India, 12 other members suggest changes in WTO norms

New Delhi: Expressing concerns over delay in appointment of members in appellate body of WTO’s dispute settlement system, 13 countries, including India, European Union and China, have floated a proposal to amend norms for smooth functioning of the dispute resolution mechanism.

There is an issue in appointment of members to the appellate body of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) dispute settlement mechanism. The US has blocked appointment of these members. It is creating uncertainty in the functioning of a key arm of the Geneva-based multi-lateral body.

“We are deeply concerned that the enduring absence of consensus in the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to fill the vacancies on the Appellate Body risks undermining the viability of the WTO dispute settlement system. To this end, we call on all members to fill the vacancies and to amend certain provisions of the understanding on rules and procedures governing the settlement of disputes. The proposed amendments aim at improving the DSU (dispute settlement undertaking) while addressing the concerns that have been raised on these issues,” the 13 members have said in a communication to the WTO on Monday.

The proposed amendments include continuation of an outgoing appellate body member to complete the disposition of a pending appeal in which a hearing has already taken place during that member’s term. Further, the US has raised concerns with the timelines for appellate proceedings.

As per the norms, it should be completed in 90 days. In some cases, this time-frame gets exceeded. “It is proposed to amend the 90-days rule…by providing an enhanced consultation and transparency obligation for the Appellate Body,” it said, adding if there is no agreement of the parties on the exceeding of this timeframe, there could be a mechanism after which the procedure or working arrangements for the particular appeal could be adapted to ensure the meeting of the 90-day timeframe.

Concerns have also been expressed that the appellate body has a tendency to make findings on issues not necessary to resolve a dispute. On this, the 13 member countries have suggested to amend a rule of DSU to provide that the body shall address each of the issues raised on appeal by the parties to the dispute to the extent this is necessary for the resolution of the dispute.

“In view of the urgency of the matter, and in order to allow for the appointments to take place swiftly, we are hereby proposing that these amendments be adopted by the General Council as soon as possible,” it added.

An official said adoption of these amendments may take a little longer as all the 164-members of the WTO would have to agree for this. The issue will be discussed soon in a meeting of the General Council, which is the highest decision making body of the WTO after the Ministerial Conference.

The dispute settlement mechanism is an important arm of the WTO to resolve trade disputes among member nations. The appellate body is the apex institution to adjudicate disputes. India along with other members have time and again raised concerns on the matter.