Unlikely video star outshines trade big-guns at WTO ministerial conference

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.

As Robert Wolfe and I wrote a while ago:

“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.

They are all here, all 150 of them.

So how did those video statements fare?

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.

Screenshot of Tai making her statement
How many watched? US Trade Representative Katherine Tai delivers her statement

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.

(Google him.)

These are the top 10 viewing figures.

  1. Grenada – 1,897
  2. Nepal – 267
  3. USA – 252
  4. China – 188
  5. Benin – 162
  6. India – 150
  7. Russian Federation – 134
  8. Ukraine – 105
  9. Kazakhstan – 99
  10. South Africa – 98

If you Googled H.E.Justin Sun, you’ll have seen he’s a really big shot in cryptocurrency. He has 3.3 million followers on Twitter.

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

Image credits:
Stars | Greg Rakozy, Unspalsh licence

Touch and go at the WTO. Is the director-general’s optimism justified?

The meaning of “success” is not the same for the Ministerial Conference’s organisers as it is for outsiders

By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED JUNE 9, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 12, 2022

How many times can a curtain go up and down? This is our second curtain-raiser for the World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference, now rescheduled for June 12–15, 2022.

As we wrote when the meeting was postponed in late 2021, the WTO risks disappearing into a chasm of petty procedural wrangling over what to talk about, and how to move forward.

After delays in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and more recently the threat to multilateralism posed by Russia, the fact of it happening at all will be taken as a success. But have WTO members been able to move closer to significant agreement on anything?

This time our curtain-raiser proposes some benchmarks for assessment. There’s even a scorecard at the end for anyone following along at home.

Continue reading “Touch and go at the WTO. Is the director-general’s optimism justified?”

Can a WTO member be expelled? No. But …

The response from almost all legal experts is simple: there are no provisions in the WTO agreements allowing expulsion or suspension

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MARCH 23, 2022 | UPDATED MARCH 26, 2022

Can a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) be expelled? The short answer is no. There is no legal means of doing that.

The question arises because of a number of calls to expel Russia, to suspend its membership or to suspend its ability to act in the WTO, in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Those three are not exactly the same. The first two — expulsion or suspending membership — are clearly legal issues. They require decisions by the WTO’s membership.

The response from almost all experts in WTO trade law is simple: there are no provisions in the WTO agreements that would allow expulsion or suspension.

Continue reading “Can a WTO member be expelled? No. But …”

Ukraine invasion—what Russia and Belarus face in the WTO system: so far

The feasible actions are unilateral. Anything requiring formal decisions in the WTO such as suspending membership is likely to fail

This blog post contains a list of actions that countries have taken against Russia and Belarus. It will now only be updated occasionally. The point was to examine how they work, where WTO decisions might be needed and the implications, and how they relate to WTO provisions such as non-discrimination (MFN) or the security exceptions. That should be clearer now.

See these sources for closer monitoring:

Global Trade Alert

A considerably longer list of sanctions announced against Russia is available at Global Trade Alert. Many are outside the WTO system. Some may be within the system, such as export restrictions on dual-use products and restrictions on shipping services (but not air traffic rights). Russia’s retaliation is here.

Global Trade Alert was originally set up by Simon Evenett and his team at St Gallen University, Switzerland. It is now run by an independent foundation.

PIIE

Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) has created a timeline that tracks all the actions taken by various countries on all sides: Russia’s war on Ukraine: A sanctions timeline.

A number of other sources are available. This one (details paywalled) is Europe-centred.


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MARCH 4, 2022 | UPDATED MAY 10, 2022 (SEE ALSO ENTRY DATES)

This is a summary of actions taken or proposed so far against Russia within the WTO system. Some are also against Belarus, which is not a WTO member.

They are deliberately described as “within the WTO system” and not “in the WTO” — or worse “by the WTO” — to avoid confusion.

Continue reading “Ukraine invasion—what Russia and Belarus face in the WTO system: so far”

US politicians call for trade action against Russia in the WTO

Kicking Russia out of the World Trade Organization is probably impossible, but other actions are available

Painting (detail) by Chris Edmund © used with permission

See also:
List of measures announced or proposed
that come under the WTO system, periodically updated
Can a WTO member be expelled? No. But …

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 28, 2022 | UPDATED MARCH 4, 2022

Two senior US politicians announced on February 25, 2022 that they were introducing legislation to suspend World Trade Organization terms in US trade with Russia and to seek expelling Russia from the WTO.

Lloyd Doggett, chair of the House of Representatives Ways and Means subcommittee on health, and Earl Blumenauer, his counterpart on the subcommittee on trade, proposed the bill following Russia’s “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.

Since then, at least three similar bills have been proposed in the US Senate.

Meanwhile, Ukraine and Canada have actually implemented action against Russia within in the WTO system, and the EU has said it is considering its own action.

The Doggett and Blumenauer bill would make it easier for the US to impose trade sanctions against imports of Russian goods, in addition to the commercial, financial and personal sanctions the US and its allies have already initiated. That includes new EU sanctions in trade with Belarus (not a WTO member).

The bill would also “seek the suspension of the Russian Federation’s membership in the WTO”, a more difficult prospect.

Continue reading “US politicians call for trade action against Russia in the WTO”