The WTO Secretariat is currently preparing the World Trade Report 2010. This year's topic is trade in natural resources, covering fuels, mining, fish, and forestry. Further information about the WTR is provided at: http://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/wtr10_ruta_e.htm.
The WTO has sought input from the general public by organizing a discussion on the topic on the WTO website (see http://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/wtr10_e.htm).
They are also keen to engage the international economic law community and suggested a discussion on this Blog; they will closely follow the discussions and might publish them on the WTO website.
This is surely a timely topic, and for all I know, there is little written on the subject by international trade lawyers. In the course of this discussion, I will be raising several key questions, but also hope many others will join in the debate with their own questions as well as perspectives.
So let’s start with our first question: to what extent are WTO rules relevant to trade in natural resources? Related to this:
- what makes trade in natural resources different from trade in other products?
- what do we mean by trade in natural resources anyway – i.e. at what point does a natural resource cease to be a natural resource and become a tradable product, and does this matter in legal terms?
Let me start off by offering some general thoughts on this just to stimulate discussion.
In an article I published in 2003 (I have to admit immediately that my views on one key issue have changed since), I distinguished between access to markets (producers’ interests) and access to supplies (consumers’ interests) and concluded that (1) the major issue in the natural resources sector (e.g. crude oil) is access to supplies rather than to markets; (2) the GATT/WTO system is designed to advance market access more than access to supplies; and (3) the trading system will need to undergo radical changes in order to address issues of supply access.