WTO

The UK is a founding member of the WTO, and has been a contracting party to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since 1948. Since acceding to the EU, the UK’s commitments and role in the WTO have been subsumed under the EU’s common commercial policy. On leaving the EU it will participate in the WTO in its own right. It will then need to define its position across the main functions of the WTO: the negotiation and administration of WTO agreements; dispute settlement; and surveillance.

The negotiations arm of the WTO is perhaps the most well-known. Negotiations usually take place in “rounds”. The current round, launched in Doha, Qatar in 2001 has seen only very limited progress. Its chief results have been a new agreement on trade facilitation, and an agreement on liberalising trade in Information Technology.

Less well known, but nevertheless of great importance, is the administrative function of the WTO. This function is undertaken by a variety of councils and committees that administer specific agreements or deal with specific issues (such as trade and development and trade environment). The General Council oversees all of this work. Within the work of these bodies, the UK will need to defend positions and put its concerns to others. To take one example, the work of the committee on Technical Barriers to Trade deals with the nexus between domestic regulation (e.g. on health or environmental matters) and trade. The UK can bring specific trade concerns relating to the regulation of other members, and can expect to be challenged in a similar manner

The WTOs dispute settlement function, as its name indicates, deals with litigation between members states. Member states challenge the laws and policies of others that are found to contravene WTO law or commitments undertaken under WTO agreements. The adjudication of disputes occurs in the first instance by panels, whose findings can be appealed through the Appellate Body. The UK has limited direct experience of dispute settlement, and will need to rapidly build its capacity to participate in disputes as complainant, defendant or as a third party.

The least well known part of the WTO is its surveillance function, which is managed by the WTO’s Trade Policies Review Body. All WTO members are subjected to periodic reviews, with the periodicity based on the share of world trade. The four largest members – the US, the EU,  Japan and China – are reviewed every two years. Most other countries are reviewed on a 4 year basis, which is the timetable likely to apply to the UK. The reviews are undertaken by WTO staff economists. The purpose of the review process is to have an open discussion about the member states’ trade policies. The process is often beneficial to participating countries since it provides them with an objective assessment of their policies.

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Commentary

Macron-omics meets multilateralism

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_and_Emmanuel_Macron_(2017-05-29)_06.jpg

Emmanuel Macron has an appetite for big challenges. Not content with trying to rescue the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and stare down waves of strikes at home, he now wants to completely overhaul the WTO. His call came at an OECD forum, at the end of which the United States pointedly refused to […]

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Commentary

Customs arrangements and post-Brexit trade policy: What are the options?

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a Tech Sector Roundtable and Reception at No10 Downing Street. PM May holds roundtable in the famous Cabinet Room for members from the Tech Sector followed by a Reception at No10. Image obtained by No 10 Flickr.

Customs arrangements and post-Brexit trade policy: What are the options? Theresa May’s cabinet has met this week in another of its recurring “crunch meetings” on its future position vis a vis the EU. The main bone of contention is the question of customs arrangements. Theresa May has already ruled out continuing membership of the EU’s […]

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Commentary

The Role of Regulatory Cooperation in the Future of the WTO

The emergence of global value chains (GVCs) and global public goods presents an opportunity for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to play a larger role in international regulatory cooperation. This paper identifies the circumstances and modalities where the WTO is most likely to be successful. First, it assesses the circumstances in which international regulatory cooperation is best […]

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Commentary

Trade, War and Trade Wars

Donald Trump’s decision to repudiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed with Iran has not only precipitated a security crisis, it will also further ratchet up tensions in world trade. Trade is a fundamental part of the deal, for Iran, but also the European Union. In just two years, EU exports to Iran increased […]

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