Venezuela launches WTO legal challenge against US sanctions

GENEVA (AFP) – Venezuela launched a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last Tuesday against a raft of United States (US) sanctions, even as Washington announced new measures targetting the crisis-hit country.

Venezuela’s complaint takes aim at four rounds of sanctions adopted by US President Donald Trump’s government against Caracas last year.

The measures target Venezuela’s financial system and key members of President Nicolas Maduro’s inner circle.

The new sanctions announced by the US Treasury Department last Tuesday, which are not named in Venezuela’s WTO complaint, focus on seven individuals including the owner of news network Globovision for allegedly plundering billions of dollars through black-market currency exchanges.

In the complaint circulated to the WTO’s 164 members, Caracas accuses Washington of trying “to isolate Venezuela economically”.

The complaint, known as “a request for consultations” in WTO parlance, accuses the US of multiple violations of international trade law, including the illegal use of “coercive trade-restrictive measures”.

Under WTO rules, the US has 60 days to respond to Venezuela’s complaint, posted last Tuesday on the WTO website.

If the two sides fail to reach a compromise through consultations Venezuela can ask for an arbitration panel to hear the case.

The complaint came days before Maduro is to be sworn in for a new term after a controversial re-election.

Venezuela has faced a mounting economic crisis as prices sag for its oil exports and Maduro’s socialist government struggles to ensure supply of medicine and basic foods.

Inflation is expected to soar to 10 million per cent in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.