WTO

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♦ We love our multilateral organisations here at the FT, so we’ve taken a close look at how Roberto Azevêdo managed to win the WTO DG nomination – visiting a mere 47 countries along the way. Mr Azevêdo struck a pragmatic note in an in interview with the FT, saying a year-end Bali meeting would focus on the “do-able”: “It’s… about instilling confidence that we can still negotiate, that we can still deliver multilaterally.”
♦ After David Cameron welcomed Uhuru Kenyatta to London this week, Richard Dowden considers the diplomatic earthquake that could occur when Kenyatta is expected to report to the ICC. Will Britain “abandon the ICC or isolate their closest political and security ally in East and the Horn of Africa”? Will Kenyatta run the country from a Dutch prison using Skype?
♦ Israel has warned the US about an imminent Russian deal to sell ground-to-air missile systems to Syria.
♦ US military camouflage has developed from two types to 10, just one example of inefficient duplication between different government agencies.
♦ Arguably the most haunting photograph of the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh.
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John Paul Rathbone

Was it the man or the country? Roberto Azevêdo is a polished negotiator, a seasoned trade diplomat and in many ways a perfect pick to head the World Trade Organization.

He knows his way around the Geneva-based organisation, can hit the ground running fully briefed on all the issues, and is well known and liked around the developing world – not least for his record of criticising the farm-subsidy policies of the USA and Europe. If anyone can revive the Doha round of trade talks, launched 12 years ago in an attempt to cut tariffs and trade-distorting farm subsidies around the world but now on life-support, it is surely him.

Yet Azevêdo, 55, is also Brazilian, a country with a patchy record on trade liberalisation and little openness to the rest of the world. Trade accounts for only 20 per cent of Brazilian gross domestic product. Brazil is also the leading member of Mercosul, a regional Latin American trade pact created in 1991 with great hopes that have since foundered. If Brazil can’t boost trade locally, what chance it can boost trade globally? Azevêdo’s nationality therefore makes him an unlikely leader of the WTO, especially as the organisation’s role as a broker of ambitious trade deals is in doubt given the rise of so many regional trade initiatives, such as the mooted US-European trade deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Read more

Geoff Dyer

Much to Moscow’s anger, the Senate passed the Magnitsky bill on Thursday, which places visa bans and assets freezes on a group of Russian officials accused of contributing to the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

The law is part of a broader piece of legislation that normalises trade relations with Russia following its entry to the World Trade Organisation this summer. The Magnitsky bill has attracted huge attention because of the gruesome back-story that propelled it and because of the friction it has caused between Moscow and Washington. But there are two further important things to note about the bill. Read more

Alan Beattie

 

Getty

Well, trade reporters, you won’t have bananas to kick around any more. One of the world’s longest-running trade disputes, and one of the few with genuine comic potential, was fixed today as the EU signed an agreement with Latin American countries to end the banana wars.

As a WTO matter, it’s being going on for 20 years; as a source of trade friction, much longer. The political deal was actually done nearly three years ago, which gives you a sense of just how quickly trade diplomacy moves. Read more

Alan Beattie

Paraphrasing Churchill (who was speaking at a White House lunch, as it happens) to law-law is better than to war-war. Obviously disappointing that the Obama administration is willing to politicise a trade policy (or at least its timing) so blatantly, the US government starting a WTO case against China on auto parts the day that POTUS arrived to campaign in Ohio.

But that’s hardly new. George W Bush imposed steel import tariffs in 2002 ahead of the mid-term elections, knowing that by the time that the WTO had declared the tariffs illegal, as it duly did in November 2003, they would have done their electoral work. Read more

Alan Beattie

Another salvo in the exchange of trade artillery, as the US takes China to the WTO again, this time over Chinese anti-dumping duties on American SUVs. The place and timing of the announcement is obviously political – how awful and cynical, how do these politicians live with themselves – but so what? No surprise or indeed change there.

More interesting is that this signifies (if you are an optimist) that the WTO is doing its job of directing the torrents of protectionist passion down the canals of moderation*, or (for the pessimists) that the WTO’s dispute settlement process is getting clogged up with the consequences of misguided mercantilism.

The US is basically trying to restrain retaliation against one of its own protectionist actions – the ”safeguard” blocks it imposed on imports of Chinese tyres in the fall of 2009. Those also had political intent (possibly more justified, according to my unusually balanced view at the time) but which were also entirely legal. Read more

Alan Beattie

This is the kind of case that gets the WTO a bad name: confirming a ruling that the US acted illegally in requiring that beef and pork sold in America be marked with a country of origin label (hence the COOL acronym applauded by sub-editors worldwide). Predictably the WTO’s discontents are agin it.

But without getting into the technicalities of the case, which require more qualifications in food technology than I possess (ie >0) to explore fully, the principle behind the ruling is quite simple and quite fair. It’s whether the labelling has the effect of discriminating against foreign producers by being needlessly complex or otherwise unjustifiably difficult to comply. Read more

Alan Beattie

One of the very few bright spots in governments’ generally grim recent performance of managing the world economy has been that trade protectionism, rampant during the Great Depression, has been relatively absent.

That may no longer be the case. The WTO, fairly sanguine about the use of trade barriers over the past few years, warns today that things are getting worrying. The EU made a similar point yesterday. And this monitoring service has been pointing out for a long time that a lot of the new forms of protectionism aren’t counted under the traditional categories, thanks to gaping holes in international trade law. Read more

Esther Bintliff

REUTERS/David Gray

A worker at the Jinyuan Company's smelting workshop prepares to pour the rare earth metal Lanthanum into a mould near the town of Damao in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. REUTERS/David Gray

 

The US, EU and Japan teamed up today – arguably for the first time since the Cold War – to bring an unusual joint case at the World Trade Organisation against China over its export controls on rare earths. Read more