US rejects plan to break trade court deadlock

Trump thinks the WTO is too soft on China

Geneva (AFP) – The United States on Friday rejected a proposal by 66 World Trade Organization members aimed at breaking a deadlock within the body’s court, a trade official in Geneva said.

The deeping crisis at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has been triggered by President Donald Trump administration’s refusal to sign off on the appointment of new judges to the court’s appellate chamber.

The 164-member WTO is confronting a range of headaches linked to Trump’s trade policies, including fierce battles over his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium. 

But trade experts have said the DSB blockage may prove to be the most severe, since it could cripple the WTO’s ability to resolve disputes, one of the organisation’s key functions. 

The trade official, who was not authorised to comment publicly on Friday’s DSB meeting, said 66 members put forward a plan to fill the three court vacancies. 

“The United States said it was not in a position to accept (the) proposal,” the official said. 

Tensions over the issue have been compounded by the fact that the United States has not clearly expressed its intentions for the DSB or offered a reform plan. 

Trump has called the WTO a “disaster,” a “catastrophe,” and said its rulings are “unfair” to the US. 

Those assertions have been countered by WTO officials who note that the US has won more DSB cases than any other member. 

The US ambassador to Switzerland, Edward McMullen, told journalists on Thursday that he was not in a position to explain the American position regarding the trade court, but noted that Washington’s new WTO envoy, Dennis Shea, has recently started work and will be able to provide answers soon. 

“I think you are about to get clarity with the new ambassador,” McMullen said. 

The DSB needs at least three judges to hear cases. 

Based on timelines on which the remaining judges are due to retire, the court will stop functioning by the end of next year if no replacements are agreed.