Whatever happened to the WTO intellectual property negotiations?

The only officially recognised WTO intellectual property negotiations are on a register for geographical names of wines and spirits. They’ve been moribund for a decade

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 4, 2022 | UPDATED DECEMBER 5, 2022

No one noticed when these World Trade Organization negotiations passed their 25th anniversary in early 2022. It was no surprise since WTO members had not even bothered to meet in these talks for a decade, except to appoint a new chair and tidy up other administrative issues.

This is about geographical indications — names associated with specific production areas, such as Champagne wine, Scotch whisky or Caerphilly cheese.

The negotiations are not about protecting the names as such. That was settled in the 1994 intellectual property agreement, although some countries want more.

Rather, these talks are about creating in the WTO a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines and spirits. They are the only officially recognised negotiations on intellectual property in the WTO.

And although they’ve been stuck in limbo since 2012, before that the negotiations did manage to narrow gaps between diametrically opposed positions until they could proceed no further.

The achievement is subtle but significant. The failure of WTO negotiations more broadly prevented members from taking the final steps, although that could not be guaranteed even in a better atmosphere.

Continue reading “Whatever happened to the WTO intellectual property negotiations?”
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WTO agriculture retreat said strong on context but weak on give-and-take

Some who attended blamed the ‘vacuum’ caused by a delay in appointing a new chair, and ambassadors reading from prepared statements

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 26, 2022 | UPDATED OCTOBER 26, 2022

Monday’s (October 24) “retreat” on agriculture at the World Trade Organization (WTO) was supposed to produce new ideas to help move the stalled farm trade talks forward, but some accounts suggest it was stronger on alerting delegates to new challenges than on developing new negotiating approaches.

This seems to contrast with the brainstorming approach seen in a similar event a fortnight earlier on the fisheries subsidies negotiations (October 10, 2022).

Part of the problem may be that a new chair still has not been appointed for the talks — a problem shared with fisheries subsidies, but apparently not affecting that earlier retreat.

Continue reading “WTO agriculture retreat said strong on context but weak on give-and-take”

WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)

Monday’s retreat is an attempt to produce fresh thinking that might break the deadlock in the two remaining pillars.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 23, 2022 | UPDATED OCTOBER 24, 2022

See also the report on the retreat (published October 26, 2022):
WTO agriculture retreat said strong on context but weak on give-and-take

Brain-storming. Blue sky thinking. Wiping the slate clean. Thinking outside the box. Pick your cliché. World Trade Organization (WTO) members’ ambassadors and agriculture attachés go on a “retreat” tomorrow (October 24) as they try to discover solutions where none have been found for over a decade.

The common impression is that the WTO agriculture negotiations have achieved nothing since they started almost a quarter of a century ago in 2000.

This is partly because after just over a year (in 2001), the talks were rolled into the newly launched and broader Doha Round of WTO negotiations. And now the Doha Round is widely considered to be dead.

Officially the position is more complicated. Some members say the Doha Round is over. Others say the original mandate continues — they refuse to endorse the end of the round.

In practice some parts of the Doha Round have been concluded, such as the Trade Facilitation and Fisheries Subsidies agreements. Other parts are in limbo or the talks have dried up, at least among the full membership. What has faded away is the idea of the talks as one unified package or “single undertaking”.

(An aside here. What almost no one has noticed is that the Trade Negotiations Committee of the WTO membership — with the director-general ex officio in the chair — still meets. This committee was set up specifically within the Doha Round. If the round has ended so should the Trade Negotiations Committee. That would also mean the director-general has no official position in any council or committee of the WTO membership.)

Continue reading “WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)”

Are retreats the new pandemic at the World Trade Organization?

Following the ‘success’ in June, the new enthusiasm for ‘retreats’ suggests WTO members don’t actually know what to do

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 8, 2022 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2022

An epidemic of retreats is breaking out at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On Monday October 10, 2022, WTO members gathered in Evian in France (cross the lake and turn left) to talk about fish. A fortnight later they were back on the Geneva shore to discuss agriculture. Not long after, they talked about “WTO reform”.

There’s even a call to do the same on intellectual property. The list is getting longer. The epidemic could become a pandemic.

Continue reading “Are retreats the new pandemic at the World Trade Organization?”

UPDATES: expanding the WTO intellectual property waiver for COVID-19

Latest developments with links to some key documents and news


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By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 4, 2022 | UPDATED AS INDICATED

The waiver on patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines was agreed at the WTO Ministerial Conference on June 17, 2022. The text with brief explanations is here. The waiver is not an obligation. Countries can choose to suspend certain patent rights if they want.

Much of the work after the Ministerial Conference results from a provision for WTO members to decide within six months (by December 17, 2022) whether or not to expand the waiver to include COVID-19 tests and treatments:

“No later than six months from the date of this Decision, Members will decide on its extension to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics

Background: The original (revised) proposal; the debate; the proposed compromise and analysis.

Updates on the latest developments will be added here, with links to new documents and news items. That will include any notifications from countries changing their laws to apply the waiver. So far there are none.

Key events

  • December 20, 2022 — The General Council agrees on postponing the deadline with no date set, but to be reconsidered in the Spring
  • December 19, 2022 — The General Council postpones a decision on postponing the deadline
  • December 17, 2022 — deadline for expansion decision missed, so far no country has moved to use the vaccine patent waiver agreed in June
  • December 16, 2022 — formal meeting: chair’s draft binned, replaced by short paragraph postponing the deadline
  • December 7, 2022 — chair’s draft factual report circulated
  • December 6, 2022 — informal meeting discusses proponents’ draft and postponing deadline
  • December 56, 2022 — US announces it will need time to consult stakeholders
  • November 2, 2022 — informal meeting, with members’ positions on expanding the waiver to tests and treatments crystallised into three groups
  • July 6, 2022 — first meeting after the vaccine patent waiver decision, followed by stock-taking and informal meetings

(TRIPS = trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, the official description of intellectual property issues that are discussed in the WTO — they should be “trade-related” issues)

Continue reading “UPDATES: expanding the WTO intellectual property waiver for COVID-19”

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?”

‘Notification and review’ sounds dull but is essential for WTO reform

The proposal would apply to notifications under 14 agreements and decisions covering almost the whole of trade in goods

Posted by Peter Ungphakorn
JULY 18, 2022 | UPDATED JULY 27, 2022

On July 14, 2022, a group of 57 World Trade Organization member governments renewed their effort to strengthen work that is essential for the WTO to functioning properly — transparency.

They circulated the latest version of their proposal on notifications. It’s an activity most people find deadly dull, but without it the WTO’s trading system simply would not work.

The proposal is certainly the least glamorous part of the effort to “reform” the WTO, one of the priorities that WTO trade ministers set for themselves and their Geneva delegations at their June 2022 conference.

Continue reading “‘Notification and review’ sounds dull but is essential for WTO reform”

The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture

Less attention has been paid to this failure. It sheds light on what may lie ahead as members face more difficult hurdles on really tough issues.

See also
WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next | Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’? | Our scorecards

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 4, 2022 | UPDATED JULY 10, 2022

The June 12–17 Ministerial Conference has been hailed as a rare success for the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it produced a package of new agreements and consensus statements on a range of issues, including fisheries conservation, health, electronic commerce and food insecurity.

Less attention has been paid to the Geneva meeting’s big failure. There was no outcome on agriculture. That should not be overlooked. It has implications not only for agriculture, but for members’ ability to reach consensus on really tough issues.

Continue reading “The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture”

WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next

It might seem churlish to draw attention to what was lacking, but the achievements that were rightly hailed are not the end of the story.

See also
The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture | Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’? | Our scorecards

By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED JUNE 30, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 30, 2022

As a beautiful sun rose over the World Trade Organization’s lakeside headquarters in Geneva on June 17, 2022, exhausted delegates sealed a package of decisions and declarations that would give the beleaguered WTO new direction for the next couple of years.

Much has already been written about the achievement of the 12–17 June WTO Ministerial Conference, after it was extended by almost two days of sometimes chaotic round-the-clock bargaining.

Most of the analysis focuses on what was achieved, often with a sense of relief that the WTO was back on track, mixed with a warning that much still needs to be done.

Perhaps the biggest success was that a package was agreed by ministers, including an Outcome Document — which the previous ministerial conference failed to do.

Often missing is recognition of how hard it was to achieve this limited outcome.

Continue reading “WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next”