TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar19/16)
29 March 2019
Third World Network

DSB 26 March meeting postponed until further notice

Published in SUNS #8876 dated 28 March 2019

Geneva, 27 Mar (Kanaga Raja) – A regular meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) scheduled for 26 March was unexpectedly postponed until further notice, purportedly over US objections to an agenda item proposed by the government of Venezuela.

The US, together with a number of mainly European and Latin American countries, has refused to recognize the Venezuelan government of President Nicholas Maduro, and has instead backed Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition, as the country’s interim president.

Geneva trade officials said on 26 March that the meeting of the DSB scheduled for that day “has been postponed until further notice.”

Reportedly, the Chair of the DSB had sent out a note to members on the previous evening informing them that the DSB meeting of 26 March has been postponed until further notice.

Among the items on the draft agenda of that DSB meeting was a request for the establishment of a panel by Venezuela on US measures relating to trade in goods and services.

In its communication to the DSB (WT/DS574/2), Venezuela had cited certain coercive and trade-restrictive measures imposed by the United States on Venezuela in an attempt to isolate it economically: (i) consisting of inclusion on blacklists; (ii) in relation to the sovereign debt market; and (iii) Venezuela’s digital currency.

In its panel request, Venezuela identified discriminatory US measures with respect to goods of Venezuelan origin; discriminatory measures which prohibit trade in Venezuelan gold in the US and by US persons; discriminatory coercive measures with respect to the liquidity of the Venezuelan debt; and discriminatory coercive measures with respect to transactions in Venezuelan digital

It also cited discriminatory coercive measures restricting trade with respect to certain Venezuelan persons and prohibiting the provision of services by these persons and the receipt of such services.

A Reuters news report of 26 March has cited a US official as saying: “Because the Maduro regime is not the legitimate government of Venezuela, Maduro’s representatives are not the legitimate representatives of a WTO Member. Therefore, neither the agenda item nor the panel request would legitimately be before the DSB.”

[Neither the UN General Assembly nor the WTO have “de-recognised” the Maduro-led government of Venezuela. And a large majority of the UN and WTO membership continue to recognise that government. SUNS]

Among the other items on the draft agenda of the DSB meeting are a panel request by Thailand on additional duties imposed by Turkey on imports of Thai air conditioning machines, and a panel request by Russia on anti-dumping measures imposed by the European Union on imports of certain cold-rolled flat steel products from Russia.

More importantly, another agenda item relates to the appointment of Appellate Body (AB) members.

The US has been repeatedly blocking, at various DSB meetings, the launch of the selection processes to fill four current vacancies on the AB until its concerns over the functioning of the AB are addressed.

Most recently, the US Trade Representative, Amb. Robert Lighthizer, in testimony to a US Senate Committee, has made clear that the US blockage on filling the AB vacancies is “in order to force members to deal with much-needed WTO reforms …”, thus clearly demonstrating that the US tactics in this regard, in terms of public international law (codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties), are a clear violation of its obligations to negotiate and implement agreements in “good faith.”

[See SUNS #8873 dated 25 March 2019, Raghavan, “WTO-MTS facing existential threat, needs political decisions.”]

An informal process under the auspices of the General Council and chaired by facilitator Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand is currently underway to resolve the crisis in the AB.

While proposals have been submitted by several WTO Members in a bid to address the US concerns, the US itself has to date not put forward any suggestions or proposals to address its concerns.

The last time that an agenda of a DSB meeting was not adopted was way back in 1999, when an impasse arose over the US-EC banana dispute and the request by the US, which was on the draft agenda, for authorization from the DSB to retaliate against the EC over its new banana regime, which the US had argued was not in WTO-compliance.

[See “DSB suspends meeting after adoption of agenda is blocked” by Chakravarthi Raghavan in SUNS #4361 dated 27 January 1999.]