EU trade chief to meet with U.S. counterparts about WTO's Appellate Body

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The European Union’s top trade official will meet with senior U.S. counterparts to discuss the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement process, a mechanism that may not function beyond December because of Washington’s opposition.

The EU is working hard to address U.S. concerns about the WTO’s top trade court, but is simultaneously seeking a backstop solution if the dispute is not resolved by December, said Sabine Weyand on Monday. She took over as the European Commission’s director general of trade in June.

U.S. President Donald Trump is barring appointments to the WTO’s Appellate Body, saying its judges have overstepped their mandate and ignored their instructions. Unless the block is lifted by Dec. 11, the trade court will be unable to hear appeals in international trade disputes.

“Given that we are just a few months ahead of the possible demise of the system, we thought we can’t sit idly by and see whether this works or not,” she said.

“We want that stopgap solution to mirror the Appellate Body functioning, but to be based on a system of arbitration,” Weyand told an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Weyand, who will be making her first official visit to the United States in the new role, said that the EU is “moving a long way to address the U.S. concerns.”

She said the EU expected to finalize an agreement with Canada later this week on the stopgap solution that will enable countries to use an arbitration process to settle disputes until the Appellate Body is revived.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on July 18 that Canada backed attempts to restore a fully operational Appellate Body but has been working with the European Union to find an interim fix.

Weyand said the interim solution being worked out with Canada and others was a temporary alternative to the Appellate Body.

“There is only one plan and that plan is to get the system back up and running again,” Weyand said Monday.

“What is the alternative? Tearing it up and starting afresh? Do we have the luxury of time to build something totally new? I don’t think so.”

Reporting by Jonas Ekblom; Editing by Andrea Shalal and Steve Orlofsky