Türkiye and EU: appeal-by-arbitration cases leave questions about WTO law

Similar to the 50-member ‘Multi-party Interim Appeal Arrangement (MPIA)’, one ruling has been formally adopted, the other not

Originally published as
Alternative to the alternative: Turkey and EU use arbitration for WTO appeals
and previously as one section in
Arbitration — the stop-gap when WTO appeals are unavailable

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 30, 2022 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

Türkiye told World Trade Organization members on August 29, 2022 that it would comply with dispute rulings that said it was violating WTO agreements by giving preferences to locally-produced pharmaceutical products, even though the rulings have not been formally adopted.

So far, the case is unique among WTO legal disputes. It is the first use of appeal-by-arbitration as a route to a second legal opinion on a ruling, while the WTO Appellate Body cannot function.

And because at the time arbitration was the only route open to Türkiye to appeal the case, neither the first-stage “panel” ruling, nor the findings in the appeal, have been formally adopted by the WTO’s membership.

This raises questions about the status of the rulings in WTO law. When a ruling has been formally adopted, governments (and others involved in trade) can assess with a degree of confidence whether similar policies or measures comply with WTO agreements.

When the membership has not adopted a ruling, that confidence is weakened, although some legal experts suggest the difference is small. The US treats non-adoption as significant without explaining why.

Continue reading “Türkiye and EU: appeal-by-arbitration cases leave questions about WTO law”

Does ‘holding the pen’ give WTO staff too much power over disputes?

WTO REFORM: The light shed by recent papers on the role of the Secretariat is welcome, but there are unanswered questions

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 22, 2022 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 28, 2022

Does the WTO Secretariat have too much influence over WTO dispute settlement rulings? Two experts argue controversially in recent papers that it does, backing their claims with sophisticated analysis of writing styles to detect who might have authored the rulings.

The analysis by Joost Pauwelyn (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) and Krzysztof Pelc (McGill University, Montreal) also digs down in detail into the reasons behind the role that the Secretariat has been given.

That leads to a discussion covering a wide range of issues, some of them central to the debate about reforming the WTO and its dispute settlement system — including the controversy over whether case history and precedent should have a bearing on new rulings, and to what extent that should be guided by the institutional knowledge of Secretariat staff.

Continue reading “Does ‘holding the pen’ give WTO staff too much power over disputes?”

Alternative to the alternative: Turkey and EU use arbitration for WTO appeals

Similar but not the same as the 50-member ‘Multi-party Interim Appeal Arrangement (MPIA)’

This has now been republished as
Türkiye and EU: appeal-by-arbitration cases leave questions about WTO law — Similar to the 50-member ‘Multi-party Interim Appeal Arrangement (MPIA)’, one ruling has been formally adopted, the other not

Arbitration — the stop-gap when WTO appeals are unavailable

A group of WTO members have agreed on an alternative way to get a second legal opinion

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 4, 2020 | UPDATED MAY 3, 2022

On August 3, 2020, a group of 50 World Trade Organization members — 30% of the membership — announced that an alternative arrangement was up and running, as a means of getting round a blockage preventing formal appeals in WTO dispute settlement.

Developed gradually since early 2019, the system would retain countries’ ability to get a second opinion after a first-stage “panel” ruling, but unlike a formal appeal, the outcome would not be part of official WTO law.

Continue reading “Arbitration — the stop-gap when WTO appeals are unavailable”

Were Trump and Lighthizer right about WTO disputes?

The US’s claim that it is a victim in the WTO is based on a truly blinkered view. And that’s being generous

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 21, 2020 | UPDATED JANUARY 22, 2021

“We lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO”. So said President Donald Trump in October 2017, just one of three huge untruths he uttered in barely 100 words.

Like the bad loser in the school playground, Trump might as well have wailed: “You’re all cheats!”

But the sentiment persists in US politics and was repeated on June 17, 2020 by Trump’s US Trade Representative, while more broadly an anti-WTO campaign mounts and US belligerence has thrown the WTO into crisis.

Continue reading “Were Trump and Lighthizer right about WTO disputes?”

Spot the difference: US tariffs on Scotch are not part of a tariff war

BBC Question Time was wrong about tariffs. It matters.

By Peter Ungphakorn
FROM UK TRADE FORUM, JANUARY 24, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 9 2020

On January 23, 2020, Fiona Bruce, the host of Question Time on BBC TV, repeatedly and wrongly confused US tariffs on Scotch whisky with the US threat to raise tariffs on cars if Britain taxes digital technology companies.

The mistake matters because UK-US trade talks are likely to feature regularly over the coming months, not least on Question Time. Continue reading “Spot the difference: US tariffs on Scotch are not part of a tariff war”

How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement

The Appellate Body is in a deep freeze, but those who think it will drag trade into the law of the jungle are in for a surprise

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 11, 2019 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 14, 2021

A very short summary and graphic:
Dispute settlement is not essential (but it helps)

The public discussion of the Appellate Body crisis in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about how governments’ actions on trade are handled in the organisation.

This is important. The WTO is now a quarter of a century old. Its real achievements are hardly noticed. They never hit the headlines.

Instead, the impression we get is that it’s all about the dispute settlement crisis (and previously the struggle to conclude negotiations).

The Appellate Body has been unable to function since December 11, 2019. This has crippled WTO dispute settlement, we’re told, ultimately jeopardising a trading system that’s supposed to be based on rules — rules that can no longer be “enforced” as a result of the crisis.

We’re going to be left with the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Just watch and wait. It could be the end of the WTO, we’re told.

We might have to wait an awfully long time, because keeping international trade within agreed rules relies on much more than dispute settlement. In fact a key purpose of the WTO is to keep formal disputes to a minimum, and it does a pretty good job at that.

Continue reading “How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement”

A bit of bother down at the WTO court — Why? And is it a killer? Long read

WTO dispute settlement is in trouble, but it can struggle on at least for a while. So can the organisation’s other important functions

This looks at the WTO Appellate Body crisis in some depth.
A simpler version is here
.
See also:
How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement and The WTO is surprisingly busy — considering it’s supposed to be dead


Skip the updates

UPDATES

January 26, 2022 — Brazil moved to authorise (under Brazilian law) unilateral action against countries that lose in a panel ruling and appeal “into the void” to leave a dispute inconclusive.

Legal opinion seems to be that this could violate WTO rules, but so long as the Appellate Body was unable to function, Brazil could also appeal “into the void” any legal challenge in the WTO. “In the absence of the Appellate Body, this does not seem totally bonkers,” tweeted law professor Geert Van Calster

News of the move came from Tatiana Palermo, President of Palermo Strategic Consulting and a former Brazilian vice-minister and negotiator, who tweeted:

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has signed an executive order allowing #Brazil to retaliate unilaterally ([including] suspending IPR [intellectual property rights] obligations) in cases where the losing party appealed the #WTO panel ruling into the void & continues with unfair trade practices.”

The executive order is here, in Portuguese.


October 26, 2021 — María Pagán, the Biden administration’s nominee ambassador to the WTO, told a US Senate Finance Committee hearing on her nomination that the US does want to “restore the Appellate Body”, a point that had never been clarified since the Trump administration blocked the appointment of appeals judges:

I think there’s consensus that the WTO, and particularly the Appellate Body, need to be reformed. I guess on the other hand, we all have different views of what reform means, and particularly with respect to the Appellate Body. What we want, and if confirmed what I will work hard to do, is to have conversations so that we can restore the Appellate Body and the dispute settlement system to what we thought we had agreed to.”

To underscore that this is an official position, Henry Hodge, spokesperson of the Office of the US Trade Representative, tweeted Bloomberg’s story on the statement with the headline “Biden’s nominee to WTO wants to restore Appellate-Body function.”

Pagán’s remark came on the day the US blocked the appointment of appeals judges for the 47th time at a WTO meeting in Geneva. It was the first sign of any new thinking in Washington. But it was too late for anything to happen in time for the November 30 to December 3 Ministerial Conference.

Trade lawyer Simon Lester said the remark is “positive” but that restoring the system “to what we thought we had agreed to” may prove to be “tricky”, a point Pagán herself acknowledged.


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 21, 2019 | UPDATED JANUARY 29, 2022

A casual glance at the headlines might have misled us into thinking the World Trade Organization (WTO) would grind to a halt at the end 2019, that the blame lay entirely with US President Donald Trump, and that the WTO’s demise would bring anarchy to world trade.

Only the last of those three assertions is possibly correct; and only if the WTO really does die — which it certainly won’t, not in the near future.

This is an attempt at an explanation. It shows that even WTO dispute settlement could well survive, but in a less powerful form. Other important work in the WTO will continue, and therefore so will the WTO itself.

But be warned: simple explanations of complex issues cannot tell the whole story. And even this attempt is not that simple. Sorry.

Continue reading “A bit of bother down at the WTO court — Why? And is it a killer? Long read”

By Christmas 2019 the WTO was supposed to be dead — why wasn’t it? A short explanation

Reports of the WTO’s demise are premature. Yes, dispute settlement is in trouble, but even that can hobble on

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 21, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2021

This short explanation skims the surface of some pretty complicated issues. If you want more detail, with more links and references,
then try this longer version
.
See also:
How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement and The WTO is surprisingly busy — considering it’s supposed to be dead


Update:
Brazil moves to act unilaterally, and the Biden administration signals for the first time it is willing to discuss restoring the Appellate Body

The doom-mongers had already written off the WTO. From December no new appeals in WTO disputes would be possible and the whole organisation would grind to a halt, they claimed. They were wrong.

The problem is with the appeals stage of WTO legal disputes. Some countries are finding ways to work around that. WTO disputes cannot be the same without a properly functioning Appellate Body, but they can continue even if the system is weaker.

As for the rest of the WTO’s work, it does not rely on dispute settlement. True, member countries participate in those functions more confidently if they know the disputes system is working well, but it will still take years before they lose confidence so badly that they give up on the WTO altogether.

Continue reading “By Christmas 2019 the WTO was supposed to be dead — why wasn’t it? A short explanation”