WTO appeals judges to stay on to complete several decisions: WTO official

A red light is pictured at a pedestrian crossing in front of the World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - World Trade Organization (WTO) judges will complete decisions on three pending appeals for which hearings have been held - despite the collapse of the Appellate Body earlier this week - a WTO official said on Thursday.

The two judges whose terms expired on Tuesday, Thomas Graham and Ujal Singh Bhatia, have sent a letter to New Zealand’s ambassador David Walker, chairman of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), setting out the plan, the WTO official said. The term of Hong Zhao, the third remaining judge, expires in November 2020.

The letter has yet to be circulated as a WTO official document but was expected to be posted soon.

The fate of the WTO’s top court was effectively sealed on Monday after the United States said it would not back a proposal to allow it to continue, trade officials said, although the WTO chief Roberto Azevedo vowed to find a solution.

For more than two years, the Trump administration blocked new appointments to the top body that rules on trade disputes as existing judges’ terms have expired, which meant that after Dec. 10 it had too few members to take on new cases.

Walker proposed to WTO members last week that the Appellate Body should be allowed to conclude three cases that have already had hearings. A further 10 pending appeals are to be left in limbo.

The three appeals are a combined case on Australia’s plain packaging for tobacco products, one on Russian measures to limit imports of railway equipment filed by Ukraine, and another concerning U.S. anti-subsidy duties on paper from Canada.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alex Richardson