Hamid Mamdouh — WTO reform imperative: a possible way forward

Posted by Peter Ungphakorn

This is a short proposal on World Trade Organization (WTO) reform by Hamid Mamdouh, former director of the WTO Secretariat’s Trade in Services Division and a recent candidate to be WTO director-general.

Mamdouh proposes members start from overall principles and cover all three of the WTO’s main functions:

This should be done, he suggests, in a new working party to start work in the new year.

He is not alone. The EU Commission and Council have also floated the idea of a working group on WTO reform in a trade policy statement presented to the European Parliament on February 18, 2021 (page 18 of this). The EU is understood to be discussing the proposal privately with other delegations in Geneva.

Continue reading “Hamid Mamdouh — WTO reform imperative: a possible way forward”

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 MAY 23, 2022

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”

The WTO is surprisingly busy — considering it’s supposed to be dead

The reports of the WTO’s death are greatly exaggerated

By Peter Ungphakorn

As December approached last year, a steady stream of news reports and other articles warned of the impending death of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Deathday (December 10, 2019) came and went and still the WTO is alive and kicking.

If anyone needs proof, they could look at the schedule of meetings for the coming year. Continue reading “The WTO is surprisingly busy — considering it’s supposed to be dead”

How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement

The Appellate Body is in a deep freeze, but those who think it will drag trade into the law of the jungle are in for a surprise

By Peter Ungphakorn

A very short summary and graphic:
Dispute settlement is not essential (but it helps)

The public discussion of the Appellate Body crisis in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about how governments’ actions on trade are handled in the organisation.

This is important. The WTO is now a quarter of a century old. Its real achievements are hardly noticed. They never hit the headlines.

Instead, the impression we get is that it’s all about the dispute settlement crisis (and previously the struggle to conclude negotiations).

The Appellate Body has been unable to function since December 11, 2019. This has crippled WTO dispute settlement, we’re told, ultimately jeopardising a trading system that’s supposed to be based on rules — rules that can no longer be “enforced” as a result of the crisis.

We’re going to be left with the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Just watch and wait. It could be the end of the WTO, we’re told.

We might have to wait an awfully long time, because keeping international trade within agreed rules relies on much more than dispute settlement. In fact a key purpose of the WTO is to keep formal disputes to a minimum, and it does a pretty good job at that.

Continue reading “How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement”

GATT Art.24 — In-depth answers to frequently and not-so-frequently asked questions

Everything you wanted to know about GATT Art.24, for ‘with-deal’ Leavers, ‘no-deal’ Leavers, and — surprise, surprise — Remainers/Revokers

By Peter Ungphakorn

This explanation of GATT Article 24 is pretty heavy-going,
because it looks at a lot of the detail. A much
simpler explanation is here.
See also:

The myth of a 10-year grace period, Brexit and trade talks with the EU  | The Article 24
red herring in less than 400 words
| Brexit through the magic land of Eksive
GATT Article 24: they still don’t get it (video)

I thought/hoped it would die away, but it features ever more prominently in Brexit news. The current favourite to be the next UK prime minister wants to use it, sparking a huge debate — some of it way off the mark. And yet, we really don’t need to be talking about it at all.

“It” is Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), more specifically the paragraphs dealing with free trade agreements.

The bottom line is this: GATT Article 24 governs free trade agreements in goods. Politically, the article is unimportant and should never have been brought into the debate.

So if Article 24 is unimportant, what is important? These questions are:

  • What kind of UK-EU deal is proposed?
  • What would it do?
  • Does it cover the UK’s needs? Who would it affect and how?
  • Does it cover the EU’s needs? Who would it affect and how?
  • What would it take for the UK and EU to agree?
  • How long would it take?

That’s it.


Continue reading “GATT Art.24 — In-depth answers to frequently and not-so-frequently asked questions”

A real beginner’s guide to GATT Article 24

And a plea to stop talking about it

Photo: Speed limits for 3-year-olds

By Peter Ungphakorn

We don’t usually argue about what a law means. Somehow this WTO rule has found its way into British political debate. It has become even more prominent because it’s advocated by Boris Johnson. And yet, we really don’t need to be talking about it at all.

I wrote a Twitter thread and was trying to recreate it as a blog post (it’s now published here). Then up popped a tweet from Dr Dominic Pimenta, responding to something then-UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox said:

“Yes I think this is needed. GATT 24 for a three year old please @CoppetainPU (Like you did for the WTO)”

So, this is for three-year-olds everywhere.

Continue reading “A real beginner’s guide to GATT Article 24”

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

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”