‘Phase 1B’ of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) negotiations
By Peter Lunenborg
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which entered into force on 30 May 2019, represents a unique collaborative effort by African countries to bolster regional and continental economic integration, in a world marked by increasing protectionism and use of unilateral trade measures.
In order to make the agreement operational for trade in goods, negotiations on tariff concessions need to be concluded and negotiating outcomes need to be inserted into the agreement. This policy brief focuses on the expected economic impacts of tariff liberalization under the AfCFTA, the tariff negotiation modalities and discusses some legal and practical issues related to the implementation of these modalities.
Legitimacy Concerns of the Proposed Multilateral Investment Court: Is Democracy Possible?
By José Manuel Alvarez Zárate
Growing concerns in Europe about international investment regimes and investor-state dispute settlement systems pushed the European Union into pursuing the creation of an investment court system and a multilateral investment court. The European Union (EU) started this reform through the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, the Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement, and by direct persuasion of other countries to start negotiations at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. Visible reasons for the change include concerns over the perception of a lack of transparency, coherence, and arbitrators’ partiality, all of which diminish the legitimacy of the multilateral investment court. Other reasons might be laid on the budgetary risks of more than 213 claims against EU countries. To address these legitimacy concerns, the EU wants to replace traditional party-appointed arbitrators with a two-tiered investment tribunal system comprised by a roster of members selected by the state parties on the treaty. This Essay argues that the creation of the multilateral investment court needs to follow democratic principles in order to be legitimate. History has shown us that the EU has abused its power in the past when implementing resolution systems. Foregoing negotiation, comment by member nations, and implementing a tribunal at its own behest has shown this. The EU multilateral investment court proposal has legitimacy deficiencies because the EU has relied on its power to impose its views so far, i.e. its proposal was not previously negotiated multilaterally amongst other member nations. It is thus possible that the appointment of the future judges to this court will likely be subject to the political constraints and veto that the International Court of Justice or World Trade Organization appointments suffer today. This could leave small economies at a disadvantage because they might be subject to permanent, politically biased judges. A superior solution would be to adopt better arbitrator disqualification rules, clear interpretation directives to avoid law creation, and stricter arbitrator qualifications.
Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries
By Vitor Ido
This policy brief explains the mandate of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on electronic commerce under the work program on e-commerce, which was adopted by the WTO Ministerial Conference in 1998 and periodically renewed by subsequent Ministerials. It describes what has taken place on intellectual property related issues pertaining to e-commerce in the WTO TRIPS (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council. It also summarizes various proposals and suggestions that have been advanced in the Council since the Nairobi Ministerial Conference in December 2015 as well as recent proposals that have been advanced in the General Council until December 2018, some of which contain specific intellectual property (IP) related issues. As part of the recently launched plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce, a forum that is likely to become more prominent for this discussion, proposals have been re-submitted in March 2019, as well as others which have been tabled in April and May 2019. Finally, this brief presents an explanation of how IP issues may also affect other elements of e-commerce and the digital economy. Such issues are not the subject of existing proposals in the WTO, but may feature in future discussions.
The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement: Putting Profits Before Patients
By Maria Fabiana Jorge
In the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, NAFTA 2.0), the U.S. Trade Representative negotiated intellectual property provisions related to pharmaceuticals that would enshrine long and broad monopolies. This policy brief focuses primarily on the negative effects of the USMCA intellectual property provisions on access to medicines in the U.S. Such effects may be even worse for Canada and Mexico. The impact of this trade agreement goes well beyond the three countries involved as this is the first one negotiated by the Trump Administration and is likely to set a precedent for future trade agreements. A careful review of the USMCA text raises very serious concerns about the impact that this agreement would have on the generic/biosimilar industry and therefore on access to more affordable drugs throughout the world.
Challenges of Investment Treaties on Policy Areas of Concern to Developing Countries
By Kinda Mohamadieh
Country experiences have revealed that international investment agreements (IIAs) could have an adverse policy impact on various policy areas that are generally important for developing countries in relation to the achievement of their development objectives. This policy brief gives an overview of challenges resulting from IIAs to major policy areas of concern to developing countries. These policy areas include industrial policy, tax reform, handling debt crisis, the use of capital controls, intellectual property rights, public-private partnerships, and climate change action in relation to investment in clean technologies.
Title: Setting Global Trade Rules on Electronic Commerce (E-Commerce) – Opportunities, Challenges, Perspectives and the impact on developing countries, specific to Small, vulnerable economies (SVEs), small island developing States (SIDs), and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The Future of Investor-State Dispute Settlement Deliberated at UNCITRAL: Unveiling a Dichotomy between Reforming and Consolidating the Current Regime
By Kinda Mohamadieh
Reform of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is being deliberated at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III, which will be meeting in New York between the 1st and 5th of April 2019. For several years, the ISDS regime has been under scrutiny from voices in both developed and developing countries. ISDS reforms have been addressed in multiple forums, including national, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Reforms could include moving away from arbitration as the norm for dispute settlement between foreign investors and host states or end up by introducing adaptations that might make arbitration in ISDS cases perform in a more acceptable way. Finding one-size-fits-all solutions in these deliberations is unlikely. Advancing relevant reforms would require full and effective participation of interested countries, equal opportunity for different points of views to be heard and integrated into the design of any potential outcome, and effective mechanisms to address any potential conflicts of interest within this forum.
Regulating the Digital Economy: Dilemmas, Trade Offs and Potential Options
By Padmashree Gehl Sampath
The digital economy has been growing exponentially in recent years thanks to new technologies that are promoting a global transformation. Key technologies responsible for this transformation have become the subject of intense discussions under the umbrella term ‘fourth industrial revolution’. This paper offers a discussion on the differentiated impact of digital technologies on unemployment, capabilities building and technological catch-up for developing countries. It articulates some of the key issues and tradeoffs for developing countries that should be considered in policy discussions and deliberations.
Notification and Transparency Issues in the WTO and the US’ November 2018 Communication
By Aileen Kwa and Peter Lunenborg
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?
By Lorenzo Cotula and Terrence Neal
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.