WTO director general says reforming dispute settlement system a ‘priority’

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The World Trade Organization’s director general said on Monday that reforming the body’s dispute settlement system is a “priority.”

When asked whether reforming the process would be a focus of the remainder of her term, which ends in 2025, WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said: “Absolutely. And I hope we can deliver that.”

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She was speaking on stage at the World Government Summit.

The WTO’s trade dispute arbitration system, which rules on top disputes, has been stalled for more than two years due to Trump-era blockages of adjudicator appointments.

Under President Joe Biden, Washington has resisted calls by WTO members to approve appointments and has instead been leading negotiations on how to reboot the WTO’s dispute system.

The United States has criticized the WTO’s alleged overreach and lengthy processes and it has strongly contested some of its recent rulings against the United States.

The United States is entering third phase of talks with countries to reform the hobbled arbitration system and aims for it to be fully functioning by the end of 2024.

“It’s not only the US that has problems. Developing countries, especially the least developed find it hard to access the system and costly,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

On Monday, she also reiterated that global merchandise trade is expected to grow by one percent in 2023.

“There seem be glimmers of hope on the horizon,” she said.

Read more: WTO slashes 2023 global trade forecast as recession looms

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