Overreach

Additional Meetings of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body and Budget, Finance and Administration Committee set for December 3 and 5 in search of Resolution of Outstanding Issues.

The WTO’s last General Council meeting of 2019 is scheduled for next Monday-Wednesday (December 9-11). There are unresolved issues on what will happen with pending appeals before the Appellate Body and whether the modified 2020 budget that was introduced last week but received opposition from a number of Members will be approved. Not surprisingly, two additional meetings have been added to the WTO schedule for this week and can be seen in the section of the WTO webpage that shows pending meetings at the WTO.

The first is technically a resumption of the November 22 Dispute Settlement Body meeting to take up issue 7, “pending appeals”. The second is yet another Budget, Finance and Administration Committee meeting to seek approval of the proposed budget as modified by the Director-General in response to the issues raised by the United States on Appellate Body compensation and other matters.

As reviewed in earlier posts, the U.S. is seeking reductions in the budget within the WTO for Appellate Body [“AB”] matters in light of the reduced number of AB members and the likely inability to pursue appeals for some period of time after December 10. The U.S. also is opposed to former members of the AB continuing to hear most of the pending appeals after December 10. There are 13 reported pending appeals before the Appellate Body that will not be resolved prior to December 10. Resolution of how or if those appeals will proceed will presumably be relevant to the resolution of what funds are needed in 2020 for the AB in the proposed budget. Thus, the activities this week are important to providing clarification of what activity by the Appellate Body will occur prior to the resolution of the U.S. concerns on activities by the AB that are inconsistent with existing Dispute Settlement Understanding requirements.

The WTO General Council has had Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand (the current Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body) serving as a facilitator to see if solutions to the U.S. concerns could be found. At an informal General Council meeting of the Heads of Delegations held last Friday, November 29th, press reports indicate that modifications to the draft General Council Decision on the functioning of the Appellate Body that were contained in WT/GC/W/791 received the green light from Members. This indicates that the draft decision could be adopted at the upcoming General Council meeting.

It would be surprising if the modified draft Decision solves the impasse on filling AB vacancies. There are two additions to the draft General Council Decision from the version (JOB/GC/222 Annex) that the United States had dismissed as inadequate in the last General Council meeting on October 15. See my post of Nov. 4, 2019 on the Draft General Council Decision which quotes the U.S. position in full. https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/04/wtos-appellate-body-reform-the-draft-general-council-decision-on-functioning-of-the-appellate-body/

First, a paragraph has been added acknowledging that the Appellate Body has not always functioned as intended. “Acknowledging that the Appellate Body has, in some respects, not been functioning as intended under the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (the ‘DSU’)”. Such a paragraph is undoubtedly important to the U.S. as it reflects agreement that there have been problems – the U.S. position for many years that some other Members have not publicly acknowledged.

Second, paragraph 9 in WT/GC/W/791 has been added to a section previously titled “Municipal Law” but now renamed “Scope of Appeal”. The added paragraph reads, “9. Article 17.6 of the DSU restricts matters that can be raised on appeal to issues of law covered in the relevant panel report and legal interpretations developed by that panel.” The existing DSU limits the scope of appeal as reflected in this new paragraph. While the U.S. presumably supports the language, it is not clear that the concerns that the U.S. has raised about the Appellate Body opining on issues not raised by either party are fully addressed in this paragraph. Should the panel address issues not raised by the parties, the language would indicate the AB can address such issues in an appeal. The two documents are included below.

WTGCW791

JobsGC222

The press article indicates that it is not clear that the U.S. will approve the draft GC decision at the upcoming GC. Washington Trade Daily, December 2, 2019 at 1-2. Indeed, considering the October 15 statement of the U.S. at the General Council meeting, it would be surprising if the few modifications to the earlier draft would be viewed by the United States as adequate. For example on the longstanding problem of creating obligations or diminishing rights of Member, the draft Decision makes no changes to language which simply repeated part of DSU Articles 3.2 and 19.2. As reviewed in earlier notes, there is unlikely to be correction of the overreach problem if 3.2 and 19.2 aren’t clarified to identify situations where obligations are created (e.g., if gaps are filled, silence is construed or ambiguities clarified). Moreover, the U.S. concern reflects a more than 20 year problem of the balance of rights and obligations being altered. Nothing in the draft identifies how Members rights will be rebalanced.

if the U.S. joins other Members in approving the draft Decision at the upcoming General Council meeting on December 9-11, the U.S. could view the adoption of the decision as simply one step in the process needed before the U.S. will lift its hold on filling vacancies. Stay tuned.