The World Trade Organization chief, in an interview with AFP, urged the United States to avert “paralysis” in the global trade dispute settlement system, as economic tensions between Washington and China ratchet up.
The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) is seen as a crucial arm of the Geneva-based WTO, offering nations a forum to work through grievances while avoiding an exchange of tariffs that can ignite a trade war. While President Donald Trump’s protectionist administration has levelled hostile rhetoric towards the WTO in general, the DSB has been crippled by direct action.
Trump’s trade officials, who claim DSB rulings unfairly favour developing nations like China, have blocked the appointment of any new judges, intensifying the backlog in a court already criticised for working too slowly.
“If nothing is done and if we continue down this road, clearly there will be a paralysis of the system”, the WTO’s director-general Roberto Azevedo told AFP. He added that he talked to the US “constantly” about the judges issue, but that there were “no developments that would indicate that we are closer to a solution”.
The DSB is supposed to have seven judges to function properly, but currently only has four, one of whom is set to leave when their term expires in September. Each case must be heard by three judges. Azevedo said he was “relatively hopeful” the WTO’s 164 member-states are working on solutions that “will allow us to continue our work”.—AFP