The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict

Will the US prevail? What actually lies ahead? How long will it take? And if the waiver is agreed, what impact will it have?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 7, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 5, 2021

It’s tempting to conclude that the proposed waiver on World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic will swiftly be agreed now that the US is supporting it.

It’s also tempting to assume that if the waiver is agreed, then intellectual property on vaccines and other COVID-19 products will be freely available and in use around the world.

Neither of those will necessarily happen, and almost certainly not quickly.

Continue reading “The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict”

New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind

Okonjo-Iweala faces a crash course in WTO diplomacy, a car crash, or a third way. Which will it be?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 18, 2021 | UPDATED MARCH 2, 2021

‘Someone has said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing you’ve done for years.” So remarked Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala shortly after she was accepted as the World Trade Organization’s next director-general on February 15, 2021.

She was speaking in an online press conference, outlining her view of where the WTO might be heading and how she might contribute.

Her first statements shed light on her intentions at the WTO and signal possible delicate times ahead. With some forthright suggestions on issues where members are divided, her approach has risks. (See also her acceptance statement in the WTO General Council.)

Continue reading “New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away

The director-general’s powers are limited, so don’t expect miracles. And don’t blame her if problems stay unresolved

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2021

Now that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been confirmed as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) it’s tempting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the troubled negotiating forum and guardian of the resulting agreements.

First woman director-general. First African. Finally, someone at the helm after almost a year effectively without a leader. All those headlined proclamations are true. The excitement is justified, to some extent.

Continue reading “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away”

US lifts objections that deadlocked the WTO over its next director-general

‘Troika’ had announced Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed broadest support, but US had refused to join consensus

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 28, 2020 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 15, 2021


On February 15, 2021, Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was confirmed as the World Trade Organization’s next director-general. The decision was by a consensus of the WTO’s membership. See Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away.

This was made possible 10 days earlier when the new Biden administration in the US announced its “strong support” for her, ending three months of deadlock.

By then, South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee
withdrew her candidacy. By overturning the stance of the Trump administration and its US Trade Representative, Robert LIghthizer, Biden paved the way for Okonjo-Iweala to be selected by the necessary consensus.

What follows was written before the deadlock was broken.

Continue reading “US lifts objections that deadlocked the WTO over its next director-general”

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?”

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
POSTED JUNE 8, 2020 | UPDATED AUGUST 26, 2020

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?”

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”

A real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO

The first beginners’ guide was on tariffs. It was supposed to be for a “six-year-old” to understand. Sadly tariff quotas are more complicated, so perhaps you have to be seven-and-a-half for this one, and that’s just at the start

JUMP TO
BASICS
What are quotas?
What are tariff quotas?
Why have tariff quotas?
And in the WTO?

IN PRACTICE
When does the higher tariff kick in?
Are tariff quotas available to all suppliers?
What about the politics?
And Brexit?
Where can I find tariff quotas?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 9, 2018 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 22, 2020

In trade policy, life can quickly become pretty complicated. The first beginners guide was on tariffs, and it was relatively simple. Move on to “tariff quotas” and we enter a complex, controversial and sometimes murky world.

But it’s useful to understand them because they feature in current debates about Brexit and Donald Trump’s trade policies. So let’s keep this as simple as possible.

First things first. Continue reading “A real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO”