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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar19/03)
6 March 2019
Third World Network


Thai envoy to chair WTO General Council this year

Published in SUNS #8858 dated 4 March 2019

Geneva, 1 Mar (Kanaga Raja) – Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand will be the new Chair of the WTO General Council this year. She replaces Ambassador Junichi Ihara of Japan.

The General Council of the World Trade Organisation on 28 February took note of the consensus on the slate of chairpersons for its various bodies forth is year, and elected Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand as its new Chair.

The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) will be chaired by Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, while the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) will be chaired by Ambassador Manuel A. J. Teehankee of the Philippines.

Ambassador Jose Luis Cancela Gomez of Uruguay will chair the Council for Trade in Goods, while the Council for Trade in Services will be chaired by Ambassador Geert Muylle of Belgium.

The TRIPS Council will be chaired by Ambassador Lundeg Purevsuren of Mongolia, and the Committee on Trade and Development will be chaired by Ambassador Chad Blackman of Barbados.

The Committee on Balance-of-Payments Restrictions will be chaired by Ambassador Cheryl K. Spencer of Jamaica, while the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration will be chaired by Ambassador Dagfinn Sorli of Norway.

Mr. Jean-Marie Paugam of France will chair the Committee on Trade and Environment, while the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements will be chaired by Ambassador Carlos Mario Foradori of Argentina.

The Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance will be chaired by Mr. Refiloe Litjobo of Lesotho, and the Working Group on Trade and Transfer of Technology will be chaired by Ambassador Rashidi Said of Malaysia.

With respect to the bodies under the Trade Negotiations Committee, the General Council also agreed to appoint Ambassador Francois Xavier Ngarambe of Rwanda as Chair of the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session.

The Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session will be chaired by Ambassador Leopold Samba of the Central African Republic.

The Dispute Settlement Body in Special Session will be chaired by Ambassador Kokou Yackoley Johnson of Togo (upon the departure of the current Chair Ambassador Coly Seck of Senegal).

APPELLATE BODY MATTERS

Under a separate agenda item on the informal process aimed at resolving the current impasse in the Appellate Body (AB), Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand, who is the facilitator of this informal process under the auspices of the General Council, gave a status report.

Two-open ended meetings were held on 19 January and last week.

In addition, two small-group meetings were held on 6 February and on 14 February. Members invited to these meetings included those who have tabled proposals, those who have real concerns about the AB, those who have put forward alternative proposals, and those who have raised follow-up questions.

The idea is to review the proposals and concerns issue by issue, said Ambassador Walker, adding that it is a solution-oriented approach. Some 7 or 8 different proposals were looked at.

On the question of Rule 15 of the Working Procedures for Appellate Review (where a person who ceases to be a member of the Appellate Body may, with the authorization of the Appellate Body and upon notification to the DSB, complete the disposition of any appeal to which that person was assigned while a member), Ambassador Walker said that there was widespread support that it should be the DSB, not the AB Secretariat, that determines whether an AB member can stay on (after his/her term has expired).

On each of the issues, there was the question whether what is required to fix this situation is an amendment (to the DSU), a DSB decision, or some kind of issuance of guidelines. Members have varying views on this, depending on the issue.

On the 90-day rule on issuance of AB rulings, should parties agree that they would like the case to go on longer if necessary? When do you start the clock? Is it when the AB report is issued in English or in the three official languages?

Is there some kind of behavioural activity on the part of the AB that leads it to take more than 90 days?

On the issue of municipal law, Ambassador Walker said that all delegations said that it is clear that municipal law is a matter of fact and should not be subject to appeal. The same goes for any fact finding that is in the panel report.

On the issue of advisory opinions, Ambassador Walker said that there is a strong body of members that say that this is something that should be limited. The idea is to practice judicial economy and again the issue is do you have guidelines or amendments.

On the question of jurisprudence, or precedent, there is agreement that there is no explicit notion that precedent is something that should be automatically assumed.

On the question of “over-reach” by the AB, Ambassador Walker said this could be the most complicated of the issues, as in some cases, it is a question of perception.

Members need to identify solutions that might provide perhaps additional guidelines, or hold an annual meeting at which the DSB would meet with the AB jurists.

Brazil, the EU, Benin, Canada, Ghana, India, China, Uganda, Australia, Uruguay, Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador, Singapore, Norway, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Thailand, Morocco, and Guyana took the floor to speak under this agenda item.

The US did not take the floor to speak under this agenda item.

All members that took the floor said that they found the process to be very useful and would like it to continue.

The Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Junichi Ihara of Japan, requested Ambassador Walker, the facilitator of the informal process, to continue with the process and to provide a status report at the General Council meeting in May.

Under another agenda item, Honduras introduced four proposals on fostering a discussion on the functioning of the Appellate Body.

The proposals relate to the 90-day rule for issuance of AB reports, Rule 15 of the Working Procedures for Appellate Review, alleged judicial activism by the AB, and the issue of precedent.

Korea, Panama, the Philippines, El Salvador, Indonesia, Hong Kong-China, and Guatemala thanked Honduras for putting forward these proposals.

OTHER ITEMS

Under another agenda item, the General Council also held a discussion on a US paper on “An undifferentiated WTO: self-declared development status risks institutional irrelevance”, where it has proposed “differentiation” among developing countries for availing special and differential treatment (S&DT) .

The US has also tabled a draft GC decision where it proposed that the following categories of Members will not avail themselves of special and differential treatment in current and future WTO negotiations: (1). A WTO Member that is a Member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), or a WTO Member that has begun the accession process to the OECD; (2) A WTO Member that is a member of the Group of 20 (G20); (3) A WTO Member that is classified as a “high income” country by the World Bank; or (4) A WTO Member that accounts for no less than 0.5 per cent of global merchandise trade (imports and exports).

Under a separate agenda item, the General Council also discussed a joint paper co-sponsored by China, India, South Africa, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Plurinational State of Bolivia, Kenya and Cuba on the continued relevance of S&DT in favour of developing members to promote development and ensure inclusiveness.

As a rebuttal to the US paper, the paper by the eight co-sponsors argues that S&DT is an integral part of the multilateral trading system, and self-declaration of developing Member status, a fundamental rule in the WTO, has proven to be the most appropriate classification approach to the WTO. (See SUNS #8850 dated 20 February 2019 for the full text of the joint paper).

A number of delegations spoke on both these agenda items (see separate story).

 


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