The US’s claim that it is a victim in the WTO is based on a truly blinkered view. And that’s being generous
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED JUNE 21, 2020 | UPDATED JANUARY 22, 2021
“We lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO”. So said President Donald Trump in October 2017, just one of three huge untruths he uttered in barely 100 words.
Like the bad loser in the school playground, Trump might as well have wailed: “You’re all cheats!”
But the sentiment persists in US politics and was repeated on June 17, 2020 by Trump’s US Trade Representative, while more broadly an anti-WTO campaign mounts and US belligerence has thrown the WTO into crisis.
On January 23, 2020, Fiona Bruce, the host of Question Time on BBC TV, repeatedly and wrongly confused US tariffs on Scotch whisky with the US threat to raise tariffs on cars if Britain taxes digital technology companies.
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.”
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.
The doom-mongers had already written off the WTO. From December no new appeals in WTO disputes would be possible and the whole organisation would grind to a halt, they claimed. They were wrong.
The problem is with the appeals stage of WTO legal disputes. Some countries are finding ways to work around that. WTO disputes cannot be the same without a properly functioning Appellate Body, but they can continue even if the system is weaker.
As for the rest of the WTO’s work, it does not rely on dispute settlement. True, member countries participate in those functions more confidently if they know the disputes system is working well, but it will still take years before they lose confidence so badly that they give up on the WTO altogether.
As import duties fall, other trade barriers appear. Some have compared this to rocks emerging at low tide. Among the most important of these ‘non-tariff barriers’ are standards and regulations. How do they work?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED SEPTEMBER 5, 2018 | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON UK TRADE FORUM, MAY 8, 2018 | UPDATED JANUARY 19, 2020
“Standards” and “regulations” are critically important for trade and have entered the public discussion about Britain’s future trade relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. But what are they? Are they the same? Are they compulsory or voluntary?
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
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.