COVID-19 and WTO: Debunking Developed Countries’ Narratives on Trade Measures
By Aileen Kwa, Fernando Rosales and Peter Lunenborg
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are faced with demands to i) permanently liberalize their markets in health products, and also in agriculture; ii) ban export restrictions in agriculture; and iii) conclude new digital trade rules including liberalizing online payment systems, and agreeing to free data flows. There seems to be a confusion between short-term and long-term responses. For the short-term, governments must take measures needed to address the crisis, including liberalizing needed health products. However, permanently bringing tariffs to zero for the health and agricultural sectors will not support developing countries to build domestic industries. Export restrictions in agriculture cannot be given up. They can be a very important tool for stabilizing domestic prices and for food security. New digital trade rules at the WTO would foreclose the possibility for countries to impose data sovereignty regulations, including data localization requirements that can support their infant digital platforms and industries.
Trade Measures Adopted by Countries in Response to COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many WTO members have adopted several measures affecting trade. Some are trade liberalizing; others are trade restrictive. South Centre has elaborated a worksheet that compiles these measures (updated till 16 April) based on available sources of information. The compilation does not intend to be exhaustive. However, it may help members to have information about the landscape of trade measures that may affect them.
US-China trade deal: preliminary analysis of the text from WTO perspective
By Peter Lunenborg
The long-awaited ‘Phase 1’ trade deal between the United States and China, officially termed the ‘Economic and Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China’, was signed on 15 January 2020. It will enter into force on Valentine’s Day, on Friday, 14 February 2020. This deal is a result of US exercise of political power and unilateral World Trade Organization (WTO)-inconsistent tariffs in order to extract trade concessions, an expression of the most pure protectionism that the WTO is supposed to prevent. Nevertheless, the WTO was unhelpful in addressing the US economic aggression against China. This failure to protect a Member from illegitimate unilateral measures is, perhaps, one of the most significant manifestations of the often-mentioned ‘crisis’ of the WTO, and actually is one of the subjects on which the proposed ‘reform’ of the organization should focus.
Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Regional Meeting of the High Level Panel (HLP) on the Sustainable Ocean Economy Report
African countries called for action to address issues that are unique to Africa on ﬁsheries, climate change and ocean health and wealth and discussed an African position in preparation for the United Nations Ocean Conference 2020 and the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, at the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) regional meeting of the High Level Panel on the Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP), Mombasa, Kenya, 2-3 December 2019. Trade ministers should reach agreement in WTO on fisheries’ subsidies, in response to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.6 mandate, which calls for States “by 2020, [to] prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.” South Centre provided inputs and guided a discussion on the issue of fisheries subsidies.
Lights Go Out at the WTO’s Appellate Body Despite Concessions Offered to US
By Danish and Aileen Kwa
As of 11 December 2019, the Appellate Body (AB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been rendered non-functional. This policy brief provides a summary of the issues discussed amongst WTO Members in the last two years, in their valiant efforts to address the US’ concerns regarding the AB. The issues include: the use of AB Members’ services to complete an appeal after their term has officially expired; timelines for issuance of AB reports; the meaning of municipal law; advisory opinions; precedence-setting; and overreach by the AB. After much effort by Members in the ‘Walker process’ of negotiations, concessions have been proposed to the US in the draft General Council Decision of 28 November 2019. Language was provided limiting the scope of appeals to questions of law, even though there are situations where the boundary between issues of law and fact are difficult to draw. The text also provides that ‘precedent’ is not created through WTO dispute settlement proceedings. In the area of anti-dumping, the language inserted by the US into the anti-dumping agreement to protect their zeroing practices is confirmed. Nevertheless, the US has rebuffed these offered concessions. It seems determined to amplify its leverage by taking the WTO’s Appellate Body hostage, to extract still more from other Members, including in terms of far-reaching ‘WTO Reforms’.
Crisis at the WTO’s Appellate Body (AB): Why the AB is Important for Developing Members
By Danish and Aileen Kwa
The World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Appellate Body (AB) will be made dysfunctional by 11 December 2019. A disabled AB means that the WTO’s dispute settlement system loses its enforcement mechanism. Even though many smaller developing countries are not major users of the dispute settlement system, nevertheless, they are beneficiaries of the rule of law, and a more predictable trading environment. Several stop-gap measures have been suggested. None are satisfactory. The right to appeal is an important right for all Members which was part of the Uruguay Round package. If this right is removed, why should other parts of that package also not be changed? The future is uncertain – between a much weakened multilateral trading system similar to the days of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); or deep reform of the WTO, in ways that primarily benefit the US and its partners, whilst foreclosing important policy choices for the developing world.
The Politics of Trade in the Era of Hyperglobalisation: A Southern African Perspective
About the Book:
Matters of international trade are increasingly widely recognised as major shapers of global politics. News bulletins are giving more and more coverage to matters like the so-called “trade wars” between the United States and China. These are, indeed, increasingly defining relations between the two largest economies in the world and could well underpin a multi-dimensional rivalry that could be a central feature of international relations for many years to come. Brexit is dominating and indeed re-shaping politics in the United Kingdom. By definition a rejection of a regional integration arrangement, Brexit has also revealed under-currents profoundly shaped by the outcome of a broader trade-driven process called “globalisation”. Just as regional integration is weakening in Europe, African countries have taken decisions that could lead to the most profound and ambitious step forward in African regional integration – the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This study seeks to present an analysis of the political economy of trade negotiations over the past quarter century on two main fronts: the multi-lateral and those pertaining to regional integration on the African continent.
Author: Rob Davies is former South African Minister of Trade and Industry.
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.
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.
Why the US Proposals on Development will Affect all Developing Countries and Undermine WTO
By Aileen Kwa and Peter Lunenborg
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.