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.
Imagine. What if these viewing figures show where the WTO is heading?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED JUNE 21, 2022 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 16, 2022
The World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference ended two days late on Friday morning (June 17, 2022), the concluding session pushed back by stamina-draining and sometimes chaotic round-the-clock haggling, drafting and redrafting.
And yet this was supposed to be a streamlined meeting. The important-sounding “plenary sessions” were scrapped, replaced by pre-recorded videos so that ministers and their delegations wouldn’t have to pop out of sessions on real substance to talk platitudes to a near-empty room.
“After the stars of the show have made their statements on the opening day — the host dignitary, director-general, guest speaker, ministers from the US, EU, and China — the plenaries retreat to a much smaller room for speeches by the rest of the ministers.
“Often the only delegates present are from the minister’s own team. The conference TV camera zooms in on the minister, leaving the empty seats invisible. Ministers may think they are making important statements for the record. No one else cares one jot, except perhaps the audience back home.”
Last week’s video statements can be watched by anyone with an internet connection and a phone or computer, anywhere in the world.
Bearing in mind that in almost all cases the texts can be read without spending time on the videos, the viewing numbers of people all over the world are not really any bigger than the in-room audiences when the statements are delivered in person.
For example, how many watched the minister usually considered to be the most powerful in the WTO, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai?
Go on, have a guess.
By Monday afternoon (June 20, 2022), a week after the videos were posted, 252 people had watched Tai’s video.
Two hundred and fifty-two.
And Tai’s viewing figures were the third best out of all 150 statements.
She was beaten by Nepal (267) and, wait for it …
… Grenada, with a whopping 1,897.
Yes almost two thousand people, almost 10 times the number who watched Tai, watched the statement from Grenada.
Why? Grenada didn’t even send a minister.
The statement was delivered by its Ambassador, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization, His Excellency Justin Sun.
How did he become Grenada’s ambassador to the WTO?
It’s a long story. A very long story. From China via South Korea to the US and on to various jurisdictions, mainly islands. You can read it all here.
This bit is relevant:
“Sun also announced he’s now Grenada’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, where he says he’ll advocate for favourable cryptocurrency policy.
“Because of the new title, one of his senior employees issued proper guidance to workers on Slack for how to correctly refer to Sun as ‘his excellency.’ Former employees speculated the ambassadorship is a play for diplomatic immunity. But so far, he’s most notably used his public office to promote Tron.
“Sun met with Russia’s representative to the WTO after their military invaded Ukraine and tweeted, ‘We discussed humanitarian use case of how blockchain like Bitcoin/TRON can be implemented for Russian civilians who lack access to financial payment system.’ The tweet was later deleted.
“(A spokesperson for the WTO said they were not aware of this event and thus had no comment. They also said the WTO has no right to bar any representative from meetings and they had no further comment.)”
E-commerce was a big issue at the Ministerial Conference. But if anyone watching (or reading) Sun’s statement was looking for signs of a proposal on cryptocurrency in the WTO, they would have been disappointed.
Just boring old stuff about Caribbean allies, the pandemic, and SIDS — small island developing states.
PS. On August 29, 2022, Swiss-German business newspaper Handelszeitung reported that the Swiss Government had withheld diplomatic status from Justin Sun. Contacted by this blog, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said it does not comment on individual cases.
Updates: September 16, 2022 — adding the PS on Switzerland declining to give Justin Sun diplomatic status
The WTO Ministerial Conference is almost upon us. The chorus of calls for “WTO reform” puts too much emphasis on Geneva when the real solutions require fundamental changes in and between the capitals of its 164 members.
New dates On February 23, 2022, WTO members meeting as the General Council agreed to reschedule the Ministerial Conference for the week of June 13
The Ministerial Conference had been “postponed indefinitely” on November 26, four days before it was due to start, as Switzerland tightened travel restrictions because of the new omicron COVID-19 variant
Two years later, the WTO is still up and running. Even the crisis in dispute settlement, where first-stage rulings can no longer be appealed — the cause of those doom-mongering news reports — has failed to stop it.
Yet the WTO does face serious problems. Dealing with them has become more urgent.
This piece was originally published in September. We are now only days away from when WTO ministers are due to meet in Geneva, where “WTO reform” is a major item on the agenda.
Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng visited Geneva to rally delegations to produce “concrete outcomes on key initiatives” at the Ministerial Conference. She met the Ottawa Group of members working on WTO reform, the WTO director-general, the chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, ambassadors from India, South Africa, EU and Mauritius, and the US chargé d’affaires.
‘If you will listen to us, we will listen to you, and let’s start the reform process from there.’ But was USTR Tai being disingenuous?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED OCTOBER 21, 2021 | UPDATED OCTOBER 21, 2021
The reaction among experts to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s speech in Geneva on October 14, 2021, has been mixed, some welcoming the optimistic tone, others disappointed at the lack of specifics.
“Unpopular take: Tai’s Geneva speech was actually quite good and clarifying at this stage,” said one privately. “I heard her as being noncommittal but also not prejudging.”
“Sorry I’m with the pessimists on the Tai speech, if nine months into a US administration the best that can be offered is that something might be considered in the future,” said another.
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 FEBRUARY 6, 2022
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.