Why it’s a mistake to talk about a ‘Swiss-style’ post-Brexit UK-EU deal

We struggle to grasp unfamiliar detail and nuance. So we invent labels and waste time and energy debating what they mean

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 21, 2022 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 23, 2022

Maybe it was because someone thought it would be a good idea to stick a label on where UK-EU relations might be heading now that the atmosphere between the two is widely reported to have improved. Or perhaps it was just because people were bored while waiting for the football World Cup to start.

Whatever the reason, “Swiss-style ties with Brussels” suddenly became big news over the weekend after the Sunday Times reported (November 20, 2022, paywalled, but some more detail here) that the British government is considering exactly that.

Reactions ranged from “Doubt it. EU hates its relationship with Switzerland & Switzerland hates its relationship with EU” (Mujtaba Rahman, here), to “when someone says ‘Swiss-style’ relationship, rather than hearing ‘a slightly better relationship [than] now’ everyone is like ‘LET ME GET MY NOTES’” (Sam Lowe, here).

The problem here is that “Swiss-style” is being used as shorthand. It’s a label, but one that’s misleading and not really explained. Both of the reactions above are valid, at least to some extent, but they are talking about different things.

Continue reading “Why it’s a mistake to talk about a ‘Swiss-style’ post-Brexit UK-EU deal”
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WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)

Monday’s retreat is an attempt to produce fresh thinking that might break the deadlock in the two remaining pillars.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 23, 2022 | UPDATED OCTOBER 24, 2022

See also the report on the retreat (published October 26, 2022):
WTO agriculture retreat said strong on context but weak on give-and-take

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”.

(An aside here. What almost no one has noticed is that the Trade Negotiations Committee of the WTO membership — with the director-general ex officio in the chair — still meets. This committee was set up specifically within the Doha Round. If the round has ended so should the Trade Negotiations Committee. That would also mean the director-general has no official position in any council or committee of the WTO membership.)

Continue reading “WTO agriculture negotiators face challenge of thinking outside the box(es)”

If Americans are confused about Gruyère cheese, blame the French

Or how to start a war among trade geeks

It’s war: don’t talk about geographical indications
It’s war: don’t talk about geographical indications

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 13, 2022 | UPDATED JANUARY 29, 2022

“If you’re new to trade and want to know how to start a brawl between trade people — Simon has the answer.”

That tweet, accompanied by a riotously animated GIF of a bar fight, came from Greg Messenger, associate professor at Bristol University Law School.

“Simon” is another trade law guru, Simon Lester, whose CV includes a stint in the WTO Appellate Body Secretariat.


Let’s keep up the erosion & make all cheese terms generic!

Simon Lester

“GI Simon,” punned a third trade law guru Holger Hestermeyer of The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London.

Lester had tweeted the outcome of a court case as reported on NBC News: “decades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled GRUYERE produced outside the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic.”

That quote already contains a lot that is inflammatory in trade. Lester added a couple of gallons (US, of course, 3.785411784 litres each) of gasoline to the flames: “Let’s keep up the erosion & make all cheese terms generic!”

Continue reading “If Americans are confused about Gruyère cheese, blame the French”

No agreement on India’s call for WTO ministers to discuss COVID-19 waiver

Many delegations argued that ministers meeting online would not be able to break the deadlock

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 10, 2022 | UPDATED JANUARY 11, 2022

India’s call for an online WTO ministerial meeting to  discuss the proposed intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 fell well short of consensus at an informal General Council meeting today (January 10, 2022).

Many delegations countering that members would have to be much closer to agreement on the proposed waiver before a meeting of ministers would be able to contribute to a solution, said sources familiar with today’s discussion of just over two hours.

Continue reading “No agreement on India’s call for WTO ministers to discuss COVID-19 waiver”

Postponed WTO conference saves delegates from grappling with declaration on pandemic

Members unable to endorse David Walker’s draft ministerial declaration

Updates
May 9, 2022 — In 2022, Honduras Ambassador Dacio Castillo took over as “facilitator”. He continued to modify the draft according to members’ comments. The aim was to agree on the text for the upcoming Ministerial Conference in parallel with a compromise deal on intellectual property. Castillo had succeeded Walker as General Council chair for 2021. See the final paragraph here.

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 dates were later fixed for June 12–15.

Late on Friday November 26, 2021, WTO members had agreed in an urgently-called meeting to postpone indefinitely the four-day Ministerial Conference due to start the following Tuesday.

The reason was new travel restrictions announced by Switzerland earlier in the day after a new COVID-19 variant of concern was discovered in southern Africa. The variant had also been detected in Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

Switzerland banned flights from southern Africa and required COVID-19 tests and quarantine for travellers from the region and the three other countries. This would effectively prevent ministers and officials from those countries from attending the WTO Conference in Geneva.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 26, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 20, 2022

Four days before trade ministers were due to gather for the first World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in four years, their delegates in Geneva were divided on what to recommend they should say in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The disagreement on Friday (November 26, 2021) centred on parts of a draft ministerial declaration and post-conference action plan designed to reflect members’ shared approach to the pandemic and how they would address their differences through the action plan.

The delegates had then intended to continue to try to break the deadlock over the weekend. But their efforts have been interrupted because the Ministerial Conference is now postponed as a result of new Swiss travel and quarantine restrictions.

Continue reading “Postponed WTO conference saves delegates from grappling with declaration on pandemic”

What have the UK and Switzerland agreed on trade post-Brexit?

Some interesting insights are in Swiss government information notes, prepared mainly for traders and producers

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 5, 2019 | UPDATED JANUARY 27, 2021

A summary of this is on the EU Relations Law blog, here

What have the UK and Switzerland agreed on their trade relationship post-Brexit? Essentially, they have been partly “rolling over” to the UK the present Swiss-EU trade relationship.

EU agreements are being “rolled over” into UK agreements in order to allow as much continuity as possible for trade and for business. They are called “continuity agreements”.

Below are an introduction to the provisions on goods and services, followed by Swiss government summaries of key parts of its agreements with the UK, mainly on goods but also narrowly on services.

But first, some context and explanations.

Continue reading “What have the UK and Switzerland agreed on trade post-Brexit?”

What are geographical indications? What do they mean for post-Brexit UK?

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

“How was your Cornish pasty sir? And your lamb, madam? It was New Zealand lamb. Excellent. Would you like some dessert? A cheese plate? We have a new Tiroler Bergkäse from Austria. I also recommend a fine French or Swiss Gruyère. And we have a lovely Caerphilly. Or our chef’s favourite mature Cheddar. A selection? Of course. And to go with that? Would you like to stay with your Amarone della Valpolicella? An Armagnac? A perfect choice. And sir? More Evian. Coming right up.”
Which of these are geographical indications? Answer at the end (click the image to see it full size)

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.

Continue reading “What are geographical indications? What do they mean for post-Brexit UK?”

How does a nation of serial voters handle a referendum?

The jewels in the crown are not just the power given to the people, but also the clear, simple, comprehensive and impartial explanations that accompany the ballot papers

By Peter Ungphakorn
MARCH 2, 2018 | UPDATED MARCH 4, 2018

UPDATE:
• Voters in Vaud rejected the cantonal popular initiative on dental health insurance by 57.5% to 42.5% with a turnout of 55.6%
• The nationwide proposal to scrap the TV licence was rejected by all cantons, and by 71.6% to 28.4% of the popular vote, turnout 54.1%. Majorities in favour were needed on both counts
• The nationwide vote on extending the government’s authority to collect taxes was accepted by all cantons, and by 84.1% to 15.9% of the popular vote, turnout 52.9%. Again majorities were needed on both counts
• Incidentally, voters in Valais voted to rewrite their cantonal constitution.

On Sunday (March 4), the Swiss go to the first of four polls scheduled this year. It’s an opportunity to take a quick look at how referendums are handled in Switzerland. Continue reading “How does a nation of serial voters handle a referendum?”

Grandfathering EU free trade deals for the UK: a look at an actual text

After Brexit, ‘Global Britain’ will want free trade agreements with the rest of the world. But it already has some 37 agreements with over 60 countries through the EU. Rolling them over into the UK’s own agreements will not be automatic. A look at the actual text of the EU-South Korea deal shows why

By Peter Ungphakorn
FEBRUARY 13, 2018 | UPDATED JANUARY 1, 2021

Leaving the EU means the British government will either have to convert the EU’s free trade agreements with other countries into UK deals, or risk losing them, when Brexit is supposed to be about to allowing Britain more freedom to enjoy trade agreements with the world outside the EU.

At the very least, the UK should continue with the deals it already has through the EU, with Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Japan (in the pipeline) and many others. Academics at Sussex University say there are over 60 other countries. The UK government says there are over 100. It depends on what kind of agreement is counted. Continue reading “Grandfathering EU free trade deals for the UK: a look at an actual text”

In a nutshell: Brexit and the UK’s trading relations with the EU

The four options are well-known but their implications are not always understood. Some summary graphics

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 19, 2016 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

This is a summary of the four main options facing the UK for its trade relationship with the EU after Brexit. The four options are well-known but their implications are not always understood. These are the options: Continue reading “In a nutshell: Brexit and the UK’s trading relations with the EU”