The public discussion of the Appellate Body crisis in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about how governments’ actions on trade are handled in the organisation.
This is important. The WTO is now a quarter of a century old. Its real achievements are hardly noticed. They never hit the headlines.
Instead, the impression we get is that it’s all about the dispute settlement crisis (and previously the struggle to conclude negotiations).
We might have to wait an awfully long time, because keeping international trade within agreed rules relies on much more than dispute settlement. In fact a key purpose of the WTO is to keep formal disputes to a minimum, and it does a pretty good job at that.
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.
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED JUNE XXIV, MMXIX | UPDATED NOVEMBER 9, 2019
We don’t usually argue about what a law means. Somehow this WTO rule has found its way into British political debate. It has become even more prominent because it’s advocated by Boris Johnson. And yet, we really don’t need to be talking about it at all.
I wrote a Twitter thread and was trying to recreate it as a blog post (it’s now published here). Then up popped a tweet:
“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 POSTED FEBRUARY 16, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 16, 2019
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.
The WTO has become a weapon in a war of words over other issues. For some Brexiters, it’s a deal to look forward to. For some Remainers, it’s a wreckage. For Trump, it’s “unfair”. That’s the worst possible way to get to know the trading system almost all of us rely on
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 13, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2019
This page is based on a presentation given on February 7, 2019, introducing the basics and current issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It includes a link to download a handout of the presentation.
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
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.
As import duties fall, other trade barriers appear. Some have compared this to rocks emerging at low tide. Among the most important of these ‘non-tariff barriers’ are standards and regulations. How do they work?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED SEPTEMBER 5, 2018 | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON UK TRADE FORUM, MAY 8, 2018 | UPDATED JANUARY 19, 2020
“Standards” and “regulations” are critically important for trade and have entered the public discussion about Britain’s future trade relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. But what are they? Are they the same? Are they compulsory or voluntary?
In the past few weeks we’ve seen a revival of the old claim that the WTO is undemocratic. Why? Because it has become a weapon in the Brexit war of words. As ever, the truth is more complicated.
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED AUGUST 17, 2018 | UPDATED MAY 16, 2020
It all began when hard-Brexiters started to claim that if the UK and EU fail to reach agreement, this wouldn’t be “no deal”. It would be a World Trade Deal — the new term they now use to describe operating on WTO terms, which some also claim would be the best outcome.
The response from some Remainers is to criticise the WTO. If their enemies like it, it must be bad.
BRIEFLY • The WTO is 164 member governments who operate an international trading system based on agreed rules • Is it democratic? Yes and no
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 10, 2021