Agriculture attachés from around the world may be surprised to learn that Vladimir Putin has taken an interest in their work in Geneva and is targeting Canada’s supply-managed dairy industry.
Or maybe they won’t as they realise a huge amount of journalistic licence has been injected into this account of a routine but important meeting at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on June 7 (The Globe and Mail, “Countries pile on in attack of Canada’s dairy regime”, June 18, 2017).
Does the Russian president really think the price of ultra-filtered milk is of such geopolitical significance that he ordered his agriculture officials at the WTO to intervene?
“Whoa. What? Russia — architect of central economic planning in the Soviet era — is lecturing Canada about the evils of supply management?
“That can’t be good.
“That Russian President Vladimir Putin has found common cause with some of Canada’s closest trading partners is a measure of the powerful forces lining up against this country’s embattled dairy industry.”
What really happened in that June 7 WTO meeting is much less dramatic and far more important than that. Canada should welcome Russia’s intervention, but for completely different reasons.
There were actually two separate issues in the meeting. One was an annual look at how countries are keeping their 2015 promise to scrap export subsidies. Canada still subsidises butter exports, which aroused comment from a number of countries.
But Russia “lecturing Canada about the evils of supply management” was no more withering than: “We’re interested too”, more or less.
(In fact, Russia did do a bit more than that. It joined Canada and other members of the “Cairns Group” of successful agricultural exporters in circulating a paper on export subsidies (pdf). There is no reference to anything related to supply management.)
Canada’s supply management (actually, milk classes) featured separately in 80 questions from New Zealand, Australia and the US. On this, Russia said nothing. Perhaps it should have.
Let’s take a step back. The WTO operates a system of agreements that its member countries have negotiated and signed. One of them is about reforming agricultural trade. WTO committees are where all its members can monitor how well the agreements are being implemented.
The Agriculture Committee does this three or four times a year. Questions and answers are key.
There are lots of them. Since the WTO was created in 1995, Canada alone has submitted 1,131 sets of questions on all agricultural trade issues in all but a couple of the 84 meetings. Canada did not lecture any other WTO member but occasionally asked whether a country’s policy was wise or legal.
In the same period, Canada has faced 156 sets of probing questions about its dairy policies, again in almost every meeting, except for a lull between 2000 and 2004.
And yes, the reason for those questions in both the WTO Agriculture Committee and in other meetings is surprise that a country supposedly in favour of liberalizing farm trade maintains strong protection for dairy. Such questions are not an “attack”, but Canada did have to defend the high import duties and subsidies that protect supply managed products in the stymied Doha Round negotiations.
In the June 7 meeting, the 80 questions Canada faced were grouped into 13 sets, one from New Zealand spread over five pages. Almost all were about Class 7 or other milk classes.
Canada wasn’t idle either. It asked 19 sets of questions, seeking answers from the US, EU, Ukraine, Panama, India and Turkey on a range of issues.
The meaning of questions
A lot of these questions are just seeking information: what a new programme does, how a programme works and so on. Some focus on particular policies, such as Canada’s milk classes, because the countries asking the questions — mainly New Zealand, Australia, the US and EU — are worried that these policies are a sneaky way of hiding subsidies.
In the WTO the questions can only really be turned into an “attack” if New Zealand and co believe Canada is subsidising beyond the limits it has agreed. Canada has only ever faced two legal challenges on dairy products, both in 1997 and both involving milk classes (this and this).
This kind of work is crucial if trade negotiations are going to have any meaning. You don’t just wake up, negotiate, sign an agreement and go back to sleep.
The agreement has to be implemented and the countries that negotiated the deal have to be able to see that everyone is honouring it.
This is hard work. For agriculture, all countries have to share information with each other (technically, they “notify the WTO”) on how much they have subsidised each year, what policies they have that might affect prices, production and exports, and what has been happening with imports, particularly if quotas are involved.
Just compiling and sharing the information can be a huge task. Once it’s available it becomes an absolutely essential way for countries to ask each other about the data so they can understand better, to monitor how level the playing field is in agriculture, and for the world at large to do the same.
Treating questions as attacks is therefore about as useful as a teacher complaining about questions from the class. This is about understanding and feedback.
So Russia’s involvement should also be welcomed. Russia is a new WTO member. It only joined in 2012. It’s still learning how the WTO works. The greater the interest it pays to WTO proceedings, the more it will be able to be a responsible WTO member. If it can ask 1,131 questions in the next two decades it will be as good a world trade citizen as Canada.
Who knows? President Putin might even learn something too.
A look at the UK, EU and WTO with an eye on Brexit. Includes a brief explanation of the WTO system, a taste of how negotiations work in the WTO, and the implications for the UK (and EU) as they prepare for Brexit and beyond
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED MAY 25, 2017 | UPDATED MAY 25, 2017
This page contains a link to download a handout on the UK, EU and WTO as Brexit approaches. It is slightly modified from a presentation given on May 20, 2017.
Negotiations as the starting point. Rights and obligations (reciprocal and non-reciprocal). Space for sound policy-making. Rules and commitments.
2. WTO negotiations: A taster
Consensus. Member-driven. The Doha Round. Negotiating coalitions (in agriculture). Concentric circles — when it’s impossible to negotiate properly in a large crowd. More than just an affair between governments: there are also negotiations at home.
3. Brexit and the WTO: Before, during and after
UK and EU “schedules” of commitments. What schedules are. How to establish the UK’s and EU’s schedules post-Brexit. The EU’s complex tariff profile. Tariffs (shoes and oranges). Tariff quotas (lamb, mutton). Domestic support for agriculture (trade-distorting). Agricultural export subsidies. Services. The cliff-edge and worse: what if there are no acceptable schedules by Brexit day?
Free trade agreements: UK-EU; UK-other WTO members. WTO rules on free trade agreements. Shallow to deep arrangements.
UK as champions of free trade. Policy choice from liberal to protectionist. Impact on bilateral free trade negotiations. UK positioning in WTO — current policy on agriculture puts it closer to the more protectionist group; handling the WTO agendas on regular work and negotiations.
Can the UK unilaterally construct its own WTO Schedule of Commitments in agricultural products after Brexit? If the UK does construct its own Schedule, will this be legally binding on other WTO members, including the EU?
No, to both questions. First, the UK can and should draft its own schedules of commitments in agricultural products (and all other sectors). But they will not be legally secure until they have been certified by all WTO members — meaning until there are no WTO members with any objection. Once certified, they will be legally binding.
Second, a country’s schedules are not binding on other WTO members. They are commitments that the country has made to the rest of the membership. Other countries have their own schedules.
It is possible to trade without certified schedules. The EU continues to trade even though its goods schedule for the May 1, 2004 enlargement from 15 to 25 members was only certified 12 years later on 1 December 2016. The schedule for further enlargement to 27 and 28 members has not been certified.
The EU appears to operating with de facto schedules, for example revised tariff quotas appear in EU regulations. And it can trade without disruption, apparently because it has talked to key trading partners and adjusted its tariff quotas accordingly. The latest regulation for the lamb and mutton tariff quota states that the quota has been expanded for New Zealand, to accommodate Bulgaria and Romania becoming new EU members (but not yet for Croatia).
In other words, unilaterally creating the UK’s draft schedules without taking on board what other countries say could cause problems. Some negotiation will be needed so that the drafts are made reasonably acceptable to the UK’s trading partners, including the EU. But until the schedules are certified, the UK will be on legally uncertain ground, at best requiring complex legal arguments to defend the schedules’ contents. We don’t know how other countries would react.
To what extent is it possible to determine the EU-28’s current commitments in agricultural products in the WTO for (a) Tariffs (b) Tariff rate quotas (c) domestic support and (d) export subsidies for agricultural products? What impact might this have on (a) the UK’s negotiations with the EU and (b) the UK’s negotiations with other WTO members?
Strictly speaking, the EU’s legally binding WTO commitments are only its certified schedules, the latest for goods being for the EU-25 (WTO document WT/LET/1220 and attachments available by going to https://docs.wto.org and searching for WT/LET/1220).
This was only certified two months ago (effective from December 1, 2016 but circulated on December 14, 2016). Because it covers 10 new member states, it should be much closer to the schedule for the EU–28 than the one in force until the end of November (for the EU–15).
The 7th column lists a number of documents used in negotiations for the EU’s enlargement to 27 members, the latest being G/SECRET/32, “currently underway” — presumably referring to the status of negotiations on that draft. Documents in the series G/SECRET/… are so restricted that even WTO Secretariat staff cannot access them, except for a few key people.
There is no mention of any negotiation over the enlargement to 28 members when Croatia joined, which could be a problem when discussing the post-Brexit schedules of the UK and EU with other WTO members.
Before that, the WTO Secretariat’s report for the Trade Policy Review of the EU (the latest review, in document WT/TPR/S/317/Rev.1 of 21 October 2015) said:
“The current certified tariff schedule is the EU-15, effective 27 October 2012. The EU’s tariff concessions and agricultural commitments regarding agricultural market access, domestic support, and export subsidies to reflect the enlargement from 15 to 28 member States have not yet been formally agreed in the WTO. The EU submitted its EU-25 schedule for certification on 25 April 2014 and has initiated the procedures for the EU-28 schedule (section 126.96.36.199). With regard to the certified EU-25 services schedule, 18 EU member States have ratified the schedule. ”
As an EU member, the UK government ought to have access to the uncertified de facto schedules for the EU-28 both from Brussels (if not London) and any drafts at the WTO (although none appear to be with the WTO at the time of writing). This can be confirmed with government officials who ought to be able to provide better answers than I can on these points.
The public can detect the contents of the de facto schedules, but not always easily. There are two possible sources, both requiring work to compile the contents into one document: the EU’s own regulations, and its notifications to the WTO (under “The Agriculture Committee and official documents”, in the agriculture section of the WTO website, http://www.wto.org/agriculture#work).
Tariffs: these should be available from customs authorities, EU Trade or the UK Department of International Trade (bearing in mind applied tariffs can be lower than the legally bound rates). Most of them are unlikely to be very different from the tariffs in the schedule for the EU-15.
Tariff rate quotas: each of these should be available in separate EU regulations. They are also available in EU notifications on agricultural tariff quotas, but without the details from the schedules of how the quotas are divided among individual supplying countries.
Domestic support: the commitment is only one figure, for total aggregate measurement of support (AMS). The EU reports this in its domestic support notification along with an explanation of how much it has added for each expansion up to 28 members.
Export subsidies, also in the EU’s notifications. The latest for marketing year 2014/15 says the commitment is for the EU-25 while the actual reported subsidies are for the EU-28. Since the actual subsidies are considerably less than the limit, this difference is unimportant.
I would assume the UK’s negotiations over its schedules, both with the EU and other countries, ought to be based on the de facto schedules currently in use, because both the EU and the UK should have access to them.
We don’t know yet whether other countries would be willing to negotiate from the de facto pre-Brexit EU-27 schedules (with apparently nothing existing yet for the EU-28), but at this stage there seems to be no indication that they would object. Any that are holding back on certifying the schedules might have some reservations, but we don’t know what their objections are.
What, if any, are the legal and political challenges of splitting the EU-28’s WTO Schedule of Commitments on agriculture between the UK and the EU? To what extent can this issue be settled (a) by applying WTO law in dispute settlement proceedings before the WTO panels and/or Appellate Body and (b) by political negotiations between the UK and the EU and between the UK/EU and the other WTO members? Could the “Czechoslovakia” example act as a precedent?
The only areas where the UK and EU would split their commitments are tariff quotas (or tariff-rate quotas, TRQs) and agricultural subsidies. Most of the rest of schedules can remain unchanged. For example the UK can simply continue with the thousands of tariff commitments it currently has as an EU member. So my reply focuses on the quotas and subsidies.
I’m not a lawyer and cannot respond definitively to the legal points of (a). I do know that opinion is split. Some lawyers believe the UK can construct its schedules using legal principles and that if other countries object, the UK would probably prevail in any legal dispute. Some other lawyers disagree. The argument seems to be based on the idea that the entire UK schedule is obtained by using criteria based on WTO case law, leading to “rectification” (a more or less technical correction of the UK’s schedule implied in the EU’s schedule).
Many who have first-hand experience of how the WTO works, beyond the jurisprudence of dispute settlement cases, doubt whether other WTO members would accept the UK’s legal arguments, and whether the legalistic approach would be enough. I share that view.
For example, to account for current UK-EU trade in sheep and goat meat, almost 100,000 tonnes would be added to the combined UK and EU-27 tariff quota, around 33% more than its present size. That seems to stretch the idea of “rectification” (a technical correction) too far. It’s an adjustment arising from terminating a free trade deal (along with withdrawal from the rest of the single market), and introduced in order to take into account the volume of that duty-free trade between the UK and the EU.
Judging by recent experience in WTO negotiations, there may even be bargaining over which representative period to use as a basis for calculations. Possible options include averages over the last three or five years, including or excluding the highest and lowest numbers (an “Olympic average” excludes extreme points), and so on. I look at all of these points in detail here: https://tradebetablog.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/limits-of-possibility/
Generally, therefore, the UK and EU quotas should be settled by negotiation, where both political and commercial interests would play a part. Legal precedent would be a useful starting point, but probably not the conclusion. This would minimise any resentment and any trade disruption that might result from it.
Experts with inside experience of these processes have told me the Czech-Slovak split is not a suitable model. The split was under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, the WTO’s predecessor), and before the agriculture and services agreements were added to the multilateral trading system. The two countries swiftly set up a customs union, meaning little changed in goods trade between the two and between them and the rest of the world. As a result, the rest of the GATT membership had few problems with this, at a time when they also wanted to ease former Soviet bloc countries into the multilateral trading system. The two then became EU members. The sizes of the UK and EU and the scale of the tasks they face are quite different.
To what extent can the UK restrict the import of agricultural products because they do not meet the same quality and safety standards as those produced in the UK? If the UK adopted a precautionary approach to the import of agricultural products into the UK, to what extent would such an approach be compatible with WTO rules?
No WTO member can restrict imports purely on quality grounds. The WTO has criteria for requiring imports to meet certain safety, health and other standards. They are set out in the WTO agreements on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS, dealing with food safety and animal and plant health), and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT, other standards, regulations, labelling, etc).
Broadly, the criteria include having to provide scientific evidence or a risk assessment that the standard or measure is necessary for health or safety, or adopting an internationally-recognised standard. (WTO members have also agreed non-binding codes of good regulatory practice.) So long as the standards meet the legally binding criteria the UK can (and does, through the EU) require imports to meet the same standards as its own products. It cannot set stricter standards on imports than on domestically-produced products. This is known as applying “national treatment”.
WTO agreements don’t mention a “precautionary principle” specifically. However, some experts see article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement as a means of adopting the principle at least temporarily until the government obtains “additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk” and reviews the measure “within a reasonable period of time”.
Why do free trade agreements rarely include agricultural products? What are the main challenges the UK would face when negotiating new free trade agreements covering agriculture with (a) the EU, (b) the USA, (c) Australia, (d) New Zealand and (e) other WTO members? What are the key lessons learnt by the EU or other WTO members negotiating such FTAs?
Many if not all free trade agreements actually include agricultural products on way or another, but they may have exemptions or delays on scrapping import duty on these products.
Agriculture is a particularly sensitive sector for various reasons: politics, culture, concerns about rural society, food security, and so on. It is often one of the last areas to be liberalised whether multilaterally or through free trade agreements. The most sensitive products have ended up with tariff quotas using prohibitively high out-of-quota tariffs. Some free trade agreements also have tariff quotas.
In general, the challenge the UK will face with all of those countries is to strike a balance between:
the demand for support and protection from the UK’s own farmers
the demand from UK consumers and processors for cheaper food and raw materials
the demand from exporters in the other countries for access to the UK market
the trade-off with UK producers in other sectors (such as services) wanting access to the other countries’ markets, which might entail opening up UK agriculture
For example, the UK might be willing to give Australia a larger quota for meat or dairy products in return for Australia allowing better access for British financial services or protecting British geographical indications such as Melton Mowbray pies or Scotch whisky. Some geographical indications are covered by bilateral agreements between the EU and the US, Australia and others. They mainly deal with wines and spirits since “new world” producers resist tightening protection for food and other products. It’s unclear whether those agreements will automatically apply to the UK. The full list is here: https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/gi-international_en. Some of the EU’s free trade agreements also include chapters on geographical indications, for example the one with South Korea.
The range of sensitive agricultural products is extensive: dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables, various cereals, sugar, and so on. Canada (not listed in the question) also has interests and sensitivities in the dairy sector.
Large books have been written about the lessons learnt. Some of the issues most frequently mentioned in current conversations include:
Agreement can be held up by complex ratification processes in federal systems (the Walloon parliament on the Canada-EU agreement, for example) or where parliaments are strong (the Trans Pacific Partnership was under threat in the US Congress even before President Trump pulled the plug)
Many agreements include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, which are deeply unpopular because, rightly or wrongly, they are seen to give large companies power over governments. Some experts think the mega-regionals (TPP and TTIP) would be easier to conclude without ISDS. The EU is proposing an alternative multilateral arbitration system, but it’s unclear whether this will be more acceptable
When negotiations are secret, they are an easy target. To gain public support, they should be more transparent, while allowing new ideas to be floated in confidence until they become more established.
(To declare an interest: I worked on information at the WTO Secretariat, where I think we were reasonably successful in striking a balance in the Doha Round negotiations. For example all the chairs’ drafts and other texts have been published as they have evolved, and the WTO website contains broad-brush accounts of the negotiating sessions, along with many of the members’ proposals. After the protests in Seattle in 1999, the WTO was rarely accused of secrecy, unlike with the negotiations under its predecessor, GATT.)
Which of the EU’s FTAs with other countries include agriculture? Will the UK be able to negotiate continued access to these agreements after Brexit?
The answer is more complex than the question suggests. Most if not all EU FTAs include agriculture in one way or another, including exemptions for specific products or lengthy phase-in periods, and various provisions on rules as well as tariffs. Experts who have studied the many agreements in detail may be able to answer better than I can.
The EU-South Korea FTA lists all agricultural products, with tariffs generally at zero immediately or gradually over periods of up to 21 years, depending on the product and whether it is imported into the EU or South Korea. In addition, some products escape tariff reductions completely, such as rice in both markets.
The customs union with Turkey includes a section on agriculture with the “common objective to move towards the free movement of agricultural products” and even to have a common agricultural policy, under a 22-year timetable in an “additional protocol” originally signed in 1970 but still not yet achieved.
As far as I can see, there is nothing to stop the UK negotiating continued access to these agreements provided the FTA partners also agree. Whether those negotiations lead to identical terms, or something different, depends on the negotiations. For some, the criteria will clearly be different. It’s hard to see the present EU agreements with Iceland and Norway being replicated with the UK, not least since they include the four freedoms of movement and contributions to the EU budget.
I have not seen any legal argument suggesting transferring the agreements to the UK will be automatic or a legal right.
Perhaps the most important question is what happens to the UK’s trade under the EU’s FTAs while the UK’s new FTA negotiations have not been concluded.
For all of these points, take for example an FTA between the UK and South Korea. This could be based on the EU-South Korea FTA, a 1,432-page document which includes the following:
around 70 pages of detailed terms, conditions and regulations for trade in goods and services, and intellectual property rights
well over 1,000 pages of commitments by the two sides on goods, including a number of tariff quotas
annexes on regulatory convergence and conformity on electronics, motor vehicles and parts, and pharmaceutical products and medical devices
an annex on agricultural safeguards. These are temporary tariff increases to deal with import surges — the present trigger levels are for imports from the EU, which would have to be adapted if separate figures are to be established for the UK and EU27
around 250 pages of commitments on services
a couple of pages on public procurement and build-operate-transfer contracts
about 25 pages on geographical indications for food (none of it British) as well as wines and spirits
institutional arrangements, including arbitration
other annexes containing, for example, definitions or criteria
Creating a UK version of this agreement has many similarities with creating the UK’s WTO schedules out of the EU’s plus any changes the UK and South Korea might want to make to the regulations.
That is just one of 44 agreements, but perhaps one of the most detailed. To ensure continuity, the UK should reach agreement with all of the EU’s 44 FTA partners by the time it leaves the EU. That sounds like extremely hard work, since during the same 2-year period the UK will already be negotiating with the EU, potential new FTA partners such as the US, Australia, New Zealand, India and others, and with all WTO members over its schedules.
If we want to understand the UK’s trade relations with the EU after Brexit we cannot say that without a UK-EU deal they will “fall back on WTO rules”
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 8, 2017 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 15, 2017
Now that the UK is about to start negotiating its departure from the European Union, it’s important to understand the meaning of World Trade Organization (WTO) “rules”.
Why? Because people are talking about WTO rules as if they only kick in if the UK and EU fail to reach agreement on their future trade relationship — that only then would the UK and EU “fall back on WTO rules”. They are wrong.
The truth is: WTO rules already apply to the UK’s present trade relationship with the EU.
They will also apply to any future trade relationship between the two, whether there is a deal of some kind, or no deal at all — so long as the UK and the EU and its member states are members of the WTO.
Falling back on WTO “terms”
So what will the UK and EU fall back on if they cannot agree and the UK still leaves the EU?
They will fall back on commitments they have agreed in the WTO for trade with all other WTO members — except for those with whom they have a special (or “preferential”) trade arrangement, such as a free trade agreement.
This is sometimes called “WTO terms”, a better shorthand description than “WTO rules”. Some speak of “WTO tariffs”, which is more precise but doesn’t include services and agricultural subsidies.
Without a special deal between the UK and EU, trade between them will face import duties according to their WTO commitments for normal trade (without any free trade agreement).
The import duties (or “tariffs”) they charge on each other’s products will have to be the same as they charge on products from all WTO members except partners in free trade agreements. WTO non-discrimination rules would apply.
Limited amounts of some products — mainly agricultural — will be traded at low tariffs, with volumes outside those quantities facing much higher tariffs, so high that it might be impossible to import them. These are called tariff quotas.
British and European service industries are now relatively free to trade across the EU or to set up in other EU countries. Without a special deal, services trade between the UK and EU will revert to the much less liberal commitments they have made in the WTO on opening their markets to foreign services.
The commitments are explained in more detail here.
UK-EU relations and WTO “rules”, now and in the future
Even now, while the UK is a member of the EU and its single market, it is governed by WTO rules. These mainly deal with how the EU and its member states relate to the rest of the world. They also discipline how the single market and customs union themselves are set up.
The WTO rules affecting the UK and EU cover a large number of issues. They include:
WTO rules are actually negotiated agreements. The full package is here.
The EU’s member states have agreed to go beyond those WTO rules for much of their trade relations. Therefore when disputes arise between the member states, they are handled within the EU, for example if the UK objects to French restrictions over foot and mouth disease.
After Brexit, the UK and EU aim to have some kind of free trade agreement. This will have to come under WTO rules including one that says a free trade agreement in goods or a customs union must cover substantially all trade.
Another says an agreement in services has to have substantial sectoral coverage.
Even though they are both members of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US and Canada have taken some disputes to both the WTO and NAFTA
In other words, WTO rules will prevent the UK and EU from having a free trade agreement only for the auto industry, aerospace and banking.
That long list of all the areas covered by WTO rules will also govern UK-EU relationships even if they have a comprehensive agreement.
Depending on the type of arbitration set out in their agreement, they could also find themselves facing each other at the WTO dispute settlement court.
The US and Canada have taken each other to WTO dispute settlement even though they have an arbitration mechanism within their North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some cases have been taken to both the WTO and NAFTA.
Failure to understand this would mean a failure to understand the future UK-EU trade relationship.
Finally, WTO rights and obligations
To complete the picture, the WTO is a system of negotiated multilateral trade agreements. The whole package must now run close to 30,000 pages. It consists of two parts.
First is a rule book of about 500 pages. Among the key principles running through its wide-ranging coverage is non-discrimination in trade — between a country’s trading partners, and between foreign companies, products and people and its own.
The remaining 20 to 30,000 pages are the lists of commitments made by each of the WTO’s 164 members, the limits they have agreed on tariffs on tens of thousands of products and on agricultural subsidies, and the minimum market opening they have promised for various services.
Under those agreements, WTO members have rights (for example not to face discrimination, and to have access to other countries’ markets) and obligations (for example not to discriminate, or to keep markets open at least as much as they have committed).
The agreements come from negotiations. The WTO dispute settlement system is about whether those agreements are being implemented as promised or how they should be interpreted. All decisions are taken by the membership, almost always by consensus (meaning no one objects).
The clichés are: the WTO operates a rules-based trading system; and it is member-driven.
Updates: Februay 15, 2017 — adding link to WTO legal texts Photo credits: WTO via Flickr; Marrakesh signing by Peter Ungphakorn
Just before Christmas and almost unnoticed, the WTO circulated the EU’s “schedules” of commitments on goods (not services) to reflect its 2004 expansion from 15 to 25 members. They are also the UK’s current official WTO commitments. What are they?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 4, 2017 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 5, 2017
Some pretty important documents were issued in Geneva by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 14, 2016 as Europe started to close down for Christmas and the New Year. They have flown under the radar.
Twelve years after the EU expanded from 15 to 25 members on 1 May 2004, it now has revised commitments on tariffs, tariff quotas and agricultural subsidies to take into account the addition of those 10 new members (you can download them below).
Because the UK is an EU member, its commitments are bundled with the EU’s, so these are also the UK’s latest certified commitments.
For the UK, this means that re-establishing its own post-Brexit commitments in the WTO can be based on EU commitments that are closer to what they should be for the full 28-member union.
Next up: accounting for Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in 2007, to become EU–27, then Croatia (2013) for EU–28; and then subtracting the UK to go back to EU–27.
What is a WTO schedule?
To recap: a WTO “schedule” is essentially a negotiated commitment on how a WTO member agrees to curb protectionist policies. Countries have schedules for goods (including agriculture) and services.
They are called “schedules” because when a negotiation is concluded, the promised changes are phased in according to timetables, which are also set out in the schedules.
In other words, schedules are tools for reducing tariff protection, agricultural subsidies and barriers to trade in services.
This is what a goods schedule contains:
For general import duties (or “tariffs”) on goods, the schedule sets legally binding ceilings (the “bound rates” of tariffs). The country is free to charge a duty (an “applied rate”) below the ceiling for that product, but not to go above it without renegotiating and offering compensation. These tariffs are known as “most-favoured nation” tariffs (MFN, essentially non-preferential equal treatment for products from all sources). They are also the legally bound rates for quantities outside tariff quotas.
For tariff quotas (or tariff-rate quotas, TRQs), the schedule sets out the quantity that can be imported at a lower duty or duty-free. The country can set a lower in-quota duty or expand the eligible quantity beyond the legally bound amount. But if it wants to raise the in-quota duty above the legally bound rate, or reduce the eligible quantity to less than the legally bound amount, again it has to renegotiate and offer compensation.
For agricultural domestic support — subsidies given to the sector within the country — the schedule has an agreed ceiling on the total amount of “trade-distorting” support provided to farmers, a figure known as the “aggregate measurement of support” (AMS, sometimes called “Amber Box”).
Support is considered to distort trade if it has an impact on prices or production quantities. More details are here. Most countries have nothing on AMS in their schedules because they were not major subsidisers when the support limits were negotiated in the 1980s and 1990s. Some (such as the EU, US and others) are allowed AMS support, but had to reduce it as part of the negotiated liberalisation.
All countries can still use a conceptually small amount of trade-distorting support, known as “de minimis”. For developed countries, this is 5% of the value of production for developed countries (either for specific products or for agriculture generally), 10% for developing countries, and 8.5% for China. Although “de minimis” support is of the same type as AMS, it is not counted against the AMS limits for those countries that have them.
For agricultural export subsidies, the schedules also set legally bound limits on both the amount of money given in subsidy and the export quantities that are subsidised.
WTO members also have separate schedules on services. These are complicated documents listing when a county will allow foreign services to enter its markets, each of the many types of services (banking, insurance, telecommunications, tourism, professional, and so on) including commitments on each of four “modes”:
Mode 1 “cross-border supply” — services supplied from one country to another (e.g. international telephone calls)
Mode 2 “consumption abroad” — consumers or firms making use of a service in another country (e.g. tourism
Mode 3 “commercial presence” a foreign company setting up subsidiaries or branches to provide services in another country (e.g. foreign banks setting up operations in a country
Mode 4 “presence of natural persons” — individuals travelling from their own country to supply services in another (e.g. fashion models or consultants)
The WTO document code number for the EU–25’s goods schedule is WT/LET/1220. This actually consists of covering letters and four attachments. They can be downloaded from the list below (the files are correct at the time of writing), or by going to WTO DocsOnline, https://docs.wto.org, and searching for WT/LET/1220:
Agricultural tariffs, tariff quotas, processed agricultural products (PAPs) and the banana agreement (pdf or Excel)
Non-agricultural tariffs and tariff quotas (pdf). Also “mdb” database format, downloadable from WTO DocsOnline (above). I have created an Excel file from the mdb file. (NAMA = non-agricultural market access)
Duty-free trade in pharmaceutical products (pdf or Excel)
Agricultural subsidies, including an agreement on oilseeds (pdf or Excel)
EU ENLARGEMENTS OVER THE YEARS — January 1, 1958 (under GATT) — 6 founder members
6. Netherlands — January 1, 1973 — 3 new members
9. United Kingdom — January 1, 1981 — 1 new member
10. Greece — January 1, 1986 — 2 new members
12. Portugal — January 1, 1995 (WTO created) — 3 new members
15. Sweden — May 1, 2004 — 10 new members
16. Czech Republic
25. Slovakia — January 1, 2007 — 2 new members
27. Romania — July 1, 2013 — 1 new member
28. Croatia —
(More details here)
February 4, 2017 — removed incorrect information on EU committing zero export subsidies
February 5, 2017 — added screenshots from the EU–25’s goods schedule
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