No solution to WTO appeals court crisis foreseen, documents show

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 6:11 AM

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – A draft proposal on reforming the World Trade Organization leaves open the question of resolving the organisation’s broken appeals bench and asks trade ministers to decide later this month, according to documents seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

A seventh and final version of a reform proposal marked ‘Confidential’ gave no details of an appeal mechanism to replace the Appellate Body which was shuttered in 2019 following repeated U.S. moves to block judge appointments.

Some 30 WTO disputes are currently in legal limbo because there is no way of settling them.

The proposal was presented at a WTO special meeting in Geneva on Wednesday to finalise preparations ahead of a meeting of trade ministers in Abu Dhabi between Feb. 26-29 to discuss the reforms and other topics.

Guatemala’s Marco Molina, who is facilitating the talks, said that discussions were ongoing on finding a solution to the question of appeals and that “significant progress” had been made, according to trade sources attending the private session.

And while the document left the question of the appeals court open, it did create options for the WTO to resolve trade disputes informally and introduce tighter deadlines for concluding them.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Madeline Chambers)