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The World Trade Organization's (WTO's) dispute settlement system is facing “unprecedented challenges,” with the current U.S. government waging a “stealth war” on the Organization's Appellate Body (AB). The tactics of this war include procedural objections to the (re)appointment of AB members—those individuals selected to sit in Geneva and rule on trade disputes. Countries have blocked appointments in the past, but the Trump administration's strategy to effectively shut down the AB's ability to hear disputes—by bringing the number of sitting judges below the required three to hear a dispute—represents a new development. In short, the trade regime is dying a slow, piecemeal death, with American challenges “killing the WTO from the inside.” Yet the sources of this crisis are not new. The organization's judges and bureaucracy have deftly managed simmering discontent for nearly two decades, but we have now reached a boiling point. In this contribution, I first describe the sources of the current impasse before discussing how the WTO's adjudicative bodies have sought to address government dissatisfaction in the past and the implications of such judicial responsiveness for reform of the system moving forward.
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