Friday, 15 February 2008

China's First Defeat in the WTO

The Panel in the China - Auto Parts case has just issued the interim
report. According to several sources, China lost the case. This is
rather unsurprising as the legal issues involved in the case are
relatively simple (I actually predicted 2 years ago that China will
lose the case it ever goes before a Panel. See my article in the Hong
Kong Economic Journal in 2006 below). The more interesting question,
however, is how China would react to its first defeat. Initially
highly reluctant to solve trade disputes using the WTO dispute
settlement system, China has gradually overcome such phobia over the
past two years (see e.g., Henry Gao, Taming the Dragon: China's
Experience in the WTO Dispute Settlement System, Legal Issues of
Economic Integration 34(4): 369�392, 2007). With immediate relevance
to this case, the question is whether China will refuse to implement
Panel or AB recommendations? In the long term, the question is whether
the loss in this case will push China back to its secretive approach
of solving trade disputes through private settlements? My answers to
both would be a qualified "no". I would be very interested in getting
the views from readers of the blog on these questions.

信报财经新闻
P26 | 经济・企管 | By 高树超 2006-04-10


中国提高汽车零件关税惹诉讼
高树超
  三月三十日,美国和欧盟分别通知中国,就中国对于汽车零部件进口的有关措施,正式要求在世界贸易组织(WTO)进行磋商。美欧诉状中所提到的有关措施主要有三个,分别是《汽车产业发展政策》、《构成整车特征的汽车零部件进口管理办法》(简称整车特征管理办法),以及《进口汽车零部件构成整车特征核定规则》。这其中最重要的,就是去年四月一日,由海关总署、国家发改委、财政部和商务部联合下发的整车特征管理办法。

  中国在二○○一年加入WTO时,承诺大幅降低汽车关税。此外,中国还将整车和零部件列入不同税目,税率大不相同。按照承诺,中国在二○○五年将对进口整车的关税降到百分之二十五,在今年对汽车零部件的关税将到百分之十。百分之十五的税差,使得汽车厂商更愿意进口零部件,然后在国内组装成整车出售。中国政府近年来号召本土企业自主创新,而汽车业整车和零部件的税差则导致国内车厂沦为外国车厂的组装生产线,完全没有自主技术和关键零部件的生产能力。

「办法」违反WTO规定

  整车特征管理办法在这个背景下出台,就是为了遏制这种利用进口全散件(Completely Knocked
Down,简称CKD)或半散件(Semi-Kocked Down,
简称SKD)组装汽车的生产方式,迫使企业提升自主技术研发和生产关键零部件的能力。该办法规定,如进口超过某一数量的关键零部件或进口零部件的价格总和超过该车型整车总价格百分之六十以上,则对这些零部件以整车关税的标准征税。欧美认为,此规定违反了WTO如下规则:
 一、中国对进口零部件加税而不对国产零部件加税,违反了关贸总协定第三条的国民待遇原则;
二、中国承诺在今年将对汽车零部件的关税降到百分之十,但办法对进口零部件征收超出百分之十的关税,违反了关贸总协定第二条不得在承诺关税之上征收关税或其他税费的规定;

  三、虽然中国的关税减让表中并没有明确列明CKD或SKD是属于整车税目还是零部件税目,但是中国在其入世工作组报告中明确承诺其税率不会超过百分之十,也就是把它们作为零部件对待。办法也违反了这个承诺;

  四、办法的实际后果是增加了进口成本,从而迫使汽车厂商购买国产零部件。这也违反了《与贸易有关的投资协定》中第二条不得强制规定「当地成分」的规定;

  五、办法也可以被视为一种补贴:只有厂商采用国产而不是进口成分才能获得此种补贴。此外,办法仅对在国内市场销售的车辆征税,如车辆出口则毋须交税。这也可能被视为变相出口补贴。这两者都违反了《补贴与反补贴协定》第三条的规定。
 面对欧美引经据典、理由充分的指控,中国政府只是简单指出,办法的初衷,是为了防止汽车厂商采取「化整为零」的做法瞒天过海,变相逃税。这粗看起来似乎有理,但是详细分析之下,却无法在世贸组织的协定中找到任何法律依据。其实在此之前WTO早就处理过三宗与汽车产业有关的案子,分别是一九九八年的印尼汽车案、二○○○年的加拿大汽车案和二○○二年的印度汽车案。本案中中国政府的做法同一九九八年的印度汽车案中印度政府的做法颇为神似,甚至更加明目张胆。综合世贸组织专家组和上诉机构在这些案子中的判例来看,欧美此次胜算颇大。

国内产业未真正得益

  当然,按照WTO有关规则,提起磋商请求只是标志着漫长诉讼程式的开始。如果中国决心扶植国内产业的发展,完全可以采取拖延战术,从磋商、专家组、上诉机构直到实际执行这一系列程式奉陪到底,争取两年甚至更长的时间,先让国内产业借机站稳脚跟,发展壮大再说。不过,这么做的前提是办法真的可以起到其应有的作用。

  但从办法实施一年来的情况来看,由于有关程式太过复杂,在实践中很难操作,国内产业并没有真正得益。此外,中国政府是否愿意「无理搞三分」也值得怀疑。从中国入世后的实际情况来看,无论是二○○四年美国正式提起的对华第一案――半导体退税案,还是同年欧盟计划诉诸世贸组织的焦炭出口配额案或前不久美国企图提起的未漂白牛皮箱纸板反倾销案,中国或者在正式起诉之前,或者在起诉之后极短时间内,即同有关国家达成和解。

  究其原因,一是由于中国将贸易争端视为外交关系的破裂;一是中国对于世贸组织的争端解决机构缺乏了解,参与能力不足;一是有关人员认为在世贸组织败诉丢面子,不敢承担败诉的责任。所以笔者认为,此案最终可能还是中国让步,同欧美和解了事。

  作为汽车业两大巨头,欧美联手起诉并不奇怪。在印尼和印度汽车案中,它们就曾联手起诉。有意思的是同为汽车大国的日本和韩国并没有加入起诉中国的行列。笔者认为,这是由于日韩同欧美的策略不同,它们在建立合资整车制造厂的同时,也将全套零部件体系搬到了中国。所以它们实际上是办法的受益者,自然不会对此不满。但由于此案中国极有可能败诉,所以日韩车商在中国合资企业的业绩或会受到不利影响。决策前没做好功课

  本案凸显的另一个问题,是中国对于加入WTO这样一个重大决策没有做好功课。当年中国高层把入世作为「与国际接轨」战略的一部分,把它更多的作为一个政治决定,而没有充分分析经济层面的得失。数年前,笔者有幸与已故中国社科院法学所研究员赵维田谈及此事,赵老提到入世之时,中国只是被动接受美欧等国提出的条件,但对其具体内容则一知半解。

  中国入世之后才发现问题愈来愈多,才临时抱佛脚,邀请有关专家「会诊」,试图弄清具体承诺的内涵以及制定相应对策。中国在此案中本来有一个很好的抗辩理由,就是全散件(CKD)进口实际上同整车进口无异,应按整车征收关税。但由于中国在入世工作组报告中,已经明确承诺将CKD作为零部件处理,仅征收不超过百分之十的关税,所以这条路已被堵死。试想当时中国政府如能邀请熟悉世贸规则和汽车产业专家参与决策,或许不会落得今日如此下场。

香港大学法学院助理教授、世贸组织秘书处前顾问

3 comments:

Peter Gallagher said...

Hi Henry,

I don't know the answer to your question but I agree with your analysis. This is precisely the important point. Will be interesting to watch. I'm counting on you to suggest the answer, however :-)

Henry Gao 高树超 said...

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure if I'm the best person to give
an answer, but I guess the Chinese government will be just like others, i.e., making some noise at first, maybe even try to appeal to
the AB, but then grudgingly comply with the ruling in the end. So far
the MOFCOM has been very quiet on the issue: they only stated that
they are "carefully studying the Panel report", but some pundits have been making allegations that the ruling is "unfair to China". To be frank I don't see any unfairness at all: the law on the issue is very clear and China indeed has violated the law. It does not matter how much foreign cars China has imported or whether the intention of China's auto policy is to fight against tariff evasion or not. The interesting question, though, is whether China will pick up some of these "fairness" argument in its appeal. My guess is that the officials in charge of China's dispute settlement in the WTO probably have a much better understanding than the pundits so will not be using this argument, but the question is: who will the senior leadership listen to?

Best

Henry

Henry Gao 高树超 said...

Further reply from Peter:

Hi Henry,

Exactly. I've no doubt, either, about the knowledge and insight of people in MOFCOM. But compliance with these the DSB decision by China is pretty crucial to the whole system. The persistent foot-dragging of the US, especially, in complying with decisions (the Byrd amendment being only the worst example of several, as you know) is a significant threat. If China decides to do the same then the whole thing becomes 'soft'.

My guess from China's behavior up to now is that it will comply fairly promptly. I don't think anyone can complain much, so far, about China's record on meeting obligations (I'm much less confident that Russia will be as WTO-abiding once it is a Member).

But, of course, China probably has a lot of options to bring it's legislation into compliance with its obligations in the auto case. It might be much harder to comply if it loses the IP case.

Best,

Peter