‘Room for compromise’ with US over WTO crisis

GENEVA (AFP) – A Briton seeking to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) voiced confidence on Friday that a compromise could be reached with Washington to revive the organisation’s crippled appeals panel.

Britain’s first post-Brexit International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, one of eight candidates vying to become the WTO’s next director-general, insisted the dispute settlement system could be fixed.

“I believe from my discussions with my American colleagues that they do wish to see that resolution mechanism in place and I think there is room for compromise,” he told media after meeting representatives from the WTO’s 164 member states.

The appellate branch of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, sometimes called the supreme court of world trade, stopped functioning in December after years of relentless United States (US) opposition.

Washington accuses the court of major overreach and has blocked appointments of new judges, leaving it without a quorum of three needed to hear cases.

Fox said the US position was “not something that I’m unsympathetic to”, suggesting that curbing the panel’s mandate might be a way forward. But he emphasised the importance of a functioning dispute settlement system with the possibility to appeal decisions, warning that without it, the WTO system faced an “existential” threat.

Fox, who was the last candidate to be grilled by member states, dismissed questions about whether Brexit might weaken support for him among European countries.

“Not everyone in the world sees every issue through the Brexit prism,” he said, adding “I hope the European Union (EU) will choose a candidate who is most in line with the values and the aspirations for global trade that the EU has.”

Britain’s first post-Brexit International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. PHOTO: AP