1. What’s at stake?
The Geneva-based WTO’s mission of economic integration is under threat from protectionist policies around the globe, and without reform it risks being sidelined during the biggest economic crisis in a century. The world’s largest economies agree that the organization must evolve to address the shifts in technology and the global trading system that have occurred since 1995. If members can align behind a candidate committed to modernization, it could break bureaucratic logjams and help unleash a wave of global growth at a time when it is needed most. If no such candidate can be found, the WTO risks receding further into irrelevance.
2. What’s precipitated the crisis?
The WTO’s appellate body, the main forum for settling worldwide trade disagreements, lost its ability in December 2019 to rule on new dispute cases. That resulted from a U.S. refusal over the previous two years to consider any nominees to fill vacancies on the panel. WTO members can still bring disputes to the trade body and receive an initial ruling, but that can be appealed into legal limbo. The U.S. imposition of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tariffs against China, and use of the WTO’s national security loophole to levy duties on steel and aluminum, have also weakened the organization.
3. What is the WTO’s