India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks

On the day she started her term as new WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala faced a challenge to her vision

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021

It’s tempting to call it a bombshell. But the warning signs have been around for some time. Nevertheless a new paper from India and South Africa signals a tough ride for the new head of the World Trade Organization’s ambitions to drive negotiations forward.

The paper criticises negotiations involving only part of the WTO’s membership. They are called “plurilaterals” and are seen as a way of breaking deadlock when consensus is elusive.

Continue reading “India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks”

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”

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 JULY 20, 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?”

‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 1 ‘WTO terms’

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’. Part 1 of 3

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

This first of 3 parts looks at the meaning of “WTO terms” for UK-EU trade. Part 2 is on goods trade. Part 3 is on services, intellectual property and other issues.
A short summary is here
.
They draw 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

And that scale determines how many trade barriers go up on trade between the UK and EU — from a starting position where their trading relationship is one of the freest in the world.
Continue reading “‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 1 ‘WTO terms’”

‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 3 services and more

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’. Part 3 of 3

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

This final of 3 parts looks at UK-EU trade in services
and other issues under “WTO terms”.
Part 1 is on the meaning of “WTO terms”. Part 2 is on goods trade.
A short summary is here
.
They draw partly on a paper from The UK in a Changing Europe

As with goods, if the UK and EU fail to reach agreement, or if the agreement has limited content, UK-EU trade will see new trade barriers in services. Also possible are complications in intellectual property and dispute settlement among other issues. Continue reading “‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 3 services and more”

‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 2 Goods

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’. Part 2 of 3

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

This second of 3 parts looks at UK-EU trade in goods under “WTO terms”. Part 1 is on the meaning of ‘WTO terms’. Part 3 is on services, intellectual property and other issues.
A short summary is here
.
They draw partly on a paper from The UK in a Changing Europe

If the UK and EU fail to reach agreement, British goods imports from the EU and its exports to the EU will face tariffs and non-tariff barriers. That is not just the result of trading solely on WTO terms. Even with an agreement, some aspects of goods trade will still face the new barriers of trading on WTO terms. Continue reading “‘WTO terms’ apply in any future UK-EU trade relationship. But how much? Part 2 Goods”

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”

What is the WTO? And is it undemocratic?

In the past few weeks we’ve seen a revival of the old claim that the WTO is undemocratic. Why? Because it has become a weapon in the Brexit war of words. As ever, the truth is more complicated.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 17, 2018 | UPDATED MAY 16, 2020

It all began when hard-Brexiters started to claim that if the UK and EU fail to reach agreement, this wouldn’t be “no deal”. It would be a World Trade Deal — the new term they now use to describe operating on WTO terms, which some also claim would be the best outcome.

The response from some Remainers is to criticise the WTO. If their enemies like it, it must be bad.

BRIEFLY
• The WTO is 164 member governments who operate an international trading system based on agreed rules
• Is it democratic? Yes and no

JUMP TO
What is the WTO?
What about the Secretariat?
It’s member-driven
Is the WTO democratic?
Don’t compare the WTO and EU
Find out more

One repeated claim is that the WTO is undemocratic.

“When did you last vote for your representative in the WTO?” and “How can I find my WTO MP?” were among the questions.

There’s a lot wrong with the WTO, and a lot right, but these new attacks miss the point completely. Continue reading “What is the WTO? And is it undemocratic?”

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”