at the WTO being appealed to a non-functioning WTO Appellate Body is a real one as reviewed in a prior post and as can be seen from the WTO webcite. See January 14, 2021, First dispute settlement cases of 2021 at the WTO — Costa Rica requests consultations with Panama for various restrictions on agricultural products viewed as violating SPS obligations and more; EU requests establishment of a panel to address its concerns with Indonesia’s export restrictions on inputs for stainless steel, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/14/first-dispute-settlement-cases-of-2021-at-the-wto-costa-rica-requests-consultations-with-panama-for-various-restrictions-on-agricultural-products-viewed-as-violating-sps-obligations-and-more-eu-re/; WTO, Dispute Settlement, Appellate Body, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/appellate_body_e.htm. The following cases have been appealed to the WTO Appellate Body but are not currently being heard because of the lack of any Appellate Body members:

Current Notified Appeals 

  • 22 January 2021:  Notification of Appeal by Korea in DS553: Korea — Sunset Review of Anti-Dumping Duties on Stainless Steel Bars (WT/DS553/6)
     
  • 17 December 2020:  Notification of Appeal by Indonesia in DS484: Indonesia — Measures Concerning the Importation of Chicken Meat and Chicken Products (Article 21.5 — Brazil) (WT/DS484/25)
     
  • 26 October 2020:  Notification of Appeal by United States in DS543: United States — Tariff Measures on Certain Goods from China (WT/DS543/10)
     
  •  28 September 2020: Notification of Appeal by United States in DS533: United States — Countervailing Measures on Softwood Lumber from Canada (WT/DS533/5)
     
  •  28 August 2020:  Notification of Appeal  by the European Union in  DS494: European Union — Cost Adjustment Methodologies and Certain Anti-Dumping Measures on Imports from Russia (Second Complaint) (WT/DS494/7)
     
  •  28 July 2020: Notification of Appeal by Saudi Arabia in DS567: Saudi Arabia — Measures Concerning the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (WT/DS567/7)
     
  •  18 December 2019: Notification of Appeal by the United States in DS436: United States — Countervailing Measures on Certain Hot-Rolled Carbon Steel Flat Products from India (Article 21.5 — India) (WT/DS436/21)
     
  • 6 December 2019: Notification of Appeal by the European Union in DS316: EC and certain member States — Large Civil Aircraft (Article 21.5 — EU) (WT/DS316/43)
     
  • 19 November 2019: Notification of Appeal by India in DS541: India — Export Measures (WT/DS541/7)
     
  • 9 September 2019: Notification of Appeal by Thailand in DS371: Thailand — Customs and Fiscal Measures on Cigarettes from the Philippines (Article 21.5 — Philippines II) (WT/DS371/30)
     
  • 15 August 2019: Notification of Appeal by the United States in DS510: United States — Certain Measures Relating to the Renewable Energy Sector (WT/DS510/5)
     
  • 4 June 2019: Notification of Appeal by Canada in DS534: United States — Anti-Dumping Measures Applying Differential Pricing Methodology to Softwood Lumber from Canada (WT/DS534/5)
     
  • 25 January 2019: Notification of Appeal by the United States in DS523: United States — Countervailing Duty Measures on Certain Pipe and Tube Products from Turkey (WT/DS523/5)
     
  • 9 January 2019: Notification of Appeal by Thailand in DS371: Thailand — Customs and Fiscal Measures on Cigarettes from the Philippines (Article 21.5 — Philippines) (WT/DS371/27)
     
  • 14 December 2018: Notification of Appeal by India in DS518: India — Certain Measures on Imports of Iron and Steel Products (WT/DS518/8)
     
  • 20 November 2018: Notification of Appeal by Panama in DS461: Colombia — Measures Relating to the Importation of Textiles, Apparel and Footwear (Article 21.5 — Colombia)(Article 21.5 — Panama) (WT/DS461/28)
     
  • 21 September 2018: Notification of Appeal by the European Union in DS476: European Union and its member States — Certain measures Relating to the Energy Sector (WT/DS476/6)

Hypocrisy or a reasonable measure

The action of the European Union can be viewed as “reasonable” as an effort to maintain a right to binding dispute settlement. However, the unilateral action by the EU obviously invites mirror actions by trading partners which could quickly spiral out of control.

Moreover, the amended regulation looks only at actions by trading partners and fails to recognize similar actions by the EU that are identical to those they are objecting to by others. In fact, three of the seventeen cases listed above where appeals have been filed but are not presently being heard were filed by the European Union including two when the Appellate Body had either ceased to have at least three members and hence could not handle the appeal or was just four days from that situation. As there are many ways to resolve a dispute besides taking an appeal, what is the justification for the EU filing appeals into the void where they are on the losing side of a dispute at the panel report stage but complaining about trading partners doing the same? Is the EU position not hypocritical?

In addition, the dispute settlement system of the WTO is premised on Members awaiting a final dispute settlement decision and providing a trading partner a reasonable period of time to come into compliance before retaliation is permitted (and is then limited by arbitration if, as is almost always the case, the party seeking retaliation puts forward retaliation far out of line with actual harm — e.g., EU’s $12 billion requested retaliation on Boeing dispute compared to $4 billion authorized (WT/DSB353/ARB, 13 October 2020)). But the EU has at least in one case opted to retaliate before a panel case had been completed (EU challenge of US Section 232 national security action on steel and aluminum). The U.S. has not retaliated against the unilateral EU retaliatory action but rather pursued consultations and panel proceedings at the WTO. See WT.DS559: European Union — Additional Duties on Certain Products from the United States, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds559_e.htm. Retaliating by creating a self-serving description of the action of a trading partner (safeguard vs. national security) is hardly faithful adherence to the obligations the EU has undertaken with trading partners in the WTO. Is the amended enforcement regulation in light of such flouting of agreed obligations not a sign of hypocrisy by the EU?

Reform of the WTO Dispute Settlement System, particularly the Appellate Body, is a high priority for Members and for the incoming Director-General. As reviewed in a prior post, the EU is finally making sounds like it will address U.S. concerns about overreaching by the Appellate Body (exceeding its limited mandate). Hopefully, the Biden Administration will be working within the WTO for meaningful reform of the Appellate Body to limit the Appellate Body to its originally envisioned limited role. The EU amended regulation will not contribute to an early resolution of the impasse and could make resolution more difficult depending on how it is used.

U.S. decides not to modify retaliation list of goods from WTO dispute with EU on Airbus subsidies

The Biden Administration has continued its efforts at greater international outreach and collaboration by deciding, in consultation with the U.S. civil aircraft industry, not to modify the retaliation list of EU goods as the U.S. and the EU look to find a resolution to the long-running Airbus-Boeing dispute hopefully by mid-year. The Federal Register notice of today is copied below. See USTR, Notice Regarding Periodic Revision of Section 301 Action: Enforcement of U.S. WTO Rights in Large Civil Aircraft Dispute, 86 FR 9420 -9421(February 12, 2021).

SUMMARY: The U.S. Trade Representative together with the affected United States industry have agreed that it is unnecessary at this time to revise the action in the Section 301 investigation involving the enforcement of U.S. rights in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute involving Large Civil Aircraft subsidies provided by certain current or former member States of the European Union. The U.S. Trade Representative will continue to consider the action taken in the investigation.

DATES: This exception to periodic revisions is applicable as of February 8, 2021.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For questions about the investigation or this notice, contact Associate General Counsel Megan Grimball, at (202) 395– 5725, or Director for Europe Michael Rogers, at (202) 395–3320.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION

“A. Proceedings in the Investigation

“For background on the proceedings in this investigation, please see the prior notices issued in the investigation, including: Notice of initiation (84 FR 15028 (April 12, 2019)); notice of determination and action (84 FR 54245 (October 9, 2019)); and notices of revision of action (85 FR 10204 (February 21, 2020), 85 FR 50866 (August 18, 2020), and 86 FR 674 (January 6, 2021)).

B. Periodic Revisions and Exceptions Thereto

“Section 306(b)(2)(B)–(F) of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, provides for periodic revisions of the list of goods subject to additional duties imposed in response to the failure of a U.S. trading partner to implement a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) recommendation. The statute includes exceptions to the periodic revisions. As relevant here, section 306(b)(2)(B)(ii)(II) provides that no revision is required if the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. industry affected by the noncompliance with the DSB recommendation agree that a revision of the list is unnecessary.

“The most recent revision to the list of goods subject to additional duties was effective on January 12, 2021. See 86 FR 674 (January 6, 2021). In light of the recent revision, the U.S. Trade Representative has agreed with the affected U.S. industry that it is unnecessary at this time to revise the action. The U.S. Trade Representative will continue to consider the action taken in this investigation.

William Busis,

“Deputy Assistant USTR for Monitoring and Enforcement and Chair, Section 301 Committee, Office of the United States Trade Representative

Both the U.S. and EU have been interested in finding a resolution to the seventeen year dispute on subsidies to Airbus and Boeing. See, e.g., Bloomberg, EU Looks Past Trump to Defuse Transatlantic Trade Conflict, January 11, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-11/eu-looks-past-trump-to-defuse-transatlantic-trade-conflict; Reuters, EU trade official wants swift engagement with Biden on aircraft, digital taxes, WTO, January 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-eu/eu-trade-official-wants-swift-engagement-with-biden-on-aircraft-digital-taxes-wto-idUSKBN29K1X5. The action by the United States is one of a series of actions demonstrating an interest by the Biden Administration in finding resolutions to transatlantic issues and reengaging in multilateral organizations.

On his first day as President, President Biden sent notices of the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and of its revoking its withdrawal from the World Health Organization. These actions were obviously positive steps by the U.S. in the eyes of many countries including the European Union member states. See White House, January 20, 2021, Paris Climate Agreement, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/paris-climate-agreement/; President Biden, Letter to His Excellency António Guterres, January 20, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/letter-his-excellency-antonio-guterres/.

Similarly Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in communications with some of her European counterpart has indicated the U.S. interest in finding a resolution within the OECD/G-20 process to the issue of digital services taxes, an issue where 301 investigations under the Trump Administration found various EU member state actions as unfair to U.S. interests. Yellen has indicated that resort to 301 duties remain on the table if there isn’t a resolution. Obtaining an international agreement on taxes has been an objective of many countries, including the European Union. International Tax Review, Yellen picks notable experts to join the US Treasury’s digital tax talks, February 5, 2021, https://www.internationaltaxreview.com/article/b1qfh1hw0xy7z2/yellen-picks-notable-experts-to-join-the-us-treasurys-digital-tax-talks. Resolution by the end of June 2021 is the current timeline being pursued by parties.

Similarly, while the Biden Administration doesn’t have its full trade team in place as yet, USTR issued a release last Friday that, following the announcement that the South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee was withdrawing from the contest for the Director-General of the WTO position, the U.S. was throwing its support behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the candidate that pursuant to the procedures being followed in the selection process had been identified as the candidate most likely to attract a consensus back in October before the U.S. had indicated its unwillingness to join a consensus behind her. With the special General Council meeting scheduled for February 15 at 3 p.m., the WTO will have a new Director-General in a matter of days. Nearly all WTO Members, including the EU and its member states, have been anxious for a resolution to the selection of the next Director-General.

And as the Reuters article cited above reviews, the European Union has been looking at WTO reform including the possibility of agreeing to a limiting of the role of dispute settlement and is looking to engage with the U.S. on solving the longstanding U.S. concerns of the WTO dispute settlement system, particularly the operation of the Appellate Body. Assuming the Biden Administration will move in the coming months once its trade team is in place to identify modification in the DSU or needed elements of a General Council decision, the EU has been sending signals that it may be willing to address core U.S. concerns which could lead to the resolution of a core WTO Member concern — the existing impasse on getting the Appellate Body refunctioning.

There is an additional major trade dispute between the U.S. and the EU dealing with the application of additional tariffs on steel and aluminum products following Commerce investigations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, and action by President Trump. It is less clear what the off ramp for the parties is here. The EU and a number of other WTO Members have WTO disputes pending panel reports that will be released at the earliest in the second half of 2021. Similarly, the U.S. has disputes with the EU and others who imposed duties on U.S. exports allegedly because countries were treating the national security law used by the Trump Administration as essentially a safeguard law. Decisions in those cases are now due in the second half of 2021. The EU would like the U.S. to simply terminate the duties. There are steel using industries that support such possible action. However, the global excess capacity problems created by China and others in steel and aluminum remain and have no obvious solution particularly in light of China’s refusal to address the massive capacity increases in the sectors which has destabilized global markets. U.S. steel companies, primary aluminum producers and workers support maintaining the duties.

But all in all, the United States in the first weeks of the Biden Administration is working to reengage multilaterally and to see if there are solutions available to resolve a range of long standing conflicts. USTR during the Trump Administration did an admirable job in identifying and documenting problems with WTO dispute settlement and providing approaches under U.S. law to deal with vexing problems where multilateral approaches were not progressing or were inadequate. The Biden Administration has the opportunity now to hopefully find solutions that work for America and restores greater cooperation in Transatlantic relations. With the efforts being made by the Biden Administration, one is seeing interest within the EU to resolve all or many of the major disputes with the U.S. and work on pressing issues of interest to the EU and the U.S. including.recovery from the pandemic, climate change, WTO reform and more.

Better transatlantic relations is an important element in moving the global economy forward in ways that reflect democratic and market-based principles. Let’s hope that win-win solutions are possible on the existing challenges so long delayed momentum on existential issues can be generated.

U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement — Data through December 2020; China has increased purchases of agricultural and energy products above 2017 levels but did not reach first year agreed purchases in 2020 and won’t reach the agreed level even if measured from March 2020-February 2021

U.S. December export data were released earlier this week. While there are some improvements in some categories of merchandise exports in December (particularly in major agricultural categories, liquefied natural gas and crude oil), China remains far behind its overall commitments in the U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement for first year purchases of U.S. goods. As reported in prior posts, both China and the U.S. have taken steps to implement parts of the Phase 1 Agreement that took effect on February 14, 2020, although the level of actual implementation remains unclear. With a change of U.S. Administrations on January 20, 2021, it is unclear what the Biden Administration’s approach will be to China and its myriad trade practices that have been of concern to businesses, workers, Congress and the prior Administration.

Prior posts on the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement can be found here: January 9, 2021, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement — Data through November 2020; China has increased purchases of agricultural and energy products above 2017 levels but will not reach first year agreed purchases in 2020 whether measured on a calendar basis or on a March 2020-February 2021 basis, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/09/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-data-through-november-2020-china-has-increased-purchases-of-agricultural-and-energy-products-above-2017-levels-but-will-not-reach-first-year-agreed-purchases-in/; December 10, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – data through October 2020; while China has increased purchases of agricultural and some other products, China remains far behind on the agreed purchases in 2020 whether measured on a calendar basis or on a March 2020-February 2021 basis, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-data-through-october-2020-while-china-has-increased-purchases-of-agricultural-and-some-other-products-china-remains-far-behind-on-the-agreed-purchases-in-2020-w/; November 13, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement – Data through September 2020; USDA and USTR report on agriculture portion, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/13/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-data-through-september-2020-usda-and-ustr-report-on-agriculture-portion/; October 10, 2020,  U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – first six months data on U.S. exports (March-August 2020) covered by the purchase commitments show China needing to triple purchases in next five months to meet first year commitments, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-first-six-months-data-on-u-s-exports-march-august-2020-covered-by-the-purchase-commitments-show-china-needing-to-triple-purchases-in-next-six-months-to-meet-fi/; September 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Trade Agreement – How is China Doing to Meet Purchase Commitments for the First Year; a Review of U.S. Domestic Exports through July 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/09/12/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-how-is-china-doing-to-meet-purchase-commitments-for-the-first-year-a-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-july-2020/; August 8, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement – review of U.S. domestic exports through June 2020, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/08/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-review-of-u-s-domestic-exports-through-june-2020/; July 10, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement – limited progress on increased U.S. exports to China (through May), https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/10/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-limited-progress-on-increased-u-s-exports-to-china-through-may/; June 5, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Deal is Failing Expanded U.S. Exports Even Before Recent Efforts by China to Limit Certain U.S. Agriculture Exports as Retaliation for U.S. Position on Hong Kong, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/06/05/u-s-china-phase-i-deal-is-failing-expanded-u-s-exports-even-before-recent-efforts-by-china-to-limit-certain-u-s-agriculture-exports-as-retaliation-for-u-s-position-on-hong-kong/; May 12, 2020, U.S.-China Phase I Agreement – some progress on structural changes; far behind on trade in goods and services, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/12/u-s-china-phase-i-agreement-some-progress-on-structural-changes-far-behind-on-trade-in-goods-and-services/; January 19, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement – Details on the Expanding Trade Chapter, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/19/u-s-china-phase-1-agreement-details-on-the-expanding-trade-chapter/; January 15, 2020, U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement Signed on January 15 – An Impressive Agreement if Enforced, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/15/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-signed-on-january-15-an-impressive-agreement-if-enforced/.

An unusual aspect of the Phase 1 Agreement is agreement by China to increase imports from the United States of various categories of goods and services during the first two years of the Agreement with 18 categories of goods grouped in three broad categories (manufactured goods, agriculture and energy) and five services categories. Chinese imports of goods and services from the United States under the Agreement are supposed to increase by $76.7 billion in the first year over levels achieved in 2017 and in the second year by $123.3 billion over 2017 levels. The categories and tariff items included in the goods categories are reviewed in Annex 6.1 of the Agreement and the attachment to Annex 6.1. In the confidential version of the agreement, growth levels are provided for each of the 23 categories of goods and services.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected trade flows for most countries including both China and the United States and while bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated since the signing of the Phase 1 Agreement, China continues to indicate its intention to honor the Phase I Agreement. Article 6.2 of the Agreement defines the time period for the purchase commitments as being January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021. So the first year by agreement is calendar year 2020.

However, since the Agreement took effect in mid-February, my analysis has focused on the period since the agreement went into effect (for statistics, from March 1, 2020). This is consistent with the position that USTR and USDA took in an interim report released on October 23 looking at China’s compliance with its purchase commitments in agriculture. “It is worth noting that the Phase One Agreement did not go into effect until February 14, 2020, and March is the first full month of its effect. That means that we have seen seven months of agreement sales.” U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Interim Report on the Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, AGRICULTURAL TRADE, October 23, 2020, Page 1.

For purposes of this post, I will look at the March-December data, but I will also reference calendar 2020 data.

Looking at U.S. domestic exports for the March – December period and projecting for a full twelve months (March 2020-February 2021) shows China meeting 94.31% of first year agriculture commitments, and significantly above 2017 actual levels. Total Phase 1 products are projected at only 59.81% of first year commitments with manufactured goods at 52.37% and energy at 41.70%. While agriculture products are projected to exceed 2017 actual by $10.6 billion and energy is projected to exceed 2017 by $3.3 billion, manufactured goods are projected to be $10.5 billion smaller than 2017 actual. Compared to first year purchase commitments, total U.S. Phase I goods exports are projected to be $60.5 billion short of the agreed first year level.

If calendar year 2020 is examined, then U.S. domestic exports of all Phase 1 goods met only 55.64% of the agreed levels with manufactured goods at 51.80%, agricultural products at 81.58% and energy goods at 35.92%.

Under either first year period examined, agricultural and energy product have exceeded what was achieved in 2017 during the first year, though that will not be the case for manufactured goods. Under neither scenario do any of the three goods groupings meeting the first year agreed commitments.

To meet first year commitments, China would have to import monthly 5.03 times the product from the United States as was done in the first ten months in the next two months (January – February). On a calendar basis, U.S. domestic exports missed the agreed level on goods by $66.8 billion

Under the March-February analysis using data through December, the U.S. domestic exports of goods covered by Phase I to China for the first ten months were slightly ahead of 2017 levels ($75.1 billion vs. $73.6 billion) and are projected to exceed the actual 2017 U.S. exports ($90.125 billion projected vs. $86.795 billion 2017 actual). The calendar year 2020 missed the 2017 actual by almost $3 billion ($83.849 billion vs. the 2017 actiual of $86.795 billion). Moreover, since non-covered U.S. exports have declined in 2020 versus 2017, under neither scenario do total U.S. domestic exports reach the 2017 level of $120 billion ($117.258 billion projected for the March-February period; $110.576 billion actual for calendar 2020).

U.S. export data on services are available quarterly for some of the relevant categories and annually for certain information. Total U.S. services exports to all countries are down 20.40% for calendar year 2020. Services trade data with China for 2020 is available for the first nine months of 2020 and shows U.S. exports of services down 34.08% in the first three quarters of 2020 versus 2019. 2019 US exports of services to China were $56.537 billion, slightly higher than 2017 US exports of services to China of $54.981 billion. See U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, November 2020 (January 7, 2021) and December 2020 (February 5, 2021). The Phase 1 Agreement with China has large increases in U.S. services exports in the first year of the agreement ($12.8 billion over 2017 levels). Thus, the limited data available indicate that U.S. services exports to China will likely miss 2017 levels by more than 32% and will obviously not show any gain above 2017.

Looking at total U.S. domestic exports of goods to China for the period March-December 2020, U.S. exports were $98.059 billion ($9.806 billion/month) compared to $101.749 billion in 2017 ($10.175 billion/month). These include both products covered by the Annex 6.1 commitments and other products. For calendar year 2020 total U.S. domestic exports to China were $110.576 billion ($9.215 billion/month) compared to $120.109 billion in 2017 ($10.009 billion/month).

Total 2017 U.S. domestic exports of goods to China were $120.1 billion. The Phase 1 Agreement calls for increases on a subset of goods of $63.9 billion in the first year. Thus, the target for the first year of the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is U.S. exports to China of $184 billion if non-subject goods are exported at 2017 levels.

Other U.S. domestic exports not covered by the 18 categories in Annex 6.1 were $33.314 billion in 2017 (full year). For the period March – December, non-covered products (which face significant tariffs in China based on retaliation for US 301 duties) have declined 18.55%, and total exports to China are down 3.63%. Looking at 2020 calendar figures show other U.S. domestic exports (i.e., not covered by the Phase I Agreement) were down 19.78% from comparable levels in 2017.

Thus, the first ten months since the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement went into effect suggest that U.S. domestic exports of the Annex 6 goods will be $90.125 billion if the full year shows the same level of increase over 2017 for each of the 18 categories of goods; non-covered products would be $27.133 billion, for total U.S. domestic exports to China of $117.259 billion. This figure would be below 2017 and dramatically below the target of $184.0 billion (if noncovered products remain are at 2017 levels; $177.421 billion with noncovered products at estimated 2020 levels) . The projected U.S. domestic exports to China would, however, be higher than the $109.72 billion in 2018 and the depresssed figure of $94.100 billion in 2019.

If one looks at calendar year 2020 actual data, U.S. domestic exports to China of Annex 6 goods were $83.849 billion, other exports of $26.726 billion, for total domestic exports in 2020 of $110.576 billion even further behind 2017.

To achieve the target level of U.S. exports in the January-February 2021 period, U.S. domestic exports of the 18 categories of goods in Annex 6.1 would have to be $75.573 billion ($37.786 billion/month) an amount that is 5.02 times the monthly rate of exports of the 18 categories to China in the March – December 2020 period ($7.512 billion/month).

As noted earlier, if one uses the 2020 calendar period, U.S. domestic exports of goods in Annex 6.1 fell $66.846 billion short of the first year agreed amounts.

Chinese data on total imports from all countries (in U.S. dollars) for calendar year 2020 show a decline of 1.1% from 2019. http://english.customs.gov.cn/statics/report/monthly.html. General Administrator of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Total Export & Import Values, December 2020 (in USD). China’s imports from the U.S. were up 9.8% during the same time period, but show imports from the U.S. substantially larger than U.S. domestic exports ($134.907 billion vs. $110.576 billion, though Chinese imports would be CIF value vs. FAS value for U.S. exports and may include U.S. exports to third countries or territories that end up in China).

The 18 product categories included in Annex 6.1 of the Phase 1 Agreement show the following for March-December 2017, March-December 2020 and rate of growth for the first year of the Agreement (figures in $ million):

Product categoryMarch-December 2017March-December 2020% change 2017-2020 March-December$ Value needed in next two months to reach 1st year of Agreement vs. projected 1st year
manufactured goods
1. industrial machinery $8,241.5
$10,380.4

+11.78%
2. electrical equipment and machinery $3,628.4
$4,050.7
+11.64%
3. pharma- ceutical products $1,833.2 $2,708.2
+48.68%
4. aircraft (orders and deliveries) $14,287.1 $3,405.9 -76.16%
5. vehicles $8,591.0
$5,339.5
-37.85%
6. optical and medical instruments $2,708.7
$3,024.1
+11.64%
7. iron and steel
$1,000.0
$428.2
–57.19%
8. other manufactured goods $9,233.2 $11,531.5 +24.89%
Total for mfg goods
$50,152.2
$40,819.5
-19.19%
$50,449.9
Agriculture
9. oilseeds $9,412.8 $13,249.3 +40.76%
10. meat $474.1 $2,692.4 +467.93%
11. cereals $1,110.1 $2,881.0 +159.53%
12. cotton $699.6 $1,638.9 +134.27%
13. other agricultural commodities $3,852.4
$3,920.0
+1.75%
14. seafood $1,128.0 $629.8 -44.18%
Total for agriculture $16,676.9 $25,011.4 +49.98% $ 8,340.3
Energy
15. liquefied natural gas
$365.8

$1,295.2

+254.05%
16. crude oil $3,726.8 $6,388.7 +71.43%
17. refined products $1,953.0
$1,447.9
-25.80%
18. coal $353.1 $159.7 -54.78%
Total for energy $6,398.7 $9,291.5 +45.21% $16,782.5
Total for 1-18 $73,587.8 $75,122.4 +2.09% $75,572.7

China has recovered more quickly from COVID-19 economic challenges than has the U.S. However, as reviewed above, their total imports from all countries are down 1.1% in calendar year 2020 while up 9.8% from the United States. Thus, the Phase 1 Agreement appeaers to have contributed to some improved U.S. export performance to China even if China is far away from meeting the year one commitments.

Conclusion

As reviewed in prior posts, the U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement is a potentially important agreement which attempts to address a range of U.S. concerns with the bilateral relationship and obtain somewhat better reciprocity with the world’s largest exporter. The Phase 1 Agreement has left other challenges to a Phase 2 negotiation which has not yet begun. It is unclear what the Biden Administration approach will be.

While there has been some progress on non-trade volume issues that are included in the Phase 1 Agreement and some significant improvements in exports of U.S. agricultural goods, there has been very little forward movement in expanding total U.S. exports of goods to China in fact and a sharp decline in U.S. exports of services to China.

The differences in economic systems between China and the United States have made reliance on WTO rules less relevant to the Trump Administration as those rules presume market-based economies and presently don’t address the myriad distortions that flow from the Chinese state capital system. Thus, the Phase I Agreement was an effort to move the needle in trade relations with China to achieve greater reciprocity. It has had some limited success to date. It will be interesting to see the approach on trade with China taken by the Biden Administration when its trade team is onboard.

Biden Administration throws support behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for next Director-General of the World Trade Organization

The Office of the United States Trade Represenstative released the following press release on February 5, 2021:

“02/05/2021

“Washington, DC – The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala brings a wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy from her 25 years with the World Bank and two terms as Nigerian Finance Minister.  She is widely respected for her effective leadership and has proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.  

“The Biden-Harris Administration also congratulates Minister Yoo Myung-hee on her strong campaign for this position.  She is a trailblazer as the Republic of Korea’s first female trade minister and the first candidate from Korea to advance this far in the Director General selection process.  The United States respects her decision to withdraw her candidacy from the Director General race to help facilitate a consensus decision at the WTO.

“It is particularly important to underscore that two highly qualified women made it to the final round of consideration for the position of WTO Director General — the first time that any woman has made it to this stage in the history of the institution.  

“The United States stands ready to engage in the next phase of the WTO process for reaching a consensus decision on the WTO Director General.  The Biden-Harris Administration looks forward to working with a new WTO Director General to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO.”

USTR Press Release, Office of the United States Trade Representative Statement on the Director General of the World Trade Organization, February 5, 2021,https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/february/office-united-states-trade-representative-statement-director-general-world-trade-organization.

As reviewed in a post earlier today, the Chair of the WTO’s General Council can call a General Council meeting at any time to consider his recommendation for the next Director-General. See February 5, 2021, WTO Director-General selection process — withdrawal of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo important step to consensus behind Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/05/wto-director-general-selection-process-withdrawal-of-koreas-trade-minister-yoo-important-step-to-consensus-behind-nigerias-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala/.

The combination of the Korean withdrawal of Minister Yoo from the selection process and the U.S. indication that it supports Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position of Director-General should permit the process to come to a conclusion in the coming week or weeks based on any remaining consultations the Chair of the General Council perceives are warranted before placing Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s name on the General Council agenda for consideration by the membership. There is a regularly scheduled General Council meeting set for March 1-2, 2021. I would expect that a special session of the General Council could be called as early as next week.

The Biden Administration’s action is consistent with the President’s declared intent to be more active within multilateral institutions and will permit the WTO to move past the selection of the next Director-General to the important issues in front of the organization. Today’s action is an important one to help the WTO look at the major pending issues and the need for major reform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

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

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

agric_report_e

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

208R2-3

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


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

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

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

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

2021-01711

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

BRIEFING ROOM

A Proclamation on Adjusting Imports of Aluminum Into the United States

FEBRUARY 01, 2021 • PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS

ADJUSTING IMPORTS OF ALUMINUM INTO THE UNITED STATES

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

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

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

___________________________________________________________

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

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

Broader interest in Biden Administration approach to Section 232

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

U.S. perspective

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

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

WTO Panel report on UNITED STATES – ANTI-DUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTIES ON CERTAIN PRODUCTS AND THE USE OF FACTS AVAILABLE should be appealed by the United States

On January 21, 2021, the WTO panel that had been composed back on 5 December 2018 issued its report in UNITED STATES – ANTI-DUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTIES ON CERTAIN PRODUCTS AND THE USE OF FACTS AVAILABLE, WT/DS539/R. Korea had requested consultations on a series of antidumping and countervailing investigations and reviews on February 14, 2018 and a panel had been established on May 28, 2018. See WT/DS539/R at para. 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5.

Korea mounted a broad attack on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s use of facts available in a number of antidumping and countervailing duty proceedings largely pertaining to the same major Korean company with a long record of participation in various U.S. trade remedy cases.

For investigating authorities working under a statutory timeline and time limits existing within the Agreement on Implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (“ADA”) and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (“ASCM”), it is important that parties provide complete information in a timely manner. While WTO obligations require administering authorities to flag deficiencies and provide an opportunity to respondents to correct such deficiencies, administering authorities need the ability to cut off submissions and move to decision at a reasonably early period to permit all work to be done in verifying information (investigations), providing other parties a chance to comment and challenge information provided.

Where a party fails to provide information requested, the administering authority is authorized to use facts available. As stated in Article 6.8 of the ADA and Article 12.7 of the ASCM, “In cases in which any interested party refuses access to, or otherwise does not provide, necessary information within a reasonable period or significantly impedes the investigation, preliminary and final determinations, affirmative or negative, may be made on the basis of the facts available.” Art. 6.8 of the ADA then adds, “The provisions of Annex II shall be observed in the application of this paragraph.” Similar language is not in Art. 12.7 of the ASCM (changes to the ADA during the Uruguay Round of negotiations were typically adopted in the ASCM as they related to trade remedy proceedings, although changes made at the end of the negotiations to the ADA were not brought into the ASCM due to timing limitations).

Annex II of the ADA consists of seven paragraphs and is copied below.

“Annex II: Best Information Available in Terms of Paragraph 8 of Article 6

“1.   As soon as possible after the initiation of the investigation, the investigating authorities should specify in detail the information required from any interested party, and the manner in which that information should be structured by the interested party in its response. The authorities should also ensure that the party is aware that if information is not supplied within a reasonable time, the authorities will be free to make determinations on the basis of the facts available, including those contained in the application for the initiation of the investigation by the domestic industry.

“2.   The authorities may also request that an interested party provide its response in a particular medium (e.g. computer tape) or computer language. Where such a request is made, the authorities should consider the reasonable ability of the interested party to respond in the preferred medium or computer language, and should not request the party to use for its response a computer system other than that used by the party. The authority should not maintain a request for a computerized response if the interested party does not maintain computerized accounts and if presenting the response as requested would result in an unreasonable extra burden on the interested party, e.g. it would entail unreasonable additional cost and trouble. The authorities should not maintain a request for a response in a particular medium or computer language if the interested party does not maintain its computerized accounts in such medium or computer language and if presenting the response as requested would result in an unreasonable extra burden on the interested party, e.g. it would entail unreasonable additional cost and trouble.

“3.   All information which is verifiable, which is appropriately submitted so that it can be used in the investigation without undue difficulties, which is supplied in a timely fashion, and, where applicable, which is supplied in a medium or computer language requested by the authorities, should be taken into account when determinations are made. If a party does not respond in the preferred medium or computer language but the authorities find that the circumstances set out in paragraph 2 have been satisfied, the failure to respond in the preferred medium or computer language should not be considered to significantly impede the investigation.

“4.   Where the authorities do not have the ability to process information if provided in a particular medium (e.g. computer tape), the information should be supplied in the form of written material or any other form acceptable to the authorities.

“5.   Even though the information provided may not be ideal in all respects, this should not justify the authorities from disregarding it, provided the interested party has acted to the best of its ability.

“6.   If evidence or information is not accepted, the supplying party should be informed forthwith of the reasons therefor, and should have an opportunity to provide further explanations within a reasonable period, due account being taken of the time-limits of the investigation. If the explanations are considered by the authorities as not being satisfactory, the reasons for the rejection of such evidence or information should be given in any published determinations.

“7.   If the authorities have to base their findings, including those with respect to normal value, on information from a secondary source, including the information supplied in the application for the initiation of the investigation, they should do so with special circumspection. In such cases, the authorities should, where practicable, check the information from other independent sources at their disposal, such as published price lists, official import statistics and customs returns, and from the information obtained from other interested parties during the investigation. It is clear, however, that if an interested party does not cooperate and thus relevant information is being withheld from the authorities, this situation could lead to a result which is less favourable to the party than if the party did cooperate.” (emphasis added).

Antidumping and countervailing duty proceedings in the United States are very transparent with full access to information on the record available to parties under administrative protective order and with many opportunities to submit comments, raise questions, seek clarification or respond to additional inquiries flowing from earlier responses. It is quite common for Commerce to receive requests for more time to respond to the initial questionnaire and to any supplemental requests flowing from developments. Responding parties can determine whether or not to submit all information, partial information or no information. Questionnaire responses are often incomplete or adopt interpretations of what has been requested to provide less than complete information. In antidumping investigations, it is not uncommon for respondent data bases to change during the course of the investigation, sometimes markedly. Briefing after the preliminary determination permits challenges to the preliminary determination by all parties, including challenges to use of facts available. While there are always legal issues that are briefed, facts available issues are fact-based issues flowing from whether parties cooperated, withheld information, failed to supply requested information, etc., and if so, what alternative information is available that can be used.

The ADA provides special provisions on dispute settlement in Article 17.6. The approach on review of facts is laid out in Article 17.6(i) of the ADA (there is no counterpart in the ASCM for the reason that Art. 17.6 of the ADA was added at the end of the Uruguay Round without chance to consider adopting a parallel provision in the ASCM). Art. 17.6(i) states:

“17.6  In examining the matter referred to in paragraph 5:

“(i)   in its assessment of the facts of the matter, the panel shall determine whether the authorities’ establishment of the facts was proper and whether their evaluation of those facts was unbiased and objective. If the establishment of the facts was proper and the evaluation was unbiased and objective, even though the panel might have reached a different conclusion, the evaluation shall not be overturned;”

Article 17.6 was added to the ADA at the end of the Uruguay Round at the insistence of the United States which was interested in seeing that very complicated and detailed administrative proceedings were not second guessed by panels or the Appellate Body which would not have been involved in the proceeding or have access to all materials. Art. 17.6(i) deals with providing deference to administering authorities on facts. Art. 17.6(ii) does the same for legal interpretations for provisions subject to more than one meaning.

The panel report, following other panel and Appellate Body reports that have been problematic from the U.S. perspective, doesn’t view Art. 17.6(i) as being deferential to an investigating authority as long as the authority hasn’t conducted the investigation in a biased or non-objective manner or somehow established facts improperly. See WT/DS539/R at para. 7.23 – 7.36 (after a review of the meaning of ADA Art. 6.8 and Annex II, the panel sums its view of the panel’s task to be the following: “In sum, we consider that the terms of Article 6.8, interpreted in light of their context and object and purpose, require investigating authorities to select – in an unbiased and objective manner – those facts available that constitute reasonable replacements for the missing “necessary” information in the specific facts and circumstances of a given case. In doing so, investigating authorities must take into account all facts that are properly available to them. In selecting the replacement facts, Article 6.8 does not require investigating authorities to select those facts that are most ‘favourable’ to the non-cooperating party. Investigating authorities may take into account the procedural circumstances in which information is missing, but Article 6.8 does not condone the selection of replacement facts for the purpose of punishing interested parties.”).

In reading the panel report, the Commerce Department is not given deference for its decisions of what facts available should be used. Thus, that violations were found for how Commerce determined facts available in each of the six proceedings reflect the panel reaching a different conclusion than Commerce. But while the panel may have reached a different result than Commerce, that by itself does not constitute a basis under Art. 17.6(i) to find a violation.

Conclusion

The constant limiting by panel and Appellate Body reports of the ability to utilize trade remedy agreements is, of course, the main substantive concern that the United States has with the operation of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement system, although there are examples of the same problem in other areas covered by panel or AB reports as well. Last week’s panel report on Korea’s challenge to U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty proceedings on the use of facts available continues to undermine the legitimacy of WTO dispute settlement.

Accordingly, the Biden Administration should file an appeal from last week’s panel decision and ensure that any eventual resolution of the Appellate Body impasse includes a restoration of rights that have narrowed or eliminated under the trade remedy or trade defense agreements (ADA, ASCM and safeguard).

Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General

With the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. accomplished, a number of former U.S. officials and others — many with roles in U.S. relations with one or more countries in Africa — wrote President Biden urging him to back Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the Director-General post at the WTO. See All Africa, Africa: Former U.S. Officials Call on Biden to Back WTO Selection for Okonjo-Iweala, 22 January 2021, https://allafrica.com/stories/202101220055.html?utm_campaign=allafrica%3Aeditor&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=promote%3Aaans%3Aababae.

The Trump Administration had opposed forming a consensus behind Dr. Okonjo-Iweala despite her having received the largest level of support from WTO Members and, pursuant to the procedures being followed (and that were consistent with procedures adopted by the General Council at the end of 2002) was found to be the candidate most likely to command a consensus. According to para. 19 of the 2002 procedures, “At the end of the final stage of the consultative process, the Chair, with the support of the facilitators, shall submit the name of the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommend his or her appointment by the General Council.” WT/L/509, para. 19. Korea’s candidate, Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, did not withdraw as required by the procedures. As noted, the United States indicated it could not join a consensus around Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on the basis of the belief that the WTO needed a Director-General with extensive trade expertise and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not possess that background. As a result, the Chair of the General Council has not put forward Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to the General Council for a decision, and the WTO remains without a Director-General.

I have reviewed these developments in prior posts. See, e.g., January 19, 2021,   The next Director-General of the WTO – USTR Lighthizer’s comments to the Financial Times, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/19/the-next-director-general-of-the-wto-ustr-lighthizers-comments-to-the-financial-times/; November 19, 2020, The WTO selection process for the next Director-General – possible steps that can be taken in the coming weeks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/19/the-wto-selection-process-for-the-next-director-general-possible-steps-that-can-be-taken-in-the-coming-weeks/; November 10, 2020, The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/; November 6, 2020, Postponement of WTO General Council meeting to consider recommendation of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next Director-General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/06/postponement-of-wto-general-council-meeting-to-consider-recommendation-of-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-director-general/; October 29, 2020, WTO press release from informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 28 and Amb. Walker’s statement to the WTO membership on the outcome of the third round of consultations in the Director-General selection process, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/wto-press-release-from-informal-heads-of-delegation-meeting-on-october-28-and-amb-walkers-statement-to-the-wto-membership-on-the-outcome-of-the-third-round-of-consultations-in-the-director-general/; October 29, 2020, October 29th video discussion on WTO Director-General selection process following the announcement of results of third round of consultations and U.S. announcement of not backing the candidate with the greatest support, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/october-29th-video-discussion-on-wto-director-general-selection-process-following-the-announcement-of-third-round-of-consultations-and-u-s-aanouncement-of-not-backing-the-candidate-with-the-greatest/; October 29, 2020, U.S. support for Minister Yoo for WTO Director-General premised on need for person with trade expertise, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/29/u-s-support-for-minister-yoo-for-wto-director-general-premised-on-need-for-person-with-trade-expertise/; October 28, 2020:  WTO Director-General selection process doesn’t generate immediate consensus, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/10/28/wto-director-general-selection-process-doesnt-generate-immediate-consensus/.

The letter sent to President Biden was signed by thirty-seven individuals, many with prior State Department responsibilities (many involving Africa), some from USTR and other government agencies or the White House (some with Africa responsibilities), some from private companies (often working in Africa) or from academia. The list as it appears in the All Africa publication with stated prior and current affiliations is copied below.

The Hon. Mimi Alemayehou
Former Executive Vice President, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
Former U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank

Ambassador Johnnie Carson
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs
Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda

Teresa Clarke
Chairman and CEO, Africa.com

Ambassador Herman J. “Hank” Cohen
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
President & CEO, Cohen and Woods International

Akunna Cook
Former U.S. Foreign Service Officer
Founder and Principal, Drake Road Strategies

John G. Coumantaros
Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria
Chairman CEO of Southern Star Shipping Co Inc (New York)
Founding Member of US Nigeria Council

Ambassador Ruth Davis
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin
Former Director, U.S. Foreign Service Institute
Former Director General, U.S. Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources

The Hon. Vivian Lowery Derryck
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary (EEO and Civil Rights), U.S. Department of State
Founder of the Bridges Institute
Former Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID

The Hon. Lauri Fitz-Pegado
Former Assistant Secretary
Director General, U.S. Foreign Commercial Service

Melvin Foote
President & CEO, Constituency for Africa

The Hon. Tony Fratto
Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
Former White House Deputy Press Secretary
Managing Partner Hamilton Place Strategies

Ambassador Jendayi Frazer
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa
Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council
President & CEO, 50 Ventures LLC

Ambassador Michelle D. Gavin
Former U.S. Ambassador to Botswana
Former Senior Director for Africa, National Security Council

Dr. Gloria Herndon
Former Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
Chair Corporate Board, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
CEO, GB Group

Cameron Hudson
Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Africa Center

Ambassador Makila James (ret.)
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, East Africa and The Sudans, U.S. Department of State
Former U.S. Ambassador to The Kingdom of Swaziland

Ambassador (ret.) Howard F. Jeter
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Botswana
Former Special Presidential Envoy to Liberia

Jeffrey Krilla
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Florie Liser
Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa
President and CEO of Corporate Council on Africa (CCA)

Clay Lowery
Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury
Former Director, International Finance, National Security Council

Ambassador (ret.) Terence P. McCulley
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire
Chairman, US-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade and Investment

Mora McLean
President Emerita, Historian, and Program Strategist, The Africa-America Institute
Former Chair, USTR Trade Advisory Committee on Africa

Cheryl Mills
Former Counselor and Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of State
Former Deputy Counsel to the President, The White House

Todd Moss, PhD
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Ambassador John Negroponte
First Director, National Intelligence
Former Ambassador to the United Nations
Former Deputy Secretary of State

The Hon. Constance Berry Newman
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Chair of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network

Thomas R. Nides
Former Chief of Staff, Office of the United States Trade Representative
Former Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, U.S. Department of State
Vice Chairman, Morgan Stanley

Bernadette Paolo
Former Staff Director, U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa
Co-founder & Former CEO, The Africa Society

Bobby J. Pittman
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Finance and Debt, U.S. Department of Treasury
Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, White House

Pearl Robinson
Associate Professor, Tufts University
Past President, The African Studies Association

Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
Former U.S. Ambassador to ECOWAS
Former U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Congo
Former Africa Director, National Security Council
CEO-FEEEDS

Jeannine B. Scott
Chairman, Constituency for Africa (CFA)
Principal, America to Africa Consulting (A2A)
Former Alternate & Advisor to the U.S. ED at the African Development Bank

Timothy Shortley
Former Director, African Affairs, National Security Council
Chief Operating Officer, 50 Ventures, LLC

Ambassador John Simon
Former Senior Director, National Security Council
Former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union
Managing Partner, Total Impact Capital
Member, USTR Trade Advisory Committee for Africa

The Hon. Gayle Smith
Former Administrator, USAID
Former Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council

Joseph E. Stiglitz
Former member and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
University Professor, Columbia University
Chief Economist, Roosevelt Institute
Former Chief Economist of the World Bank
Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, 2001

Rosa Whitaker
Former Assistant United States Trade Representative for Africa
President, The Whitaker Group

It is unclear whether the Biden Administration will take trade actions ahead of having the USTR nominee, Katherine Tai, confirmed. In prior posts, I have indicated that I hoped the Biden Administration would quickly alert the WTO to its willingness to join a consensus for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becoming the next Director-General. While there is little doubt that Minister Yoo has a greater trade background that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a trade background is not critical to being a successful WTO Director-General. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has very strong credentials and was supported by the vast majority of the membership. If the U.S. indicates it is willing to join the consensus that action will almost certainly result in Korea withdrawing Minister Yoo as a candidate. These two actions would put the WTO membership back on track to abide by the procedures agreed by the General Council and being used in the 2020 Director-General selection process. Most importantly, it would get the WTO a new Director-General. Such a result is a first step in moving the WTO in the right direction going forward. The letter from former U.S. officials and others is the right message for the Biden Administration to receive. Hopefully, the President will act quickly on this particular issue.

Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?

In yesterday’s post (January 24), I reviewed the continued widespread human rights issue of child labor and forced labor in the production of a wide range of products (agricultural, manufactured, mined products) in many countries around the world. Such actions raise trade concerns by distorting the costs of production of products made with such labor and hence potentially skewing trade flows towards producers “benefitting” from the use of such labor. See January 24, 2021:  Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. In the United States, imports of products made with such labor are supposed to be banned. I had concluded by arguing that the WTO should develop information that would help Members understand the quantity of products that are made with child or forced labor and permit Members to then decide what actions were needed to eliminate or offset such practices.

I received a comment on yesterday’s post from Amb. Dennis Shea, the Former Deputy United States Trade Representative and Chief of Mission on international trade issues in Geneva and the Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the WTO (2017-January 2021). Amb. Shea’s comment focused on cotton. He said, “The WTO’s Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (COA-SS) and its Cotton Subcommittee are charged with examining all trade-distorting policies affecting the cotton sector in order to discharge its mandate properly. It seems to me that the COA-SS and Cotton Subcommittee should examine recent reports of widespread forced labor in the picking of cotton in the Xinjiang Province of China. It is my understanding that Xinjiang accounts for nearly 20 percent of global cotton exports, so it’s probably not a stretch to say that forced labor practices there (horrific from a human rights standpoint) are also distorting global cotton prices.”

While cotton is but one of many products believed to be produced by child and/or forced labor, it is an important product globally. The fact that there may be an existing WTO mechanism for developing the relevant information is potentially important.

In yesterday’s post, I had referenced an upcoming WITA virtual webinar, The U.S. Moves Against Forced Labor in Xinjiang, being held this Wednesday, January 27. One of the speakers at the event is Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Washington, D.C. One of the papers referenced in a recent WITA note is by Dr. Zenz for the Center for Global Policy entitled “Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton” (December 2020), https://cgpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/20201214-PB-China-Zenz-1-3.pdf. The paper confirms that Xinjiang produces 20% of global cotton and nearly 84.9% of all cotton produced in China. Id. at 3. The Executive Summary of the paper states in part (page 3) —

“The evidence shows that in 2018, three Uyghur regions alone mobilized at least 570,000 persons into cotton-picking operations through the government’s coercive labor training and transfer scheme. Xinjiang’s total labor transfer of ethnic minorities into cotton picking likely exceeds that figure by several hundred thousand.

“Despite increased mechanization, cotton picking in Xinjiang continues to rely strongly on manual labor. In 2019, about 70 percent of the region’s cotton fields had to be picked by hand – especially the high-quality
long-staple cotton predominantly grown in southern Xinjiang’s Uyghur regions, where mechanized picking shares are low. State policies have greatly increased the numbers of local ethnic minority pickers, reducing
reliance on outside Han Chinese migrant laborers. The intensive two- to three-month period of cotton picking represents a strategic opportunity to boost rural incomes, and therefore plays a key role in achieving the state’s poverty alleviation targets. These targets are mainly achieved through coercive labor transfers.

“Cotton picking is grueling and typically poorly paid work. Labor transfers involve coercive mobilization
through local work teams, transfers of pickers in tightly supervised groups, and intrusive on-site surveillance by government officials and (in at least some cases) police officers. Government supervision teams monitor pickers, checking that they have a “stable” state of mind, and administer political indoctrination sessions. Some regions put Uyghur children and elderly persons into centralized care while working-age adults
are away on state-assigned cotton-picking work assignments. While not directly related to the campaign of mass internment, these labor transfers can include persons who have been released from internment camps.

“The data presented in this report provides strong evidence that the production of the majority of Xinjiang’s cotton involves a coercive, state-run program targeting ethnic minority groups.”

China is not the only country where the U.S. Department of Labor has identified production of cotton is likely done with child labor, forced labor or child labor and forced labor. See USDOL, 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, September 2020, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2019/2020_TVPRA_List_Online_Final.pdf. Indeed many of the world’s largest cotton producers are listed in the report as likely producing cotton with child labor, forced labor or both child labor and forced labor:

Child labor: Argentina, Azerbaizan, Brazil, Egypt, India, Kyrgyz Republic, Mali, Turkey, Zambia.

Forced labor: Pakistan, Uzbekistan

Child labor and forced labor: China, India (cottonseed), Turkmenistan.

In the past there has been one WTO dispute on subsidies to cotton producers in the United States. See UNITED STATES – SUBSIDIES ON UPLAND COTTON, WT/DS267 (case brought by Brazil). I have been unable to find information on the WTO webpage that indicates the question of child or forced labor as a subsidy or other form of nontariff barrier has ever been examined at the WTO whether on cotton or more broadly.

For the last seventeen years, there has been concern about distortions to the cotton trade and the harm to countries for which cotton is a major export product. The breakout of cotton occurred at the request of the so-called Cotton Four — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. See Cotton, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/agric_e/cotton_e.htm.

“Cotton is discussed at the WTO on two tracks: 1) the trade reforms needed to address subsidies and high trade barriers for cotton, and 2) the assistance provided to the cotton sector in developing countries.

“The trade aspects of cotton are handled by the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session including through dedicated discussions on trade in cotton. The development assistance aspects of cotton are discussed in the meetings of the ‘Director-General’s Consultative Framework Mechanism on Cotton’.

“These various tracks of discussion have been developed over the years as a response to a series of proposals to address the sector tabled by four African countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — known as the Cotton Four or C4.”

While WTO Members are supposed to be reporting information on various categories of data (including domestic support) on cotton and on non-tariff barriers affecting trade in cotton, the latest WTO Secretariat compilation of information does not indicate that Members were asked about or provided information on the benefits to domestic cotton production from child labor and/or forced labor. See COTTON — BACKGROUND PAPER BY THE SECRETARIAT, TN/AG/GEN/34/Rev.13, TN/AG/SCC/GEN/13/Rev.13, 2 November 2020 (and Add.1 and Add.2); COTTON — MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 7 DECEMBER 2013, WT/MIN(13)/41, WT/L/916, 11 December 2013 (“3. In this context, we therefore undertake to enhance transparency and monitoring in relation to the trade-related aspects of cotton. To this end, we agree to hold a dedicated discussion on a biannual basis in the context of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session to examine relevant trade-related developments across the three pillars of Market Access, Domestic Support and Export Competition in relation to cotton. 4. The dedicated discussions shall be undertaken on the basis of factual information and data compiled by the WTO Secretariat from Members’ notifications, complemented, as appropriate, by relevant information provided by Members to the WTO Secretariat. 5. The dedicated discussions shall in particular consider all forms of export subsidies for cotton and all export measures with equivalent effect, domestic support for cotton and tariff measures and non-tariff measures applied to cotton exports from LDCs in markets of interest to them.”); COTTON — MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 19 DECEMBER 2015, WT/MIN(15)/46, WT/L/981, 21 December 2015. The background paper (without addenda) is embedded below.

TNAGGEN34R13

Thus, there is an existing forum for developing information on all distortions to the cotton market. Yet, to date, the WTO subcommittee on Cotton is not examining the widespread issue of child labor and forced labor as part of its information gathering. This is unfortunate but could be addressed if there is a will to in fact flag all distortions.

There can be arguments pro and con on whether all child labor and forced labor constitutes actionable subsidies under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. While I believe that the practices identified as being used in Xinjiang constitute actionable subsidies (government action which provides inputs (labor) at rates lower than market), there can be no doubt that the failure of governments to eliminate child labor and forced labor distorts competition between those obtaining products through the use of such labor and others who are not using such labor. The use of child labor and forced labor are universally condemned and supposed to be eliminated by 2025 (child labor) or 2030 (forced labor) pursuant to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The WTO can and should develop the factual basis for an understanding of the trade distortions flowing from child labor and forced labor. The existence of a current program at the WTO on cotton to develop information on all forms of subsidies and all forms of non-tariff barriers is a good place to start the exercise. My thanks to Amb. Shea for flagging the potential existing vehicles within the WTO to address at least cotton.