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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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?”

Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches

Brazil submits first ever counter proposal from “non-demandeurs” on domestic support in public stockholding

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 3, 2022 (REPLACING THIS ORIGINAL PAGE) | UPDATED JUNE 3, 2022

Less than two weeks before the re-scheduled World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, two new proposals were circulated on May 31, 2022, on the most difficult subject in the agriculture negotiations — including the first from a “non-demandeur”.

The two proposals are from opposite sides on how to deal with domestic support in developing countries’ stockholding programmes for food security.

The debate in a meeting of WTO ambassadors two days later showed how far apart members still are on this with only 10 days to go before their ministers meet in Geneva. Members are now holding round-the-clock meetings to prepare for their June 12–15 Ministerial Conference

Continue reading “Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches”

Two last-minute agriculture proposals land as WTO conference approaches

Brazil submits first ever counter proposal from “non-demandeurs” on domestic support in public stockholding

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 1, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 1, 2022

Less than two weeks before the re-scheduled World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, two new proposals were circulated on the most difficult subject in the agriculture negotiations — including the first from “non-demandeurs”.

The two proposals are from opposite sides on how to deal with domestic support in developing countries’ stockholding programmes for food security.

… This has been updated and re-posted here

Milestone or inchpebble? The first UK ‘trade deal’ with a US state, Indiana

It’s a non-binding memorandum of understanding and Indiana itself could hardly be less interested

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 29, 2022 | UPDATED MAY 31, 2022

“They said a US trade deal couldn’t be done. It can. We are doing it.”

That declaration by UK Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt is the headline on a piece she wrote on a partisan website to celebrate signing an agreement with the US state, Indiana.

But is it a “US trade deal”?

  • It is not with the “US”, but Indiana — a state with 2% of the US population (at 6 million slightly more than Yorkshire or Scotland), less than 2% of the US economy (GDP), and less than 1% of its area (ranked 38th of the 50 US states)
  • The actual “trade” content is minimal, when compared with what governments usually sign in trade agreements
  • “Deal” is misleading since this is not the conclusion of anything. It’s a memorandum of understanding (MoU) — or joint statement of intent — on future cooperation and on what future talks will cover. The way it’s presented stretches the meaning of “agreement” a lot.

The phrase “trade deal” is itself a problem.

Continue reading “Milestone or inchpebble? The first UK ‘trade deal’ with a US state, Indiana”

Five takeaways from the WTO seminar on food security

The Ukraine war threatens food security but over-reaction is not the answer, delegates hear

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED APRIL 26, 2022 | UPDATED APRIL 26, 2022

Countries should avoid reacting hastily to the food security challenge posed by the war in Ukraine and avoid worsening the crisis, experts warned in a World Trade Organization (WTO) seminar today (April 26, 2022).

Presenting a grim picture for many countries, several speakers urged governments to keep trade flowing, not to take short term measures that could increase volatility and not to turn inward.

That was among several messages heard in the seminar, with a number of implications for WTO members and their efforts to modernise the rules of international agricultural trade.

Below are five takeaways from the seminar. The morning sessions were on the record. Some of the speakers are identified here. The afternoon sessions were under the Chatham House Rule and speakers are not identified.

Continue reading “Five takeaways from the WTO seminar on food security”

WTO members pick week of June 13 for rescheduled Ministerial Conference

Members want to hold it as soon as possible because without a deadline momentum is flagging

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2022 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 23, 2022

The postponed World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference will be held in-person at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters in the week of June 13, the organisation’s General Council decided today (February 23, 2022), a move that delegations hope will concentrate minds on reaching agreements.

“The precise dates still have to be determined,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said. This is partly because the WTO will want to minimise clashes with other events scheduled at around the same time in Geneva, such as the UN Human Rights Council on June 13–July 8.

The decision was taken by consensus — as is standard in the WTO — on the first day of a two-day formal meeting. It creates a new deadline for members to focus on.

Continue reading “WTO members pick week of June 13 for rescheduled Ministerial Conference”

WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’

The fate of the chair’s draft lies in the balance as members declare commitment to the talks but remain as divided as ever

UPDATE
May 19, 2022 informal negotiations meeting: in preparation for the re-scheduled Ministerial Conference: Twitter thread (food security, export restrictions, public stockholding, agriculture negotiations as a whole).

March 21, 2022 negotiations meeting: Twitter thread, WTO news story, chair’s statement on consultations (public stockholding, special safeguard mechanism, agriculture negotiations as a whole, including a proposed session on food security)

May 31, 2022: new draft texts circulated ahead of the June 12–15 re-scheduled Ministerial Conference.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 25, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 8, 2022

WTO agriculture negotiations started the year 2022 with members taking stock of where the talks were and how they might proceed, after a year of hard and intensive work that produced new proposals, but no change in fundamental, deadlocked positions.

The momentum had been created as negotiators strove to present common ground for the Ministerial Conference, scheduled for November 30–December 3, 2021, but postponed because of travel and other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An informal negotiation meeting on January 24, 2022, cast doubt on the fate of the only attempt to reflect the current state of the talks in a single text, according to a trade official in Geneva — “to be or not to be”, the official said.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’”

Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’

Brand new, decades old, or in between? Exclusive or applying to all members? Proper negotiations or just talk? Which is which, and what are the subjects?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 3, 2022 | UPDATED OCTOBER 13, 2022

As World Trade Organization (WTO) members struggle to reach consensus on numerous issues, many see talks among “the willing” as the way to modernise the organisation and in many cases to update its trade rules. But the approach is controversial.

These talks and resulting decisions among only some WTO members are called “plurilateral” to distinguish them from “multilateral” activities and agreements among the WTO’s whole membership.

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Pre-ministerial draft shows little to harvest in WTO farm talks

21 years of talking with little sign of convergence on remaining topics in agriculture

UPDATES
See “WTO farm talks head into 2022 with lots of ‘will’ but not much ‘way’
and May 31, 2022, pre-Ministerial Conference drafts (agriculture decision, food security declaration, and exempting the World Food programme from export restrictions decision)

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 9, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 8, 2021

A week bef0re the now-postponed World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference was due to start, WTO agriculture negotiators received a revised draft from Gloria Abraham Peralta, Costa Rica’s ambassador and the talks’ chair.

The new assessment and draft text is still in the form of a proposed decision for the ministers. It was circulated on November 23, 2021. The conference was postponed three days later on November 26. It was due to take place on November 30–December 3.

The new text was slimmed down from the 27 pages of the July 29 text, to 16 pages, still covering eight topics. This was not because gaps between members’ positions had narrowed. Rather, some issues had proved so intractable that the chair had simply thrown out large chunks of text.




[Public stockholding] has turned out to be the most difficult issue in the agriculture negotiations

— Gloria Abraham Peralta

The page-count was also reduced by combining eight separate draft decisions into one single text.

One commentator has slammed the draft for being completely empty.

“It has absolutely nothing in it. Basically, it says: We will negotiate on market access. We will negotiate on export competition. We will negotiate on domestic support. And not much else,” wrote Australian trade lawyer Brett Williams on the International Economic Law and Policy Blog.

That is a bit harsh. WTO members and their chair had worked hard in the previous months.

Continue reading “Pre-ministerial draft shows little to harvest in WTO farm talks”