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Feasibility and desirability of ‘clubs’ within the WTO: A critical comment on Hoekman/Mavroidis’ case for plurilateral agreements (PAs)

Published on September 30, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This post responds to Bernard Hoekman and Petros Mavroidis’ article in the current issue of EJIL Vol. 26 (2015), No. 2, titled “WTO ‘à la carte’ or ‘menu du jour’? Assessing the case for more Plurilateral Agreements”. For a post by the authors of the article, introducing their piece, see here. For other comments see here and here. For the authors’ concluding response, see here.

Two phenomena characterize the contemporary world trading system, namely, the deadlock of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and the proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs), in particular, mega-FTAs such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The former illustrates the difficulty of the 161-member WTO in reaching consensus in trade negotiations, and this may have been one of the driving forces for the latter. Proliferation of PTAs has both pros and cons for the world trading system. On the one hand, PTAs facilitate trade liberalization between the parties, and they may be an incubator of new rules governing global trade and investment. On the other hand, PTAs may have trade diverting effects for non-parties. Their proliferation may result in the fragmentation of rules for global trade and investment. To sum up, the contemporary world trading system is suffering from the decay of the multilateral trading system and the disorderly proliferation of PTAs. Hoekman and Mavroidis’ recent article, titled “WTO ‘à la carte’ or ‘menu du jour’?”, published in the latest issue of the EJIL (Vol.26, No.2), tries to find a breakthrough in the world trading system by advocating the use of plurilateral agreements (PAs).

They are not the pioneers of advocating PAs. For instance, Richard Baldwin, in his article in 2012 (Richard Baldwin, “WTO 2.0: Global governance of supply chain trade”, Centre for Economic Policy Research Policy Insight No.64, December 2012), advocated a ‘WTO2.0’, which is practically a PA with limited membership, consisting of those WTO members who accept high-level rules that secure the well-functioning of global supply chains, without the special and differential treatment (S&D) to developing countries which is incorporated in the current WTO Agreements, or WTO1.0. A similar proposal was made by Michitaka Nakatomi in his article in 2012 [Michitaka Nakatomi, “Exploring Future Application of Plurilateral Trade Rules: Lessons from the ITA and the ACTA”, RIETI (Research Institute for Economy, Trade and Industry) Policy Discussion Paper 12-P-009, May 2012]. These proponents of PAs and Hoekman/Mavroidis share the common view of the contemporary world trading system. First, they regard the stalemate of the DDA as a result of the incapacity of the WTO in meeting the needs of the 21st century global trade, characterized by the globalization of value chains. Secondly, they regard the proliferation of recent RTAs, in particular mega-FTAs, as attempts by major trading countries to meet such needs. Thirdly, however, they don’t think of the proliferation of RTAs as an optimal solution to the challenges of the 21st century global trade, mainly because it might result in the fragmentation of rules for global trade and investment.

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WTO ‘à la carte’ or ‘menu du jour’? Assessing the case for more Plurilateral Agreements

Published on September 30, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of posts discussing the article in the current issue of EJIL Vol. 26 (2015) No 2, by Bernard Hoekman and Petros Mavroidis. See also the  posts  discussing the article by Junji Nakagawa, Diane Desierto, and Geraldo Vidigal. For the authors’ concluding response, see here.

The WTO and … ‘clubs’

The long-running Doha Round deadlock illustrates how difficult it has become to get agreement on new rules of the game among 161 WTO Members. The Agreement on Trade Facilitation that was negotiated at the 2013 WTO Ministerial meeting in Bali demonstrated that this is possible, but the proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) illustrates that many countries have been moving away from using multilateral trade agreements to liberalize international commerce and agree to new policy disciplines. Recent examples of PTAs that involve major trading nations include the agreements signed by Korea with the EU and the US and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. It may be that one of the consequences of the Doha deadlock has been to give countries greater incentives to engage in PTAs. But there may be a reverse causality effect as well: the existence of the PTA option may reduce the incentive to agree on rules on a multilateral basis. Whatever the case may be, the proliferation of PTAs results in fragmentation of the global trading system and generates substantial information and transactions costs for traders.

There has been some action in the WTO on market access issues. This has taken the form of so-called critical mass agreements, under which concessions negotiated among a subset of countries are extended to all WTO Members a nondiscriminatory, most-favoured-nation (MFN) basis. Examples include ongoing negotiations to liberalize trade in environmental goods and the effort to extend the coverage of sectoral initiatives to liberalize trade, most notably the 1997 Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Critical mass agreements have always been an important mechanism in the GATT/WTO setting: if enough large players participate in a liberalization exercise they need not worry about free riding by other countries that do not want to participate.

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An Assessment of the Colombian-FARC ‘Peace Jurisdiction’ Agreement

Published on September 29, 2015        Author: 

Last week Wednesday (23 September 2015), Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in Cuba with the leader of the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC (alias Timochenko”), to publicly announce the agreement to establish a ‘Special Peace Jurisdiction’ reached between the Government and FARC. This is certainly a milestone in the Colombian peace process. While many local and international voices (including heads of government and State of other countries) have been supportive of the agreement (see here and here), a few have rejected its content considering that it fosters impunity. Among those who have objected to the agreement is Alvaro Uribe, the former Colombian president who has been very vocal in his opposition to the conditions of the current peace process and has favored either a militaristic strategy or one in which the guerrilla members subject themselves to ordinary criminal sanctions.

Given the controversy, it is worth briefly considering whether, as critics pose, the agreement would be contrary to international law standards or whether, according to its supporters, it is not only consistent with them but proves to be a unique opportunity to end the conflict with the FARC, which is the oldest operating guerrilla movement in the world.

To do this, it is necessary to briefly look at the content of the agreement. In assessing the agreement, it is important to bear in mind that its full contents are yet to be revealed, and indeed some aspects have not been fleshed out fully. However, the main points of the agreement are set out in the oral statements of the Colombian President and, in greater detail, in written form in a joint communiqué, which can be found (in Spanish) in the official webpage of the Colombian presidency.

The “Special Peace Jurisdiction” – A new Mixed Tribunal?

The key aspect of the agreement is the creation of a judicial body –  ‘Special Peace Jurisdiction’ – which will make decisions on cases related to the Colombian armed conflict and has the capacity to issue extraordinary decisions that differ from those of ordinary criminal trials. The members of the body will mostly be Colombians but it will also include a few foreigners (point 3 of the joint communiqué). Read the rest of this entry…

 

Human Rights Treaties and Foreign Surveillance

Published on September 28, 2015        Author: 

A quick heads-up that the final version of my article on Human Rights Treaties and Foreign Surveillance: Privacy in the Digital Age, is now available on the website of the Harvard International Law Journal. The article grew from a series of posts I did here on this topic. The published version also contains a postscript addressing some of the recent developments after the piece was accepted for publication; see here generally for the blog’s coverage of surveillance issues.

In the meantime the UN Human Rights Council has appointed Prof. Joseph Cannataci of the University of Malta as the first special rapporteur on privacy. His candidacy enjoyed significant support from privacy organizations, while his election took no small amount of politicking, with the German president of the Council overruling a proposal made by a five-state consultative group, which favoured Estonian Prof. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, who was perceived as not being sufficiently critical of mass surveillance practices. Prof. Cannataci, on the other hand, has already come out with harsh criticisms of digital surveillance programmes; he inter alia “described British surveillance oversight as being “a joke”, and said the situation is worse than anything George Orwell could have foreseen.”

Hyperbole aside, Prof. Cannataci has also called for the adoption of a “Geneva Convention” for the Internet “to safeguard data and combat the threat of massive clandestine digital surveillance.” And a couple of days ago Edward Snowden and a group of activists came out with one such proposal, labelled the “International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” or the “Snowden Treaty” for short. Only a short and uninformative summary seems to be publicly available at this time.

I must say that I have grave misgivings about such proposals (with the caveat that the proposed draft has not yet been published). First of all, proposing such a new treaty implies that the existing legal framework is incapable of meaningfully regulating surveillance practices, despite the relevant privacy provisions in the ICCPR, the ECHR and the ACHR, and despite existing case law and materials (especially from the Strasbourg Court). In other words, proposing a binding gap-filling instrument assumes that a regulatory gap exists. Secondly, politically it seems exceptionally unlikely that any of the major players in the surveillance sphere (e.g. the US, UK, Russia, China), not to mention authoritarian regimes in many smaller states, would agree to any binding multilateral treaty in the foreseeable future, let alone to a comprehensive “Geneva Convention for the Internet.” Nor will the “Snowden Treaty” label make this proposed agreement any more politically palatable. So it’s just completely unclear to me what a feel-good, pie in the sky proposal such as this one is actually going to achieve, except needlessly waste precious political energy and undermine efforts to regulate surveillance and other intrusive cyber practices under the existing legal framework.

But let’s wait and see. In the meantime, Jessup competitors this year will have a nice, fat surveillance case to litigate before a fictional ICJ, and best of luck to them.

 
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New EJIL:Live Extra! Joseph Weiler and Martti Koskenniemi Discuss Blogging, Tweeting, and Peer Reviewing

Published on September 27, 2015        Author: 

The EJIL: Live Extras series comprises short video conversations with leading international law scholars. In our latest EJIL: Live Extra! our Editor-in-Chief Professor Joseph Weiler discusses with Professor Martti Koskenniemi of the University of Helsinki blogging and tweeting as a new and integral feature of academic life and the state of peer review in academic journals.

 

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, EJIL: Live!
 

Announcements: Departmental Lecturership, Oxford University; Call for Papers, Joint Conference on The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties; Call for Papers, The Society of International Economic Law; Senior Research Fellow in International Law at the Institute of International Relations; PluriCourts Symposium on The Present and Future Role of Investment Treaty Arbitration in Adjudicating Environmental Disputes; ERA Annual Conference on European Asylum Law 2015; BIICL Event, A More Literal and Predictable Approach for the Court of Justice of the EU?

Published on September 26, 2015        Author: 

1. Departmental Lecturership in Law, University of Oxford: The Oxford Law Faculty invites applications for a fixed-term Departmental Lecturership in Law, from January 2016 to December 2017, to: teach and supervise undergraduate and graduate students for the Faculty and St Peter’s College; engage in advanced study and independent research in law; provide administrative and pastoral support; and, examine. Candidates must provide evidence of the ability (or potential) to provide excellent graduate level teaching in the areas of International Criminal Law and/or the Law of Armed Conflict and undergraduate teaching in Public International Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, or Administrative Law. Candidates should possess a doctorate in Law, or have submitted a completed doctoral dissertation for examination, or have attained a comparable level through their publications.  Further details for this post are available here. To apply for this role click here (Vacancy ID: 120341). Applications, written work and references must be submitted before noon GMT on Wednesday 21 October 2015. Interviews will be held in Oxford as soon as possible after the closing date.

2. Call for Papers, The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties – A Joint Conference by the European Society of International Law, the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and Jessup Russia. The European Society of International Law, the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and Jessup Russia, are running a joint one-day conference on The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties: The UN Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights Facing Modern Challenges. The conference will be held in Moscow on Friday 5 February 2016. The organisers issue a call for papers on two topics (UN Charter: New state practice as a challenge to basic principles? and, the ECHR in different times and different places), as detailed here. Abstracts should be of 1,000 – 1,500 words and must be submitted by 1 November 2015, along with a short bio. Further details can be found here, and the process for submitting papers can be found here. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: Announcements and Events
 
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Managing Change in International Law and the Dream of the Managerialist International Lawyer

Published on September 25, 2015        Author: 

This post is a reaction to an ESIL Reflection written by Ramses Wessel and Monika Ambrus and entitled Between Pragmatism and Predictability: Temporariness in International Law. Their piece originates in an impressive symposium on the topic that has been published in the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (see here)

1. Thinking of international law in managerialist terms

The 19th century idealist-intellectual international lawyer was murdered by his doctrinal-formalist counterpart who rose to prominence at the beginning of the 20th century. It did not come as a surprise that the doctrinal-formalist would also soon succumb, not only to his own weight and self-confidence, but also to the blows of the next hegemon, i.e. the managerialist international lawyer who thinks that international lawyers managing the world can no longer afford overly formal and sophisticated structures of argumentation. Interestingly, the murder of the doctrinal-formalist international lawyer by the managerialist international lawyer was condoned by his peers who had grown averse to the false necessities of doctrinal constructions and formal modes of legal reasoning. This is why the managerialist international lawyer was quickly welcomed and celebrated as the messianic saviour of a profession that had ceased to hope in its ability to make demands on the world.

The murder of the doctrinal-formalist international lawyer by the managerialist international lawyer is however not the end of the story of 20th century international legal thought. Indeed, the night after the opulent celebration of his conquest, the managerialist international lawyer had a dream. He dreamed that he would not only manage the world through international law but also the time of that world. In his dream, managing time also meant managing change. And managing change required self-reactive legal institutions and modes of reasoning to allow his managerial project to be carried out whatever happens outside his palace. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Temporary Problems and Temporary Responses in International Law

Published on September 25, 2015        Author: 

This post is a reaction to an ESIL Reflection written by Ramses Wessel and Monika Ambrus and entitled Between Pragmatism and Predictability: Temporariness in International Law. Their piece originates in an impressive symposium on the topic that has been published in the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (see here)

In a recent issue of the Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (vol. 45, 2014) titled ‘Between Pragmatism and Predictability: Temporariness in International law’, the volume editors Monika Ambrus and Ramses Wessel weave together the chapter contributions in building a systematised way of thinking about change or temporariness and international law. At a certain level, all issues and laws are temporary in the sense that they eventually undergo some change or disappear. What is referred to by temporariness here is changes of relatively short-duration or constant occurrence.

Ambrus and Wessel suggest that temporariness could be analysed with respect to two aspects of international law: its objects and subjects. By objects, they refer to the issues or problems that international law addresses, while subjects are the ‘institutions and other entities’ that shape international law, such as courts and tribunals. Drawing on illustrations from the chapter contributions on climate change, refugees, emergency situations, affirmative actions, commissions of inquiry and ad hoc international criminal tribunals, they point out that international law increasingly deals with temporary objects and subjects: issues or problems constantly change, and institutions could be designed for short life spans.

A pertinent starting point to engage this phenomenon is to ask, as they put it, how international law can ‘react to or be influenced by’ constant change or temporariness. In an era when global problems constantly evolve due to, among others, their ties with fast-paced technological development, temporariness is indeed a crucial and timely research agenda. In this piece, I would like to further highlight its importance by showing a particular dimension where temporariness is giving rise to a distinct trend in international governance. Before doing so, I’d like to comment on one aspect of Ambrus and Wessel’s conceptual approach to the topic that might pose an unnecessary constraint in taking this debate forward. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Legitimate Targets?: A Reply to Jutta Brunnée and Geoff Corn

Published on September 24, 2015        Author: 

Dill book

I would like to start by thanking Jutta and Geoffrey for their detailed and very thoughtful comments. I am particularly glad that Geoffrey focused on my interpretation of IHL, bringing to bear his military expertise and that Jutta focused on the theoretical part of the book, which is inspired by her own interactional theory of international law (IL), developed with Stephen Toope. As their comments cover different terrains I will begin by addressing three criticisms contained in Geoffrey’s remarks and then separately engage with Jutta’s discussion of the book.

Geoffrey disagrees with my representation of the role and substance of the principle of proportionality. I should clarify that I agree with Geoffrey’s observation that the principle is not necessarily central to many practitioner’s understanding of legitimate targeting. When I emphasize the principle’s importance, I mean its central place in the ‘architecture’ of IHL. It repeats the very purpose of law to somehow accommodate the regularly opposed imperatives of protecting human life and of allowing belligerents to follow military necessity. In theory, how proportionality is interpreted chiefly determines how much civilian protection and belligerents’ freedom of action respectively IHL affords. In practice, it is rarely mentioned without reference to precautions in attack, as Geoffrey points out, and it is often misunderstood.

Geoffrey also questions my representation of the principle’s substance as asking for something akin to a balance between the anticipated military advantage and expected civilian harm. He states that practitioners rather than seeking such a balance ‘understand that where civilian risk cannot be justified by genuine military interests … there is no utility in the use of combat power’. Though very important, I believe this is not a proportionality judgment, but one of necessity. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Legitimate Questions about Legitimate Targets

Published on September 23, 2015        Author: 

I appreciate the opportunity to offer my reactions to Janina Dill’s impressive work on lawful targeting, or more precisely the effectiveness of international law in regulating combat operations.

Janina’s book (Legitimate Targets? International Law, Social Construction and US Bombing) is a fascinating analysis of the complex intersection of international relations and international law. Central to her thesis is the dichotomy between what she defines as the “logic of efficiency” and the “logic of sufficiency.” As she explains, each of these concepts reflects some of the underlying objectives of international legal regulation, most notably in relation to armed conflict. The logic of efficiency essentially prioritizes achieving the strategic end-state “efficiently” over protection of the civilian population, essentially trading civilian risk for rapid victory. In contrast, the logic of sufficiency seeks to limit the risks of armed conflict to each party’s military forces in order to enable them to compete in the contest of arms with limited impact on civilians. Janina posits that the targeting regulatory regime established by Additional Protocol I reflects a “sufficiency” foundation, as it sought to limit the use of combat power to only those potential targets that offered a genuine prospect of weakening enemy military capabilities.

International relations theory is well beyond my area of expertise. Nonetheless, what I found most compelling about Janina’s thesis was how she endeavors to translate theory into a more tangible “package” of principles to clarify the relationship between international law and international relations. It is probably unsurprising, however, that I gravitated more towards Janina’s analysis of the impact of international humanitarian law on the planning and execution of combat operations. While I found her dichotomy between “efficiency” and “sufficiency” interesting, I am not persuaded that IHL’s rationale is so neatly segregated. Throughout her book, I found myself wondering why arguments in favor of sufficiency did not also reflect elements of efficiency, and why arguments in favor of efficiency did not also reflect elements of sufficiency. I do, however, think the dichotomy offers a fascinating and novel lens through which to consider the role of IHL, which is, I believe, ultimately what Janina sought to accomplish.

Janina’s explanation of IHL targeting rules was clear and accurate throughout the text. She also provides important insights into how the law, at least in its current state, provides belligerent forces with ample legal “space” for using decisive combat power. While I might disagree with some of her conclusions about actual U.S. compliance with the law during air operations, Read the rest of this entry…