Sunday, October 28, 2012

Airbus Boeing dispute - State support a hard reality

The Boeing-Airbus dispute at the WTO dispute settlement mechanism has been debated and discussed widely. Incidentally books to have been written on the subject. It offers a classic case of the failure of the dispute settlement system to provide a verdict in a timeframe. I have blogged about it here, here and here.

Jennifer Smith has a good synopsis of the two longest (and perhaps biggest) disputes at the WTO here. She has traced the history of both the disputes (Airbus and Boeing) and summarized the issues involved. Stressing on the importance these two cases have on the economy of the U.S. and the EU, she notes:
"These disputes may prompt negotiation of a new agreement regarding civil aircraft subsidies, and mayhave an impact on production and export competition in the civil aircraft industry. Civil aircraft are a top U.S. export, have a larger trade surplus than any other manufacturing industry ($47.2 billion), and support more U.S. jobs through exports than any other industry. The cases also have broader implications for the WTO system. Because of their massive factual records, both cases have already significantly impacted the WTO’s dispute settlement process. The cases also gave the WTO dispute settlement system an opportunity to flesh out anti-subsidy rules agreed to by WTO members in 1994 – they thus provide a potential roadmap for future challenges to government support programs for key industries. 
The industries involved and the records in the disputes were of an unprecedented magnitude. The disputes involve the largest dollar value by far of any WTO case to date — more than $2 trillion for the total plane market.The WTO had to bend its own procedural rules to handle the cases. Normally, WTO Panels aim to issue reports within six months.In both the Airbus and Boeing cases, the Panels’ decisions took more than five years."
The impact the two cases have on the WTO dispute settlement system is immense. It has tested the limts of the system as well as offered new jurisprudence on the interpretation of the ASCM and the extent to which the State can support industry. Commenting on the implications of the Airbus and Boeing disputes for the WTO DSM she rightly concludes:
"Furthermore, the disputes indubitably have far-reaching consequences – not only for Airbus and Boeing, or the United States and EU. The massive factual records at issue in the disputes tested the WTO dispute resolution system nearly to its limits. The inability of the system to issue findings in the disputes in a timeframe anywhere near the schedule provided for in WTO rules suggests the system may need additional resources or procedures to effectively handle such complicated disputes in the future. If the system does not provide parties with a timely and meaningful dispute resolution mechanism in such large cases, its relevance may diminish. 
In addition, the disputes demonstrate how difficult – yet necessary -- it is to effectively discipline subsidies that, even though they are not expressly contingent on exports or domestic content, nonetheless have massive trade-distorting effects. In the case of de facto export subsidies, the Appellate Body has established a test requiring a demonstration that the subsidy is “geared to induce the promotion of future export performance” – how difficult this test will be to meet in fact is likely to be the subject of future disputes. In addition, the disputes provide a roadmap of the kind of evidence that is required to demonstrate that domestic subsidies have caused serious prejudice and are thus actionable under WTO rules. It is vitally important that these rules be administrable and enforceable if the SCM Agreement is going to provide an effective means of disciplining not only the most blatant prohibited subsidies, but also the full array of subsidies that distort global trade."
I am just amazed at the extent to which countries go to support local industry when jobs and national growth are concerned. State support for aircraft manufacturing is clearly evident here. A talk about a plurilateral agreement covering aspects of State support for aircraft manufacture is being made. While subsidies are frowned upon by the ASCM, here are two cases that clearly stand out as classic examples of generous State support for industry in violation of the ASCM. While these two industries are important for the U.S. and EU economies (even to the extent of justifying a plurilateral agreement) what prevents other WTO countries from supporting "national" industries that provide lot of jobs in their respective countries. What implications does a longstanding dispute have on the compliance of the ASCM by other countries? In both cases the Appellate Body has given its decision. The complexity of the subject has resulted in the battle shifting to the area of compliance. While, at the end of the day, these cases might cull out fine jurisprudential principles for the interpretation of the ASCM, it is undeniable that State support for local industry is a hard reality in both the developed and developing world. Would countries have the moral authority to insist that States do not support particular industries when in fact it is such a hard reality?

No comments: