10 Jan 2020

The WTO at 25: crisis-hit but not defeated

Despite the problems it is currently up against, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is still working and serves an important function, according to WTI Fellow Christian Häberli.

“The WTO has prevented trade wars for 25 years – that is its greatest achievement,” said Dr Häberli in a radio report by German public broadcaster ARD to mark the 25th anniversary of the global trade body that was founded on 1 January 1995.

The WTO plays an important role in mediating and settling trade disputes between members. But the United States has blocked the appointment of new judges to the Appellate Body since the middle of September 2019, severely hampering the resolution of disputes.

Despite that, Dr Häberli, who served as a WTO judge for 20 years, prefers not to say that the WTO is in crisis.

“The WTO as a whole is functioning, even if an important part – the Appellate Body – is unable to do its job. Disputes can still be resolved as long as they do not go to appeal.”

Dr Häberli pointed out that in its 25 year existence the WTO had successfully resolved around 500 trade disputes.

He also highlighted the important negotiation function of the WTO. It is presently negotiating a new Agreement against fishing subsidies that are resulting in widespread overfishing, especially in the territorial waters of poorer countries.

The interview, in German, can be found here.