The United States told the World Trade Organization on Monday it would block the reappointment of one of the WTO’s four remaining appeals judges next month, confirming trade experts’ fears of a crisis in the system for settling global rows.
U.S. President Donald Trump has railed against the WTO, calling it a catastrophe and a disaster. He has said the United States loses cases because other countries have most of the judges.
In fact, trade experts say, the United States has a similar, if not better, lose-win rate than other countries that have taken complaints to the WTO, and it has a rare privilege in that the judges on the WTO’s Appellate Body have always included one American.
Trump faces a barrage of disputes at the WTO against his trade policies, including global tariffs on steel and a tariff war with China. Since he came to power, Washington has blocked all appointments to the appeals chamber as existing judges’ terms end.
There are normally seven WTO appeals judges, but if Shree Baboo Chekitan Servansing, a trade judge from Mauritius, is not reappointed when his term expires on Sept. 30, only three will remain — the minimum for the system to function.
It looks set to break down finally when two more judges’ terms expire in December 2019, but it could seize up sooner if any judges need to recuse themselves from a case for legal reasons.
The TWO dispute resolution system is vital. It is what allows global trade agreements to be enforced. What the US is doing doesn’t just affect countries trading with the US, but every WTO member.
If the US cripples the appellate body, then (for example) Australia could once again start blocking our apples on spurious grounds. And it would be impossible for us to get a binding ruling preventing them from doing so.