Commentary: Save global trade from losing independent referee

Source: Xinhua| 2019-12-11 20:29:44|Editor: huaxia
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by Xinhua writer Gao Wencheng

BEIJING, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- Global free trade is facing an unprecedented crisis of losing its independent referee, the World Trade Organization (WTO)'s Appellate Body, which has over the past 25 years arbitrated international trade disputes and helped ensure fairness in the exchanges of goods and services among the world's nations.

On Tuesday, two of the last three dispute settlement judges completed their terms serving on the appellate body. With a minimum of three judges needed for the body to function and because of Washington's efforts to block the appointment of new judges, the appeals court is practically paralyzed.

The absence of the court poses an imminent and institutional risk to the world's primary mechanism to settle trade disputes worldwide. The rules-based international trading system is becoming one where might makes right.

The current multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core was established amid the wreckage of World War II. Over the following decades, it has served nations worldwide by helping lower tariffs, tear down trade barriers and open up markets.

The fact that the United States has filed more cases with the WTO than any other nation and won the majority of the cases shows that the world's sole superpower is in fact a top beneficiary of the WTO. So why is Washington trying hard to sideline this arbitration system for global trade?

For those in Washington who follow the "America First" doctrine, the Geneva-based institution has been treating the United States unfairly and is standing in the way of attempts to put America's interests above all else.

However, if the wheels of trade justice grind to a halt, the interests of all trading nations, including the United States, will only suffer.

No one denies that the current multilateral trading system has flaws and that reform is necessary. The fact that one member's manipulation could lead to the paralysis of the whole arbitration body reveals the fragility of the system, and the need to improve it.

Beijing has made clear in its proposal to revamp the WTO, including abiding by core principles as non-discrimination and openness, safeguarding the legitimate development interests of developing economies, and forging a consensus-based decision-making process.

China has already joined 115 WTO members in putting forward a proposal on launching a nomination process of the appellate body, and another one on reforming the court with 40 members, including the European Union, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

In modern times, exuberant global trade has always been a vigorous booster to deliver robust global economic growth. And a rules-based multilateral system is the guarantor of vibrant trade transactions in this ever globalized world, where no nation, not even the United States, can survive and prosper as an island.

Washington's unilateralists need to heed the collective call of other WTO members, relinquish their you-win-I-lose mindset, and jointly save the struggling system. The danger of not doing so would be catastrophic for everyone.