India pushes for filling up vacancies at WTO Appellate Body

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 26, 2018

Multilateral body facing crisis with US blocking appointment of appeal judges

India has expressed its solidarity with a group of 60 countries at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that has proposed an immediate launch of a selection process to fill three vacant slots on the seven-member Appellate Body.

The selection of new judges has been blocked by the US since the past few months to register its unhappiness with the current dispute settlement process.

India warning

“India noted that further delay in launching the selection process could have major consequences for the timeliness and quality of WTO dispute rulings,” a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine.

The US has caused a mini-crisis at the WTO by blocking the appointment of new appeal judges which has resulted in the seven-member Appellate Body being reduced to just four. It could not only cause major delays in judgements but the WTO can eventually run out of judges and all work could come to a stand-still.

“The situation is very serious as the US is making a mockery of the entire WTO set-up and process. If the dispute settlement function of the WTO is hampered, it will put a big question mark on the relevance of the multilateral trade body,” a Commerce Ministry official said.

US opposition

The US, under the Trump administration, has not been allowing new judges to be appointed on the ground that the Appellate Body’s functioning needed to be improved. Unhappy with some of the WTO judgements going against the country, the US said that the Appellate Body has been over-reaching and creating law through legal rulings.

Washington has also questioned a rule (Rule 15) which allows Appellate Body members to continue working on cases they were assigned to before their terms ended.

In the joint proposal made by Mexico on behalf of 60 countries which includes all EU members, Pakistan, China, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Singapore, Uruguay and Vietnam, it was suggested that the selection process for the three vacancies to start immediately and a selection committee should issue its recommendations “as soon as possible”.

In a meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body earlier this week, the co-sponsors of the proposal said that the disagreement around allowing former judges to continue on their old cases should be addressed, but it should not hold up the appointment of new judges.

The US, however, said it was not in a position to support the proposal. It added that it would continue its efforts with the chair and other members to seek a solution to this issue.

“We certainly hope that the US sees sense and allows the appointment of judges without delay,” the official said.

Published on January 26, 2018

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