Clete Willems and Alan Yanovich Speak at WTO Dispute Settlement Panel in Geneva

Akin Gump public law and policy partner Clete Willems and international trade partner Alan Yanovich participated in a panel discussion co-sponsored by Akin Gump, the Centre for Trade and Economic Integration, and the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Law, titled “WTO Dispute Settlement at the Crossroads.” The program, which took place on November 6, addressed possible solutions to the crisis facing the dispute settlement system at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The speakers were introduced by Joosst Pauwelyn, professor of international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and a visiting professor at Georgetown Law Center. Pauwelwyn spoke of the current state of play at the WTO, noting that the number of cases pending at its Appellate Body is the highest number it has ever had. He also noted that, as of December 11, there will only be one Appellate Body member left, leaving many to wonder what will happen with the pending appeals.

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Willems first spoke about U.S. objectives with regard to the WTO, pointing out that the organization is in need of “serious reform.” He outlined some of the U.S. concerns with the WTO’s Appellate Body, which he said were related to process, substance and timeliness. He also described the WTO’s negotiating function as “broken,” noting it has “only resulted in one substantive agreement in 25 years.”

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Yanovich then offered his own thoughts on U.S. trade policy. While he is happy there are some globalists in the Trump administration in favor of opening trade, the impression he has is of an administration “that is imposing more and more barriers” and not trying to open new markets. Willems refuted that by providing some examples of the current administration “trying to push for various negotiations in the WTO context.”

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Finally, Willems addressed the process of WTO reform and gave some suggestions for the future involving its adjudicative approach, the Secretariat, procedural activities, such as the length of disputes, and negotiations.

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