On July 29, 2020, the United States Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on WTO Reform: Making Global Rules Work for Global Challenges. The hearing had four witnesses, including two prior Appellate Body Members (Jennifer Hillman and Thomas Graham) and two others.
Senators generally agreed that the dispute settlement system was in need of reform to address long standing U.S. concerns about overreach and other matters. At the same time, Senators view the WTO as an important organization where U.S. leadership is important to address problems and changing needs.
While most U.S. agricultural interests were perceived to have been generally upheld well through dispute settlement, concern was expressed with the Country of Origin Labeling (“COOL”) decision affecting the labeling of meat from animals imported into the United States.
There was broad concern about the problems created by Appellate Body overreach in the areas of trade remedies. For some, there is a belief, confirmed by at least one of the former Appellate Body members, that there has been a bias against trade remedy use by the U.S.
The hearing lasted about two hours and can be seen here. https://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/wto-reform-making-global-rules-work-for-global-challenges. The prepared statements of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Ranking Member and of the witnesses are available for download from the same link.
Written comments to the Committee are accepted for two weeks (til August 12). I am submitting written comments today and provide them in the embedded document below.August-4-2020-statement-to-Senate-Finance-Committee
As I note in my comments, U.S. concerns center around overreach – the creation of rights and obligations not contained in the agreements themselves. Such concerns can be addressed through clarifying that DSU Art. 3.2 and 19.2 prevent panels and the Appellate Body from filling gaps, construing silence and construing ambiguous provisions. Any clarification of those articles must be accompanied by an ability to correct prior decisions. My prior blogs have provided one suggestion which would address not just U.S. but other Member concerns about overreach.
On the other issues of concern to the U.S., any resolution must provide a means for the DSU terms to be enforced by Members where panels or the Appellate Body wander afield.