Thursday, August 16, 2012

Of coalitions and underlying motivations at the WTO

A look at the recent meeting of the Council for Trade in Goods at the WTO highlighted the nature of member coalitions that take on other members of the WTO regarding their trade measures and their possible motivations. Three main disputes caught my attention:

1. Spain's Biodiesel Ministerial Order that allegedly gave preference to EU produced biodiesel was challenged by Argentina and Indonesia. This challenge was supported by Cuba and Uruguay. Was Spain's Ministerial order motivated by Argentina's nationalisation of a Spanish held Oil company in Argentina?

2. Argentina's long standing import licensing measures were challenged by the U.S. This was supported by 14 other members, including the EU. While the EU defended an allegedly discriminatory measure of Spain (one of its members), it challenged Argentina's import licensing procedures as WTO inconsistent.

3. The U.S. expressed concern about Indonesia's alleged import restricting measures. The EU supported this challenge. Was the Cloves Cigarettes decision of the Appellate Body of the WTO a motivating factor in this U.S. challenge. In the Cloves Cigarettes Case the U.S. lost an appeal against Indonesia with respect to the ban on other flavoured cigarettes (other than menthol).

4. An ECJ decision on honey imports was challenged by Argentina and supported by Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

What motivates a member country to become a third party or interested party in a challenge? Trade interests or other motivations? Do countries use these challenges as levers in their relations when faced with challenges to their own policies? The coalitions also throw up interesting realities of trade interests overriding other groupings. Hence, the challenge by members cuts across the developed developing divide as well as other pre-existing interest groups. Thus, you would find Argentina and the U.S. on one side against the EU while a broad amalgam of developed and developing countries would be challenging the Argentinian measure. Strange world of international trade interests? Are there no permanent friends and coalitions in the world of multilateral trade disputes?

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