Opinion: Is the WTO really coming to an end?

The WTO and its dispute settlement system are facing crisis after the U.S. blocks appointments at the WTO Appellate Body for one and a half years. In addition, the Case DS516 (European Union — Measures Related to Price Comparison Methodologies) has recently suspended at the request of the Complainant, China, after two-and-half-years proceedings. All these factors raise a huge debate on the future of international trade – is the WTO really coming to an end?

A member of Herbert Smith Freehills China International Business and Economic Law (CIBEL) Centre, Dr Weihuan Zhou, who is an expert on WTO laws, recently co-authored two opinion pieces on the future of the WTO.

In the article “The WTO Dispute Settlement System: Just another Victim on the Road to Tomorrow’s GATT?” on the ILA Reporter Blog, Dr Zhou and Associate Professor Markus Wagner of the University of Wollongong analysed why a power-based system that the U.S. is seeking to achieve cannot be a satisfactory solution for the U.S.

“Rather than undermining the WTO, it would have been in the U.S.’s own interest to play a more constructive role in shaping the WTO’s legislative agenda, bearing in mind that its own interests may not always win out.”

In another article published on the East Asia Forum, “The end of the WTO and the last case?”, Dr Zhou and Associate Professor Henry Gao of Singapore Management University explained the possible reasons for China’s recent withdrawal from the panel proceedings in case DS516 that it initiated against the E.U. back in 2016. The team also interpreted what this could mean to the WTO.

“If China were to withdraw, it would be much harder to get it back within the system. And if such a scenario does come to pass, case DS516 might well be remembered as the last case; ending the WTO and the rules-based multilateral trading system,” the team wrote in the article.