The World Trade Organization announced Monday the launch of “intensive” political negotiations to salvage the appellate branch of the body’s internal court, which is set to collapse under US opposition.
The WTO appeals panel, sometimes dubbed the supreme court of world trade, will no longer have the needed quorum of three judges as of midnight on Tuesday, due to mandatory retirements.
The United States has blocked the appointment of new judges, accusing the court of serious overreach and breaching US interests.
WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo acknowledged in a statement that there would be no solution to the deadlock before the Tuesday deadline.
But, he said, he would “launch more intensive, high-level consultations on how to resolve the longstanding impasse.”
“We cannot abandon what must be our priority, namely finding a permanent solution for the Appellate Body,” he added.
Azevedo, a Brazilian national, said the consultations would occur at the “heads of delegation” level but did not provide a timeline.
The appellate body’s demise will place international trade disputes in legal limbo.
Countries will still be able to file grievances and dispute panels can issue rulings, but nations unhappy with those rulings can simply delay enforcement by filing an appeal to a non-functioning court.
The European Union, Canada and Norway have mutually agreed to an ad hoc process to hear trade disputes that may arise amongst each other while the WTO panel is shut down.
But, as WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, it is not clear when a solution can be found.
“It’s a serious crisis,” Rockwell told reporters.
“When this is going to be resolved, how exactly, I don’t know.”
Rockwell added that the United States and the European Union in particular had both legal and “philosophical” differences regarding the desired powers of the appellate body, which will be challenging to resolve.
“Hopefully through some intensive consultations, a little bit more political injection into this process, we can find some kind of solution,” he said.