‘A lot rests on Members’ shoulders’ — sixth WTO fisheries text circulated

“I have seen first-hand members’ collective commitment and dedication. … I genuinely believe that we can deliver a balanced a meaningful outcome on fisheries subsidies by MC12”

UPDATES
See “Update on WTO fisheries subsidies talks”,
including the drafts the chair sent to the rescheduled Ministerial Conference on June 10, 2022 and the final agreement

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 10, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 11, 2022

The chair of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations circulated a new draft agreement on November 8, 2021, saying “I genuinely believe that we can deliver a balanced a meaningful outcome on fisheries subsidies” by the Ministerial Conference at the end of this month.

“The eyes of the world are really on us,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told ambassadors at the negotiations meeting where the new text was introduced.

“Time is short and I believe that this text reflects a very important step toward a final outcome. I really see a significant rebalancing of the provisions, including those pertaining to special and differential treatment, while, at the same time, maintaining the level of ambition.”

The new draft is the sixth compiled and circulated by the chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, since June 2020, the last three released as public documents since May this year.

It is based on negotiations since September and was presented to a meeting of heads of delegations (usually ambassadors) of the WTO’s 164 members.

Continue reading “‘A lot rests on Members’ shoulders’ — sixth WTO fisheries text circulated”

Hamid Mamdouh — WTO reform imperative: a possible way forward

Posted by Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 9, 2021 | UPDATED NOVEMBER 9, 2021

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”

The WTO is regularly in crisis, but this time could be different

The WTO Ministerial Conference is almost upon us. The chorus of calls for “WTO reform” puts too much emphasis on Geneva when the real solutions require fundamental changes in and between the capitals of its 164 members.

New dates
On February 23, 2022, WTO members meeting as the General Council
agreed to reschedule the Ministerial Conference for the week of June 13

The Ministerial Conference had been “postponed indefinitely” on November 26, four days before it was due to start, as Switzerland tightened travel restrictions because of the new omicron COVID-19 variant

By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED OCTOBER 30 AND NOVEMBER 26, 2021 | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY COSMOPOLITAN GLOBALIST SEPTEMBER 28, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 24, 2022

On December 8, 2019, The New York Times predicted the possible “end of the […] World Trade Organization itself.” Earlier, a Bloomberg headline spoke of a “fatal blow” to the WTO.

Two years later, the WTO is still up and running. Even the crisis in dispute settlement, where first-stage rulings can no longer be appealed — the cause of those doom-mongering news reports — has failed to stop it.

Yet the WTO does face serious problems. Dealing with them has become more urgent.

This piece was originally published in September. We are now only days away from when WTO ministers are due to meet in Geneva, where “WTO reform” is a major item on the agenda.

We have heard various upbeat statements from events like the G20 trade ministers’ October 12 meeting in Sorrento, the G7 ministers in London 10 days later, the optimistic sounds coming from Geneva, and apparently a new signal from Washington.


A cacophony of cans being kicked down the road

As the November 30–December 3 Ministerial Conference approached, activity increased, including from some ministers.

The US strengthened its call to talk.

Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng visited Geneva to rally delegations to produce “concrete outcomes on key initiatives” at the Ministerial Conference. She met the Ottawa Group of members working on WTO reform, the WTO director-general, the chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, ambassadors from India, South Africa, EU and Mauritius, and the US chargé d’affaires.

Nevertheless, the only likely deal to be struck is on services regulation among a small group of members. We are also told a last-minute WTO-wide breakthrough on fisheries subsidies might be possible — after 20 years of negotiation and at least one missed deadline. In reality a lot of difficult issues still remain at the last minute.

Aside from those two subjects, we remain sceptical that anything substantial will be delivered.

Continue reading or jump down the page to:
Round the clock activity | No stranger to crisis | The misunderstood role of the WTO | Dispute settlement | The real problem: low priority | ‘Reform’ and the ministerial conference | Two strands of WTO reform | Find out more

See also: Hamid Mamdouh — WTO reform imperative: a possible way forward

Continue reading “The WTO is regularly in crisis, but this time could be different”

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”

New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame

Colombian chair says special treatment for developing countries is the most difficult issue

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 11, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 13,2021

Santiago Wills, chair of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, announced the start of a new phase in the talks on May 11, 2021 with a revised text released publicly for the first time, and accelerated talks leading to an end-game meeting of ministers on July 15.

The latest revision is “a crucial step for presenting a clean draft to ministers,” said Wills, who is also Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO. The latest version includes portions in square brackets, usually indicating disagreement among members.

The 9-page new text is here, with a 26-page explanation from the chair. See also this WTO news story

Continue reading “New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame”

How wide should the window be set? Short read on WTO transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how information is handled. This is a summary of a 4-part long read on the WTO and transparency

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day
― Edith Wharton, Vesalius In Zante, from Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 27, 2021

SUMMARY

SEE ALSO THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

It all began light-heartedly. Someone tweeted: “What advice do you have for young people going into public service?” A trade journalist replied: “When a reporter calls, pick up the phone …”.

This led to a much more serious debate about transparency, particularly in trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Would more transparency help? Would less?

Transparency in one sense is the purpose of the WTO — reliable information about government rules and practices reduces uncertainty about the conditions of trade. It also provides accountability for taxpayers’ money.

And yet in some circumstances too much information can impede governments’ ability to achieve their objectives in the WTO.

We try to clarify the distinction and to suggest that doing better ought to be part of the WTO reform agenda.

Continue reading “How wide should the window be set? Short read on WTO transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 1 Transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how information is handled. Some overall thoughts. First of four parts

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day
― Edith Wharton, Vesalius In Zante, from Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED APRIL 26, 2021

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

It all began light-heartedly. Someone tweeted: “What advice do you have for young people going into public service?” A trade journalist replied: “When a reporter calls, pick up the phone …”.

As often happens, the exchanges quickly became heated. It led to a much more serious debate about the four “Ws” — who should be transparent, about what, when, and why. Plus a fifth “W” — the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The journalist argued seriously that democracy depended on openness, that governments owe their citizens full information on what they are doing, not spin, information control or obfuscation, and that all officials at all levels should always respond to requests for information.

But is it wise for inexperienced staff to talk to journalists about complex and sensitive subjects? If the organisation supervises its officials when dealing with the media is that censorship and is it anti-democratic? And more broadly, are there times when confidentiality can actually help produce good results, for example in negotiations?

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 1 Transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 2 External transparency

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Second of four parts: external transparency

Madman, thou errest: I say, there is no darkness
but ignorance

          ― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 4 Scene 2


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED JANUARY, 2022

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

An organisation like the World Trade Organization provides public information primarily for accountability. A better understanding of the WTO can also help generate public support, at least for the system, even if not necessarily for all of the trade rules it produces. Accountability and approval give the organisation legitimacy.

The WTO is, after all, funded by taxpayers via governments’ contributions to its budget. The WTO’s relevance depends on governments complying with the agreements they negotiated. It relies on their commitment to modernise the system through new negotiations. To achieve both of those, WTO governments need the support of public opinion.

This works at several levels and raises several questions. Does the WTO resonate well domestically with the public, farm lobbies, business interests, and others? Are officials around the world, in rich and poor countries, learning about what is at stake, as they work on domestic issues — from agriculture and state aid to banking and the environment?

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 2 External transparency”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Third of four parts: negotiations

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman
― Louis D Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, 1914


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 6, 2022

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

In part 2, we said we believe external transparency should be the default in the World Trade Organization (WTO). But we also recognise that some confidentiality is needed at least for a limited time.

This is particularly the case in some stages of negotiations, but with limits. Here’s why.

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations”