Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’?

The WTO director-general says she discouraged negotiators from trading give-and-take across issues

See also
WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next | The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture | Our scorecards

By Robert Wolfe
POSTED JUNE 21, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 21, 2022

Observers of multiple World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conferences felt gloomy early during the June 12–17 meeting, when Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala warned against mingling the issues.

She was reported to have urged ministers to make trade-offs within the same issue rather than across the package of issues.

In an interview with the Financial Times’ Alan Beattie (paywalled) she confirmed her approach.

“Sometimes, all this leveraging and cross connections between outcomes I think in the past has led to the failure to achieve anything, because then everything just doesn’t work and collapses. I was really determined from the get-go that wasn’t going to happen and I was trying to discourage members from linking one thing to another,” she said.


I was trying to discourage members from linking one thing to another

— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,
Financial times

Those of us who analyse the WTO have a mental model of how members could reach agreement. When the process seems too slow, or it fails, analysts think: if the Secretariat or members could do it differently, then the obstacles could be overcome. This reasoning is counterfactual, meaning something that has not happened but might happen under different conditions.

Continue reading “Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’?”

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’”

Optimism v pessimism: what to make of Katherine Tai’s Geneva speech

‘If you will listen to us, we will listen to you, and let’s start the reform process from there.’ But was USTR Tai being disingenuous?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED OCTOBER 21, 2021 | UPDATED OCTOBER 21, 2021

The reaction among experts to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s speech in Geneva on October 14, 2021, has been mixed, some welcoming the optimistic tone, others disappointed at the lack of specifics.

“Unpopular take: Tai’s Geneva speech was actually quite good and clarifying at this stage,” said one privately. “I heard her as being noncommittal but also not prejudging.”

“Sorry I’m with the pessimists on the Tai speech, if nine months into a US administration the best that can be offered is that something might be considered in the future,” said another.

Continue reading “Optimism v pessimism: what to make of Katherine Tai’s Geneva speech”

‘Plurilateral’ WTO services deal struck after breakthrough text released

Creating new rules without officially calling them ‘rules’ solves an immediate problem but leaves long term questions

Skip this update and go straight to the article

This article was revised in December 2021, but follows the structure of the original version from September 2021.


UPDATE, DECEMBER 3, 2021:

The deal was eventually announced in Geneva on December 2, 2021, even though the Ministerial Conference had been postponed.

A lightly revised version of the September “reference paper” was released along with a list of the 68 participating members (counting the EU as 28) that had submitted “schedules” (lists) of commitments to streamline domestic regulation. These were combined into a single declaration.

The legally binding part of the deal is those commitments, which will be added to the schedules of commitments participating countries already attached to the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.

The reference paper itself will not be an official WTO agreement, but the new schedules of commitments will refer to the principles in the reference paper, making those commitments legally binding in practice.

By December 2, 2021, the 68 participants were:

Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain; Belgium; Brazil; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; El Salvador; Estonia; European Union; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Republic of; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Montenegro; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States; Uruguay


See also:
Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’ | Participants in WTO plurilaterals | WTO news story | Comprehensive coverage on the independent website on WTO plurliaterals | Hamid Mamdouh on the legal options for adding another plurilateral agreement (investment facilitation) to the WTO rulebook.


By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 29, 2021 | UPDATED DECEMBER 6, 2021

Almost 70 members of he World Trade Organization (WTO) announced a deal to discipline domestic regulation of services on December 2, 2021, two months after they agreed on the rules they would apply.

The final text saw only minor adjustments compared with the original announced on September 27, 2021, and described as a breakthrough allowing the final deal to be struck.

The September announcement paved the way for the participants to agree on the complete package by the Ministerial Conference (November 30 to December 3 this year), the WTO said. At that time the talks’ participants were officially had 65, but actually 66 WTO members. This has now risen to 68 (or officially 67)

All that remained after the September 27 announcement was for the participants to go through each other’s individual commitments on how the new disciplines would be applied, the WTO said.

Continue reading “‘Plurilateral’ WTO services deal struck after breakthrough text released”

Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable

Rabbit hole noun

A complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends
I wanted to show this woman descending into the rabbit hole: this loss of self, becoming a servant to her job and to the work — Jessica Chastain

Especially : One in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits
— While trying to find the picture again on Google, I fell down the Cosmo rabbit hole, scrolling through a gallery of swimwear, then through “How to Be Sexier-Instantly” and then through all 23 slides of “Sexy Ideas for Long Hair.” — Edith Zimmerman

Merriam Webster Dictionary online

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

This is a cautionary tale about just how difficult it is to crack the secret codes of trade agreements. We can ask a simple question: how will the agreement change trade in a particular product. To reach the answer we often have to venture out into a wonderland of obscure paths and hidden traps.

Does it matter? Yes, if we want to find out for ourselves what is in the agreement. Bob Wolfe and I have argued at length about the need for more transparency in trade. This is true of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is part of the rabbit warren. It is also true of free trade agreements.

Transparency doesn’t just mean making information available. It means making it accessible and understandable. Tracking down tariff commitments can be a nightmare, as this story shows.

Continue reading “Down a rabbit hole in search of the Wensleydale deal with Norway”

Four years on, still basic mistakes on tariffs at the very top of UK politics

An exchange on tariffs in the Commons Liaison Committee shows a lack of basic understanding by Johnson, the chair of a key committee and a leading journalist

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 18, 2020 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 22, 2020

Here we go again. You’d have thought they would get it right by now. After all it’s over four years since the Brexit referendum thrust trade and World Trade Organization (WTO) rules into the British political consciousness.

And yet, there we were, on September 16, 2020, a few weeks before a UK-EU trade agreement was supposed to be concluded, listening to two leading politicians showing they still don’t get the most basic rule in international trade.

Continue reading “Four years on, still basic mistakes on tariffs at the very top of UK politics”

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?”

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”