The Trump administration is set to allow the chief international trade-dispute referee to lose its ability to function this week, upending the global commerce system further as tariff threats escalate on multiple fronts.
President Donald Trump has for months blocked the appointments of judges to the World Trade Organization appeals court, accusing it of overstep and efforts to derail his “America First” policy agenda. The terms of two of the last three judges on the so-called Appellate Body expire Tuesday at midnight, which will leave the organization unable to issue binding rulings on trade disagreements among its 164 member countries.
“By blocking all new appointments to the WTO’s dispute-resolution court, President Trump has allowed it to decline from seven members to three,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, wrote on Twitter. “Donald ‘Tariff Man’ Trump (his words) can now impose whatever tariffs he likes, without fear that the WTO might find them to be illegal.”
The move comes as Trump escalates protectionist policies on multiple fronts, including through plans to extend punitive tariffs to virtually all imports from China on Sunday. The White House has separately ramped up trade threats against US allies in South America and the European Union.
Trump has argued the WTO has unfairly undermined the US position in those negotiations. But the president celebrated “a nice victory”‘ from the organization in October when it handed the US a record $7.5 billion award over illegal subsidies the EU gave to Airbus.
“It cannot go unmentioned that even the Trump administration readily applauds WTO dispute settlement after a US ‘win,'” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The administration did not mention any concerns with the WTO Appellate Body engaging in judicial overreach or relying on precedent in that decision.”