Eight WTO members - Korea, the Philippines, the European Union, China, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway and Malaysia - took the floor to express concerns about the recent US decision to impose safeguard tariffs on imported solar cells while three members voiced similar concerns regarding a separate US safeguard targeting imported large residential washers (G/SG/N/10/USA/7 and G/SG/N/10/USA/8). Several said there was insufficient justification for the measures while others said they were concerned the United States was now resorting to a trade remedy which it had refrained from using in the past.
The United States said the investigations into both products were carried out in a very open and transparent manner. WTO members were given ample opportunity to present written arguments and to consult with the US on its actions under the Safeguards Agreement, with those requesting consultations holding talks with the US from February to April. The US then submitted to the WTO joint notifications with these members on the outcomes of these consultations. The US said that in regards to the solar cells safeguard, it was still considering requests for product exclusions and that it expected an announcement on this in the coming months.
Eight WTO members - Korea, Turkey, Argentina, China, Egypt, Viet Nam, Chile and India - criticized the European Union's decision on 26 March to initiate a safeguard investigation on imports of certain steel products (G/SG/N/6/EU/1). Several said the EU failed to show a sharp and significant increase in the targeted products and injury to domestic producers which would justify the launch of an investigation, and that the EU move contributed to the problem of growing protectionism worldwide.
The European Union noted that its safeguard investigation was still in the initial phase, with interested parties being registered and questionnaires completed. It stressed the investigation would be carried out in line with WTO requirements.
Five WTO members - the United States, the European Union, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand - voiced concerns about Chile's initiation of a safeguard investigation on imports of powdered milk and Gouda cheese, particularly with the speed of the investigation and lack of apparent support from the local industry. Chile said there were exceptional circumstances justifying the investigation.
The European Union and Japan expressed concern about India's safeguard investigation on imported solar cells. India stated that its investigation will be carried out in line with WTO rules.
Members also reviewed safeguard actions taken by Costa Rica, Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey, Viet Nam, Zambia and Ukraine.
China voiced concerns about the recent decision by the United States to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium products under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. China said the US action damages the stability of the multilateral trading system. The Russian Federation, Venezuela, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, India and Singapore also commented on the US action. The United States said the tariffs were taken for national security reasons and were not a safeguard action; thus there were no grounds for requests from members for consultations with the US on the matter under the Safeguards Agreement.
Invoking Article 13.1(e) of the Safeguards Agreement, Thailand asked the committee to discuss and find whether the concessions suspended by Turkey in response to a Thai safeguard measure on hot rolled steel products (originally imposed in 2014) was of a "substantially equivalent" level. The chair stated that he will ask his successor to hold informal consultations on this matter.
The committee concluded by appointing Mr Hyouk Woo Kwon (Korea) as the new chair of the committee for 2018.
The next meeting of the Committee on Safeguards is provisionally scheduled for 23 October 2018.
Under the WTO's Safeguards Agreement, a member may restrict imports of a product temporarily (take “safeguard” actions) through higher tariffs or other measures if its domestic industry is seriously injured, or threatened with serious injury, due to a surge in imports. An import surge justifying safeguard action can be a real increase in imports; or it can be an increase relative to the domestic industry's production, even if the import quantity has not increased.
In principle, safeguard measures apply to all imports and not just those from a particular country (developing countries accounting for less than 3% of exports are excluded from a measure). Under defined circumstances, an exporting country can seek compensation for lost trade through consultations or, if no agreement is reached, it can raise tariffs on exports from the country that is enforcing the safeguard measure.