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”.
Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable
Rabbit hole noun
A complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends — I wanted to show this woman descending into the rabbit hole: this loss of self, becoming a servant to her job and to the work — Jessica Chastain
Especially : One in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits — While trying to find the picture again on Google, I fell down the Cosmo rabbit hole, scrolling through a gallery of swimwear, then through “How to Be Sexier-Instantly” and then through all 23 slides of “Sexy Ideas for Long Hair.” — Edith Zimmerman
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED JUNE 8, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 9, 2021
This is a cautionary tale about just how difficult it is to crack the secret codes of trade agreements. We can ask a simple question: how will the agreement change trade in a particular product. To reach the answer we often have to venture out into a wonderland of obscure paths and hidden traps.
A group of WTO members have agreed on an alternative way to get a second legal opinion
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED AUGUST 4, 2020 | UPDATED October 13, 2022
On August 3, 2020, a group of 50 World Trade Organization members — 30% of the membership — announced that an alternative arrangement was up and running, as a means of getting round a blockage preventing formal appeals in WTO dispute settlement.
Developed gradually since early 2019, the system would retain countries’ ability to get a second opinion after a first-stage “panel” ruling, but unlike a formal appeal, the outcome would not be part of official WTO law.
January 26, 2022 — Brazil moved to authorise (under Brazilian law) unilateral action against countries that lose in a panel ruling and appeal “into the void” to leave a dispute inconclusive.
Legal opinion seems to be that this could violate WTO rules, but so long as the Appellate Body was unable to function, Brazil could also appeal “into the void” any legal challenge in the WTO. “In the absence of the Appellate Body, this does not seem totally bonkers,” tweeted law professor Geert Van Calster
News of the move came from Tatiana Palermo, President of Palermo Strategic Consulting and a former Brazilian vice-minister and negotiator, who tweeted:
“Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has signed an executive order allowing #Brazil to retaliate unilaterally ([including] suspending IPR [intellectual property rights] obligations) in cases where the losing party appealed the #WTO panel ruling into the void & continues with unfair trade practices.”
October 26, 2021 — María Pagán, the Biden administration’s nominee ambassador to the WTO, told a US Senate Finance Committee hearing on her nomination that the US does want to “restore the Appellate Body”, a point that had never been clarified since the Trump administration blocked the appointment of appeals judges:
“I think there’s consensus that the WTO, and particularly the Appellate Body, need to be reformed. I guess on the other hand, we all have different views of what reform means, and particularly with respect to the Appellate Body. What we want, and if confirmed what I will work hard to do, is to have conversations so that we can restore the Appellate Body and the dispute settlement system to what we thought we had agreed to.”
To underscore that this is an official position, Henry Hodge, spokesperson of the Office of the US Trade Representative, tweeted Bloomberg’s story on the statement with the headline “Biden’s nominee to WTO wants to restore Appellate-Body function.”
Pagán’s remark came on the day the US blocked the appointment of appeals judges for the 47th time at a WTO meeting in Geneva. It was the first sign of any new thinking in Washington. But it was too late for anything to happen in time for the November 30 to December 3 Ministerial Conference.
Trade lawyer Simon Lester said the remark is “positive” but that restoring the system “to what we thought we had agreed to” may prove to be “tricky”, a point Pagán herself acknowledged.
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED AUGUST 21, 2019 | UPDATED JANUARY 29, 2022
A casual glance at the headlines might have misled us into thinking the World Trade Organization (WTO) would grind to a halt at the end 2019, that the blame lay entirely with US President Donald Trump, and that the WTO’s demise would bring anarchy to world trade.
Only the last of those three assertions is possibly correct; and only if the WTO really does die — which it certainly won’t, not in the near future.
This is an attempt at an explanation. It shows that even WTO dispute settlement could well survive, but in a less powerful form. Other important work in the WTO will continue, and therefore so will the WTO itself.
But be warned: simple explanations of complex issues cannot tell the whole story. And even this attempt is not that simple. Sorry.
The doom-mongers had already written off the WTO. From December no new appeals in WTO disputes would be possible and the whole organisation would grind to a halt, they claimed. They were wrong.
The problem is with the appeals stage of WTO legal disputes. Some countries are finding ways to work around that. WTO disputes cannot be the same without a properly functioning Appellate Body, but they can continue even if the system is weaker.
As for the rest of the WTO’s work, it does not rely on dispute settlement. True, member countries participate in those functions more confidently if they know the disputes system is working well, but it will still take years before they lose confidence so badly that they give up on the WTO altogether.
People’s views of geographical indications range from cherishing them as precious cultural heritage and commercial property, to annoyance and scorn. They are complicated. Every argument has a counter-argument
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED MAY 5, 2018 | FIRST PUBLISHED ON UK TRADE FORUM APRIL 3, 2018 | UPDATED JANUARY 13, 2022
Among the thousands of policy questions facing Britain after it leaves the EU is what its approach should be for geographical indications.
These are names — like Melton Mowbray pork pies, Rutland bitter and Bordeaux wine — that are used to identify certain products.
The UK’s policy will affect both its own and other countries’ names, and it has now taken first steps in revealing what its approach will be.
People’s views of geographical indications range from cherishing them as precious cultural heritage and commercial property, to annoyance and scorn.
What are they? And what are the decisions facing the UK? This is an attempt to explain them simply. It’s in two main parts with a small third part tacked on.