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What are the top 10 significant developments in international trade law this year?

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1. WTO Appellate Body crisis: The ongoing crisis in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body has significant implications for international trade law. The expiration of the terms of several Appellate Body members and inability to reach consensus on appointments has left the system with an insufficient number of judges, affecting the resolution of trade disputes.

2. US-China trade war: The escalating trade tensions between the United States and China throughout the year have led to significant developments in international trade law. The imposition of tariffs, retaliatory measures, and negotiations for a Phase One trade deal have raised questions about compliance with WTO rules, national security exceptions, and the future of global trade.

3. Brexit: The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has created numerous trade-related challenges and legal implications. Negotiations for a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU will shape their future trading relationship and impact international trade law.

4. Digital trade and e-commerce: The growth of digital trade and e-commerce has prompted discussions on the need for a comprehensive framework to regulate cross-border digital transactions. The ongoing negotiations at the WTO on e-commerce rules seek to establish common principles and regulations to facilitate cross-border digital trade.

5. USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement): The replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the USMCA has introduced new provisions, including stricter rules of origin, labor rights, intellectual property protection, and mechanisms for resolving trade disputes, impacting international trade law in the North American region.

6. COVID-19 and trade: The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruptions in international trade, necessitating the implementation of trade policy measures such as export restrictions, import facilitation, and the promotion of global cooperation. The response to the pandemic has tested various trade rules and highlighted the need for cooperation and coordination in global trade.

7. African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): The AfCFTA, which aims to create a single African market, officially took effect in January 2021. This development in international trade law bolsters regional integration efforts and provides a platform for increased trade among African countries.

8. Digital Services Taxes (DSTs): The implementation of unilateral Digital Services Taxes by several countries has raised concerns and questions about their compliance with international trade rules, particularly under the WTO framework. The ongoing discussions on DSTs and their potential impacts continue to influence international trade law developments.

9. Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) reform: The reform of ISDS, which provides mechanisms for resolving disputes between investors and states, has been a significant topic in international trade law. Discussions about improving the system to balance the rights of investors and states, addressing concerns of excessive arbitration claims, and enhancing transparency and accountability have gained momentum.

10. Environmental sustainability and trade: Increasing focus on climate change and environmental concerns has led to discussions about integrating environmental sustainability into international trade agreements. The inclusion of environmental provisions, such as those related to biodiversity, carbon neutrality, and sustainable development, has emerged as a key development in international trade law.

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