USCIB and several members were on the ground in Geneva the week of October 7 for the World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum. The Forum included a plethora of panels on critical issues of concern to business including digital trade, services, the moratorium in customs duties on electric transmissions (Moratorium), the ongoing e-commerce negotiations, and WTO reform, including issues surrounding the Appellate Body (AB).
In addition to participating in the active forum agenda, USCIB’s Senior Vice President Rob Mulligan and Senior Director Eva Hampl held side-meetings with WTO leadership, such as Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff, Director, Council and TNC Division Victor do Prado, Director, Information and External Relations Division Keith Rockwell and Counselor, Telecom, ICT & E-commerce, Trade in Services and Investment Division Lee Tuthill. Mulligan and Hampl also met with Ambassadors Dennis Shea, Stephen deBoer, and Junichi Ihara from the United States, Canada, and Japan, respectively. Finally, USCIB engaged with international business groups, including Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Ibec (Irish Business), Canadian Chamber of Commerce, ICC UK, and Confederation of Danish Industry (DI).
“Across the board, everybody is closely paying attention to the E-Commerce negotiations,” said Mulligan. “There is a general positive attitude regarding the negotiations, but also a recognition that the tough issues like data flows and localization policies are still to come. Accordingly, it is not likely that an agreement will be ready by the Ministerial Council meeting in June 2020 (MC12).”
According to Mulligan, on the issue of the Moratorium, there continue to be opponents to extending the agreement, but most WTO members support at a minimum extending it to MC12 once it runs out in December of this year. To push back against the opposing forces, several studies are being developed. Among these, the OECD is also developing a paper on the Moratorium, which is likely to be released very soon.
WTO reform domin ated the discussion, often targeted at the U.S. pushing for meaningful updates on issues like subsidies, transparency, and notifications. The U.S. position on the Appellate Body, however, continues to be controversial and there is some nervousness about what will happen to the dispute resolution arm of the WTO once the terms of two of the three remaining AB members run out at the end of the year. On the other hand, there are some who believe pragmatism will take over and the value of the institution and the important work being done on the other reforms will not be impacted.
USCIB also co-hosted a breakfast with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Speakers at the breakfast included The Right Honorable Liz Truss MP, secretary of state for International Trade in the UK, who spoke on the importance of the multilateral trading system; Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij from Thailand, who provided an update in the General Council discussions; Ambassador David Walker from New Zealand, who provided an update on the AB, and Ambassador Frances Lisson from Australia, who spoke about the JSI on E-Commerce; and WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, who spoke to the current state of play of WTO Reform.
To wrap up the busy week in Geneva, USCIB co-hosted a business reception with several other business associations, to underline the importance of a business relationship with the WTO. Invitees include member companies and associations, country delegates, and WTO staff.