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Improving Transparency, Information Flow and Monitoring in the WTO

Analysing Current Proposals & Thinking “Outside the Box”

Clinic: Graduate Institute, Fall 2019

Beneficiary: Punta Del Este Group

Executive Summary

(Full report can be read here)**​

Transparency is crucial to all aspects of the WTO. It aids the administration of WTO agreements and disputes settlement, allows agenda setting for negotiation for new disciplines, and fosters trust between WTO Members by increasing predictability in trade relations.

This report examines transparency obligations at the WTO, with the special focus on the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM). The level of compliance with the abovementioned agreements is poor and, in recent years, has further deteriorated.

There are two main reasons for non-notification: (i) capacity constraints; and (ii) unwillingness to notify. The over-broad and ambiguous formulation of notification obligations, a lack of inter-ministerial cooperation and capital rotation, and lack of human resources have been identified as the main constituents of capacity constraints that Members face. On the other hand, Members without such capacity constraints may choose not to notify as they see little added value in making notifications, fear the possibility of dispute settlement and do not view transparency as a public good.

Over the years, Members have submitted various proposals to strengthen the transparency obligations in the WTO through various different approaches: a) the application of penalties in case of non-compliance; b) award compliance through some incentives; c) technical assistance for countries lack of capacity; d) consultations for information exchange; e) promoting inter-organizational cooperation; and f) formulating new transparency rules.

In order to address the issue of transparency, practices of other international organisations may prove useful. A descriptive review of International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Bank, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Global Trade Alert, Universal Periodic Review under the UNHCR and the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change demonstrates that these mechanisms have certain elements that may strengthened transparency in the WTO. These elements include broadening the mandate of the secretariat vis-à-vis data collection; the promotion of inter-governmental cooperation; a multi-layer and wider-membership participation; and making greater use of information and communication technologies.

Transparency in the WTO may be improved in various ways which may be applied exclusively or simultaneously: (i) lifting the burden from the Members by reducing the number of requirements with priority; (ii) setting up new Working Group or Committee dedicated to notifications in order to provide tailored technical assistance; (iii) encouraging private sector participation through direct communication or external website; (iv) amending existing notification obligations; (v) applying administrative measures against non-complying Members; (vi) naming and shaming non-complying Members in strengthened Committees; (vii) introducing divided, thematic committee sessions for service notifications; (viii) empowering the Secretariat to independently collect data; (ix) introducing incentives and disincentives for better compliance.

The full report can be read here

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