Trade disputes settlement system facing crisis
The World Trade Organization is facing a crisis in its system for resolving disputes between its members.
It has an appeal « court » that is the final arbiter on such disputes and which is about to become unable to function.
WTO rules say three judges have to hear each case. On 10 December the number goes below that level. Only one will be left. The terms of the other two come to an end, and no replacements have been chosen.
In fact there isn’t even a process under way to find any. The reason is that the US has refused to allow the recruitment of new judges.
Other WTO member countries have repeatedly proposed to start a selection procedure. At the end of November more than 100 members called for that but the US alone said no. It’s the only country that has objected at any stage during this stand-off.
In the quarter of a century since the WTO was established, its system for settling disputes has been one of its main functions. A former director general Pascal Lamy has called the system the WTO’s crown jewel.
It has also been described as « probably the busiest international dispute settlement system in the world ». But it is now in danger of seizing up. Not quite completely – there may some options for countries to work around the absence of an appeal court, or the Appellate Body to give its official title, but they are second-best and may not be accepted by some countries.