Notification and Transparency Issues in the WTO and the US’ November 2018 Communication
Various WTO Members submitted a Communication to the WTO in November 2018 which, if accepted, would affect the implementation of Members’ transparency and notification obligations at the WTO. It would strengthen the already burdensome notification obligations and introduce new punitive administrative measures should obligations not be complied with. This paper provides information about WTO Members’ current notification obligations and their level of compliance; looks at the history of discussions on notifications, particularly in the Working Group on Notification Obligations and Procedures which took place in 1995 – 1996; and provides an analysis of the Communication. The analysis focuses on the extent to which the elements are consistent with or go beyond the current WTO disciplines. It concludes that non-compliance with notification obligations is real. However, rather than expanding obligations and introducing punitive measures, constructive and effective solutions should be based on nuancing of obligations in the context of a Special and Differential Treatment approach and through the use of incentives. It also acknowledges that countries with a chronic lack of capacities will continue to struggle with the WTO’s complex notification obligations and requirements until they attain higher levels of development and, thus, improved institutional capacities.
UNCITRAL Working Group III: Can Reforming Procedures Rebalance Investor Rights and Obligations?
The work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) provides an opportunity to rebalance the international investment regime – but only if the full gamut of key issues are identified. Requiring investors to uphold standards of responsible business conduct (RBC) is largely a function of substantive rights and obligations, but it also presents procedural dimensions that fall within the purview of the UNCITRAL process. This policy brief explores the issues and discusses possible options for reform.
Why the US Proposals on Development will Affect all Developing Countries and Undermine WTO
US submitted two highly problematic proposals to the WTO in January and February 2019, undermining the place of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D) for developing countries at the WTO. In the first paper (WT/GC/757), US criticises the practice of self-declared development status by developing countries arguing that the North-South construct no longer makes sense due to “great development strides”. The second paper (WT/GC/764) – a proposed Decision for the General Council – provides a way to operationalise what was in the first paper. It gave criteria that would exclude 34 Members or 53.6 percent of global population from S&D treatment in “current and future WTO negotiations”. This fundamentally changes S&D from an unconditional right for all developing countries to a concession that may or may not be provided. Even for those developing countries that are not part of the 34 excluded Members, the US notes that in sector-specific negotiations, other Members could also be “ineligible for special and differential treatment.” This paper critiques the US approach on Special and Differential Treatment and concludes that these papers by the US cannot be the basis for any further discussions. All developing countries must be able to decide the pace of their adjustment to trade rules.
Building a Mirage: The Effectiveness of Tax Carve-out Provisions in International Investment Agreements
The present policy brief analyses the language of taxation carve-out provisions incorporated in International Investment Agreements (IIAs), and its effectiveness with regards to restricting the protection and dispute settlement provisions of IIAs only to non-tax-related claims. It illustrates that even in cases where such carve-out provisions have been incorporated into IIAs, the broad language and lack of clarity in the drafting of such provisions have effectively allowed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals to scrutinize tax measures adopted by States, and even determine that such measures resulted in a breach of State’s obligations under the agreement. It makes recommendations on how States could effectively implement such carve-outs when negotiating, reforming or drafting new international investment agreements.
WHY THE US PROPOSAL (WT/GC/W/764) WILL AFFECT ALL DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND UNDERMINE THE MULTILATERAL SYSTEM
US’ recent submissions to the WTO attempt to fundamentally change the concept of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D) at the WTO from an unconditional right for all developing countries to conditioned concessions available to only a few. This will affect developing countries and undermine the multilateral trading system!
IP Licence, Trademarks and ISDS: Bridgestone v. Panama
Can an intellectual property right or a license authorizing its use be deemed an ‘investment’ under bilateral investment treaties? This policy brief discusses the arguments submitted by the parties in the Bridgestone Licensing Services, Inc. and Bridgestone Americas, Inc. v. Republic of Panama case on questions regarding a trademark license agreement. Bridgestone Licensing Services, Inc. (BSLS) and Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM) together initiated arbitration proceedings on the grounds that Panama’s Supreme Court decision was unjust and arbitrary, violated Panama’s obligations under the United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), expropriated their investments, and violated the requirement of fair and equitable treatment (FET) to BSLS’s and BSAM’s investments.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement: An Anachronism Whose Time Has Gone
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – a mechanism that allows foreign investors to bring claims against host governments to an international arbitral tribunal – is a relic that should be abolished. Its alleged benefits have not materialized and its costs – monetary and other – can represent a formidable obstacle to good economic governance. We recommend policymakers to terminate ISDS provisions in existing agreements and eschew them in future trade and investment treaties.