The WTO's Existential Crisis: How to Salvage Its Ability to Settle Trade Disputes

Jeffrey J. Schott (PIIE) and Euijin Jung (PIIE)

Policy Brief
19-19
December 2019
Photo Credit: 
REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

US refusal to allow the appointment of new judges (or members) to the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body—a key component of its renowned dispute settlement system—has pushed the organization into an existential crisis. The Appellate Body no longer has the requisite number of members to hear new cases on appeal. The terms of two of the three remaining members have expired, leaving the WTO without an appeal function. US officials charge that certain Appellate Body decisions on WTO dispute panel rulings have expanded WTO obligations and constrained WTO rights—what trade lawyers call “judicial overreach”—and so they have blocked the appointment of new Appellate Body members until other WTO countries address US complaints. Schott and Jung analyze the WTO cases brought against the United States and find that the problem of judicial overreach seems to surface primarily in a subset of US losses in antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases that target specific methods of calculating dumping margins. They warn that disabling the whole appellate system is a disproportionate response to the specific problem. It will weaken enforcement of WTO obligations and undermine prospects for negotiations to update the WTO rulebook, thus corroding the rules-based trading system, one that has been modeled on US law and practice. A better approach would be to exempt AD/CVD cases from appellate review (while still subjecting them to dispute panel rulings). This targeted change in the WTO Appellate Body process, coupled with procedural reforms already advanced in proposals that have been widely supported by WTO members, could mitigate US concerns and allow the Appellate Body to be repopulated.

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The online appendix to this analysis is available here.

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Jeffrey J. Schott Senior Research Staff
Euijin Jung Senior Research Staff

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