WTO Officials Mull 2018 Committee Chairmen Assignments

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By Bryce Baschuk

World Trade Organization delegates will consider nominations this week for an annually rotating roster of committee chairmen positions that oversee the trade body’s regular work.

The goal is to appoint, by consensus, more than a dozen new committee chairmen by the WTO’s March 7-8 general council meeting.

Some of this work is considered routine, but members will appoint a handful of ambassadors with key positions that could shape the outcome of the WTO’s next ministerial conference in 2019.

Over the next month, WTO members will hold informal consultations to propose and endorse a slate of candidates that ideally reflect the regional diversity of the organization.

They also will consider nominations for vacancies at the top of three WTO trade negotiating committees, which are tasked with supervising the organization’s trade liberalization efforts.

Ihara for General Council?

WTO members will likely name Japanese Ambassador Junichi Ihara WTO general council chairman, which is a position traditionally filled by the outgoing chairman of the WTO dispute settlement body.

WTO members have commended Ihara for his previous work as WTO dispute settlement chairman where he served as referee during the 2017 controversy over appellate body appointments.

The general council chairman coordinates the core elements of the WTO’s regular work and helps develop the organization’s agenda for the coming biennium.

Chairmen of the general council and its standing committees each have one-year terms with the exception of those heading the WTO’s trade negotiating committees, who have appointments that may exceed a year or more.

Dispute Settlement Chairman

A key decision for WTO members is to determine who will lead the WTO dispute settlement body, which mediates international trade disputes among the organization’s 164 members.

Early candidates for the position include: Ambassador Irene Young of Hong Kong; Ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand; Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan; and Ambassador Saleh bin Eid Al-Hussaini of Saudi Arabia.

The incoming dispute settlement body chairman will supervise the committee during a period of discord following the U.S. block on new appointments to the WTO appellate body.

The chairman will likely become general council chairman in 2019 and as such will be tasked with leading the WTO’s next ministerial conference.

Negotiating Committees

Another important obligation for WTO members will be the selection of new chairmen for the three vacancies among the WTO’s trade negotiating committees—the committee on agriculture in special session; the negotiating group on rules; and the council for trade in services in special session.

The next chairman of the agriculture committee in special session will be tasked with reassessing the WTO’s effort to reduce farm subsidies and cut farm tariffs.

The chairman of the negotiating group on rules will lead the WTO effort to curb harmful fishing subsidies in line with target 14.6 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The chairman of the negotiating council for trade in services will be asked to identify how WTO members can establish new trade disciplines regarding domestic regulation of services.

Indian Solar Dispute

On Feb. 9 the WTO dispute settlement body will consider India’s request for a compliance ruling in a lengthy and contentious dispute between the U.S. and India.

The WTO has twice ruled that India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission program imposed domestic sourcing requirements that unfairly discriminate against imported solar cells and modules.

In December, the U.S. alleged that India had not modified its measures according to the WTO ruling and asked the dispute settlement body for authorization to retaliate against India.

On Jan. 9, India said it complied with the WTO ruling when it removed a requirement to procure solar cells, panels, and modules from local producers.

India also objected to the level of retaliation the U.S. requested, which automatically triggered a 60-day arbitration period.

Also on Feb. 9, WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff will deliver remarks to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at an event hosted by the Global Business Dialogue.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bloomberglaw.com

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