President Biden has made it clear that his Administration will work within multilateral organizations to the extent possible to move the U.S. agenda forward. During the Trump Administration, the U.S. participated actively in the World Trade Organization but was active in only one of the Joint Statement Initiatives that were initiated at the end of the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in late 2017.
Thus, the United States is an active participant in the ongoing negotiations following the Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (WT/MIN(17)/60, 13 December 2017), but is not a party to the other Joint Statement Initiatives. See Joint Ministerial Statement on Services Domestic Regulation (WT/MIN(17)/61, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development (WT/MIN(17)/59, 13 December 2017); Joint Ministerial Statement, Declaration on the Establishment of a WTO Informal Work Programme for MSMEs (WT/MIN(17)/58, 13 December 2017); Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017.
While India and South Africa have challenged the legitimacy of the Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs), a great deal of the energy in the WTO in the last several years has been put into the JSIs. See, e.g., February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/; WTO, Coordinators of joint initiatives cite substantial progress in discussions, 18 December 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/jsec_18dec20_e.htm. The WTO press release is copied below.
“The coordinators of the joint initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) said on 18 December that substantial progress has been achieved in their respective discussions and that they are on track to deliver concrete results or additional progress at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled for next year.
“In their communication, the coordinators noted that they have delivered summary statements to WTO members outlining how far the four initiatives have advanced since they were launched three years ago, where they stand today, and what their next steps in the discussions will be.
“’What these statements clearly show is the substantial progress [of the initiatives] in a short period of time, that they are on track to delivering concrete results or progress at MC12, and that they are contributing to building a more responsive, relevant and modern WTO — which will be critical to restoring global trade and economic growth in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.’
“’These initiatives have grown into an increasingly important part of the agenda of the WTO, with an expanding number of participants from both the developed and developing worlds that account for a significant part of the WTO’s membership, and based on the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness,’ the coordinators added.
“The new joint initiatives were launched at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 with the aim of commencing negotiations or discussions on issues of increasing relevance to the world trading system.
“The joint initiative coordinators are Ambassador José Luis Cancela Gómez (Uruguay) for the Informal Working Group on MSMEs; Ambassadors George Mina (Australia), Yamazaki Kazuyuki (Japan) and Tan Hung Seng (Singapore) for the Joint Statement Initiative on E-Commerce; Deputy Permanent Representative Jaime Coghi Arias (Costa Rica) for the Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation; and Ambassador-designate Mathias Francke (Chile) for the Structured Discussions on Investment Facilitation for Development.
“The coordinators noted that the consolidated negotiating text on e-commerce will provide a foundation for intensified negotiations in 2021. They highlighted that the negotiations on services domestic regulation are at a ‘mature stage’, with a genuine potential for an outcome by MC12.
“The coordinators also said that substantive provisions of an investment facilitation agreement are being negotiated by the participating members in this initiative. In addition, they noted the recent announcement by the Informal Working Group on MSMEs of a package of declarations and recommendations to help small business trade internationally.
“The coordinators underscored that the shared and ultimate goal of these initiatives is to strengthen and reinforce the multilateral trading system, that they are open to all WTO members, and that they seek the participation of as many members as possible.
“The coordinators stated: ‘The initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, services domestic regulation, and MSMEs clearly demonstrate that the WTO can respond to new economic and technological challenges in a flexible, pragmatic, and timely way. These initiatives — and their innovative approach to cooperation and negotiation — can provide a valuable illustration of WTO reform in action.’”
While the Joint Declaration Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment on the Occasion of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017 is not treated as a JSI, it does have many Members supporting the Declaration and engaging in the informal work programme.
Some of the other countries participating in all of the JSIs and Joint Declaration
While the number of WTO Members participating in the JSIs and supporting the Joint Declaration vary, the following is a partial list of Members who are signatories to all of the JSIs and the Joint Declaration. Other than the Electronic Commerce initiative, the U.S. is presently not a signatory or participant in any of the other JSIs or Joint Declaration.
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Switzerland are participants in all of the JSIs and supportive of the Joint Declaration. Dozens of other Members are participating in some or many of the JSI’s that the U.S. is not presently supporting or active in.
While the United States has a large agenda of issues it wishes to address at the WTO (including trade and the environment, WTO reform, industrial subsidies), it makes no sense that the United States would not actively participate in work programs where most of the major economies are active and where new rules will be relevant to areas of significance for the United States as well as for trading partners. While the work program on women and trade is in an informal working group, President Biden has made empowerment of women an important priority for his Administration as a range of actions during International Women’s Day made clear. See, e.g., March 8, 2011, March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day — statements of UN Women Executive Director, heads of WTO, UNCTAD and International Trade Centre, and U.S. Executive Orders and Statement by President Biden, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/08/march-8-2021-international-womens-day-statements-of-un-women-executive-director-heads-of-wto-unctad-and-international-trade-centre-and-u-s-executive-orders-and-statement-by-president-biden/. Similarly, MSMEs are an important part of the U.S. economy and a major driver of economic growth. The U.S. has a very strong services sector which has an interest in domestic regulatory issues both in the U.S. and as addressed overseas. Finally, the U.S. is both a major investor in foreign countries and a recipient of large amounts of foreign investment and has a significant interest in helping the global community address issues involved in investment in developing and least developed countries on a more predictable basis.
Hopefully, the Biden Administration when its USTR nominee is confirmed in the coming days, will opt to engage in all of the JSIs. It is time.
Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
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