Two days ago, South Korea, Canada, the European Union and 15 other countries released a joint statement accusing the United States of damaging the World Trade Organization’s independence. This follows the U.S. opposition to the reappointment of Chang Seung-hwa, a professor at Seoul National School of Law, to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body. The U.S. opposition to regular and customary procedure demonstrates a philosophy that uses political intervention to influence the rulings of the WTO.
The WTO appellate body functions as the “supreme court” of international trade disputes. There are a total of seven appellate members that serve four-year terms with the potential for renewal. The current opposition to reappointment is unprecedented. Chang, the first Korean to serve on the appellate body, finished his term on May 31. The U.S. is claiming that the WTO appellate body’s decisions overstepped the powers entrusted to them by the member states; however, it is not easy to accept how this relates to the reappointment of individual members to the appellate body. On May 31, an editorial in the U.K.-based Financial Times stated, “The reality is that Mr. Chang has failed to back the U.S. in cases in which Washington has been found in breach of WTO rules. This is not only unsettling for the WTO, but for the U.S.’s supposed role as an anchor for the international rule of law.”
The worrisome part about this controversy is not merely the strengthening of a protectionist atmosphere within the United States. The WTO appellate body also must decide on the “market economy status” of China. If China receives market economy status, it will be like gaining a shield to protect itself from anti-dumping accusations. This can be seen as an attempt by the United States, which is at odds with the Chinese both politically and commercially, to apply pressure on the WTO.
There is another view that by only opposing the reappointment of Chang, the U.S. is making an indirect attempt to apply trade pressure to our government. Recently, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, stirred controversy at a breakfast meeting by stating, “Nevertheless, [South Korea] can still be a tougher place to do business than it should be,” and by repeatedly urging the opening of the legal market. Although the protectionist stance of the United States is gradually becoming clearer in the presidential race, and the reappointment issue of Chang is an affront to the independence of the WTO, this issue is a measure of the trade pressures between the United States and China, and between South Korea and the United States.