India and 30 other countries on Tuesday called for urgently resolving an impasse at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) highest dispute settlement body, which faces being reduced to a one-judge court after 11 December.
The call to protect the WTO’s Appellate Body (AB) came at a trade ministerial summit in Shanghai.
At an informal trade ministerial summit hosted by China on the sidelines of its annual trade fair in Shanghai on Tuesday, participants from more than 30 countries expressed grave concern about the continued impasse at the AB which faces being reduced to just one member from its requisite strength of seven, effectively becoming dysfunctional.
The US, which did not attend the Shanghai meeting, has consistently blocked the selection process to fill the six vacancies for the past two years, saying it has concerns about the functioning of the AB.
At Tuesday’s closed-door meeting, India’s commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan called for urgent action to protect and preserve the multilateral rules-based trading system, according to a participant, who asked not to be named.
“Despite engagement in an intensive process in Geneva for almost two years on the ongoing impasse in the Appellate Body, no solution is in sight, and next month, we will have a non-functional Appellate Body," India cautioned, according to the participant present at the meeting.
“Therefore, it should be our utmost priority to save the dispute settlement mechanism. It is important that in the way forward, we take into account the aspirations of the large majority of the membership and re-double our efforts for an inclusive, transparent and development-oriented agenda," India argued.
Significantly, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo, who addressed the meeting of trade ministers and senior trade officials, remained silent on the AB crisis, said a participant, who asked not to be named.
“We can show that the multilateral trading system can deliver meaningful results," the WTO director general said, according to a statement put up on the WTO website.
“We can demonstrate that members are able to come together and reach decisions that enhance certainty and predictability in the 21st century global economy," he said.
With only a few months left for the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, in June 2020, India called for putting in place “a structured process to finalize a focussed and balanced agenda including issues of priority for the whole membership latest by March 2020."
“The issues which must be on the agenda include a permanent solution for public stockholding in agricultural negotiations [and] an agenda of WTO reforms based on inclusiveness, keeping development central and addressing the historical imbalances and asymmetries in the Uruguay Round agreements," India demanded.