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.
Trade in hydrocarbons, fissionable materials and cross-border transmission of electricity largely take place outside the multilateral trading system. Two key developments may now lead to convergence between the energy business and the rules of the WTO.
A May 17 NAFTA deadline has been in the news. That’s because Congressional leaders have advised the Trump administration that the deal needs to get done soon in order to have a vote on NAFTA 2.0 in this Congress under so-called “fast track” voting procedures. There are all sorts of steps on the timeline built into the Trade Promotion Authority legislation (TPA) for expedited approval of trade agreements. Here’s a short version of the history, context, and essentials of how it all works.
In 1944, the global economy was in shambles. Forty-four nations gathered in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to discuss how to rebuild an economy devastated by protracted depression and two World Wars. From these discussions emerged a 1947 agreement on a lasting framework for post-war commercial relations whereby trade barriers were contained and then gradually reduced over time.
If the Trump administration seeks an end to binding dispute settlement procedures, it would represent a significant departure from decades of the United States leading the global charge for making dispute settlement in trade agreements binding and enforceable.
Since 1947, the global trade rules have contained a “national security exception.” WTO members operate on the presumption that their fellow members will exercise the exception rarely and in good faith.
Confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as USTR is still pending but some of his views on China were revealed at his hearing. The WTO may not have all the tools needed to address China’s industrial policies so the Trump Administration may look for additional new ones.
The UK has opted to leave the EU. Now it must figure out a new trade architecture for itself that keeps its global commercial relationships in tact.
Playing Calvinball in commerce undermines the benefits of the transaction for both parties, which is why trade rules are important when engaging in international commerce.