Ending reappointment for WTO judges?

By David Bosco

I wrote last week about the controversy surrounding U.S. opposition to reappointing a member of the WTO’s appellate body. Yesterday, a collection of former appellate body members released a letter expressing concern about the episode’s impact on the impartiality of the body. In so doing, they suggest getting rid of the reappointment process altogether:

Should WTO Members conclude now that they would like to do still more to help ensure the impartial independence of the Appellate Body, we suggest that the current system of reappointment be abolished. Instead of one four-year term, with the possibility of a second four-year term, we recommend a single, longer term for all Members of the Appellate Body.

Practice regarding reappointment is mixed in other international judicial bodies. The International Court of Justice permits reappointment while the International Criminal Court does not (unless the judge has served less than a third of a full term). At the regional level, the European Court of Justice allows reappointment, but the European Court of Human Rights gives judges nonrenewable nine-year terms. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has six-year judicial terms and allows judges to be reappointed only once.

In the academic literature, a number of scholars–and a few former practitioners–have attempted to understand how states use appointment and reappointment processes to manage and influence international courts. For insightful articles, see here and here.

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The lonely U.S. bid to unseat a WTO judge

By David Bosco

Given its power, the World Trade Organization’s appellate body receives very little attention. Its seven members generally toil in obscurity even as they issue rulings on trade disputes with huge economic implications. But a U.S. campaign to unseat one appellate body member has brought the WTO’s judicial arm unusual attention.

The dispute emerged earlier this month at a session of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), a WTO committee that includes all members. The United States opposed what would normally be the routine reappointment of appellate body member Seung Wha Chang, a South Korean national. In the International Trade Daily, Bryce Baschuk provides context:

The U.S. opposition comes during a precarious time for the WTO dispute settlement system, which is overburdened by a heavy workload of complex dispute cases and a growing shortage of senior dispute settlement judges.

More than two-dozen WTO members—including Brazil, the European Union, Japan, and South Korea—commented on the U.S. decision and many said it posed a serious threat to the independence and impartiality of the appellate body.

Unless the U.S. withdraws its opposition, Chang’s term will end on May 31 and open a second vacancy on the seven-member panel.

International trade expert Gregory Shaffer sees in the U.S. move a serious threat to the WTO’s integrity:

[The U.S. Trade Representative’s] hubris could be explained if this were Putin’s Russia. Or perhaps Trump’s America. But the Obama administration? Has this fallen outside the President’s radar? It is a high-risk strategy for an administration that professes to be internationalist. The core reason for building a global trade regime is to create a third party institution that helps manage conflicts that could ultimately endanger international welfare, peace, and security.

Even if Shaffer is overstating matters, U.S. isolation on this issue is striking; the summary of the DSB session indicates very little support for the American position. It is conceivable that there is broader dissatisfaction with Chang and that the United States is taking the hit for others (it wouldn’t be the first time). But the episode may also represent a new instance of hamfisted diplomacy in the international economic realm (with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank imbroglio being the most notable recent example).

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Ban Ki-moon chides big powers for absenteeism

By David Bosco

With the end of his term approaching, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon isn’t mincing words. He expressed frustration earlier this week that so few of the G7 countries sent their leaders to the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Via the Christian Science Monitor:

In closing the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit he had called to address the 125 million people currently in need of some form of assistance, Mr. Ban said Tuesday night, “It’s a bit disappointing that some leaders could not be here, especially those of the G7” group of industrialized countries. ”They are the richest countries in the world, and they show leadership by example.”

That’s about as severe a lashing as the world’s top diplomat ever gives the most powerful members of the organization he runs. Yet the mild-mannered Ban didn’t stop there, but went on to single out the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: “The absence of those leaders from this meeting do not provide an excuse for inaction.”

Germany’s Angela Merkel was the only G7 leader to attend the gathering. Countries represented by their heads of state included Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Croatia, Madagascar, Niger, Palestine, and Ukraine.

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Canada moves toward the AIIB

By David Bosco

Likely in deference to U.S. wishes, Canada declined the opportunity to be a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the new Beijing-led multilateral lender. But it sure sounds like Ottawa is angling for membership now. And Chinese officials insist that the door remains open.

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The AIIB’s cautious first moves

China’s push to create the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) generated intense speculation that Beijing was challenging the existing multilateral architecture. With the AIIB’s first annual meeting just weeks away, what does the early evidence suggest about the course it will take? Ankit Panda argues that the Bank’s first steps appear aimed at complementing rather than supplanting existing institutions.

 A year and a few weeks ago, the AIIB’s 57 founding members finalized its charter; in the final days of 2015, the members ratified the bank’s Articles of Agreement. Finally, early in the new year, the AIIB opened its doors for business. Now, just over three months into its operations, the AIIB has decided on its first projects. As I’d briefly discussed in April, the AIIB’s first projects have demonstrated that concerns a year ago in Washington and Tokyo may have been overstated. For now, the bank appears to be pursuing a modest and complementary approach in selecting its projects.

One of the bank’s first confirmed projects, the construction of a 64 kilometer stretch of a highway in Pakistan, demonstrates this. The AIIB will partner with the ADB, as Reuters reported last week. “I am delighted to take a further step forward in our partnership with ADB,” AIIB President Jin Liqun said in a statement posted to the AIIB’s website. Per the memorandum of understanding between the two banks, the AIIB will work with the ADB to cooperate on the highway, which will connect Shorkot to Khanewal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The AIIB is also separately planning on co-financing projects with the World Bank and, on Monday, formally announced another co-financed project, this time with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to improve roads along the “Tajikistan section of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Corridor, [near the border with Uzbekistan].”

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Turkey feuds with UN human rights officials

By David Bosco

Turkish officials are exchanging words with senior UN human rights monitors about the situation in the southeast of the country. Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the situation in the town of Cizre, in particular:

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Tuesday that he had received a succession of alarming reports about violations allegedly committed by Turkish military and security forces in south-east Turkey over the past few months, and urged the Turkish authorities to give independent investigators, including UN staff, unimpeded access to the area to verify the veracity of such reports.

“More and more information has been emerging from a variety of credible sources about the actions of security forces in the town of Cizre during the extended curfew there from mid-December until early March,” Zeid said. “And the picture that is emerging, although still sketchy, is extremely alarming.”

For its part, the Turkish government insists that Zeid is misinformed and that UN officials are welcome to visit the area in question. “High Commissioner Zeid’s statements, which do not reflect the spirit of cooperation between Turkey and the U.N. in the field of human rights, are based on insufficient information and misdirection of biased circles,” a government official said. “In case he wishes, we would be pleased to host Mr. Zeid in our country in a way that would cover our Southeastern Anatolia region too.”

For detailed information on Turkey’s interactions with the UN human rights system, see here.

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The IMF arrives in Ukraine

With Ukraine’s new government in place, a team from the International Monetary Fund has arrived for talks on how to restart the country’s stalled loan program.

An International Monetary Fund team arrived in Kiev on Tuesday after the formation of a new Ukrainian government resolved a prolonged political crisis that had stalled the release of vital aid.

The mission’s visit was long awaited in the cash-strapped former Soviet country as it grapples with the costs of a two-year conflict in the pro-Russian separatist east and attempts to dig out of a dramatic economic swoon.

The Fund approved a new $17.5-billion (15.4-billion-euro) loan programme in March 2015 that included an initial lump payment of $5 billion and provided for the subsequent release of $1.7 billion every three months.

But Ukraine has so far only received $6.7 billion and seen no new disbursements since the second half of last year.

Anders Aslund explains what the Fund wants from the new government.

The Ukrainian parliament needs to pass a package of nineteen laws, involving public administration, deregulation, corporate governance, extending the list of state companies subject to privatization, and elements of judicial reform, to satisfy the IMF. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman has promised to have them adopted and seems to have secured parliamentary support.

The IMF greatly appreciates Ukraine’s energy reform. On May 1, the Ukrainian government finally unified both gas and electricity prices. After a quarter of a century, Ukraine’s influential gas traders can no longer buy the state through privileged arbitrage. No previous Ukrainian government policy has done so much to reduce corruption. Basically, this decision to unify prices should be sufficient for the IMF to offer the Ukrainian government a new tranche of $1.7 billion. Ukraine needs it badly to be able to start economic recovery.

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