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UPDATE 1-Taiwan-China row threatens WTO crisis

(Recasts with details, background)

GENEVA, Nov 23 (Reuters) - A move by Taiwan to block the appointment of China’s first judge on the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) top court threatens to plunge the WTO into crisis as well as stoking tension between the two rivals.

The head of the WTO’s dispute settlement body, which handles trade disputes worth billions of dollars, said on Friday the unresolved row posed extremely serious challenges to the cornerstone of the WTO.

“I am extremely concerned if this situation persists much longer, then we will have a crisis in this organisation,” Australia’s WTO ambassador Bruce Gosper, who chairs the dispute settlement body, told reporters.

Taiwan brought the work of the body, which umpires the global trading system, to a stop on Monday through a procedural device to block the nomination of Chinese lawyer Yuejiao Zhang to the WTO’s appellate body.

Taiwan objected to the inclusion on the Monday meeting’s agenda of the item nominating four people as appeal judges.

As WTO decisions are taken by consensus, that blocked the whole meeting, which among other things was also due to discuss a U.S. call for a panel to examine the distribution of entertainment products such as books and films in China.

WTO members other than Taiwan were unanimous at a meeting on Friday that the nomination of appeal judges should be kept on the agenda, ambassadors said.

Other ambassadors shared Gosper’s concern at the damage the row could do to the WTO’s dispute work, which is respected by all countries, at a time when WTO members are also deep in contentious and long-running talks to open up world trade.

“We already have negotiations which are delicately poised and we don’t want to have any more bad news,” India’s WTO ambassador, Ujal Singh Bhatia, told reporters.


Zhang was one of three women and one man nominated to fill approaching vacancies in the seven-member body. If approved she would fill one of two vacancies arising in June next year. The other two vacancies are to be filled on Dec. 10.

But Taiwan, without naming Zhang, said it could not agree to the agenda because it had deep concerns about the impartiality and qualification of one of the recommended candidates.

Members of the appellate body, who can serve up to two four-year terms, have to be individuals with a recognised standing in law and international trade, and not affiliated with any government.

Zhang, an attorney at the Beijing office of Jun He Law Offices, and a professor at China’s Shantou university, has previously worked for the Chinese government as well as the World Bank and Asia Development Bank.

Taiwan is excluded from most other international organisations by China, which regards the island as a rebel province to be reunited with the motherland, by force if necessary.

Even in the WTO, Taiwan has the status of a customs territory and China has objected to any action by Taiwan that could imply it is a sovereign state.

So far Beijing has reacted in a restrained manner to Taiwan’s move, saying it still hoped the appointment would be approved and calling for consultations to solve the dispute.

Gosper said he would continue his consultations. Officials said he intended to report back to the WTO’s 151 members by early next week.