The World Trade Organization building in Geneva, Switzerland. Picture taken April 1, 2021.

Publication Type

Saving the WTO from the national security exception

Warren Maruyama (Hogan Lovells) and Alan Wm. Wolff (PIIE)
Working Papers 23-2
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo


For any member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) not making alternative arrangements, enforceability of the rules of the global trading system, a distinguishing feature of the WTO, ceased to exist on December 11, 2019, because the United States blocked appointments to the Appellate Body of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism. A major obstacle to the United States accepting any resolution of this impasse—thus permitting dispute settlement to once again be binding on all WTO members—is settling the issue of whether claims of national security to legitimize trade measures are reviewable. This is a red line for the United States, which argues this claim is nonreviewable. In the emerging area of great power competition, the United States is unlikely to accept a return to fully effective WTO dispute settlement absent a compromise that finds determinations of national security nonjusticiable. This paper offers a compromise: There would be no adjudication of whether a trade measure was justified under the WTO’s national security exception, but those WTO members adversely affected would have an immediate right to rebalance trade concessions themselves by imposing retaliatory trade measures against the WTO member invoking the exception.

Data Disclosure:

This publication does not include a replication package.

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