Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 9

April 16, 2013


Committee on Trade and Investment (CTI) meetings seem to be reaching epic proportions. They are a test to the stamina of even the hardiest government officials. It is astonishing how chair John Larkin paces patiently through a tricky and detailed agenda that only with good fortune squeezes into two days. There is an almost tantric calm around him as he unhurriedly waits, listens, summarises. For us, the most important discussion focused on supply chain connectivity, and in particular our Global Data Standards initiative. I will devote my next blog to this. But beside this, the agenda was rich.

First was from the WTO statistician Jurgen Richtering on a new database, operational since January, tracking Non-tariff measures. Note I did not say non-tariff barriers: as Mr Richtering was careful to point out, some non-tariff measures are legitimate and well-justified. The nasty ones we chase as “barriers”, which are but a subset of the whole community of non-tariff measures, are the weasel ones that have been slipped into place to protect local interest groups. The new WTO database, called iTIP, provides a one-stop-shop on everything from Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures (rules that stop food products coming into Australia, for example) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) to Anti-Dumping Provisions (ADPs) – the protectionists’ weapon of choice – and Countervailing Duties (CVDs).The first task is of course to master all of the acronyms.

Frustratingly – but of course not surprisingly – that database stops short of trying to measure the cost to consumers that arise from such measures, or the value of trade that is stifled because of them – but I suppose that must be the job of other teams of economists who now have a database that will help them to fast-start such research or investigations.

A second piece of theatre that was intriguing to watch was the fresh attempt by our Indonesian hosts to get Palm Oil slipped into the painfully-negotiated list of environmental goods that was signed off by leaders in Vladivostok last year. Indonesia initially tabled this appeal in Jakarta in January, but was beaten back. Awkwardly for our persistent hosts, efforts at SOM2 here in Surabaya were as unproductive as Jakarta. First in the fray to explain why Palm Oil could not be weaseled retrospectively into the list was China, then the US, then Japan, then Russia, then Australia. Indonesia was like a Jack Russell terrier confronted by five Rotweilers – spirited but ultimately pointless. Apart from the obvious point that it is far from clear whether growing palm oil harms or helps the environment (I seem to recall that most science says it is net harmful), the Rotweilers in the room clearly don’t want to reopen a negotiation that generated huge amounts of pressure and pain last year. It is also clear, in the messy politics of farm trade, that it is not plausible to look at Palm Oil without looking at a wide range of other farm products too. At some point, our Indonesian hosts are going to come to terms with the fact that this must come to nothing – and try to minimize any loss of face.

The bad-tempered debate over Trade in Educational Services that consumed the Group on Services was re-run in CTI, with more bad temper, and more evidence that for the time being none of the protagonists are going to shift ground. Thank goodness Educational Services are not epicentral to services liberalization – we would be getting nowhere, wrestling with each government’s domestic bureaucratic turf wars.

Oh, and I should not forget, I was able to re-present on our Services agenda for 2013 – in particular focusing on this week’s Services Dialogues. My sense is that interest in services liberalization seems to be rising. One very encouraging signal was that the first to speak in support of services-related initiatives was China’s APEC representative. Encouraging for two big reasons: first, China is among APEC’s laggards in terms of services liberalization – one of just a handful whose services sector accounts for less than half of GDP; second, amd most important, China is of course going to be Chair of APEC in 2014. The signal seemed clear: China appears poised to give services liberalization a high priority in its year of Chairmanship. Music to ABAC’s ears.

* Read post from Surabaya


[ Back ]