India has called for the restoration of the WTO’s Appellate Body as the top-most priority of any reform process and sought immediate and effective formalisation and multilaterisation of the informal dispute settlement (DS) reform process.

At the working working session on DS reforms at the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, India reiterated its long-standing position that a credible and reliable WTO DS system is the bedrock of an equitable, effective, secure and predictable multilateral trading system, per an official statement issued by the Commerce Department.

“India recalled the commitment of WTO Members of 12th Ministerial Conference to conduct discussions with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by 2024,” the statement pointed out. 

The Appellate Body, which is the top-most adjudicating authority of the WTO, had been non-functional since December 2019, due to the blocking of appointment of its members by the US. This had called into question the WTO’s overall credibility and the rules-based trade-order it upholds, members noted at the working session. 

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To ensure that all members can participate in the DS reforms process, India suggested that the discussions should be transitioned to WTO formal bodies, preferably under the guidance of the Dispute Settlement Body Chair.

Further, to ensure that the transition is not just a mere formality but results in an effective multilateralisation of the process which is member-driven, open, transparent and inclusive, the myriad capacity and technical challenges of developing country members and LDCs should be taken into account, it added. 

Members should be provided an opportunity to bring in new proposals at any stage, and the resulting text should be fully representative of the views in the room and be consensus-based, with hybrid participation being permitted, India said.