Pakistan questions US administration on transparency about ranking of countries in IPR compliance

At the ninth Trade Policy Review of the United States held on 9-11, WTO members raised concerns about various aspects of US trade policy. These concerns ranged from trade restrictiveness caused by tariff peaks, SPS measures / other technical regulations, border security measures resulting in 100 % scanning requirement for the inbound cargo vessels, increasing protectionism, non-timely implementation of DSU rulings and non-transparency in IPR ranking of countries, etc. The members also referred to agricultural trade distortions, which may be aggravated by the recently passed US Farm Bill.

Trade policy review is one of the important mechanisms, by virtue of which, the entire membership of WTO gets to examine the economic and trade policies of every other member state on rotation. The review of the world's four leading economies, i.e., US, EC, China and Japan is held every two years. The United States, being the world's largest economy and the biggest trading nation attracts lot of interest at the WTO.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Zafar Qadir, Pakistan's trade envoy to the WTO, highlighted that the US farm subsidies and export credit schemes had an adverse impact on the farming communities of the many developing countries, where the share of agriculture is rather high in GDP. In his statement, he also conveyed strong reservations about the recent focus of the US administration on regional trade expansion, which, not only tends to deny market access opportunities to the left-out developing countries as a logical consequence, but is also seen as a stumbling block to the multilateral trading system.

Earlier, Pakistan had raised concerns about the transparency and authenticity of the US Watch List 301. This list ranks the countries for their IPR compliance. Pakistan, besides asking the criteria for ranking these countries for their IPR compliance, also raised concerns about their high tariff regimes on the goods of export interest to Pakistan; and the visa problems being faced by our business community. The questions along with the responses by the US administration are reproduced below:

Question 1: The USTR office issues a watch list for IPR violations every year and moves ranking of countries in various categories. However, it is not made transparent as to how such ranking is determined. Several times, this ranking is done to force countries to take on TRIPS plus legislation irrespective of their serious efforts they make in enforcing IPR protection.

a. Could the US Administration please give some details as to what factors are taken into consideration in placing countries on this watch list?

ANSWER: Each year, as required by U.S. law, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issues a Special 301 Report cataloguing specific IPR problems in numerous countries worldwide. The review of each trading partner's IPR regime is done on a case-by-case basis, and all relevant factors are taken into consideration. USTR considers information submitted by interested stakeholders and the U.S. embassies located in foreign capitals. In addition, USTR actively encourages foreign governments to submit material, which can be taken into account in these reviews. A country is placed on the Special 301 list if it is clear that it "denies adequate and effective protection of IPR or fair and equitable market access to U.S. persons that rely upon IP protection". In addition to citing specific concerns, Special 301 also affords an opportunity to give credit where it is due, such as by improving the standing of countries when there are significant improvements in IPR protection and enforcement.

b. Are these factors made known to the countries concerned in good time, for them to take corrective measures, if any?

ANSWER: The Special 301 process entails ample opportunities for engagement with individual trading partners to discuss IPR concerns and possible ways to address them. Throughout the course of the year, the United States meets regularly with out trading partners to discuss IPR concerns. The U.S. embassies are also actively engaged in order to convey specific IPR concerns to host country governments and to discuss potential resolutions.

Question 2: Exporters of industrial goods from poor countries such as Pakistan pay tariffs, which are several times more than those from rich countries. This position may be rectified to some extent if the Doha Round is successfully concluded. However, this anomaly will not be eliminated altogether. Is the US making any efforts to rectify this situation?

ANSWER: The United States is fully committed to a successful and ambitious outcome to the Doha Round.

Question 3: Pakistan empathizes with the USA on need for rigorous scrutiny for processing visa requests. However, the very long processing time and incomprehensible rejections of legitimate business visitors are major trade impediments. Is the US streamlining the procedures for legitimate businesses entry facilitation?

ANSWER: We pursue the dual goals of keeping the United States safe and welcoming qualified non-immigrants, and both are important. A policy of "secure borders, open doors" is not a contradiction: we can and must guard our country against threats to our security and sensitive technology, while at the same time facilitating legitimate travel. We are constantly working on ways to streamline visa procedures. The Department of State is moving quickly to make the entire visa process more electronic through an on-line visa application process, an on-line appointment system (which over 70 posts now use), and on-line fee payment. A fully electronic process provides more accurate and verifiable information, allows for fraud screening in advance of the visa interview, increases convenience for applicants, and standardizes the process worldwide. In January 2008, the Department of State issued guidance authorizing consular officers, in certain circumstances, to waive the non-immigrant visa interview and fingerprint requirements for some categories of applicants who have previously provided the fingerprints, been interviewed, and received visas. A waiver of the interview requirement will not be permissible for applicants who require additional processing. This procedural change will allow us to focus our interviews on first time and other applicants who require interviews, while facilitating the visa renewals of legitimate travelers.

With limited exceptions, all visa applicants are presumed to be immigrants (and thus not eligible for a non-immigrant visa) unless and until they satisfy the consular officer that they qualify for a non-immigrant visa classification. Because U.S. immigration law places the burden of proof on a visa applicant, the consular officer must consider each applicant for a visa as a business visitor who does not prove non immigrant qualifications - including a residence in a foreign country which the applicant has no intention of abandoning, and the temporariness of the visit - to be an immigrant, who may not receive a non-immigrant visa.

Question 4: The US applies various methods of tariff quota allocation in dairy products. May we have some details and rationale for using such methods and the criteria for each method to be applied?

ANSWER: Different licensing regimes may be based on when the TRQs were put in place. The original cheese quotas were mainly licensed to historical importers, whereas newer TRQ quantities from the Uruguay Round were largely licensed to importers designated by the exporting country. Allowing exporting countries to designate importers gives the exporting country the opportunity to get a better price for its exports. Under the lottery system, qualified importers may apply for several licenses, indicating their priorities. Applications are selected randomly and awarded their highest priority request until all of the licenses have been allocated.