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This Week In Trade

Okonjo-Iweala takes WTO reins, new ministerial date set for November

Posted: March 01, 2021

World Trade Organization members are looking to get back on track after spending the last six months without a director-general and the last three years without a ministerial -- and after missing a much-ballyhooed deadline for a deal to curb harmful fisheries subsides.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was installed as director-general at a General Council meeting on Monday and members set the dates and location for the WTO’s next ministerial -- slated to begin in late November in Geneva. Roberto Azevêdo last year left his director-general post a year early, claiming it would be best for members to quickly select a new director-general before the next ministerial.

Kazakhstan was slated to host that ministerial, the WTO’s 12th, last June, but the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the biennial event. Kazakhstan instead last week offered to “co-host” MC12 in Geneva. WTO members officially set the dates for meeting on Monday.

Okonjo-Iweala faces several immediate challenges as she takes the helm of an embattled organization. Two of the most immediate: The paralysis of both the WTO’s dispute settlement and negotiating arms. The WTO has been without a functioning Appellate Body since December 2019 because the U.S. has been blocking nominations to the panel. Fisheries talks have been seen as a bellwether for the organization’s negotiating arm and members remain deeply divided in those talks even as they blew past an end-of-2020 deadline to secure a deal.

Members also are at odds over a proposed waiver for some intellectual property provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. Developing countries see the waiver as key tool to help secure vaccines and fight the coronavirus pandemic. Developed countries, meanwhile, have argued that the waiver is not practicable to accomplish those goals.

Another item for Geneva watchers to keep an eye on -- the WTO’s Government Procurement Committee will hold a negotiating session on Wednesday. The Trump administration in December proposed to amend its coverage schedule to exclude critical medicines from coverage under the Government Procurement Agreement. The change in U.S. administrations does not appear to have affected the U.S. position, as the Biden administration last month issued a communication elaborating on the U.S. proposal after nearly a dozen WTO members objected to the plan.

‘Two sessions’

All eyes will be on Beijing this week, as China convenes its annual “two sessions” -- parallel meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The meetings will span about 10 days and will be highlighted by the release of China’s 14th five-year plan. The blueprint will lay out Beijing’s short- and medium-term policy objectives, as well as goals China wants to achieve by 2035.

The plan is expected to focus on President Xi Jinping’s dual-circulation strategy, which emphasizes growing domestic demand while balancing participation in the international trade and investment system. The policy document also is expected to place heavy emphasis on indigenous innovation as Beijing seeks to become less reliant on U.S. technology and even dominate certain high-tech sectors by 2035.

Filling the cabinet

The process of filling the administration’s top positions continues this week. The Senate will vote to invoke cloture on Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo (D) on Monday night, setting up a vote on the Rhode Island governor’s nomination on Tuesday.

U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai will have to wait a bit longer before taking office. The Biden administration had hoped to have Tai in office by the start of the month. But the Senate Finance Committee held her confirmation hearing last Thursday and has not yet scheduled an executive session to vote on her nomination. Tai is expected to receive the overwhelming support of the committee and full Senate when they eventually vote on her nomination.

Tai has responded to a slew of questions for the record posed by Finance Committee members after her hearing.


  • General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt on Monday will discuss challenges stemming from globalization and China’s increasing influence with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.
  • The Atlantic Council on Monday explores the future of the U.S. strategy toward China with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK); former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, now vice chair of the Atlantic Council Center for Strategy and Security; and Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe.
  • The Atlantic Council on Tuesday will host Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius and Citibank global chief economist Catherine Mann to discuss the 2021 outlook for the global economy.
  • Asia Development Bank chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada will present a report on Asian economic integration in a post-pandemic economy on Tuesday during a webinar hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Center on Tuesday will host a program on the future of North America. The first panel includes acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung; Roberto Velasco, the chargé d’affairs of Mexico’s office of the deputy Secretary for North America; and Canada’s Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas Michael Grant.
  • On Wednesday, the Peterson Institute’s Trade Winds series will host Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Trade and Agriculture Director Marion Jansen and World Bank Chief Economist for East Asia and the Pacific Region Aaditya Mattoo for a discussion on how services trade can support an economic recovery.
  • The Diaz Trade Law firm on Wednesday hosts a discussion on trade policy under the Biden administration with the firm’s founder, Jennifer Diaz, associate attorney Sharath Patil, and Cross Border Advisory Network President Todd Owen.
  • George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs on Wednesday welcomes Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Mulhall, European Union Parliament Office Director Joseph Dunne, and Wilson Center fellow Michael Geary for a discussion on Europe’s post-Brexit geopolitical and economic landscape.
  • Former EU Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan will take part in a discussion on Thursday hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. on what’s next for the trans-Atlantic relationship. Joining him will be Anne Verhelst, research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies; Michael Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement; and Bart Szewczyk, adjunct professor at the Sciences Po in Paris.
  • Former acting Deputy USTR Wendy Cutler and former Korean Ambassador to the WTO Seokyoung Choi on Thursday will discuss trade and economic issues in Korea during a webinar moderated by CSIS’ Matthew Goodman.
  • The House Ways & Means trade subcommittee will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
  • The Hudson Institute on Thursday will host a webinar on trans-Atlantic cooperation amid U.S.-China competition featuring Paul Linnarz, director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung USA office; Gudrun Wacker, senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs; Noah Barkin, senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Funds of the U.S.’ Asia program; Peter Rough, a senior fellow at Hudson; and Joel Scanlon, the vice president for studies at Hudson.
  • The Washington International Trade Association will host an off-record discussion on Friday on Congress’ upcoming trade agenda with House Ways & Means trade subcommittee Democratic chief trade counsel Alexandra Whittaker, her Republican counterpart Angela Ellard, Senate Finance Committee Democratic chief trade adviser Jayme White and his Republican counterpart Mayur Patel.
  • House Ways & Means trade subcommittee chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) will take part in a CSIS webinar to discuss a climate-driven trade agenda with University of California at San Diego professor David Victor and Hogan Lovells partner Warren Maruyama. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)