The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government Thursday requested the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to establish at its meeting on Jan. 25 a panel in accordance with the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism to consider the dispute with respect to the violation of WTO rules by the United States' new requirement on origin marking for Hong Kong products.
The Permanent Representative of the HKSAR to the WTO Thursday filed the relevant document to the WTO Secretariat. The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the HKSAR government Edward Yau also wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative to inform the United States that the HKSAR has taken further action against the United States under the WTO mechanism.
Yau said, "The U.S. unilateral and irresponsible attempt to weaken Hong Kong's status as a separate customs territory, which is conferred by the HKSAR Basic Law, is highly inappropriate. Such a move also confuses the market and undermines the rules-based multilateral trading system. Hong Kong's special status is a basic principle under 'one country, two systems', and the HKSAR government will do its utmost to safeguard it."
"The HKSAR government requested on Oct. 30, 2020, consultations with the United States under the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism. However, the U.S. response is disappointing. It is necessary for us to take further action against the United States in accordance with the mechanism to defend Hong Kong's interests."
According to the WTO Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes, if the two parties fail to resolve the dispute within 60 days from the launching of consultations, the complaining party may request the DSB to establish a panel to consider the dispute and provide rulings. The 60-day consultation period ended on Jan. 4.
However, the United States has not made any substantive response to the request of the HKSAR government, and the new requirement took effect on Nov. 10, 2020. Hong Kong decided to request the DSB to establish a panel to consider the dispute, according to the HKSAR government.
According to the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism, after the complaining party has made a request, a panel shall be established at the latest at the DSB meeting following the meeting at which the request first appears as an item on the DSB's agenda. In other words, if a panel is not established at the DSB meeting on Jan. 25 at the request of the HKSAR government, the DSB should establish a panel at its next meeting (tentatively scheduled on Feb. 22) at the latest.
Yau reiterated that pursuant to the HKSAR Basic Law, the HKSAR is a separate customs territory and may, using the name "Hong Kong, China", participate in international organizations such as the WTO and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as a separate member, and develop mutually beneficial economic and trade relations with economies around the world. The special status of Hong Kong has been widely recognized and respected by the international community, and Hong Kong's economic and trade status is on par with that of other WTO members.
The "Made in Hong Kong" marking on Hong Kong products has been accepted internationally for many years. This not only conforms to Hong Kong's status as a separate customs territory and complies with WTO rules, but also provides consumers with clear and accurate information on product origin, Yau said.
On Aug. 11, 2020, the United States required the origin of Hong Kong products exported to the United States should be labeled "Made in China." Currently, the origin of Hong Kong export products is marked as "Hong Kong" as Hong Kong is a separate member of the WTO and enjoys the special status as a separate customs territory under "one country, two systems."