Every policy realm has its jargon. Trade policy is no exception. The difference between a country’s weighted average bound tariff and its weighted average applied tariff is called “water in the tariff schedule”. It’s a topic of discussion in WTO negotiations over what the starting point for tariff cuts should be.
The bountiful show of cherry blossoms in Washington DC is a reliable harbinger of spring renewal. When they bloom in Japan, communities pause to appreciate their beauty and reflect on renewal. As WTO members start to design critical reforms to the global trading system, they should carry a renewed commitment to its future and a renewed vision to match that of its founders.
The concept of creating a generalized, non-reciprocal system of preferences for developing countries dates back to 1968. But enabling legitimate forms of discrimination has predictably had positive and negative consequences and there’s little economic data to demonstrate the programs have accrued significant benefits.
Government subsidies to fishing industries may be accelerating the depletion of fish stocks. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are at risk of being overfished. WTO members first started negotiating on fisheries subsidies in 2001 and have vowed to reach an agreement restraining these kinds of subsidies by the end of 2019.
When the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was first agreed by 23 original contracting parties in 1947, there were no guarantees that the rules would endure. Today, WTO membership stands at 164 countries — representing collectively, more than 98 percent of global trade. But for an institution to endure, it must remain relevant.
New WTO members Afghanistan and Liberia are cheerleaders for other countries seeking WTO membership, including Iraq, Somalia and Timor-Leste. These countries are resolved to rebuild their post-conflict economies and believe that making commitments in the WTO will undergird necessary, but difficult, economic reforms at home.
It would be a costly error to take the WTO for granted. It is one of the indispensable international institutions that underwrite the functioning of the world economy. Yet, the institution and its rules need to keep pace with the evolution of world trade. Without change, the WTO is at risk of not remaining fully relevant.
As a new resident in Geneva, I consulted with a number of WTO Ambassadors to the WTO as well as senior members of the secretariat. Several members offered a bottom line value to the WTO: the WTO system is providing essential stability without which business would have far less certainty. Without the WTO system in place, economic activity — both cross border and domestic – would be sharply reduced. Anyone who cares about either the level of economic activity for a country or for a company should pause and consider that truth.
Approximately one-third of the scrap recycled in the United States is exported. China is our largest customer.
WTO members voluntarily agreed to rules to create a more secure and predictable trading environment for their traders. By and large, members comply with these rules so that others will as well. But when one member believes that another is not complying, the WTO has procedures for settling disputes.