WTO agriculture talks 2021: where ambition and cynicism collide

Prospects and developments in the WTO agriculture negotiations in 2021

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 4, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 23, 2021

A strange atmosphere surrounds the agriculture talks in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which resumed on Friday February 5, 2020 and continued through to July, as members to submitted numerous new proposals on a wide range of issues. Consensus stays blocked, even on subjects that ought to be simple.

Continue reading “WTO agriculture talks 2021: where ambition and cynicism collide”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 1 Pertinent questions

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 1

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2020

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

For once, this might be a good time to rethink how agriculture is handled in the WTO, with hope of some success after years of going nowhere. The need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to examine where the trade rules help or hinder sound policies.

That also requires an understanding of what trade rules do and do not do — WTO rules are not prescriptions.

This is the first part of a series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO and the prospects for the coming year.

It kicks the series off by examining the context and the often-misunderstood framework of what the WTO does and does not do before moving on to the issues. There’s no point in calling for actions that are outside the WTO’s remit.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 1 Pertinent questions”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 2

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2020

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

Fears that the pandemic would lead to a flood of export restrictions and other disruptive policies have proved to be largely unfounded. The main impact has been from travel restrictions and other measures aimed directly at preventing the disease from spreading.

This is the second part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO, and prospects for 2021. It looks at what’s been happening inside and outside the organisation, before continuing on to possible work ahead.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 3

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 21, 2021

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

It may seem strange to start an examination of WTO policy responses by discussing process. But paying attention to it might be necessary to break out of the current rut and to actually end up with agreement.

JUMP TO
Process
Towards a work programme
Export restrictions
Domestic support | Green Box | Amber Box
Market access
Labour
Conclusion

This is the third and final part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO. This part looks at what might be achieved in the short term, and how.

The main emphasis is “in the WTO” because a lot of the ideas floating around are outside the WTO’s role. We might think they are “good ideas” (or we might not), but there’s not much point in pushing them in the WTO if the WTO is irrelevant.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 4 References

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 4

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2020

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References, this page)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

References
Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 4 References”

Behind the rhetoric: ‘Public stockholding for food security’ in the WTO

This is not the only way to create emergency food stocks in poorer countries. How essential is it?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 24, 2020 | UPDATED JULY 20, 2021

In late March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated around the world, India announced it had broken a key trade rule.

It told fellow-members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that its domestic rice subsidies had exceeded the limit it had agreed. But instead of facing a possible legal challenge for breaking a commitment, India invoked a “peace clause” agreed in 2014.

Continue reading “Behind the rhetoric: ‘Public stockholding for food security’ in the WTO”

Caught up in a war — the WTO and Brexit

What does leaving the EU ‘on WTO terms’ mean? A presentation on some of the implications

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED APRIL 6, 2019 | UPDATED JUNR 6, 2019

For some it’s “no deal” — a Brexit with nothing agreed between the UK and EU. Others prefer to hide that by calling it “leaving the EU on WTO terms”. What does that mean?

These are slides from a presentation given at Chatham House, London on March 11, 2019, looking at some of the implications.

Continue reading “Caught up in a war — the WTO and Brexit”

What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments?

Just as tariff quotas are complex and misunderstood, the same applies to the news that pops up from time to time of what’s happening to the UK’s quotas in its post-Brexit WTO commitments

This replaces a 2017 article on tariff quotas, originally the second part of a pair of primers on the UK, its WTO membership, and its WTO schedules of commitments. The first part on the UK’s WTO membership is here. The original second part is archived here. See also: Beginner’s guide.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 | UPDATED JULY 15, 2021

From autumn 2017, news appeared every few months about the UK’s proposed World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and the objections of other countries. Some claimed this was a failure of London’s Brexit policy.

Headlines spoke of plans “in tatters” or “hitting the buffers”, “protests” by other countries, and even a Kremlin plot. They were wrong, at least for the time being.

Britain left the EU on January 31, 2020. It left the EUs common commercial policy (particularly the customs union) when the Brexit transition ended on December 31, 2020. In practice, it is now operating under its controversial proposed commitments in the WTO on tariffs, tariff quotas, farm subsidies and access to its services markets.

So the headlines in the public media have gone quiet, and will stay quiet unless other WTO members kick up a fuss. Inside the WTO, those members continue to raise objections in the WTO such as the November 2020 meeting of the Market Access Committee. But it is too soon to tell whether they will take any legal action.

Meanwhile countries had been negotiating quietly and in early 2021 information emerged of agreements between some of them and the post-Brexit EU27, particularly on tariff quotas. The UK stayed quiet but EU sources are quoted saying the UK was part of the talks.

Continue reading “What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments?”

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”

What WTO leadership means and where the UK would fit in

People who should know better keep talking about the UK becoming a leader in the World Trade Organization. What exactly does this mean and what are the chances?

By Peter Ungphakorn
NOVEMBER 8, 2017 | UPDATED MAY 8, 2019

Too busy to read this longish version? Here are the main points:
How to be a trade champion: A guide for busy politicians

Brexit will allow Britain to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Legatum Institute claims in a new paper published on November 4, 2017.

The paper, “The Brexit Inflection Point: The Pathway to Prosperity”, is new but the claim is not — not entirely. Continue reading “What WTO leadership means and where the UK would fit in”