WTO Faces International Trade Settlement Dispute Crisis

The World Trade Organization, the international party that usually deals with multinational legal disputes between trading nations, is currently facing a crisis in its system.

Currently, the WTO finalises decisions on trade matters, which can then be appealed in a separate ‘appeal’ court. This consists of three judges, each of which has to hear the case. An appeal decision is then made. All in all, this constitutes one of the primary functions of the WTO.

As of December 10 however, there will be a single final arbiter, instead of three, as the remaining two judges’ terms have come to an end, despite no replacements being recruited.

According to the BBC, there are currently no plans to replace the two judges, leaving the single judge to confront all appeal cases in the court. This is because the US has allegedly refused to allow the recruitment of further judges.

Other countries within the WTO have repeatedly proposed a start to the recruitment of other judges. In fact, by the end of November over 100 countries had requested the other two judges have replacements found and established, but the US alone has prevented this, mostly due to the way the WTO makes decisions and essentially stipulates new laws as cases come and go.

A statement was recently made by the US delegation at a WTO meeting: “For more than 16 years and across multiple US administrations, the United States has been raising serious concerns with the Appellate Body’s overreaching and disregard for the rules set by WTO members.”

The WTO has previously been described as “probably the busiest international dispute settlement system in the world.” Finding a solution to the lack of an appropriate Appellate Body will be difficult and may hinder the function of the WTO in the long term.

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