Tuesday, 29 April 2008

L'hypocrisie: at its New Heights

According to Anne-Marie Idrac, France's junior trade minister, the export restrictions imposed by poor countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Egypt, Cambodia, Pakistan, Argentina and Malawi lie counter to the spirit of the WTO's intended Doha round deal, which is meant to make it easier to export and sell agricultural and other goods in overseas markets.

If that is the case, then how come the scandalous amount of subsidy the French is paying to its farmers is not counter to the spirit of the WTO?

And why it is not surprising to me that this came from the French? Because even Stephen King conceded that "French is the language that turns dirt into romance".

Tough trade negotiator to chair Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council

It has been announced today that Lai Shin-yuan, former legislator of the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, will become the head of the Mainland Affairs Council in Ma Ying-jeou's new cabinet.

A veteran trade negotiator, Lai has a reputation of being tough and enjoys playing brinksmanship in negotiations. While Chen Shui-bian might be a hardliner on political issues, Lai takes an even harder position than Chen on many trade issues. It was her who petitioned Chen to grant special amnesty to Yang Ju-men, the "rice-bomber" who was arrested in 2004, because, in her words, Yang's bombing campaign against WTO-mandated rice imports "awakened society's conscience about the treatment of farmers." It was her who slammed Yen Ching-chan, Taiwan's former representative to the World Trade Organization, for denigrating Taiwan's status in the WTO when he lost Taiwan's fight with China over the proper title of the Taiwanese diplomats. According to Lai, the 1992 Chairman's Statement on Taiwan's status in the WTO has no legal status in the WTO and thus should not be relied upon. It was her who forced China to negotiate directly with Taiwan by launching the first safeguard action Taiwan has ever taken against China. With her at the helm of Taiwan's top agency for its China policy, including trade policy, it seems that the Pandora's box is about to be opened. Of course, this would create ample opportunities for entrepreneurial lawyers.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Fwd: law firm summer internships

Dear all,

We are a Chinese law firm with offices around China, working
predominantly for foreign clients. We welcome applications from
foreign law students interested in an internship position at our
Guangzhou, Shanghai or Tianjin offices during the summer or at another
time. Students must be fluent in English, Chinese or Italian would be
an advantage. Those interested may contact me directly at

Best regards,

Maarten Roos

Wang Jing & Co.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Training trade negotiators for developing countries

For the whole week last week, I was teaching the Trade Negotiation
Simulation Exercise (TNSE) at the Regional Trade Policy Course (RPTC)
for about 30 Asian Pacific developing countries. The RTPC was first
created as a joint venture between the WTO Secretariat and the
University of Hong Kong, and I was in charge of the course as the
Academic Coordinator while I was in Hong Kong. As the WTO has a rule
which requires the course to be moved to another place after a maximum
three years, the course came to Singapore in 2007 after three
successful years in Hong Kong. Currently the local host of the course
is the law school of National University of Singapore, which actually
occupies the previous campus of SMU.

The TNSE was first designed by Prof. Gilbert Winham. It contains
simulated negotiations on both tariff matters and non-tariff matter
(subsidies and countervailing measures) between four fictional
countries, two developed, the other two developing. While the world
has changed a lot since the exercise was first designed, it is still a
very useful tool for developing country officials to hone their
negotiation skills. Indeed, it has been so useful that some even blame
it for at least being partly responsible for the impasse of the
current Doha Round (the developing countries are too good to negotiate

In my view, while it is important to have enhanced negotiating
capacity for developing countries, another challenge facing many
developing countries is how to translate the needs of the domestic
groups into substantive negotiating positions. Even in countries as
big and powerful as China, there is a big gap between the interests of
the industry and the trade policy of the country. In the US and
Europe, there are various mechanisms for the domestic industries to
voice their concerns to the government. In China and many other
developing countries, the channel is still slowly being established.
I'm currently doing a research project on the foreign trade barrier
investigation mechanism of China, and would welcome any comments and
suggestions on this interesting topic.

Friday, 11 April 2008

A New Band: G-10

I mentioned earlier in my blog about the use of Ping Pong diplomacy by the Chinese mission to the WTO. Now it seems that the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu are becoming more and more creative in their diplomacy as well. It was reported that the Taiwanese mission hosted a Karaoke Party in Geneva recently.

Note that the head of the Taiwanese mission seems to have the same name as the new Chief Economist of the World Bank from China. That is incorrect as the second characters of the two names are actually different in Chinese even though the pronunciation is the same. Also, the Yifu Lin from Beijing has a Christian name "Justin" while the other doesn't have one.

Kungfu Masters from the Land of the Lord of the Rings

In the newly-signed FTA between China and New Zealand, NZ agreed to allow temporary entry of several categories of service providers into New Zealand. Among them are Chinese chefs and Martial Arts instructors. This is very interesting as the biggest obstacle for Chinese service providers are tedious visa procedures. In this regard, explicit commitments on temporary visas for certain sectors would make important inroads into further removal of significant discrimination against Chinese citizens prevalent in the immigration regimes of many developed countries.

The Role of the WTO Centers in APEC Region

All blog readers who happen to be in Singapore on the 23rd are most welcome to attend.

School of Law cordially invites you to
The Role of the WTO Centers in APEC Region
Mr Takashi Iwamoto
Executive Director
Fair Trade Center
Institute for International Trade and Investment
23 April 2008, Wednesday
10.30am to 11.30am
School of Acc & Law Building
Level 4, Meeting Room 4.1

It is important to establish WTO centers in APEC region to support and promote the WTO trading system. The purposes of the WTO center are as follows:

* as a Focal Point for information on the WTO
* as a Center for consultation on trade issues
* as a Center for WTO capacity building

More specific objectives are:

* An antenna for trade issues by gathering up-to-date and accurate information
* An information network and data bank
* A communication channel between government and industry
* An advisor to companies on trade issues
* A consultant in preparation for petition filing (AD)
* A supporter in WTO-related actions (DS)
* A center for WTO studies
* A center for WTO capacity building

A well coordinated network of the WTO Centers is also important for effective activities.

* Create a network of the WTO centers in Asia and Asia Pacific to promote collaboration and better understanding of the WTO system
* Asian WTO Research Network can support the networking activities of the WTO centers

About the Speaker(s)

Please refer to attached Curriculum Vitae for more details.

Kindly register with Melissa Chang via email by 21 April 2008, Monday. Attendance is by registration only.

We look forward to seeing you at this event.

Yours sincerely,

Office of the Dean
School of Law
Singapore Management University

© Copyright 2006 by Singapore Management University. All Rights Reserved.

Wild Thoughts of a WTO Imperialist

As it's often said among the trade law circle, "anyone who reads GATT is likely to have his sanity impaired." To give an example to the dear readers of the blog, or at least those who still have their sanity intact, I would like to refer to some discussion we had at the International Economic Law and Policy Blog on the relationship between Olympic Boycott and WTO.

Enjoy, but I should say that this is not for the faint-hearted and please do stop when you feel that your sanity is at a dangerously low level (hint: the earliest sign of this is when you start to wonder which CPC number this could be classified under or which mode of supply this would fit).

Since I already made my disclaimer, don't blame me if this does cause some harm on you: blame the "evil" WTO instead!

An Olympic Boycott and the WTO

All the recent talk about a boycott of the Olympics, or the opening ceremonies at least, has me wondering:  Is there a WTO violation here? My guess is no, but I have more questions than definite answers.  Some questions:

-- First, services seems like the most promising place to look, but what is the service to be considered here?  Given that the athletes would be boycotting, is the proper UN CPC category "Services of athletes"?

-- What mode of service supply is involved?  My first thought was that it would be the movement of natural persons, with non-Chinese athletes providing their services in China, to the Olympic games themselves.  But maybe the services are really being provided to the fans, Chinese and non-Chinese, in China and elsewhere.  In that case, the mode could be consumption abroad or cross-border trade.

-- Would these services benefit from the exception for "services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority"?  Governments do have a fairly important role here, after all.

-- And, of course, the most important question:  Have the potential boycotting governments made any commitments in their GATS Schedules that would be relevant here?  I'm having a hard time with this part, in particular relating the actual services supplied to possible commitments that might have been made.

That's as far as I got with the analysis before my head started to spin.  Anyone with clearer thoughts on this should feel free to set me straight. 


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Simon, I have to ask, what's the goal here and in similar posts? Is this just a fun intellectual exercise or do you actually think that we should seek to interpret WTO agreements in ways they were never intended and into realms that were never considered at a time when the global trading system is in such poor public repute.

It might be fun to think this puzzle though, but in reality the WTO says nothing about Olympic boycots nor should we try to force it to.

I guess Judah's answer is "no".

I would also be inclined to say no, the main problem being that the athletes are amateurs, and not professionals. I know that there are billions on corporate money involved in the Olympics, but I do not think the amateur athletes themselves are "service suppliers" within the meaning of the GATS, because of their amateur status.

As atheletes don't get "paid" for any services rendered, it stands to reason that they are not providing any services.


It's just some idle speculation. I suppose it's possible that by posting on topics like this, others might pick up on the ideas and they might spread. But generally speaking, I figure that these ideas are not that original -- others will have thought of them, too. Also, I would be very surprised if any government actually brought a complaint as a result.

At the same time, I think it's worth noting that the WTO contains some general principles that could be applied to areas that may not have been intended to be included by the original drafters.

With regard to whether athletes get paid, it's true that they don't get paid directly by the Olympic organizers. They do get medals for winning, though. Also, don't some countries give money to athletes who win medals? Would this affect the analysis?

While I agree that it's hard to find a trade angle to such problems, I don't think Simon's inquiry is frivolous for the following reasons:

First, to start with, it's much better that people try to resolve their differences through the WTO dispute settlement system rather than attempting to use other alternatives, such as war. Even though people also fight with each other in WTO proceedings, they do so in a much more civilized manner.

Second, the fact that the Olympic Games are never intended to be covered by the GATS is irrelevant. Accordingly to the sacred teachings of the AB, we should try to look at the plain meaning of the words and intentions generally don't matter. That's why the US is found to have scheduled gambling services even though it protested that it never intended it as the word "gambling" is never mentioned in its schedule! Same applies to the accounting rate regime of Mexico. At least with regard to services, you see more and more attempts by countries to stretch other Members' GATS commitments beyond recognition, with the case against China on financial info services being another example.

Third, I think a case can be made here saying that the Games are covered by the GATS. The sectors immediately come to mind are sporting and other recreational services, while entertainment services is another possibility.

Fourth, I don't think the question of payment matters. Google doesn't charge people for using their web search service, but that doesn't prevent people from treating the blockage of Google in China as a services issue. Even if we think the payment question is relevant, the focus should be on the deal between the athletes (or rather the governments behind them) and China (think about a customer who demolished his house in the hope that the contractor will rebuild it but this never happened), or maybe the focus should be the hotel operators in China and the foreign governments (prohibition of Mode 2)? I also start to lose my sanity here but this is still very entertaining…

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Warwick Commission Report

I was at a Roundtable launching the Warwick Report in Singapore on Friday the 5th. Compared with the Sutherland Report, the Warwick Commission is different in two ways: First, it is an "unofficial" report in the sense that the commissioners are not appointed by the WTO, but by private parties. Of course, this in no way means that the report will be less relevant or important. Second, while many commissioners are big names in the WTO circle (such as Patrick Low, chief economist at the WTO; Pierre Sauvé, leading authority on GATS; etc.), the commissioners include more than the usual "suspects" by including several people who are not usually heard of in the trade circle. Of course, this also in no way means that they are less qualified than the good fellas of the "WTO mafia". Indeed, probably because the Warwick Commission do not have these constraints, some of their suggestions are even more interesting than the Sutherland Report. Interested readers can find the whole report here.