WTO tussles over hard stop or phase-out of appeals system

Geneva | Reuters — The World Trade Organization (WTO) battled on Tuesday over whether to bring its Appellate Body to an abrupt halt or allow its adjudicators to settle a handful of pending cases, according to trade officials present at a meeting on the subject.

The Trump administration has for more than two years been blocking appointments to the top body that rules on trade disputes, which means that after Dec. 10 it will have too few members to function.

The mandates of two of the three Appellate Body’s members end on Dec. 10.

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David Walker, New Zealand’s ambassador who chairs the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), proposed to WTO members that the Appellate Body should be allowed to conclude three cases that have already had hearings, trade officials said. A further 10 pending appeals are to be left in limbo.

However, even that limited case load drew an objection from U.S. ambassador Dennis Shea at the meeting, the officials said.

“We have heard today statements actively encouraging the Appellate Body to continue to break the rules set out in the DSU (Dispute Settlement Understanding). We strongly disagree with this approach and do not consider it to be constructive,” Shea said in a speech, the text of which was seen by Reuters.

“It appears there will be no consensus between members on how to proceed on the Appellate Body by Dec. 10,” he said, voicing disappointment.

The European Union (EU) told the talks that the impasse was undermining the dispute settlement system. China’s delegation said the “illegal blockade” by Washington had resulted in an unprecedented number of pending appeals, trade officials said.

The three appeals for which hearings have been completed are a combined case on Australia’s plain packaging for tobacco products, one on Russian measures to limit imports of railway equipment filed by Ukraine, and another concerning U.S. anti-subsidy duties on paper from Canada.

The proposal would mean that no appeal could be heard in a WTO panel decision on Monday on subsidies for EU planemaker Airbus.

Two appeals brought by the United States will also not be settled.

Reporting for Reuters by Stephanie Nebehay.

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