US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Thursday signaled a shift in Washington’s stance on the World Trade Organization’s dispute resolution process.
“We all recognize the importance of the WTO, and we all want it to succeed,” Tai said in a speech to be delivered at The Geneva Institute’s Geneva Trade Platform.
But she said the WTO must be “flexible.”
Under the administration of former president Donald Trump, the United States brought the WTO’s dispute settlement system to a grinding halt in December 2019 by blocking the appointment of new judges to the key Appellate Body.
Tai, who was appointed by Trump’s successor Joe Biden, indicated Washington is looking to thaw relations with the global trade body and improve how trade conflicts are settled.
“We believe we may succeed in reforming the negotiating pillar if we create a more flexible WTO, change the way we approach problems collectively, improve transparency and inclusiveness and restore the deliberative function of the organization,” she said, according to excerpts of her speech.
The organization’s seven-member Appellate Body can uphold, modify or reverse a dispute panel’s initial findings.
US criticism of the process predates Trump, although he cranked up hostilities to new levels.
While Washington has won most of the cases litigated by the WTO, Trump’s administration accused the body of exceeding its powers with judgements viewed as violating of national sovereignty.
Even Tai noted that the dispute settlement provess “has become synonymous with litigation — litigation that is prolonged, expensive, and contentious.”
WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hopes to get the problem resolved before the next trade ministerial conference later this year.