‘Who invented the four modes of services supply?’

The idea evolved over almost three years among negotiators in the Uruguay Round talks in the 1980s, crystallised by the EU delegation

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2022 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 19, 2022

We now take for granted that services can be traded internationally in four ways known as the “four modes”, but once upon a time this was not so clear-cut.

The four “modes of supply” (or “modes of delivery”) are:

  • cross border supply — where a service provider in one country sells the service to a customer in another country without anyone moving, for example professional advice over the telephone or internet
  • consumption abroad — where the customer travels, for example tourism
  • foreign commercial presence — where the service provider sets up a subsidiary or branch in another country, for example a bank or insurance company
  • movement or presence of natural persons — where individuals travel to provide the service either as staff in the foreign branch or subsidiary or independently, for example maintenance engineers travelling to service aircraft abroad

This is now established right at the top of the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, under Article 1, “Scope and Definition”:

 2.   For the purposes of this Agreement, trade in services is defined as the supply of a service:

(a)  from the territory of one Member into the territory of any other Member;

(b)  in the territory of one Member to the service consumer of any other Member;

(c)  by a service supplier of one Member, through commercial presence in the territory of any other Member;

(d)  by a service supplier of one Member, through presence of natural persons of a Member in the territory of any other Member.

How they are now applied can be seen in the commitments that each WTO member has made in services, in fiendishly complicated documents known as “schedules” of commitments (explained in this technical note).

But it took some time to arrive at that point.

Continue reading “‘Who invented the four modes of services supply?’”

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 MARCH 24, 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.

Continue reading “Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’”

The 20-year saga of the WTO agriculture negotiations

The talks stumble along but what has been achieved is more significant than is generally realised, thanks partly to some remarkable New Zealanders

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MARCH 23, 2020 | UPDATED OCTOBER 26, 2020

On this day 20 years ago — March 23, 2000 — negotiators met at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva to kick off new agriculture negotiations. Two decades later, the talks struggle weakly on, amid pessimism that any significant breakthrough will be possible in the foreseeable future.

And yet at a modest level, more has been achieved than many people realise. Some will be surprised that the talks are continuing at all.

Continue reading “The 20-year saga of the WTO agriculture negotiations”

A bit of bother down at the WTO court — Why? And is it a killer? Long read

WTO dispute settlement is in trouble, but it can struggle on at least for a while. So can the organisation’s other important functions

This looks at the WTO Appellate Body crisis in some depth.
A simpler version is here
.
See also:
How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement and The WTO is surprisingly busy — considering it’s supposed to be dead


Skip the updates

UPDATES

January 26, 2022 — Brazil moved to authorise (under Brazilian law) unilateral action against countries that lose in a panel ruling and appeal “into the void” to leave a dispute inconclusive.

Legal opinion seems to be that this could violate WTO rules, but so long as the Appellate Body was unable to function, Brazil could also appeal “into the void” any legal challenge in the WTO. “In the absence of the Appellate Body, this does not seem totally bonkers,” tweeted law professor Geert Van Calster

News of the move came from Tatiana Palermo, President of Palermo Strategic Consulting and a former Brazilian vice-minister and negotiator, who tweeted:

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has signed an executive order allowing #Brazil to retaliate unilaterally ([including] suspending IPR [intellectual property rights] obligations) in cases where the losing party appealed the #WTO panel ruling into the void & continues with unfair trade practices.”

The executive order is here, in Portuguese.


October 26, 2021 — María Pagán, the Biden administration’s nominee ambassador to the WTO, told a US Senate Finance Committee hearing on her nomination that the US does want to “restore the Appellate Body”, a point that had never been clarified since the Trump administration blocked the appointment of appeals judges:

I think there’s consensus that the WTO, and particularly the Appellate Body, need to be reformed. I guess on the other hand, we all have different views of what reform means, and particularly with respect to the Appellate Body. What we want, and if confirmed what I will work hard to do, is to have conversations so that we can restore the Appellate Body and the dispute settlement system to what we thought we had agreed to.”

To underscore that this is an official position, Henry Hodge, spokesperson of the Office of the US Trade Representative, tweeted Bloomberg’s story on the statement with the headline “Biden’s nominee to WTO wants to restore Appellate-Body function.”

Pagán’s remark came on the day the US blocked the appointment of appeals judges for the 47th time at a WTO meeting in Geneva. It was the first sign of any new thinking in Washington. But it was too late for anything to happen in time for the November 30 to December 3 Ministerial Conference.

Trade lawyer Simon Lester said the remark is “positive” but that restoring the system “to what we thought we had agreed to” may prove to be “tricky”, a point Pagán herself acknowledged.


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 21, 2019 | UPDATED JANUARY 29, 2022

A casual glance at the headlines might have misled us into thinking the World Trade Organization (WTO) would grind to a halt at the end 2019, that the blame lay entirely with US President Donald Trump, and that the WTO’s demise would bring anarchy to world trade.

Only the last of those three assertions is possibly correct; and only if the WTO really does die — which it certainly won’t, not in the near future.

This is an attempt at an explanation. It shows that even WTO dispute settlement could well survive, but in a less powerful form. Other important work in the WTO will continue, and therefore so will the WTO itself.

But be warned: simple explanations of complex issues cannot tell the whole story. And even this attempt is not that simple. Sorry.

Continue reading “A bit of bother down at the WTO court — Why? And is it a killer? Long read”

A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text

I’d never heard of a ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit — until recently. What does it really mean? And does Brexit change it?

 

video iconAvailable as a video (4’40”) on YouTube

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 17, 2019 | UPDATED JUNE 17

“Mr Speaker, can I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum, and ruling out revoking article 50 and leaving a WTO — whether managed or not — deal on the table.”

— Kate Hoey MP,
House of Commons, January 21, 2019

A “WTO deal”. The phrase is spin used to camouflage the negativity of calling it “no deal”. But that’s what it is: no deal between the UK and EU.

We can question if “WTO deal” actually means anything in terms of a relationship between the UK and EU.

Usually the phrase refers to deals struck in negotiations within the WTO, as we shall see. That’s why many claim that for Brexit, it’s nonsense. A “WTO-deal” Brexit doesn’t exist.

Let’s be charitable and assume it might exist. If so, what would it mean? Not much. Continue reading “A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text”

‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation

The WTO has become a weapon in a war of words over other issues. For some Brexiters, it’s a deal to look forward to. For some Remainers, it’s a wreckage. For Trump, it’s “unfair”. That’s the worst possible way to get to know the trading system almost all of us rely on

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 13, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2019

This page is based on a presentation given on February 7, 2019, introducing the basics and current issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It includes a link to download a handout of the presentation.

It was part of a contribution to a “Westminster Workshop” on parliamentary oversight of trade agreements organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK in London, February 6–8, 2019.

Continue reading “‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation”

A real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO

The first beginners’ guide was on tariffs. It was supposed to be for a “six-year-old” to understand. Sadly tariff quotas are more complicated, so perhaps you have to be seven-and-a-half for this one, and that’s just at the start

JUMP TO
BASICS
What are quotas?
What are tariff quotas?
Why have tariff quotas?
And in the WTO?

IN PRACTICE
When does the higher tariff kick in?
Are tariff quotas available to all suppliers?
What about the politics?
And Brexit?
Where can I find tariff quotas?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 9, 2018 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 22, 2020

In trade policy, life can quickly become pretty complicated. The first beginners guide was on tariffs, and it was relatively simple. Move on to “tariff quotas” and we enter a complex, controversial and sometimes murky world.

But it’s useful to understand them because they feature in current debates about Brexit and Donald Trump’s trade policies. So let’s keep this as simple as possible.

First things first. Continue reading “A real beginners’ guide to tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) and the WTO”

A real beginners’ guide to tariffs and the WTO

‘Can someone explain to me international tariffs and WTO law as if I were a six year old? Seriously. I don’t get it. At all. No frame of reference whatsoever. Any takers?’

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JULY 28, 2018 | UPDATED JULY 18, 2019

All too often we assume people know what we’re talking about. A question someone asked recently on Twitter showed how wrong those assumptions can be.

One of the assumptions is that everyone knows what “tariffs” are. The BBC prefers “trade tariffs” in case we confuse them with energy rates or other prices.

Tariffs are part of the Brexit debate, and are central to Trump’s trade war. But the fact is, most of us never had to deal with this before.

So for the benefit of Dr Dominic Pimenta and six-year-olds everywhere, here goes. Continue reading “A real beginners’ guide to tariffs and the WTO”

Introducing the WTO elephant and its dodgy health

People’s understanding of the WTO is a bit like the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant. Even those who have spent their lives working on it stress different aspects

By Peter Ungphakorn
DECEMBER 17, 2017 | ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON UK TRADE FORUM DECEMBER 16, 2017 | UPDATED JULY 18, 2019

There’s been an elephant in the room ever since the discussion of Brexit and trade began. Gradually, bits of the animal have become visible, but what we’ve seen has not always been accurate. It’s time to complete the picture, and to understand why the beast isn’t in the best of health. Continue reading “Introducing the WTO elephant and its dodgy health”

How to be a trade champion

A guide for busy politicians: size counts—the more you trade, the bigger your clout in the WTO


By Peter Ungphakorn
NOVEMBER 21, 2017 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 21, 2017

International Trade Minister Greg Hands has again proclaimed the UK is a global trade champion only needing to “reclaim our position at heart of global trading system”.

I have written a longer piece on this. Here are some key points for busy readers. I’m using the WTO as the context since that’s where “the heart of the global trading system” is. Continue reading “How to be a trade champion”