Statement by Ambassador Dennis Shea at the WTO Heads of Delegation Meeting

Statement by Ambassador Dennis Shea
Heads of Delegation Meeting

Geneva, October 14, 2019

I would like to use my intervention to touch upon four subjects:  special and differential treatment, the fisheries subsidies negotiations, the e-commerce negotiations through the Joint Statement Initiative, and the Appellate Body.

On special and differential treatment, I again would like to emphasize the importance of the conversation we are having on this issue, both in the General Council and in capitals.  We look forward to the General Council discussion this week under two agenda items.  With respect to fisheries subsidies, the United States, together with other Members, has advanced a series of proposals that create a framework for a meaningful result in these negotiations. It will be up to Members, particularly those seeking carve outs and flexibilities from the disciplines, to decide if we want a meaningful result that will change the status quo.

After nearly 20 years of negotiations, we should not be trying to make it easier for the subsidizers. That is the opposite of our mandate.  Regrettably, it is becoming less and less clear what activities Members are willing to stop subsidizing. The United States will continue to push for a meaningful outcome in these negotiations and we hope other Members will join us in doing so.

I would also like to express our disappointment with the fact that collectively we have been unable to reach consensus on a candidate for the chair of these important negotiations. The task put before us by the Chair of the General Council in July should have been routine and without controversy.  We were asked to identify an individual who demonstrated the personal capacity and availability to undertake the responsibilities required of a chair.

However, politics, rather than principles, have unfortunately been injected into this process, distorting the framework Members established to enable the organization to continue to handle its business in a smooth and seamless way. If decisions are now being made based on a Member’s national negotiating position, rather than the specific candidate’s personal capacity to act with impartiality and objectivity, then it appears that the existing system for selecting Chairs for any WTO body will not, and cannot, ever lead to consensus.

Turning to the Joint Statement on E-Commerce, we note some encouraging progress being made, and we welcome the intensification of efforts by this group of Members and the move to more serious discussions of formal text-based proposals following the summer break. We continue to seek an outcome that establishes high-standard, commercially meaningful rules on digital trade with an eventual agreement that applies the same rules to all participants.

The initiative is not without its challenges. However, we remain optimistic that the Joint Statement process will prove to be an effective vehicle for Members to pursue their commercial interests, negotiate new rules, and move the organization forward. We look forward to determining which Members are truly committed to an ambitious outcome, and willing to demonstrate that the WTO can deliver meaningful results.

Finally, on the Appellate Body, I have often reminded my WTO colleagues that U.S. concerns about the Appellate Body are not only principled, well-documented, and longstanding but also shared broadly across the political spectrum in the United States.

Last week, a bipartisan, high-level delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee visited Geneva and had the opportunity to meet with some of you.  As the United States has explained, our concerns about Appellate Body overreach are not the exclusive province of just one U.S. Administration or one political party.

Also last week, the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Finance – one a Republican and the other a Democrat – weighed in with an important op-ed on WTO reform.  The op-ed covers a range of critical issues but let me take a moment to read what they had to say specifically about the Appellate Body:

“While the WTO serves as a forum to settle disputes among its members, we have serious concerns about the degree to which the system is working. The Appellate Body — the quasi-judicial review forum used to take a second look into dispute decisions — has long strayed off course from its original form and function. Our concerns about systemic and procedural problems with the Appellate Body are not new, nor are they partisan. U.S. presidents on both sides of the aisle have taken issue with Appellate Body members addressing issues that were not raised by the parties involved in the dispute, taking longer than 90 days to decide appeals, and creating new rights and obligations for WTO members — all against the terms of the Dispute Settlement Understanding.”

“We see great value in having an institution like the Appellate Body that ensures dispute panels faithfully apply the rules to which we all agreed.  However, the Appellate Body also needs to operate as the members agreed.”

Chair, the United States will continue to insist that the WTO dispute settlement system follow the rules of this institution. And we will continue our discussions with other Members to seek a solution to the problem of Appellate Body rule-breaking.