Biden entering White House may facilitate WTO’s regaining of function

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/10 21:33:20

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

With over 270 Electoral College votes, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was projected to be the winner of the 2020 US presidential election. The relatively multilateralism-inclined politician has draw expectations worldwide that he may reverse Trump's blow for multilateral mechanisms, including World Trade Organization (WTO) and its crucial Appellate Body.

Biden has stated his intention to cancel Trump's withdraws from Paris Climate Agreement and World Health Organization, signaling an inverted direction of Trump's unilateralism which has damaged international organizations for years.

Holding a long-lasting criticism toward the global trade body, Trump administration has been relentlessly obstructing the operation of the organization, with its latest efforts of sowing chaos to the election of WTO's next director-general, after paralyzing WTO's dispute settlement mechanism - especially the Appellate Body, since last December by blocking the appointment of new judges.

Though Biden's "returning" to global mechanisms may be essentially for the purpose of preserving the US' dominating role for making international rules, it could also bring in some space for constructive negotiations and cooperation under the framework of global systems.

Taking WTO as an example, the US has blocked the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the final candidate for the next WTO director general despite the former finance minister of Nigeria winning the overwhelming backing of the WTO's 164 members, reported by the Guardian.

Although Biden's choices remain to be seen, it is expected that the election of a new leader of the global trade body could be more smoothly.

The same logic applies for the paralyzed Appellate Body. Established in 1995, it is a standing body of seven persons that hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought by WTO members.

According to the relevant WTO rules, the Appellate Body has the power to uphold, modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of a panel, and Appellate Body Reports, once adopted by the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), must be accepted by the parties to the dispute.

Without efficient number of judges, the dispute resolution mechanism has lost function since December 2019, which was regarded as the first major crisis that WTO faced since its establishment.

Trump-led US authority's blocking appointments of new judges of the Appellate Body has seriously undermined the primary function of the global trade body, like a transport bureau losing its law enforcement functions.

With Biden entering the White House, it is expected that the new US government supporting multilateralism could engage in constructive talks and seek feasible solutions on those crucial issues based on rules.

Unlike Trump's obstruction, Biden may play a more important role in promoting the revolution of the global trade body.

Despite Biden's purpose of resuming dominance in global organizations, the new US authority is expected to facilitate the WTO regaining function and stably playing its rules, such as mediating international trade disputes, which is good news for the resumption of a rule-based international trade order.

The article was compiled based on an interview with He Weiwen, an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies.


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