Trade Policy Reviews

KEI page on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Policy Reviews

All members of the WTO are subject to review under the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM). The TPRM takes place in the “Trade Policy Review Body which is actually the WTO General Council — comprising the WTO’s full membership — operating under special rules and procedures” (Source: WTO, Trade Policy Reviews: Brief Introduction).

Although the activities of the WTO TRIPS Council receive much scrutiny during debates on the TPP, ACTA, compulsory licensing, public health and tobacco plain packaging, the WTO’s trade policy reviews have not traditionally attracted the same level of attention. While discussions within the Trade Policy Review Mechanism are often routine in nature, this is not always the case.

Perhaps a more diligent examination of the goings-on of the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism is merited, to provide more insight into how TRIPS flexibilities are treated in the WTO system.

According to the WTO,

  • The Trade Policy Review Mechanism was an early result of the Uruguay Round, being provisionally established at the Montreal Mid-Term Review of the Round in December 1988. Article III of the Marrakesh Agreement, agreed by Ministers in April 1994, placed the TPRM on a permanent footing as one of the WTO’s basic functions and, with the entry into force of the WTO in 1995, the mandate of the TPRM was broadened to cover services trade and intellectual property.
  • The objectives of the TPRM, as expressed in Annex 3 of the Marrakesh Agreement, include facilitating the smooth functioning of the multilateral trading system by enhancing the transparency of Members’ trade policies.
  • All WTO Members are subject to review under the TPRM. The Annex mandates that the four Members with the largest shares of world trade (currently the European Union, the United States, Japan and China) be reviewed each two years, the next 16 be reviewed each four years, and others be reviewed each six years. A longer period may be fixed for least-developed country Members.
  • As a result of an amendment to Annex 3 in July 2017, these review cycles will be three, five and seven years respectively, beginning on 1 January 2019.

KEI blogs on TPRs