WTO chief sees no end in sight to US blockage

Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) attends the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. (Reuters pic)

BUCHAREST: World Trade Organisation members are now clear what the United States’s concerns are over how the group settles disputes, but there is no sign of resolution to a crisis that threatens to paralyse the global trade body, the WTO head said on Thursday.

The United States has blocked appointments at the WTO appellate body, which hears appeals in trade disputes between countries, threatening the biggest crisis in the 24-year history of the WTO.

The organisation normally has seven members but currently only has three, and two of those are set to complete their mandates in December.

“What is clear to me is that the clock is ticking,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told a news conference in Bucharest before meeting EU ministers responsible for trade over dinner.

Azevedo said there would be a significant slowdown of cases and “eventually paralysis down the road”.

The European Union has made proposals for WTO reform, agreeing with China, India and other countries on changes to the WTO‘s dispute settlement. However, it has struggled to engage the United States on the topic.

Azevedo said there was at least clarity about US concerns, some of which were also shared by other WTO members.

“But what is not clear yet is what solutions can we find to fix those problems,” he said.

“I would say there is a consensual view that we need to address this, that this is a big priority. But I don’t have at this point in time any signals that I could use to say we have a light at the end of the tunnel. At this point in time, I don’t see that.”