With the WTO’s Appellate Body not able to handle appeals at the present time because of diminished membership, the EU has put forward a proposal that would authorize the EU to retaliate whenever a dispute where the EU has received what it views as a favorable ruling is appealed by the other party during the period when any such appeal cannot be considered by the Appellate Body. They have also proposed such actions in bilateral agreements where they view the other party as frustrating dispute settlement. https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/policy-making/enforcement-and-protection/. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/com/2019/0623/COM_COM(2019)0623_EN.pdf
The proposal is not adopted as yet, and the EU portrays the initiative as a way of protecting EU interests and consistent with its efforts to increase enforcement of its negotiated trading rights. This proposal, if adopted, will put pressure on smaller trading partners to join alternative dispute settlement approaches such as the arbitration approach the EU has agreed to with Canada and separately with Norway.
The proposal doesn’t address what the EU expects trading partners to take against EU products where it files an appeal (such as the EU did against the second 21.5 panel decision on December 6 which found against the EU in terms of compliance with its obligations on Airbus). WT/DS316/43 (11 December 2019)(notice of appeal); WT/DS316/RW2 (2 December 2019)(panel report on 2nd 21.5 request). But at least for larger WTO members, if the EU files an appeal that will not be heard during this interim period while Members seek ways to resolve open issues, the EU proposal invites similar action by such other Members. Retaliation has, of course, already been authorized for the U.S. against the EU for its WTO-inconsistent actions on Airbus. But should there be other cases that the US (or other countries who opt not to use arbitration under DSU Article 25 or not to simply adopt panel decisions without appeal) brings against the EU which the EU loses in part or whole, the EU is inviting retaliation without opportunity to correct its practices and without arbitration of the amount of retaliation being available. Virtually every Member who has been authorized to take retaliation has been subject to arbitration with amount authorized typically significantly less than the retaliating Member has sought. Thus, the EU may find its approach has costs for EU industry as well.
At the last Dispute Settlement Body (“DSB”) meeting of 2019 held on December 18, the effort to get the process for selecting Appellate Body members started was again unsuccessful because of opposition from the United States. So there will be some considerable period when there is no functioning Appellate Body and only four of the appeals pending on December 10 will be completed by the AB members who were involved in appeals prior to December 10. However, besides the EU efforts with Canada and Norway (which is reportedly being pursued with additional countries), there are alternative approaches being explored by other WTO Members including agreeing to adopt panel decisions without appeals or developing a different arbitration approach to that presented by the EU (e.g., reports that Australia and Brazil are exploring a different system).
For the United States, the U.S. indicated that it had filed on December 18th an appeal from a panel report in DS436, India’s resort to Article 21.5 of the DSU in its challenge to U.S. countervailing duty orders on hot-rolled steel products. The notice of appeal from the U.S. (WT/DS436/21) is not yet available on the WTO webpage. At the DSB meeting, the U.S. made the following comments on the WTO dispute settlement system:
“And the United States is determined to bring about real WTO reform, including to ensure that the WTO dispute settlement system reinforces the WTO’s critical negotiating and monitoring functions, and does not undermine those functions by overreaching gap-filling.
“As discussions among Members continue, the dispute settlement system continues to function.
“The central objective of that system remains unchanged: to assist the parties in the resolution of a dispute. As before, Members have many methods to resolve a dispute, including through bilateral engagement and mutually agreed solutions.
“For instance, today, the United States appealed the compliance Panel’s report in DS436.
“While no division can be established to hear this appeal at this time, the United States will confer with India so the parties may determine the way forward in this dispute, including whether the matters at issue may be resolved at this stage or to consider alternatives to the appellate process.
“Consistent with the aim of the WTO dispute settlement system, the parties should make efforts to find a positive solution to their dispute, and this remains the U.S. preference.
“And the United States will continue to insist that WTO rules be followed by the WTO dispute settlement system. We will continue our efforts and our discussions with Members to seek a solution on these important issues.”
Statements by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, Geneva, December 18, 2019, “6. Appellate Body Appointments, Proposal by Some WTO Members (WT/DSB/W/609/Rev.15), https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Dec18.DSB_.Stmt_.as-deliv.fin_.public-1.pdf.
It is certainly the case that the U.S. and the EU have very different views of the role of dispute settlement and the Appellate Body in particular and whether there are major problems with the operation of dispute settlement over the first twenty-five years of WTO operation. But the EU is traveling down a path of increasingly ignoring WTO limitations on its actions, a charge that they make with regard to the United States.
For example, when a WTO member disagrees with an action of a trading partner, it is expected to seek consultations and, if necessary, file a dispute, await resolution of the dispute, permit a reasonable period of time for implementation if a violation was found before retaliation is permitted. Yet the EU (followed by many other countries — Canada, Mexico, China, Russia, Turkey, India) created a facially false basis for retaliating against the United States without pursuing the required steps, when the U.S. took action under a domestic law (Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended) on imports of steel and aluminum based on a report finding threats to U.S. national security from such imports. The EU and the other countries have claimed the action was a disguised safeguard action permitting immediate retaliation. WTO members don’t have to agree with another Member’s actions, but unilateral action is not authorized and the creation of false predicates to justify retaliation don’t change the action from being unilateral and unjustified.
The proposed regulation represents one more step by the EU to create its own system of enforcement regardless of the agreements to which it is a party using circumstances it does not like to justify its own unilateral actions. Let’s hope that whether adopted or not, the EU proceeds cautiously and reflects on its own actions consistency with international agreements.