The US move towards unilateralism accelerated in 2016, when the supposedly multilateralist administration of Barack Obama ousted a Korean Appellate Body member because it did not agree with the latter’s judgments in four trade disputes involving the United States.


I was reading this article and was surprised that the U.S. ousted a Korean Appellate Body member for not agreeing with its own judgment in four trade disputes involving it. Is there any other country with the power to make similar unilateral moves within the organization, or is it something that only the U.S. can do?

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    For more clarity, you should probably define what you mean by "unilateral moves", but I can certainly answer the Q as to whom can block appointments, which is certainly within the scope given your example. Jan 21 at 10:32

2 Answers 2


During GATT time, it had become pretty common to block settlements:

The GATT dispute settlement system had become dysfunctional due to the requirement that GATT panel reports (‘reports’ is GATT/WTO parlance for ‘judgments’) had to be adopted by consensus among all GATT Contracting Parties in order to become legally binding. As from the early 1980s onwards, more and more GATT panel reports did not become legally binding because the losing party refused to join the consensus to adopt the report. The new WTO dispute settlement system resolved this problem by providing that panel reports are adopted by negative consensus (i.e., a report is adopted unless there is a consensus not to adopt the report). This, for all practical purposes, means that the adoption is quasi-automatic. As a safeguard against flawed panel reports, the WTO dispute settlement system provides for the possibility of appellate review of panel reports by a standing Appellate Body, an appeals tribunal composed of 7 judges.

There's not a list of countries who did that there, but you can probably research that further yourself. As for the DSB appointments that the US is blocking in the WTO scheme:

According to Article 2 of the DSU, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), which is composed of senior representatives of all 164 WTO Members, is established to ‘administer’ the rules and procedures of WTO dispute settlement. This ‘administration’ includes: (1) the establishment of the ad hoc WTO dispute settlement panels; (2) the adoption of panel and Appellate Body reports (which renders recommendations and rulings of these reports legally binding); and (3) the authorization of retaliation measures in case of non-compliance with the recommendations and rulings of adopted panel and Appellate Body reports. The DSB takes the decisions on these matters by reverse consensus, which means – as explained above – that the decision is taken unless Members decide by consensus not to take the proposed decision. As there is arguably always at least one Member that wants the decision to be taken (e.g. the Member requesting the establishment of a panel or the Member that is the ‘winning’ party in a dispute) a consensus not to take the decision is highly unlikely. There has never been such an instance to date. While decisions on the three matters referred to above are taken by reverse consensus, the DSB takes all other decisions by ‘normal’ consensus. As stated in footnote 1 of the DSU, a decision is taken by consensus ‘if no Member, present at the meeting of the DSB when the decision is taken, formally objects to the proposed decision’. Note that while for other bodies of the WTO (including the General Council), there is – at least in theory – the possibility of recourse to voting if consensus cannot be reached, the DSB can only take decisions by (normal or reverse) consensus, never by voting. Most important among the decisions that the DSB must take by ‘normal’ consensus is, pursuant to Article 17.2 of the DSU, the decision on the appointment of Appellate Body members.

And the latter is how the US is blocking appointments. In theory, any WTO member country can do this, i.e. block any/all DSB appointments, because the latter need (direct/non-reverse) consensus! And there is in fact one (small) precedent to what the US did:

As regards the procedure for the appointment of Appellate Body members, note that to facilitate the decision-making process, a Selection Committee, composed of the five ambassadors chairing the most important WTO political bodies and the WTO Director-General, make – after intensive consultations with the WTO membership and interviewing the candidates – a proposal to the DSB on whom to appoint.28 While the appointment process became increasingly acrimonious and ‘politicized’, the work of the Selection Committee allowed the DSB to come to consensus decisions on appointments until and including the appointment of Hyun Chong Kim (Korea) in 2016. Before 2017, only once a WTO Member objected – at least initially – to an appointment proposed by the Selection Committee. [footnote:] In 2008, Chinese Taipei objected to the proposal of the Selection Committee to appoint Yuejiao Zhang, a national of China, as Appellate Body Member.

Apparently Taiwan could be convinced then to remove their objection. But, yeah, in theory any WTO member country can block such appointments indefinitely, under the current DSB rules.


Yes, other countries have done so. The sentence immediately prior to the one quoted states that India was responsible for killing the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2013.

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    I don't see how this is related to the Q, unless you consider any and all [new] trade treaties part of WTO, or something like that. Jan 21 at 10:27

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