Category Archives: WTO

Pakistan grants India MFN status

Pakistan has granted MFN status to India (with a list of excepted products). This accelerates liberalization between the two countries that had made some progress with the South Asian FTA (SAFTA). India granted Pakistan MFN status back in 1995. Here’s a State Bank of Pakistan research bulletin arguing for granting India MFN. Here’s a World Bank book on The Challenges and Potential of Pakistan-India Trade, which includes this paragraph:

In fact, the evidence on informal trade indicates that Pakistan has already granted something close to de facto MFN status to India. Traders exploit market arbitrage and the poor enforcement of antismuggling measures to import banned Indian products into Pakistan, hence with the change in the trade regime there could be additional revenues for the government for items that are likely to switch from the informal trade to formal trade.

How did Pakistan not grant India MFN status while being a WTO member since its inception in 1995? While MFN status has been relegated to “least favored nation” status in many circumstances, it seems that it still means something in this part of the world.

Does the DSM need support from ongoing negotiations?

Jeff Schott worries that the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism may be less effective if the dismal prospects for future negotiations cause dispute panels to expand their coverage:

Of course, WTO members will still be bound by existing obligations and the heralded dispute settlement system will continue to function. But past success is not a guarantee of future performance. Disputes undoubtedly will arise over “gray areas” of WTO law. Without the prospect of new negotiations to update and clarify the WTO rulebook, panelists will be tempted to bridge the gaps in their rulings. That is the danger: If the panelists attempt, or appear to be attempting, to usurp the powers of WTO members by interpreting and possibly expanding the scope of WTO obligations, it will likely trigger a political backlash against the WTO and discourage national compliance with such rulings. Members of Congress already think this is a problem with regard to the numerous WTO rulings against US antidumping practices. Over time, the frozen WTO legislative function will erode political support for compliance with the judicial function of the WTO

How PTAs may segment regulatory systems

Back in April, I wrote:

One such danger is that FTAs might be a means for the US or EU to try to lock in first-mover advantages in shaping regulatory standards (such as technical barriers to trade). While preferential tariffs can be undone relatively easy by further tariff cuts, plurilateral agreements that promulgate the adoption of a larger economy’s preferred technical standard might serve to determine which standard is later adopted multilaterally. A first mover might gain at the expense of others if its preferred standard is worse for world welfare.

A new WTO report tackles this very issue:

Director-General Pascal Lamy, in launching the World Trade Report 2011 on 20 July 2011, warned that preferential trade agreements (PTAs) “may lock in their members to a particular regulatory regime reducing the potential for trade to prosper with countries outside the arrangement”. “The new challenge posed by deep PTAs to the multilateral trading system is one of market segmentation because regulatory systems, which can become divergent, have now more importance on trade flows than tariffs,” he added…

In fact PTAs of today are less about tariff preferences and more about regulatory measures that were once considered the domain of national rather than international economic policy.  This change is occurring partly because of changes in the way production is being organized internationally with the rise of global production networks.  To prosper, these production networks require an enabling regulatory environment that provides stronger investor protection, better infrastructural services, freedom of movement of corporate personnel, protection to intellectual property rights, and facilitation of trade.   The demand for governance in these policy areas is being met by the supply of deep PTAs…

Another idea would be that we should not ignore the potential difficulties that deep PTAs can give rise to on the regulatory side.  One can observe in the sprawl of agreements what can only be called “families” of PTAs, with each family adopting a particular approach to important policy areas such as technical barriers to trade or competition policy.  The peril here is that PTAs may lock-in their members to a particular regulatory regime reducing the potential for trade to prosper with countries outside the arrangement.

In a nutshell, the new challenge posed by deep PTAs to the multilateral trading system is one of market segmentation because regulatory systems, which can become divergent, have now more importance on trade flows than tariffs. This is not a statement about the legitimacy of these regulatory systems. It is a factual assessment of their impact on economies of scale, which is what the WTO should care about.

The report, titled “The WTO and preferential trade agreements: From co-existence to coherence”, is available online.

Revenue-neutral tariff cuts are tricky business

Sallie James:

[B]ecause implementing the FTAs (which will lower tariff revenue) and paying for the billion-dollar-plus TAA extension “requires” offsets, the draft language specifies in Sec. 601 that revenue should be raised by increasing customs user fees.

Scott Lincicome:

But “customs fees” are simply hidden taxes on import consumers.  A quick review of the US Customs website on “customs users fees” makes this clear.  They’re paid (mainly) by commercial transporters bringing goods (imports) into the United States, thus raising the costs of importation…

[A]ssuming that the agreement would raise US customs users fees (or implement new ones) in order to generate revenue for the federal government, it would probably violate GATT Article VIII, which governs WTO Members’ imposition of “Fees and Formalities connected with Importation and Exportation” (in other words, customs fees).  The key provision of Article VIII reads:

1.(a) All fees and charges of whatever character (other than import and export duties and other than taxes within the purview of Article III) imposed by contracting parties on or in connection with importation or exportation shall be limited in amount to the approximate cost of services rendered and shall not represent an indirect protection to domestic products or a taxation of imports or exports for fiscal purposes.

PTAs as first-mover advantages

Brookings’ Joshua Meltzer takes an extended look at the future of the global trading system (html / pdf / event). The introduction is a good overview of the status quo’s challenges, though knowledgeable observers will find plenty of room for disagreement in assessing the shape and magnitude of various obstacles (e.g. the bicycle theory of trade negotiations, PTAs’ diversion of attention from multilateral talks).

The discussion of WTO legitimacy at the end of the piece is very interesting, though I won’t focus on it in this post. (More on that subject can be found in this Oxford book on trade ethics.)

In the middle of the article, Meltzer hints at an argument that has perhaps not received sufficient attention:

For the United States, the European Union, China, and Japan, bilateral and even regional FTAs maximize their ability to get their own way. Were these outcomes to become templates for future multilateral trade rounds, then a two-level game that leverages FTA outcomes into the WTO might undermine the WTO’s legitimacy.

One such danger is that FTAs might be a means for the US or EU to try to lock in first-mover advantages in shaping regulatory standards (such as technical barriers to trade). While preferential tariffs can be undone relatively easy by further tariff cuts, plurilateral agreements that promulgate the adoption of a larger economy’s preferred technical standard might serve to determine which standard is later adopted multilaterally. A first mover might gain at the expense of others if its preferred standard is worse for world welfare. (This scenario would be most damaging if technical standards are to be harmonized, but it also highlights the difficulties of harmonization. If mutual recognition is the future of reconciling technical barriers to trade, then the scope for first-mover advantages may be reduced.)

“Made in the world”

In line with my suggestion that labels simply say “made in a series of places”, the WTO has announced a “Made in the world” initiative. It aims “to support the exchange of projects, experiences and practical approaches in measuring and analysing trade in value added.” “Made in the world” should be a valuable initiative, at least until the arrival of interstellar trade.