DG Azevêdo to launch intensive consultations on resolving Appellate Body impasse

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told a meeting of the full WTO membership on 9 December that he would launch more intensive, high-level consultations on how to resolve the longstanding impasse over the appointment of Appellate Body members. DG Azevêdo’s intervention came after WTO members were unable to reach consensus on a proposal to address concerns regarding the functioning of the Appellate Body.

Addressing the WTO’s General Council, DG Azevêdo said the consultations, to take place at Heads of Delegation level, would focus on whether members are discussing all the elements that need to be addressed in finding a solution and what basic concepts members need to agree on so as to make progress.

“A well-functioning, impartial and binding dispute settlement system is a core pillar of the WTO system,” DG Azevêdo declared. “Rules-based dispute resolution prevents trade conflicts from ending up in escalating tit-for-tat retaliation – which becomes difficult to stop once it starts – or becoming intractable political quagmires.”

“Obviously the paralysis of the Appellate Body does not mean that rules-based dispute settlement has stopped at the WTO,” DG Azevêdo continued. “Members will continue to resolve WTO disputes through consultations, panels, and other means envisaged in the WTO agreements such as arbitration or good offices of the DG … but we cannot abandon what must be our priority, namely finding a permanent solution for the Appellate Body.”

Earlier in the meeting, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand presented to delegations a draft decision intended to resolve differences on the urgent matter of the functioning of the  Appellate Body. The draft decision was the outcome of an informal process launched last January by the General Council chair, who asked Amb. Walker to serve as facilitator of the consultations.

In the interventions that followed, many members expressed their support for the draft decision and thanked the facilitator for his efforts. They underlined their deep concern that the Appellate Body would no longer be in a position to consider new appeals after 10 December and cited the negative impact this would have on the WTO’s dispute settlement system and the multilateral trading system as a whole. There was no consensus, however, to approve the draft decision.

Both the General Council chair, Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand, and Amb. Walker expressed their willingness to continue discussions on how to overcome the impasse.