‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation

The WTO has become a weapon in a war of words over other issues. For some Brexiters, it’s a deal to look forward to. For some Remainers, it’s a wreckage. For Trump, it’s “unfair”. That’s the worst possible way to get to know the trading system almost all of us rely on

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By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 13, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2019

This page is based on a presentation given on February 7, 2019, introducing the basics and current issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It includes a link to download a handout of the presentation.

It was part of a contribution to a “Westminster Workshop” on parliamentary oversight of trade agreements organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK in London, February 6–8, 2019.

Continue reading “‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation”

How does the Trade Facilitation Agreement really affect Brexit?

Those who see no problems if the UK and EU fail to strike a deal regularly claim the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement will come to the rescue. They are wrong.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 16, 2018 | UPDATED AUGUST 19, 2018

“The new Trade Facilitation Treaty commits members to facilitating trade, not obstructing it.” So wrote Iain Duncan Smith, former cabinet minister, Conservative Party leader and vocal Leave campaigner, in the Telegraph on August 15, 2018.

The argument is made with increasing frequency by “hard” Brexiters, who claim trade between Britain and the EU will not be disrupted, even if there is no agreement between them about their trading relationship when the UK leaves the EU.

Similar claims have been heard from former UK trade minister (1990–92) Lord (Peter) Lilley in the Times the previous day, economic adviser Ruth Lea on Brexit Central, and international economic law professor David Collins, on Brexit Central and in the Spectator. Continue reading “How does the Trade Facilitation Agreement really affect Brexit?”

Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal

A year ago, two-thirds of the WTO’s membership had ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement, activating it in the ratifying countries. What’s happened since then?

By Peter Ungphakorn
FEBRUARY 22, 2018 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 22, 2018

A year ago today, the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement took effect in the ratifying countries amid a blaze of publicity, two decades after it was first proposed.

It was the first new WTO agreement since the late 1990s and its potential benefit was huge, particularly for implementing countries and particularly if their own procedures for handling imports and exports at the border were cumbersome. Continue reading “Update: the three essential tasks for the WTO’s trade facilitation deal”

How to be a trade champion

A guide for busy politicians: size counts—the more you trade, the bigger your clout in the WTO


By Peter Ungphakorn
NOVEMBER 21, 2017 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 21, 2017

International Trade Minister Greg Hands has again proclaimed the UK is a global trade champion only needing to “reclaim our position at heart of global trading system”.

I have written a longer piece on this. Here are some key points for busy readers. I’m using the WTO as the context since that’s where “the heart of the global trading system” is. Continue reading “How to be a trade champion”

UK, EU, WTO, Brexit primer — 2. Tariff quotas

Continuing a look at what lies behind the sudden surge in interest in the UK’s and EU’s relationship with the World Trade Organization. Part 2: the ABCs of tariff quotas

There are newer versions of this article:
(1) an explanation of tariff quotas
(2) an update of what has happened with the UK’s and EU’s talks with WTO members on their post-Brexit goods schedules

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 7, 2017 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 25, 2017

When the press learned that the UK and EU had agreed on a common approach for their talks with other World Trade Organization (WTO) members, the headlines spoke of a “breakthrough” and a “deal”. A closer look suggests this was an exaggeration. But the issue is important, nonetheless. Continue reading “UK, EU, WTO, Brexit primer — 2. Tariff quotas”

Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries

Reaching agreement was one test of multilateralism. Making it work will be another

Cape Town: South Africa is one of 51 countries that have not yet ratified the agreement


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 25, 2017 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 28, 2017

It’s always tempting, when a tough negotiation has concluded, to breathe a sigh of relief and proclaim “job done”. But with trade agreements, the job is rarely done. For the World Trade Organization’s shiny new Trade Facilitation Agreement, seriously hard work lies ahead if it is to achieve its potential. Continue reading “Hard work lies ahead now that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has been activated in 112 countries”

Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?

This is a genuine question. I don’t know the answer. Hopefully some lawyers can help explain why the WTO and EU are trying to dodge the question of how to count the organisation’s members

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2016 | UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2016

If you visit the WTO website today, bang in the middle of the homepage is a countdown image declaring that only 10 ratifications are needed before the Trade Facilitation Agreement enters into force.

tfa-countdown-wto-homepage-30nov16
From wto.org homepage December 1, 2016

What you won’t see is another countdown that should be even more exciting.  Much closer to entering into force is a long overdue amendment on pharmaceutical patents — only three more ratifications are needed. Continue reading “Can EU law really dictate World Trade Organization rules?”