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Trade disciplines with a trapdoor: contract manufacturing

At first glance, this paper deals with a simple classification issue only: the coverage and treatment of certain manufacturing operations and the resulting products under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) rather than under its long-standing counterpart in merchandise trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

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Yet there are important structural/conceptual differences between the two Agreements, which may have far-reaching consequences, inter alia, for the use of GATT-based tariffs and trade remedies (anti-dumping and countervailing measures). It is submitted that the currently applied classification system could prompt companies to (re-)define the ownership conditions of otherwise identical production activities, with a view to avoiding GATT disciplines. However, the relevant criteria separating goods- from services-related operations are not only hard to specify and monitor in practice, but it is also difficult to see an underlying policy rationale. In the interest of clarity and consistency, WTO Members might thus want to close this conceptual trapdoor. Due to the rapid proliferation of international production-sharing arrangements, the stakes will likely be rising.    

No: ERSD-2012-11

Authors:

Rudolf Adlung, World Trade Organization — Weiwei Zhang, Graduate Institute, Geneva

Manuscript date: September 2012

Key Words:

Trade in services (GATS), trade in goods (GATT), classification problems

JEL classification numbers:

F13, F53

Disclaimer  back to top

This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the author. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, Rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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