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Geneva: A group of former World Trade Organisation (WTO) judges have written to a top official of the Geneva-based body accusing the US of resorting to “inappropriate pressures" and “political interference" by vetoing the reappointment of a sitting member of the WTO appellate body.

Seung Wha Chang’s reappointment for a second term was vetoed by the US on 23 May, linking it to the body’s rulings in cases involving the US.

Thirteen former appellate body judges, without naming the US in their letter to WTO’s dispute settlement body chair Xavier Carim, warned that the decision by one member of the WTO “could threaten to politicize WTO dispute settlement and imperil the impartial independence of every member of the appellate body that is required by the WTO Rules of Conduct".

The US claimed Chang’s rulings lacked substance and deviated from the covered agreements of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and WTO jurisprudence. It said Chang and other adjudicators overstepped their mandate while delivering major rulings in four cases: three disputes involving the US and one where the US is the third party in a dispute between Panama and Argentina.

The US veto has failed to draw any support from WTO members. About 30 members, including India, the European Union and Brazil, have severely criticized the US action on the grounds that it will irreparably damage the “independent and impartial" functioning of the WTO’s highest court for trade disputes. South Korea said the US move has raised “serous systemic concerns" and “is an attempt to use reappointment as a tool to rein in AB (appellate body) members for their decisions they make on the bench".

The US, said South Korea, had in effect warned AB members that if their decisions in trade disputes “do not conform to US perspectives, they are not going to be reappointed".

The process of reappointment of members to the WTO’s highest adjudicating body will “undoubtedly have serious consequences on the independent functioning of the appellate body", India said.

In their letter, the former AB members said the US move raised the possibility of “inappropriate pressures by participants in the WTO trading system".

“There must be no opening whatsoever to the prospect of political interference in what must remain impartial legal judgements in the WTO’s rule-based system of adjudication," they said in a three-page letter reviewed by Mint. They also raised grave fears about “upholding the rule of law in international trade".

Also, “we see it as a prerequisite to providing security and predictability for the rule-based multilateral trading system for the benefit of all of the Members of WTO", they emphasized.

They said the six other judges on the AB had explained in a recent letter to WTO members that the rulings and the recommendations of the AB cannot be attributed solely to any one judge because “our reports are reports of the appellate body".

Throughout the first 20 years of the WTO and the AB, they maintained that the AB owned all the decisions “as one" to mutually reinforce “the strength of their individual commitment to impartiality and independence".

“Undermining the impartial independence of the appellate body now would not only call into question for the first time the integrity of the appellate body; it would also put the very future of the entire WTO trading system at risk," they warned.

The US has lost many trade disputes because of its continued trade-distorting practices that range from cotton subsidies to controversial zeroing methodologies in anti-dumping actions. In addition, the US has failed to implement several rulings of the appellate body.

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