WTO Appellate Body loses two judges and might cease functioning
The expiration of the terms of two judges on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body looms as a mortal blow to the court. The United States has blocked the appointment of new judges, which leaves the seven-member body down to just one after the December date.
The Appellate Body acts as an appeal court of sorts for the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body. The departure of judges Ujal Singh Bhatia, from India, and Thomas R. Graham from the United States leaves only Judge Hong Zhao from China on the court. With only one judge, the court will cease functioning.
Thirteen countries that are like-minded about reforming the WTO met In Oct 2018 to explore ways to save the court. China and the United States were not invited. The closed-door session looked at safeguarding and strengthening the dispute settlement system, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the WTO monitoring function and modernizing trade rules for the 21st Century. A European Union proposal calls for strengthening the court’s mandate, increasing its size from seven to nine members, and giving it more resources.
In July the EU and Canada agreed to a workaround. It is a new trade dispute resolution system as a temporary substitute to the WTO appeal court, and once the official WTO court collapses, appeals will instead be heard by retired appellate body judges. Individual judges for each case will be chosen by the WTO’s director-general from a pool of available former judges.
Reuters reports that U.S. President Donald Trump faces a barrage of disputes at the WTO against his trade policies, including global tariffs on steel and a tariff war with China. Since he came to power, Washington has blocked all appointments to the appeals chamber as existing judges’ terms end.
The Atlantic Council explains that U.S. concern about the power of the Appellate Body has led it to reject the European proposal and other measures to strengthen the court. Meanwhile, according the publication, the United States is still bringing cases to the WTO to refute the rights of other countries to retaliate against its unilateral tariffs.
Reforms have been largely elusive for the WTO, but hostile rhetoric towards the organization from Trump is giving the quest added urgency.