U.S. Statement at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Bolivia

WTO_OMC centeredStatement as delivered by the U.S. Representative

Geneva, November 14, 2017

Thank you, Chair.  The United States would like to welcome the delegation from Bolivia on the occasion of its government’s fourth WTO Trade Policy Review.  A dozen years have passed since the previous review, in 2005, and the Bolivian government has made significant changes to its economic model since 2006, including the promulgation of a new constitution in 2009.  Therefore, this review is particularly important.  The Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and the WTO Secretariat, in their respective reports, have helped explain these changes and other trade issues, and we are grateful for their thoroughness.

Bolivia’s economy is one with both a regional and global impact.  Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru are top trading partners.  Bolivia is a major source of energy for its immediate neighbors, and is a key producer and exporter of agricultural products.  Its potential in the agricultural sector remains very high.  We have seen, for example, the dramatic increase in the production of quinoa.  Bolivia exports this product worldwide, including to the United States.  Bolivia’s resource exports reach every corner of the globe, and its reserves of lithium chloride, a substance critical to modern communication and future transportation, are the largest in the world.

Bolivia has increasing potential as a trading partner of the United States.  We shared $1.6 billion in total (two-way) goods trade during 2016.  The United States imported nearly a billion dollars’ worth of goods in 2016, including a range of products such as metals, nuts, and furniture.  Bolivia is a beneficiary of our unilateral preferences program, eligible to import an immense variety of products duty-free.  Bolivian-Americans live throughout the United States, but are especially well-represented in Washington, DC, and the surrounding area.

Bolivia has done well to date concerning its level of public debt.  The Secretariat described the situation in some detail, including the risk that state-owned enterprises would increase the level of public debt.  We agree.  The expansion of public-sector companies in Bolivia has magnified this risk.  Bolivia should remain careful to protect its new lower-middle income ranking by approaching accounting and debt in a conservative manner.

The Secretariat report notes Bolivia’s commendable rate of economic growth from 2006 to 2016 and outlines the country’s structural transformation model, the “Social, Communitarian, and Productive Model” (MESCP).  Growth during the period has helped reduce poverty in Bolivia, which is commendable.  However, Bolivia’s MESCP model involves management and control of the economy, particularly of what are considered “strategic sectors.”  And perhaps more troubling, the government has taken a number of steps over the last period to re-establish public sector control over the economy, such as by creating public-sector companies in areas considered “strategic,” including food production.  Private sector entities have expressed concern that these companies engage in unfair competition which will ultimately drive out other employment-generating investments.  Private-sector led growth can be effective in addressing the “distortions in international trade” about which the Bolivian government expresses concern in its own report.  Bolivia’s elimination of 22 bilateral investment treaties, including, in 2012, its treaty with the United States, appears contrary to Bolivia’s steps to create a more positive investment climate.

The Secretariat Report notes that Bolivia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization and a contracting party to several intellectual property treaties, including the Berne Convention.  But challenges continue with respect to adequate and effective intellectual property rights protection and enforcement, including with respect to counterfeit and piratical goods.  The United States encourages Bolivia to take the necessary steps to improve its enforcement of IPR and to join the two 1996 treaties, the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.

Bolivia is a founding member of the WTO and stands to benefit from its provisions.  The Trade Facilitation Agreement, for example, will lower costs disproportionately for developing countries.  We note that Bolivia intends to ratify the TFA shortly and urge completion of this process.  Bolivia should also make the necessary adjustments to compensate for the modification of commitments in the GATS that it announced in 2008.  We would also urge Bolivia to be more attentive to the notification obligations across the scope of WTO Agreements.  For example, the WTO SPS Information Management System (IMS) does not list any new SPS notifications from Bolivia since January 05, 2006.

The United States looks forward to working with Bolivia where we can to increase prosperity in the hemisphere.  We encourage Bolivia, in the implementation of its development model, to focus on policies that enable greater trade and private sector economic activity.  And we wish Bolivia a successful Trade Policy Review.