By Sharon Atieno

Despite the Appellate Body (AB) having only one remaining member, the United States of America (US) refuses to support other World Trade Organization (WTO) members calling for the start of the selection process to fill the remaining vacancies at the AB.

At a meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) held on 18th December, the US said that it was not in a position to support the proposal as the systemic concerns that it had previously raised remain unaddressed.

“The fundamental problem is that the Appellate Body is not respecting the current, clear language of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding and members cannot find meaningful solutions to this problem without understanding how we arrived at this point,” the US said.

“Without an accurate diagnostic, members cannot assess the likely effectiveness of any potential solution.  The US is determined to bring about real WTO reform ensuring that the dispute settlement system reinforces the WTO’s negotiating and monitoring functions rather than undermining them by overreaching and gap-filling.”

WTO members at a meeting
Photo credits: WTO

Speaking on behalf of the group of 119 WTO members calling for start of the selection process, Mexico said the considerable number of members submitting the proposal reflects a common concern over the current situation in the Appellate Body that is seriously affecting its workings as well as the workings of the overall dispute settlement system against the best interest of members.

WTO members have a responsibility to safeguard and preserve the Appellate Body, the dispute settlement system and the multilateral trading system, Mexico said.

Around 20 members took to the floor to underline the importance of resolving the impasse as soon as possible and re-establishing a functioning Appellate Body.  They urged the General Council chair and Ambassador David Walker, who was appointed as facilitator for the informal discussions on resolving differences over the functioning of the AB, to continue their efforts to seek a solution acceptable to all.

In addition, they welcomed Director General Azevêdo’s recent announcement that he would launch more intensive, high-level consultations with members on how to resolve the longstanding impasse over the appointment of new Appellate Body members.

Normally, the AB is composed of seven members, with a minimum threshold of three members required to hear new appeals. The two seats to reach minimum fell vacant after the terms of two members expired on 10th December.

The next regular meeting of the DSB will take place on 27 January 2020.