SAVE THE DATE - 16 December 2015 - KEI breakout session on A WTO Agreement on the Supply of Social Goods

On Wednesday, 16 December 2015, at the Fourth Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest (National Law University, Delhi, India), Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) will convene a breakout session (led by Jamie Love, Director, KEI) on a WTO Agreement on the Supply of Social Goods.

The aim of the proposed agreement is to expand the supply of social/public goods by creating a mechanism within the WTO for member governments to make binding commitments to supply (broadly defined) public/social goods having cross­-border benefits.

The proposal is to create a new agreement in the WTO on the supply of public goods. The agreement would expand the supply of public goods that have global or cross-­border benefits. The proposed agreement would use the unique powers of the WTO to make voluntary offers to supply public goods enforceable and binding, in a manner analogous to other agreements in the WTO system, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This would facilitate agreements between countries that are willing to share the costs of supplying public goods.

The feature that makes the WTO unique and important is the power to enforce its agreements. The WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) allows members to impose diverse trade sanctions against other WTO members when rules or commitments are broken. The sanctions may take the form of tariffs on selective or targeted goods, and also other measures, including retaliation against intellectual property rights.

Currently, the architecture of the WTO is designed to facilitate the trade and provision of private goods, ?such as by promoting the private enclosure of knowledge goods through norms enforced through by the WTO TRIPS Agreement, or by lowering barriers to trade in private goods.

The WTO GATS is designed to privatize and liberalize trade in service, featuring a system of binding “offers.” The offers are not uniform, and depend upon a willingness to liberalize in a specific sector, and upon the interest of other countries to do so. Liberalization commitments are traded in an environment where “asks” and “offers” cover a wide range to topics, including changes in tariffs or agricultural subsides, or requests for support of new intellectual property norms. What is key to the services agreement is its ability to accommodate a diverse set of offers, in a multilateral negotiation, where consensus on uniform norms is unlikely.

The GATS can serve as a model for creating binding commitments to supply a diverse set of public goods.

The benefits of a WTO agreement on public goods would be several. It could replace the need to set up a separate treaty or agreement, using the WTO’s existing governance structure and secretariat. On the other hand, a WTO schedule on the supply of public goods could complement separate treaties or agreements ­­ by lending the WTO’s enforcement powers to third party agreements, on public goods. By introducing public goods into the WTO environment -the culture of the WTO would be profoundly changed. “Asks” and “offers” in the WTO negotiations would no longer be exclusively about the private goods market, or about the privatization and enclosure of knowledge itself. There would be a shift to consider the competing benefits of greater openness, and a larger global commons. Knowledge that was produced to be “free” would have a new value as a trading chip in the WTO environment.

This breakout session will take place in New Delhi on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 from 10:30 AM to 11:00 AM in Room 203 of the National Law University, Delhi.