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”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 2

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

Fears that the pandemic would lead to a flood of export restrictions and other disruptive policies have proved to be largely unfounded. The main impact has been from travel restrictions and other measures aimed directly at preventing the disease from spreading.

This is the second part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO, and prospects for 2021. It looks at what’s been happening inside and outside the organisation, before continuing on to possible work ahead.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 2 What’s been happening”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 3

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 31, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 21, 2021

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

It may seem strange to start an examination of WTO policy responses by discussing process. But paying attention to it might be necessary to break out of the current rut and to actually end up with agreement.

JUMP TO
Process
Towards a work programme
Export restrictions
Domestic support | Green Box | Amber Box
Market access
Labour
Conclusion

This is the third and final part of the series on lessons from the pandemic for agriculture in the WTO. This part looks at what might be achieved in the short term, and how.

The main emphasis is “in the WTO” because a lot of the ideas floating around are outside the WTO’s role. We might think they are “good ideas” (or we might not), but there’s not much point in pushing them in the WTO if the WTO is irrelevant.

Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 3 Trust and understanding”

WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 4 References

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 4

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, this page)

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

References
Continue reading “WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 4 References”

Yes, the WTO needs fixing—but not the way this NY Times piece imagines

Farah Stockman’s ideas won’t work because they don’t ‘get’ the WTO

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 27, 2020 | UPDATED DECEMBER 28, 2020

There’s a little anecdote on the World Trade Organization’s website, right at the start of “Understanding the WTO”. As the name suggests, “Understanding” is the principal explainer of how the WTO works. The anecdote goes:


Participants in a recent radio discussion on the WTO were full of ideas. The WTO should do this, the WTO should do that, they said.
     One of them finally interjected: “Wait a minute. The WTO is a table. People sit round the table and negotiate. What do you expect the table to do?”

If we keep that in mind as we read Farah Stockman’s New York Times opinion piece (“The W.T.O. Is Having a Midlife Crisis”, December 17, 2020), then it’s easier to see why so much of the piece is wrong.

Continue reading “Yes, the WTO needs fixing—but not the way this NY Times piece imagines”

FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?

The British government shouldn’t spoil the achievements of the deal by making exaggerated claims

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 26, 2020 | UPDATED JANUARY 25, 2021

Britain’s new trade agreement with Japan contains some improvements over the EU-Japan deal it rolls over, but some of London’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“It’s a roll-over of the EU deal with extra bits. And that’s a success too. That’s still better than we thought we’re going to get. Why not just say that?” tweeted trade advisor Anna Jerzewska.

She was commenting on the claim by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss that this “first trade agreement” for Britain “as an independent trading nation” has “major wins that would be impossible as part of the EU.”

Continue reading “FACT CHECK: Which UK geographical indications are in its trade deal with Japan?”

Behind the rhetoric: Does the WTO need a third ‘safeguard’ against import surges?

And does COVID-19 make it essential even though it was central to the failure to wrap up the Doha Round 12 years ago?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 30, 2020 | UPDATED AUGUST 31, 2020

On July 29, 2008, an attempt by a group of trade ministers to conclude the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations collapsed in acrimony.

Pascal Lamy, who had chaired the talks as WTO director-general, said members had converged towards consensus on 18 out of 20 outstanding topics. They had failed on the 19th, he said: the “special safeguard mechanism”.

India’s representative at the time, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, was scathing. “The most important thing was the livelihood security, the vulnerability of poor farmers, which could not be traded off against the commercial interests of the developed countries,” he told journalists.

Continue reading “Behind the rhetoric: Does the WTO need a third ‘safeguard’ against import surges?”

Behind the rhetoric: ‘Public stockholding for food security’ in the WTO

This is not the only way to create emergency food stocks in poorer countries. How essential is it?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 24, 2020 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 18, 2021

In late March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated around the world, India announced it had broken a key trade rule.

It told fellow-members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that its domestic rice subsidies had exceeded the limit it had agreed. But instead of facing a possible legal challenge for breaking a commitment, India invoked a “peace clause” agreed in 2014.

Continue reading “Behind the rhetoric: ‘Public stockholding for food security’ in the WTO”

Summary: ‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much?

A lot has been said about Britain trading with the EU on ‘WTO terms’. But a fundamental misunderstanding needs to be cleared up. It’s not just about ‘no deal’.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 27, 2020 | UPDATED MAY 27, 2020

This is a summary of a 3-part article looking at the meaning of “WTO terms” for UK-EU trade in goods, services and more.
The main article is here
.
The series draws partly on a paper from The UK in a Changing Europe

Now that UK-EU trade talks have begun, it’s important to recognise that “WTO terms” will unavoidably apply to the trading relationship — whether or not there’s a deal. It isn’t either/or. It isn’t either a deal or “WTO”, as some people describe it. It’s a question of scale.

The point is: the more the UK and EU trade on WTO terms, the more trade barriers they raise against each other — from a starting position where trade between them has fewer international trade barriers than anywhere else in the world outside the EU. Continue reading “Summary: ‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much?”