Caught up in a war — the WTO and Brexit

What does leaving the EU ‘on WTO terms’ mean? A presentation on some of the implications

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED APRIL 6, 2019 | UPDATED JUNR 6, 2019

For some it’s “no deal” — a Brexit with nothing agreed between the UK and EU. Others prefer to hide that by calling it “leaving the EU on WTO terms”. What does that mean?

These are slides from a presentation given at Chatham House, London on March 11, 2019, looking at some of the implications.

Continue reading “Caught up in a war — the WTO and Brexit”

‘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”

The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was wrong about this but he’s never corrected his mistake, and the myth persists. What is the claim and why is it wrong?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 27, 2018 | UPDATED JULY 3, 2019

It’s not often that hard Brexiters make WTO rules more complicated than they need to be.

Usually their error is to over-simplify.

But the mistaken identity of interim free trade agreements in the WTO is one rare instance.

The idea had apparently been knocking around for some time, at least back to March 2017 in a Politico article.

It reappeared back in May 2018, when Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed on television that WTO rules allow the UK a 10-year grace period to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU. Continue reading “The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU”

What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments?

Just as tariff quotas are complex and misunderstood, the same applies to the news that pops up from time to time of what’s happening to the UK’s quotas in its post-Brexit WTO commitments

This replaces a 2017 article on tariff quotas, originally the second part of a pair of primers on the UK, its WTO membership, and its WTO schedules of commitments. The first part on the UK’s WTO membership is here. The original second part is archived here. See also: Beginner’s guide.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 | UPDATED AUGUST 21, 2021

From autumn 2017, news appeared every few months about the UK’s proposed World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and the objections of other countries. Some claimed this was a failure of London’s Brexit policy.

Headlines spoke of plans “in tatters” or “hitting the buffers”, “protests” by other countries, and even a Kremlin plot. They were wrong, at least for the time being.

Britain left the EU on January 31, 2020. It left the EUs common commercial policy (particularly the customs union) when the Brexit transition ended on December 31, 2020. In practice, it is now operating under its controversial proposed commitments in the WTO on tariffs, tariff quotas, farm subsidies and access to its services markets.

So the headlines in the public media have gone quiet, and will stay quiet unless other WTO members kick up a fuss. Inside the WTO, those members continue to raise objections in the WTO such as the November 2020 meeting of the Market Access Committee. But it is too soon to tell whether they will take any legal action.

Meanwhile countries had been negotiating quietly and in early 2021 information emerged of agreements between some of them and the post-Brexit EU27, particularly on tariff quotas. The UK stayed quiet but EU sources are quoted saying the UK was part of the talks.

Continue reading “What’s really happening on tariff quotas and Britain’s WTO commitments?”

Comments on the EU’s (and UK’s) proposed modified tariff quotas

Countries’ and organisations’ reactions show some of the issues Britain and the EU may have to confront when they negotiate their tariff quotas in the WTO

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 | UPDATED SEPTEMBER 12, 2018

In May 2018, the European Union’s Commission circulated proposed modified tariff quotas for the post-Brexit EU–27 to be negotiated in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It also invited comments from interested parties. Twenty-one countries and organizations had responded when the comment period was closed in July, offering a foretaste of negotiations to come. Continue reading “Comments on the EU’s (and UK’s) proposed modified tariff quotas”

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”

What WTO leadership means and where the UK would fit in

People who should know better keep talking about the UK becoming a leader in the World Trade Organization. What exactly does this mean and what are the chances?

By Peter Ungphakorn
NOVEMBER 8, 2017 | UPDATED MAY 8, 2019

Too busy to read this longish version? Here are the main points:
How to be a trade champion: A guide for busy politicians

Brexit will allow Britain to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Legatum Institute claims in a new paper published on November 4, 2017.

The paper, “The Brexit Inflection Point: The Pathway to Prosperity”, is new but the claim is not — not entirely. Continue reading “What WTO leadership means and where the UK would fit in”