WTO

Policy Brief 65, July 2019

Time for a Collective Response to the United States Special 301 Report on Intellectual Property

This policy brief discusses the annual Special 301 report issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The report is a unilateral tool of the US to pursue its foreign intellectual property (IP) policy by exerting pressure on countries to reform their IP laws and practices. Developing countries are particularly susceptible to this threat. The report identifies countries that are considered by the US as not providing adequate and effective protection of IP of rights holders from the US. The selection of countries is biased to the concerns raised by segments of the US industry. The report targets balanced provisions in countries’ legislations to ensure that IP rights do not hinder the ability of the government to adopt measures for promoting development priorities, particularly in the area of public health. A uniform and collective international response by the affected countries is long overdue. The way forward is to continue dialogue in appropriate multilateral fora, recognizing the need for all countries to maintain policy space to use IP as a domestic policy tool.

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Investment Policy Brief 18, June 2019

Legitimacy Concerns of the Proposed Multilateral Investment Court: Is Democracy Possible?

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.

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Policy Brief 62, June 2019

Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce: Proposals in the WTO and Policy Implications for Developing Countries

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.

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SC Working Lunch Meeting, April 2019

Title:               Working Lunch Meeting to discuss the Indian Draft National e-Commerce Policy

Date:                Friday, 5th April, 13:00 – 15:00

Venue:             The South Centre

Organizers:     The South Centre 

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CARICOM E-Commerce Panel Discussion, April 2019

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).

Date:              1 April 2019

Venue:           Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

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Research Paper 92, March 2019

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.

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SC Working Lunch, March 2019

Title:               Working Lunch Meeting on E-Commerce

Date:                Friday, 15th March, 2019, 12:00 – 14:45

Venue:             The South Centre

Organizers:     The South Centre 

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Policy Brief 58, March 2019

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.

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SC Working Lunch, February 2019

Title:               US proposal on Special and Differential Treatment (WT/GC/W/764)

Date:               Tuesday, 19th February, 2019, 13:00 – 15:00 

Venue:            South Centre, Geneva

Organizers:   The South Centre 

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