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Climate Action

Big climate change job awaits WTO – if it can step up (Mark John, Reuters)

From laying down the law on fossil fuel subsidies to promoting low-carbon supply chains, there is no shortage of ways in which the World Trade Organization could be at the forefront of the global fight against climate change.

Analysis: Big climate change job awaits WTO – if it can step up | Reuters

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Australia World Trade Organization

WTO dispute settlement: why Australia bothers (Ravi Kewalram, The Interpreter)

I have three propositions about Australia’s participation in World Trade Organisation dispute settlement to put to Interpreter readers.

WTO dispute settlement: why Australia bothers | The Interpreter (lowyinstitute.org)

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(China/WTO/USA) Half a million Chinese netizens sign joint letter to the WHO demanding a probe into the US’ Fort Detrick lab

Global Times writes: More than half a million Chinese netizens have signed a joint letter to the WHO as of the press time on Sunday, demanding the organization conduct an investigation into the US’ Fort Detrick lab, a place whose sudden shutdown is still shrouded in secrecy which has not been subject to any scrutiny from the international community. They believe a thorough probe into the US lab could prevent a future epidemic. 

go to Global Times website: Half a million Chinese netizens sign joint letter to the WHO demanding a probe into the US’ Fort Detrick lab – Global Times

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(Europe/WTO) European Union has taken the most significant, concrete steps to address the crisis at the WTO and preserve and defend the rules-based multilateral trading system

KRISTEN HOPEWELL writes for The Interpreter: Under President Donald Trump, the United States launched an assault on the rules-based multilateral trading system, repeatedly threatening to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), sabotaging its enforcement mechanism and blatantly violating its rules by arbitrarily imposing tariffs on all of the major US trading partners and launching a trade war with China. Despite President Joe Biden’s professed commitment to multilateralism, his administration has continued many of Trump’s trade policies. With the world’s dominant power behaving as a rogue state in the trade regime, the WTO has been plunged into crisis.

go to The Interpreter website: EU the new kingpin in global trade order | The Interpreter (lowyinstitute.org)

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(WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva

Dmitry Grozoubinski writes for East Asia Forum: The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), originally scheduled for Nur-Sultan in December 2019, is now slated for December 2021 in Geneva. With less than six months to go, it remains uncertain where the leadership and compromise required for meaningful outcomes will come from.

read more: Searching for leadership at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (eastasiaforum.org)

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Pandemic/Vaccine Supply Chain – WTO to host technical symposium on COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, regulatory transparency (WTO)

The WTO will hold on 29 June 2021 a technical symposium to contribute to improved public and policymaker understanding of the operation of global COVID-19 vaccine supply chains, the cross-border movement of vaccine inputs, and the need for greater regulatory transparency and convergence. The event will map vaccine production and trade and discuss trade measures that support or constrain the achievement of the rapid scale-up of vaccine production and distribution. Discussions will also encompass diagnostics, therapeutics and other COVID-19-related medical goods.

WTO to host technical symposium on COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, regulatory transparency

WTO to host technical symposium on COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, regulatory transparency

 

The technical symposium on “COVID-19 vaccine supply chain and regulatory transparency” is a follow-up to the WTO-organized meeting on “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?” held on 14 April. On that occasion, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on WTO members, vaccine manufacturers and international organizations to address trade-related obstacles to COVID-19 vaccine production scale-up in order to hasten the end of the pandemic and accelerate global economic recovery.

Speaking to G20 leaders and the heads of international organizations on 21 May, DG Okonjo-Iweala also stressed the key role WTO members can play in fostering greater equity in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by lowering supply chain barriers, fully using existing production capacity, and addressing issues related to intellectual property, access and innovation.

Mapping vaccine manufacturing and trade as well as cross-border movement of vaccine inputs will feature in the discussions of the symposium. Participants will look at the latest projections on COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing output, the impact of supply chain mapping exercises and possible policy responses to supply chain bottlenecks as reported by vaccine producers. They will also discuss what can be done to improve the monitoring and facilitation of cross-border movement of vaccine inputs.

The symposium will include a session on promoting transparency and convergence in the regulatory landscape, with an emphasis on how transparency in the regulatory approval process can be strengthened and on how international cooperation can contribute to manufacturing, approving and disseminating vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. The final session will look beyond vaccines and encompass a wider spectrum of health technologies, including diagnostics and therapeutics, as well as other medical products.

The programme of the event is available here.

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WTO/Global FDI – Can WTO talks revive global FDI? (Simon J Evenett and Johannes Fritz, East Asia Forum)

Advancing global talks on investment facilitation has long been a goal of many governments in the Asia Pacific. During its G20 presidency in 2016, China gave the matter renewed priority. Since the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2017, diplomats in Geneva have been negotiating a multilateral framework for investment facilitation. These talks have advanced far enough that an ‘Easter text’ was circulated among negotiators this year. But even if a large enough fraction of the WTO membership signed this deal, would it make a difference?

China's Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen speaks next to European Commissioner for Trade Malmstrom and Japan's Vice Minister of International Affairs METI during the Business Forum at the 11th WTO's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 12 December 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci).

To answer this question, we must consider what’s not included in the proposed multilateral framework text and the current state of global foreign direct investment (FDI) dynamics.

With respect to the former, participating governments declared in both 2017 and 2019 that ‘these discussions shall not address market access, investment protection, and Investor-State Dispute Settlement’. Coupled with the growing resort to investment screening mechanisms, these are significant omissions.

With respect to the latter, the findings of the recently published 27th Global Trade Alert report puts current foreign direct investment dynamics in perspective. The report documents the trend decline in global FDI inflows (especially when sensibly benchmarked against global GDP, global investment levels and world trade) and reveals the low or falling returns on FDI in every emerging market region except the transition economies. UNCTAD-produced data (based on balance of payments data) support the latter finding in the report, along with an extensive but rarely used US government dataset on American multinational enterprise performance abroad.

Governments can affect foreign direct investors in many ways. They can limit access to certain sectors or activities or impose conditions on their entry. All too often they apply localisation requirements on foreign investors, such as mandating local hiring and sources.

After establishment, a foreign investor may find they have to comply with different, typically stricter, rules than those competing firms must comply with. Import barriers also indirectly alter the incentive to engage in FDI in the first place, as exporting a good or service from abroad may be a viable alternative to establishing a production facility in a country. Information on all of these policy interventions is needed when preparing a comprehensive, contemporary picture of government treatment of FDI.

Over the past five years public policies have generally worsened the treatment of foreign investors. Using detailed information in the Global Trade Alert database on thousands policy interventions affecting the viability of FDI, the 27th report emphasises six trends.

First, it is clear that governments have introduced fewer public policies conducive to inward FDI. This is true of the G20 nations and other groups of nations, including the Least Developed Countries. Second, with the exception of China, most governments policies towards outward FDI are consistently supportive.

Third, policies encouraging barrier jumping FDI are declining in importance. Fourth, localisation requirements affecting foreign direct investors became more far-reaching over the past five years, as have policies affecting the entry, screening and regulation of FDI. 38 governments seem to have introduced or tightened FDI screening policies since 2015. Seven governments have changes to FDI screening in the works.

Fifth, fewer policies in service sectors encourage FDI when compared to goods sectors. And sixth, businesses have faced mounting regulatory risks over the past decade.

To be clear, not every policy change treats FDI worse. Still, on balance, over the past five years governments have made life more difficult for foreign investors.

So, while diplomats in Geneva negotiate to ‘facilitate’ FDI, back home their governments are throwing sand in the wheel of this once-important feature of globalisation. One has to ask if there is a disconnect between the good intentions in Geneva and the reality on the ground. Put differently, there is little hope that current WTO talks will revive FDI when those negotiations fail to address the policy dynamics summarised above.

One could argue that the worsening treatment of FDI provides a stronger rationale for new multilateral disciplines. That argument would be considerably stronger if the scope of the current investment facilitation talks in Geneva were not limited in the first place.

Fortunately, governments and international organisations keen on promoting FDI need not wait for the conclusion of a multilateral accord. Implementing three steps will improve the commercial prospects of FDI in development-sensitive sectors.

First, having shown why returns on FDI are so low in a developing country, or why such returns are falling, dialogue between the World Bank, regional development banks and host governments should identify which policies and corporate practices must change and the technical support required to effect them.

Second, governments and international organisations should target any state-provided financial support for FDI at priority sectors where sustainable development benefits are deemed greatest by host governments in developing countries. This applies to financial incentives for outward as well as inward FDI.

And third, governments should progressively de-risk FDI by thoroughly reviewing and benchmarking existing regulatory policy and enforcement practice. Particular attention should be given to the implementation of recently approved FDI screening policies.

If governments and international organisations heed this advice, the commercial viability of FDI will improve significantly.

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A clear agenda to save the WTO (East Asia Forum)

Inu Manak, Cato Institute

The fate of the World Trade Organization (WTO) hangs in the balance after four years of assault by the Trump administration. But things are not as dismal as they appear. Turning the corner in 2021, the WTO has an opportunity to usher in a new era of trade cooperation.

A clear agenda to save the WTO

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(UK/WTO) UK calls for end to ‘pernicious’ trade practices, in apparent swipe at China (Euractiv)

Britain said it will push G7 allies at talks on Wednesday (31 March) to do more to ban “pernicious practices” in trade, such as forced labour and intellectual property theft, in an apparent call for a tougher line towards China at the World Trade Organization.

UK calls for end to ‘pernicious’ trade practices, in apparent swipe at China

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