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Brief Report On The 2016 WTO Public Forum

by Luca Rinaldi (Member of AIPPI’s  Standing Committee on TRIPS)

The WTO Public Forum was held from September 27 to 29 , 2016, in Geneva, at the WTO headquarters.

The forum included three full days of workshops, working sessions, plenary sessions and book launches relating to “Inclusive Trades”.

Indeed, TRIPS and more general Intellectual Property matters were not the core of the event, this year; although some interesting positions have been expressed on the Regional Trade Systems versus Multilateral Trade System involving TRIPS.

Actually, the main topics of the Congress were (i) the role and the possible ways to increase the role of the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) and so-called “micro-multinationals” in the standardization process of the sectors of industry and commerce where they operate; (ii) the digitalization process of the global economy as a powerful mean of inclusive trade for Least Developed Countries; and (iii) the role of the Regional Trade Agreements as a mean of inclusive trade alternative to the Multilateral Trade System administered by the WTO capable to build those sectors of the economy (such as garment, agriculture, food industry, infrastructures, e-commerce) which nowadays appear to be of basic importance for the development of the Least Developed Countries.

It was mostly in the frame of this third topic that TRIPS was approached as one of the Multilateral Agreements administered by the WTO with which such Regional Trade Agreements may enter into conflict.

In particular, it was noted that, at the end of 2014, each of the members of the WTO had entered into at least one Regional Trade Agreement with one or more of the other members of the WTO so that, today, there is no country member of the WTO which is not, at the same time, a member of at least one Regional Trade System.

All the Regional Trade Agreements notified to WTO up to 2014 appear to be substantially consistent with the minimum standards set forth by the Multilateral Trade Agreements administered by the WTO (the analysis stopped in 2014 so, in particular, neither the TPP nor the TTIP have been considered).

The WTO governing bodies, included in particular the DG Roberto Azavedo, do not appear to be concerned by the proliferation of these Regional Trade Agreements as an alternative to the Multilateral Trade System administered by the WTO; rather they noted that some Regional Trade Agreements were capable of developing the relationships between the countries which are parties to them even in those sectors of the economy which are not included in the specific Regional Trade Agreement; this has been explained by the WTO governing bodies’ representatives based on the observation that a Regional Trade Agreement contributes, first, to build a mutual trust among the countries which are parties of them so that, when the mutual trust is built in a given sector, it is easier to extended it also to other sectors even though not regulated by contract or agreement of the interested parties.

Indeed, the feeling is that, very rationally and realistically, the WTO governing bodies have ultimately taken note and acknowledged that the Regional Trade Systems appear to be today the only real way to overcome the obstacles in the implementation of the uniform minimum standards provided for by the Multilateral Trade Agreements administered by the WTO in all the countries members of the WTO; so that it is better to have such implementation even in some but not in all of the countries members of the WTO than not to have it at all.

In this perspective, the WTO governing bodies, besides continuing their efforts to implement the minimum standards provided for by the Multilateral Trade System uniformly in all the countries members of the WTO, would urge that no Regional Trade Agreement be in conflict with such minimum standards, this mean that no such Regional Trade Agreements provide for by standards which are lower than the minimum ones provided for by the applicable Multilateral Trade Agreements administered by the WTO; higher standards, conversely, would be more than welcome.

In this regard, to the question whether any Regional Trade Agreement notified to the WTO was in conflict with the WTO minimum standards and, if so, whether the conflicting Regional Trade Agreement could be disputed before the WTO Appellate Body, the answer of the WTO governing bodies’ representatives was that only one of the Regional Trade Agreements notified up today to the WTO was in conflict and that, in such a case, it could be disputed before the WTO Appellate Body if a disputing country has an interest in bringing the dispute.