WTO appeal system could soon be paralyzed for lack of judges

New Zealand’s ambassador appointed to help resolve differences to allow appointment of panel members.

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body is going through unprecedented challenges with four of the body’s seven seats vacant.

With the United States still blocking the start of processes to appoint new judges the court is down to the minimum number of judges needed to sign off on any Appellate Body rulings.

The high number and complexity of appeals currently before the WTO is already stretching its ability to staff cases and complete work in a timely fashion. Unless a compromise is worked out to appoint new Appellate Body members the system could soon be paralyzed.

The U.S. has criticised a series of aspects of how the Appellate Body functions. Various members have argued that the U.S. has not engaged sufficiently in discussions to resolve the problem.

The Chair of the WTO General Council, Junichi Ihara of Japan, has appointed David Walker, ambassador of New Zealand to assist him in working with WTO members to resolve differences on the urgent matter of the functioning of the Appellate Body.

Mr. Ihara said in looking for a facilitator he sought an ambassador with “thorough knowledge and practical experience” in WTO dispute settlement, someone who had chaired a WTO body and someone familiar with WTO informal processes. Mr. Walker accepted the chair’s invitation and spoke to members at the 17 January meeting where he led the discussions.

“I believe we had a good kick off to this process,” said Mr. Walker. “I will reach out to members and discuss with them how to take the process forward, always in a solution-oriented spirit.”