The World Trade Report is an annual publication that aims to deepen understanding about trends in trade, trade policy issues and the multilateral trading system.
The theme of this year’s Report is “Trade policy commitments and contingency measures”. The Report examines the range of contingency measures available in trade agreements and the role that these measures play. Also referred to as escape clauses or safety valves, these measures allow governments a certain degree of flexibility within their trade commitments and can be used to address circumstances that could not have been foreseen when a trade commitment was made. Contingency measures seek to strike a balance between commitments and flexibility. Too much flexibility may undermine the value of commitments, but too little may render the rules unsustainable. The tension between credible commitments and flexibility is often close to the surface during trade negotiations. For example, in the July 2008 mini-ministerial meeting, which sought to agree negotiating modalities – or a final blueprint – for agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), the question of a "special safeguard mechanism" (the extent to which developing countries would be allowed to protect farmers from import surges) was crucial to the discussions.
One of the main objectives of this Report is to analyze whether WTO provisions provide a balance between supplying governments with necessary flexibility to face difficult economic situations and adequately defining them in a way that limits their use for protectionist purposes. In analysing this question, the Report focuses primarily on contingency measures available to WTO members when importing and exporting goods. These measures include the use of safeguards, such as tariffs and quotas, in specified circumstances, anti-dumping duties on goods that are deemed to be “dumped”, and countervailing duties imposed to offset subsidies. The Report also discusses alternative policy options, including the renegotiation of tariff commitments, the use of export taxes, and increases in tariffs up to their legal maximum ceiling or binding. The analysis includes consideration of legal, economic and political economy factors that influence the use of these measures and their associated benefits and costs.