Optimism after WTO ministers meet on fisheries subsidies, despite splits

Did ministers bring real hope to the WTO fish subsidies talks or are WTO leaders clutching at straws?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 16, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 17, 2021

The two people managing the negotiations on fisheries subsidies in the World Trade Organization (WTO) said they were more confident that an agreement can be reached after 104 ministers or their representatives participated in an online meeting on July 15, 2021.

“This is the closest we have ever come towards reaching an outcome — a high-quality outcome that would contribute to building a sustainable blue economy,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the ministers at the end of the meeting.

“The prospect for a deal in the autumn ahead of our Ministerial Conference has clearly improved,” she said.

The next Ministerial Conference — the WTO’s top decision-making body — meets from November 30 to December 3 this year

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, who chairs the negotiations, echoed Okonjo-Iweala. He told a press conference afterwards that he was also more optimistic that an agreement can be reached in time.

But some of the statements that have been made public, with some reading between the lines, show that major differences still remain.

Continue reading “Optimism after WTO ministers meet on fisheries subsidies, despite splits”

Fisheries subsidies chair floats new text 15 days before ministers meet

Ministers challenged to drive talks forward politically as an advanced text on curbing harmful subsidies is now unlikely by July 15

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 30, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 15, 2021

Two weeks before ministers from World Trade Organization (WTO) members meet to discuss the latest in the negotiations to curb harmful fisheries subsidies, the chair circulated a revised draft text on June 30, showing a wide range of differences among members.

One of the most difficult subjects is still special treatment for developing countries, where the chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, is now proposing a “peace clause” — agreement that for a limited time, subsidies would not be challenged legally if they were for subsistence, artisanal and small-scale fishers in developing and least-developed countries.

Continue reading “Fisheries subsidies chair floats new text 15 days before ministers meet”

New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame

Colombian chair says special treatment for developing countries is the most difficult issue

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 11, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 13,2021

Santiago Wills, chair of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, announced the start of a new phase in the talks on May 11, 2021 with a revised text released publicly for the first time, and accelerated talks leading to an end-game meeting of ministers on July 15.

The latest revision is “a crucial step for presenting a clean draft to ministers,” said Wills, who is also Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO. The latest version includes portions in square brackets, usually indicating disagreement among members.

The 9-page new text is here, with a 26-page explanation from the chair. See also this WTO news story

Continue reading “New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame”

How wide should the window be set? Short read on WTO transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how information is handled. This is a summary of a 4-part long read on the WTO and transparency

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day
― Edith Wharton, Vesalius In Zante, from Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 27, 2021

SUMMARY

SEE ALSO THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

It all began light-heartedly. Someone tweeted: “What advice do you have for young people going into public service?” A trade journalist replied: “When a reporter calls, pick up the phone …”.

This led to a much more serious debate about transparency, particularly in trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Would more transparency help? Would less?

Transparency in one sense is the purpose of the WTO — reliable information about government rules and practices reduces uncertainty about the conditions of trade. It also provides accountability for taxpayers’ money.

And yet in some circumstances too much information can impede governments’ ability to achieve their objectives in the WTO.

We try to clarify the distinction and to suggest that doing better ought to be part of the WTO reform agenda.

Continue reading “How wide should the window be set? Short read on WTO transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 1 Transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how information is handled. Some overall thoughts. First of four parts

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day
― Edith Wharton, Vesalius In Zante, from Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED APRIL 26, 2021

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

It all began light-heartedly. Someone tweeted: “What advice do you have for young people going into public service?” A trade journalist replied: “When a reporter calls, pick up the phone …”.

As often happens, the exchanges quickly became heated. It led to a much more serious debate about the four “Ws” — who should be transparent, about what, when, and why. Plus a fifth “W” — the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The journalist argued seriously that democracy depended on openness, that governments owe their citizens full information on what they are doing, not spin, information control or obfuscation, and that all officials at all levels should always respond to requests for information.

But is it wise for inexperienced staff to talk to journalists about complex and sensitive subjects? If the organisation supervises its officials when dealing with the media is that censorship and is it anti-democratic? And more broadly, are there times when confidentiality can actually help produce good results, for example in negotiations?

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 1 Transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 2 External transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Second of four parts: external transparency

Madman, thou errest: I say, there is no darkness
but ignorance

          ― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 4 Scene 2


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 29, 2021

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

An organisation like the World Trade Organization provides public information primarily for accountability. A better understanding of the WTO can also help generate public support, at least for the system, even if not necessarily for all of the trade rules it produces. Accountability and approval give the organisation legitimacy.

The WTO is, after all, funded by taxpayers via governments’ contributions to its budget. The WTO’s relevance depends on governments complying with the agreements they negotiated. It relies on their commitment to modernise the system through new negotiations. To achieve both of those, WTO governments need the support of public opinion.

This works at several levels and raises several questions. Does the WTO resonate well domestically with the public, farm lobbies, business interests, and others? Are officials around the world, in rich and poor countries, learning about what is at stake, as they work on domestic issues — from agriculture and state aid to banking and the environment?

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 2 External transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Third of four parts: negotiations

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman
― Louis D Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, 1914


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED APRIL 26, 2021

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

In part 2, we said we believe external transparency should be the default in the World Trade Organization (WTO). But we also recognise that some confidentiality is needed at least for a limited time.

This is particularly the case in some stages of negotiations, but with limits. Here’s why.

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 4 Help or hindrance?

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Final of four parts: does transparency help or hinder?

What light through yonder window breaks?
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED APRIL 26, 2021

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

In the Twitter discussions that kicked off this long read, one journalist argued that keeping any information confidential is anti-democratic, even if it is only for a limited time. He also said the same applies if an institution like the World Trade Organization supervises how staff talk to the media.

In parts 1 and 2 we looked at what information is available internally and externally in general. In part 3 we looked at trade negotiations, which are always a mix of public information and confidentiality.

We have a particular interest in the prospects for successful reform of the WTO and its negotiations. Would more transparency help? Would less? In this concluding part, we try to assess what that appropriate mix might be, and we return to the Twitter debate.

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 4 Help or hindrance?”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away

The director-general’s powers are limited, so don’t expect miracles. And don’t blame her if problems stay unresolved

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2021

Now that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been confirmed as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) it’s tempting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the troubled negotiating forum and guardian of the resulting agreements.

First woman director-general. First African. Finally, someone at the helm after almost a year effectively without a leader. All those headlined proclamations are true. The excitement is justified, to some extent.

Continue reading “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 1 Pertinent questions

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 1

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2020

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

For once, this might be a good time to rethink how agriculture is handled in the WTO, with hope of some success after years of going nowhere. The need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to examine where the trade rules help or hinder sound policies.

That also requires an understanding of what trade rules do and do not do — WTO rules are not prescriptions.

This is the first part of a series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO and the prospects for the coming year.

It kicks the series off by examining the context and the often-misunderstood framework of what the WTO does and does not do before moving on to the issues. There’s no point in calling for actions that are outside the WTO’s remit.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 1 Pertinent questions”