NEW DELHI: India has made the appointment of new members to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) appellate body a pre-condition for discussing reforms to the multilateral trading system.
The seven-member appellate panel is the highest adjudicating body of disputes among member countries. It has only three members, the minimum required for giving a judgement. However, two are set to retire in December, making the body defunct. Despite this, the US has been blocking new appointments.
Countries need to explore ways to address substantive issues and concerns regarding the functioning of the appellate body while preserving its independence and impartiality, India’s trade minister Suresh Prabhu told representatives of 22 developing countries at an informal WTO meeting of trade ministers in New Delhi on Monday.
“However, this should be done after the crisis of nomination of new members to the appellate body is resolved," he said.
The two-day ‘ministerial’, which is being attended by WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, is likely to discuss a draft declaration entitled “Working collectively to strengthen the WTO". The declaration will seek to unequivocally reaffirm the importance of a rules-based multilateral trading system, re-endorse the centrality of development in WTO negotiations and provide suggestions for WTO reforms with development at its core.
“Through our WTO mission in Geneva, we have already circulated a draft text on WTO reforms to all the members present here. We look forward to working collectively with all of you on this document. I am optimistic that based on the suggestions that we receive from all of you, we would be in a position to finalise the submission on WTO reform within a month," Prabhu said.
The existential challenges to the multilateral rules-based trading system are manifest in a spate of unilateral measures and counter-measures, deadlock in key areas of negotiations, and the impasse in the appellate body, commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan said at the inaugural session.
“The fundamentals of the system are being tested through a tide of protectionism around the world vitiating the global economic environment. The situation does not bode well for developing countries, including the LDCs (least developed countries)," he said.
Wadhawan said the reform agenda that is being promoted at WTO does not address the concerns of the developing countries.