In a post in late March, I reviewed the fact the March 26 Dispute Settlement Body meeting had been postponed after the U.S. requested the removal of a request for a panel by Venezuela. Venezuela refused to withdraw its request, and the DSB meeting was postponed pending a resolution. The post also reviewed the background to the dispute and prior actions at the WTO. See March 28, 2021, U.S. blocks inclusion of Venezuelan request for panel on U.S. sanctions at WTO, Dispute Settlement Body meeting of March 26, 2021 postponed, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/28/u-s-blocks-inclusion-of-venezuelan-request-for-panel-on-u-s-sanctions-at-wto-dispute-settlement-body-meeting-of-march-26-2021-postponed/.
My prior post did not include the U.S. statement at the March 26 DSB meeting. That statement is copied below. See Statement by the United States at the Meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, Geneva, March 26, 2021, https://geneva.usmission.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/290/Mar26.DSB_.Stmt_.as_.deliv_.fin_.public.pdf.
“• Pursuant to Rule 6 of the Rules of Procedure for Meetings of the General Council, as agreed by the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), the United States proposes an amendment to the proposed agenda. The United States proposes to remove item 4, referred to as ‘Request for the Establishment of a Panel by Venezuela.’
“• Chair, item 4 of the proposed agenda contains an item that was submitted by purported representatives of the government of Venezuela. This is not the case.
“• The purported representatives of the Government of Venezuela attempted to place a similar item on the agenda of the DSB meeting in March 2019. At that time, the United States’ position was that the item was not requested by the legitimate government of Venezuela and therefore could not be placed on the agenda.
“• The basis for the United States’ position was straightforward: the United States—along with more than 50 other WTO Members—did not recognize the Maduro regime as legitimate. Instead, the United States recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela.
“• In the two years since the Maduro regime’s last attempt to add its request to the DSB agenda, the United States’ position has not changed. Today, the United States—as well as many other WTO Members—continues to not recognize the legitimacy of the Maduro regime.
“• For that reason, the United States must object to the adoption of a proposed agenda that includes item 4, because that item was requested, not on behalf of the legitimate government of Venezuela, but by individuals acting on behalf of the illegitimate Maduro regime.
“• These representatives do not have the right to place an item on the agenda of a DSB meeting on behalf of the government of Venezuela.
“• The United States instead proposes that the DSB amend the proposed agenda to remove item 4, such that the agenda would contain only those items properly requested to be included by Members of the WTO.
“• The United States invites all Members to join in adopting an amended agenda.”
The next regularly scheduled Dispute Settlement Body meeting is set for April 28, 2021. Based on the postponement of the March 26th meeting, there shouldn’t be a DSB meeting until there has been a resolution of whether the Venezuelan request for a panel will be on the agenda or not. However, there has been no indication on the WTO website that there has been a resolution of the impasse between the United States and Venezuela. Indeed, the WTO did not post a news release on the events at the March 26 DSB meeting nor has it updated the actual events around WT/DS574 including the U.S. refusal to engage in consultations and requests in 2019 and again in 2021 to remove the request for a panel from the agenda of DSB meetings.
On the WTO website, the DSB meeting on April 28, 2021 continues to be listed on the calendar. Moreover, in a review of online documents under documents for meetings, there is document WTO/AIR/DSB/105 described as “Dispute Settlement Body – Meeting of 28 April 2021”. This document is restricted and so its contents are not known publicly. However, the documents for the meeting includes nine other documents including Venezuela’s same request for a panel. UNITED STATES – MEASURES RELATING TO TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, REQUEST FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PANEL BY VENEZUELA, WT/DS574/2/Rev.1 (16 March 2021). Absent a resolution of the U.S. request to have agenda item 4 removed, it is assumed that the Secretariat staff have just repeated what was on the agenda for the March 26th DSB meeting and included those documents again. Indeed the other documents shown are all from mid-March either indicating that the postponed DSB meeting will be resumed following a resolution of the U.S. opposition that has not been announced or is a marker should there be a resolution.
An important need for the public interested in the operation of the World Trade Organization is transparency in the WTO’s operation and events that occur. I have reviewed in prior posts the concerns about the increased use of designations on documents to remove larger and larger volumes of documents from public view. See, e.g., November 12, 2019, The Continued Problem of Inconsistent Transparency at the World Trade Organization, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/11/12/the-continued-problem-of-inconsistent-transparency-at-the-world-trade-organization/. There has been little apparent interest within the WTO or by its Members in correcting these deviations from transparency.
Certainly with regard to which meetings are or are not going to happen at the WTO, the public should expect accuracy and disclosure when impasse issues have been resolved. Next week’s planned DSB meeting is an example of unnecessary confusion. Is there a meeting or not?
- Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
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