Trade Policy Reviews (TPR) are another important area of functioning of the WTO, other than the dispute settlement process, wherein trade policies of member countries are scrutinized and commented upon. The process of TPR is mentioned on the WTO website here.
The Trade Policy review of United States took place recently. While I am not going into the details of the review I found this interesting aspects of the WTO Secretariat report in relation to US participation in the WTO processes:
"6. According to the U.S. Trade Policy Agenda, the United States is "committed to preserving and enhancing the WTO's irreplaceable role as the primary forum for multilateral trade liberalization, for the development and enforcement of global trade rules, and as a key bulwark against protectionism". The United States continues to support, participate and pursue trade initiatives and further liberalization through the WTO's multilateral trade framework. Furthermore, the United States is committed to contributing constructively and creatively to the functioning of the WTO, in particular, acknowledging that the WTO Doha Round is at an impasse, it is committed to fresh and credible approaches to new market-opening trade initiatives.
7. As an original Member of the WTO, the United States adheres to all the multilateral agreements and disciplines, and participates in several plurilateral agreements, i.e. the Agreement on Civil Aircraft, Agreement on Government Procurement, and the Information Technology Agreement. The United States has further liberalized certain goods and services sectors, participating in the pharmaceuticals initiative, Uruguay Round zero-for-zero sectorals, and additional commitments on telecommunications and financial services.
8. The United States is active in all aspects of WTO work, including the on-going negotiations, regular Committee work, reporting and monitoring, development aspects, accessions, and in the dispute settlement arena. During 1 January 2010 to 30 June 2012, the United States submitted 22 proposals or communications to the negotiating groups; the majority of these concerned the Negotiating Group on Market Access. During the same period, the United States was a respondent in eight dispute settlement cases, was a complainant in seven cases, and participated as a third party in seven panel proceedings. The United States was involved in seven appeals processes and involved in three implementation or arbitration matters (Table AII.1).
9. The United States also contributes to improving the transparency of the WTO, its trade rules, and creating a clear and effective system by providing information through the WTO notification process and promoting the use of open and transparent meetings and hearings. Of the 11 panels that have permitted open hearings at the request of the parties to the dispute, the United States was involved as a complainant or respondent in 9. Similarly, the United States was an appellant or appellee in 7 of the 8 public hearings that have been held by the Appellate Body. In addition, the United States was a party in both instances where an Arbitrator held open hearings."
The points highlighted were US' commitment to multilateralism, adherence to multilateral agreements, active participants in on-going negotiations, active participant in the dispute settlement process and promoting transparency in the functioning of the WTO. While voices of dissent within the country to the WTO trampling domestic policy space of the WTO (US has lost the Cloves, Dolphin safe tuna fish and COOL cases recently) are often heard in the aftermath of a loss of a dispute at the WTO, the US continues to actively participate in the multilateral trading system. Is the opposition then too minor and irrelevant?
Declaring the centrality of the WTO in multilateral trade, US Ambassador to the WTO stated here:
'A central pillar of U.S. trade policy is our enduring commitment to open markets and to the rules-based multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO. International trade and investment policies have long played a critical role in the U.S. economy. This is especially true now, as the United States and other Members seek to strengthen their economies and to address new challenges following the shocks of the global economic crisis."
Trade Policy Reviews are important opportunities to understand positions and policies of member countries towards trade and multilateralism. It offers a birdseye view of a country's trade policies and provides an account of what needs to be done in terms of compliance with multilateral trade rules. While countries may have a wide variance of what the policy says and what is implemented on the ground, they at least provide the basis for an understanding of complex domestic policy initiatives.