International trade dispute settlement: WTO Appellate Body crisis and the multiparty interim appeal arrangement

Briefing 14-04-2021

When disputes arise in international trade, they can be settled with binding rulings under international trade or investment agreements. For World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, members can launch such disputes through the two-step WTO dispute settlement mechanism. The European Union (EU) also includes similar dispute settlement provisions in its trade agreements. The United States' blockage of appointments to the WTO Appellate Body, the highest instance of the WTO dispute settlement, plunged the multilateral rules-based trading system into crisis. The US grievances include questions of delay, judicial over-reach, precedence, and transition rules. As the Appellate Body is unable to hear new appeals, no disputes can now be resolved at the highest instance, causing widespread concern in the context of escalating global trade protectionism. To find a temporary solution to the impasse, the EU and a number of trade partners set up a multiparty interim appeal arbitration arrangement (MPIA). The parties continue to seek resolution of the Appellate Body crisis, and agree to use the MPIA as a second instance as long as the situation continues. The MPIA is also open for more WTO members to join. The recently amended EU Enforcement Regulation also enables swift suspension of obligations under trade agreements while the dispute settlement mechanism is blocked. While the USA has criticised the MPIA, the US approach to multilateral cooperation may change under President Joe Biden. The European Commission Trade Policy Review of February 2021 restates the EU's commitment to WTO reform.