US aims to fix WTO dispute system by next year

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The US ambassador to the WTO has stated the country hopes to fix problems with the body's dispute process by the end of 2024.

The US has set a goal of the end of 2024 for fixing long-running issues with the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) appeals body that have paralyzed international trade dispute resolutions for several years.

Speaking to Reuters, US ambassador to the multilateral organization Maria Pagan said the aim is to have a "fully functioning" dispute system within two years, although she acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve this.

At the heart of the matter is the makeup of the WTO's Appellate Body, which hears appeals    about disputes ruled on by the main consultation body. This has been unable to function effectively since the Donald Trump administration started blocking the appointment of any new adjudicators to the panel.

This policy has since continued into the presidency of Joe Biden, with Washington insisting on negotiations about how best to reform the body as opposed to merely permitting the seating of new members.

As a result, there are currently 24 cases awaiting decisions by the Appellate Body that are stuck in limbo. This does not include two new appeals filed by the US this week, challenging rulings against it related to duties on steel and aluminum products and the labeling of products originating from Hong Kong. 

It was recently noted by Chinese state media Xinhua that previously, it would expect to take around three months for the WTO Appellate Body to rule on any appeals it receives. However, the appeal court has been unable to function since December 2019 due to the US' refusal to participate, despite 127 WTO members attempting to start the selection process for filling vacancies on 61 separate occasions.

Ms Pagan said that while she did not rule out the US reviving the Appellate Body, it would need "a lot of revamping". The US has recently criticized the WTO for alleged overreach, as well as the time taken to reach decisions.