Is the World Trade Organization choosing a saviour? Or a butler?

The 40-year record of previous office-holders shows how limited the WTO chief’s powers really are — worth keeping in mind as nominations for a new director-general open from June 8 to July 8

By Peter Ungphakorn

Nominations closed on July 8, 2020 after one month (from June 8) for governments to propose candidates for the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The organisation is in deep trouble and the timing looks bad although there are some pluses. But are the 164 member governments going to choose someone to rescue the WTO? Or does that overstate the powers of a person who might be better described as the WTO’s butler?

Continue reading “Is the World Trade Organization choosing a saviour? Or a butler?”

One last go. The Article 24 red herring in less than 400 words. Think ‘highway code’

“We want to use GATT Article 24” means “We want a free trade agreement in goods that complies with WTO rules”. It doesn’t say much

By Peter Ungphakorn

They still don’t understand. Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is still being pushed as a silver bullet to solve “no deal” Brexit.

“Article 24 […] is a simple, temporary basic free trade agreement (FTA) between UK and EU which allows tariffs and quotas to continue at zero whilst a full and comprehensive FTA is negotiated instead,” is a typical and very recent claim.

GATT Article 24 is nothing of the kind. The claim has been debunked over and over and over and over and over. Still the message hasn’t got through.

So here it is again, this time in less than 400 words.

Continue reading “One last go. The Article 24 red herring in less than 400 words. Think ‘highway code’”

The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was wrong about this but he’s never corrected his mistake, and the myth persists. What is the claim and why is it wrong?

By Peter Ungphakorn

It’s not often that hard Brexiters make WTO rules more complicated than they need to be.

Usually their error is to over-simplify.

But the mistaken identity of interim free trade agreements in the WTO is one rare instance.

The idea had apparently been knocking around for some time, at least back to March 2017 in a Politico article.

It reappeared back in May 2018, when Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed on television that WTO rules allow the UK a 10-year grace period to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU. Continue reading “The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU”

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

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?”