US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs. (AFP)
Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.


Microsoft shares fall 4% after warning of coronavirus hit to supply chain

Updated 28 February 2020

Microsoft shares fall 4% after warning of coronavirus hit to supply chain

  • Drop in share price wiped off nearly $50 billion from the Microsoft’s market value
  • Apple was the first big technology firm to come out and say the virus was affecting its production and demand in China

NEW YORK: Shares of Microsoft Corp. fell more than 4 percent on Thursday after the company warned of weakness in PC business due to a hit to its supply chain from the coronavirus outbreak, echoing similar statements from Apple Inc. and HP.

The drop in share price wiped off nearly $50 billion from the Microsoft’s market value on a day when broader markets were down more than 2 percent.

The virus has so far infected about 80,000 people, killed nearly 2,800 and spread to 44 countries, after originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Apple was the first big technology firm to come out and say the virus was affecting its production and demand in China. PayPal Holdings Inc. and Mastercard Inc. have also warned about a possible hit.

Microsoft said on Wednesday its supply chain was returning to normal operations at a slower pace than anticipated and its Windows and Surface computers had been more negatively impacted than expected.

“Finished good inventory levels matter. If Microsoft had not fully assembled and packaged Surface units in the channel, then the impact would be felt faster and more severely,” Morningstar analyst Dan Romanoff said in a mail.

The global stock markets have also taken a hit as investors grew cautious of the impact of the virus on global supply chains. The Dow Jones Industrials index dropped more than 400 points at the open on Thursday.

Several Wall Street analysts expect other technology companies with heavy presence in China to soon come out with their own statements.

“Given there seems to be weakness in the PC supply chain, it would seem highly likely to me that we hear something from Intel,” Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell said in a mail.

Andrew MacMillen, an analyst with Nucleus Research, said that PC makers such as Dell Technologies Inc. and Lenovo Group could be seeing some difficulties.

Dell, the world’s third-biggest PC maker after Lenovo Group and HP, will report quarterly earnings after market close on Thursday. It has a sizeable exposure to China.

Microsoft said on Wednesday it would miss its own third quarter revenue forecast for the PC unit, which houses Windows, of $10.75 billion and $11.15 billion. 

J.P.Morgan analysts said that Microsoft’s guidance is a supply chain issue, not a demand issue, but it was possible that broad supply chain issues plus investors becoming increasingly averse to risk could metastasize into demand issues over time.