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This Week In Trade

USTR to present WTO grievances at General Council meeting this week

Posted: March 02, 2020

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative this week will use a General Council meeting at the World Trade Organization to highlight its least-favorite practices in Geneva: self-declared development status in negotiations, policies supporting non-market economies and systemic issues with the Appellate Body.

The first General Council meeting of the year will feature a host of U.S. interventions on such topics, with the U.S. expected to present previously published draft decisions on self-declared development status and the importance of market-oriented policies. On the Appellate Body, the U.S. will present the report it published last month reiterating its numerous systemic concerns with the panel.

But the litany of U.S. complaints doesn’t stop there. In its annual trade policy agenda, released last Friday, USTR confirmed reports that it was rethinking the U.S.’ bound tariff commitments. “The WTO currently locks in an outdated tariff framework that no longer reflects deliberate policy choices and economic realities,” USTR said in a fact sheet published with the report. “Members need to fundamentally rethink tariff commitments by the United States and its trading partners.”

According to the fact sheet, the U.S. also will “continue to push for a close review of the WTO’s budget, which has faced little scrutiny in the past.” Last November the U.S. recommended sharply slashing the Appellate Body’s funding as it would soon be paralyzed due to the U.S.’ block of appointments to the panel. USTR said the WTO “must ensure that there is accountability and that expenditures reflect the priorities of its Members."

The trade policy report says USTR will continue to expand on the Trump administration’s “America-First” policies in 2020, including negotiations with the United Kingdom, European Union and Kenya. The U.S. released negotiating objectives under the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority law for talks with the EU in January 2019 and for the UK in February 2019.

The UK on Monday released its negotiating objectives for a free trade agreement with the U.S., clearing the final hurdle for the formal launch of talks in the coming weeks. The UK's objectives prioritize ambitious provisions on digital and services trade, which would be in line with U.S. goals, but expected areas of difficulty remain, including sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and government procurement. The UK also insists that its National Health Service will be fully off the table in negotiations.

Talks with EU, however, have stalled as the sides cannot agree over the scope of a trade negotiation. The U.S. insists agricultural market access be included in the talks and the EU has refused. The two sides have instead held discussions over a limited trade deal that would address sanitary and phytosanitary barriers. According to EU lawmakers, the U.S. has not shown an appetite to progress talks beyond those issues.

Georgetown Trade Update

The WTO will be one of the focal points of Georgetown Law’s annual international trade update this week, as former Appellate Body member Thomas Graham will give a keynote address on Thursday. Graham’s Appellate Body term ended in December, marking the end of the era in which the WTO had a functioning appellate process. Graham clashed with the head of the Appellate Body Secretariat, who is seen by many as anathema to reforms the U.S. has demanded of the system.

The conference will also feature panel discussions on the future of the rules-based trading system and developments in the WTO’s dispute settlement function. On Thursday, former Appellate Body member and Georgetown Law professor Jennifer Hillman will discuss the future of the WTO and its paralyzed Appellate Body with Robert MacDougall, senior legal counsel for Global Affairs Canada; King & Spalding’s Bradford Ward; Kelley Drye & Warren’s Paul Rosenthal; and Sidley Austin’s Andrew Shoyer. On Friday, WilmerHale’s Stephanie Hartmann will moderate a panel on the WTO’s dispute settlement system featuring University of Miami Law School Professor Kathleen Claussen; Georgetown Law Professor Jesse Kreier; and USTR attorney Joseph Johnson.

Also on Thursday, the conference will also hold a panel discussion on trade policy toward China featuring Timothy Stratford, the head of Covington & Burling’s Beijing office; Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute; Amy Celico from the Albright Stonebridge Group; and the Brookings Institution’s David Dollar. Friday will feature a trade and national security panel with Wiley Rein’s Nova Daly, Covington & Burling’s Peter Lichtenbaum, Akin Gump’s Kevin Wolf and Arent Fox’s Nancy Noonan, moderated by Amy Porges of Porges Trade Law.


  • On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will testify before the House Ways & Means Committee on the president’s FY2021 budget request.
  • The Hudson Institute will host a discussion on American policy on China and the U.S.’ broader Indo-Pacific strategy on Tuesday with former assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs Kurt Campbell and Hudson’s Dan McKivergan and Walter Russell Mead.
  • The Senate Finance international trade, customs and global competitiveness subcommittee on Tuesday will hold hearing on censorship as a non-tariff trade barrier. Actor Richard Gere will testify in his capacity as the chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet. Former National Economic Council Deputy Director Clete Willems will also testify, along with Nigel Cory, associate director for trade policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and Open Markets Institute fellow Beth Baltzan.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Center on Tuesday will host a discussion on the Trump administration’s Africa policy with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy and Monde Myangwa, the director of the center’s Africa program.
  • The House Appropriations State, foreign operations and related programs subcommittee on Wednesday will hold a hearing on the president’s FY2021 budget request. Export-Import Bank President Kimberly Reed will testify alongside U.S. International Development Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler and Thomas Hardy, the acting director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
  • On Wednesday the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies will host a discussion on the outlook on U.S.-China relations with former U.S. Ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy, U.S.-China Business Council President Craig Allen, George Washington University professor Robert Sutter, and David Keegan, the former deputy director of the American Institute in Taiwan.
  • The Atlantic Council on Thursday will hold a discussion on the path to a U.S.-Brazil trade agreement with Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL); Brazilian Embassy charge d’affaires Nestor Foster; acting Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Joe Semsar; former acting Under Secretary of Commerce and Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade Kenneth Hyatt; ApexBrasil President Sergio Segovia; Lisa Schroeter, the global director of trade and investment policy at Dow Chemical Company; Lisa Schineller, the managing director of S&P Global Ratings' Latin American Sovereign Ratings; AmCham Brasil Executive Vice President Abrao Neto; and the Atlantic Council’s Jason Marczak and Roberta Braga. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)