By Tom Miles
GENEVA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - A surge in trade disputes has
forced the World Trade Organization to reallocate staff to cope
with a flood of litigation in the pipeline for 2013, according
to diplomats and documents at the global trade body in Geneva.
The WTO's 157 members have launched 26 trade disputes so far
in 2012, the most since 2003 and three times more than the eight
new complaints filed in 2011.
According to an internal WTO document seen by Reuters, the
WTO decided to reallocate staff to the disputes team to deal
with the increasing number and complexity of legal cases.
"We are seeking to reallocate resources from other
divisions. It's happening already," said one WTO source.
As well as moving staff, the trade body also advertised for
a senior dispute settlement lawyer, at a starting salary of
around 161,900 Swiss francs ($175,300), and is seeking short
term candidates to help deal with the caseload.
The boom in litigation comes as the WTO struggles to get
back on the path to reforming its rules, after the failure of
the decade-old Doha round of trade negotiations last year.
"The less you negotiate the more you litigate, and vice
versa," said one trade diplomat.
The resort to the dispute settlement system signifies both
trust in the global trade rules and distrust among its members,
as they fight for a share of a pie that is not quite shrinking,
but expected to grow by a mere 2.5 percent this year.
Although the WTO expects global trade growth to quicken to
4.5 percent in 2013, that would remain below the annual average
of 5.4 percent over the past two decades.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy will report to WTO members
on the global trading environment on Monday, armed with a report
showing they had brought in 308 new trade-restricting policies,
covering 1.3 percent of traded goods, over the past 12 months.
"The difficulties and concerns generated by the persistence
of the global economic crisis, with its many facets, are
fuelling the political and economic pressures put on governments
to raise trade barriers," Lamy's report says. "This is not the
time to succumb to these pressures."
US AND CHINA UNDER FIRE
The countries attracting most complaints in 2012 were China
and the United States, each the target of six disputes. The
United States also initiated the most disputes - three against
China and one apiece against Argentina and India.
This year's new disputes included many that were either
apparent tit-for-tat actions or counter-challenges, ensuring
that the heat was concentrated in certain areas.
Solar power components were the subject of several disputes,
as accusations flew that China's overstimulated producers had
flooded the world with cheap supply. China hit back with its own
claims against the United States and the EU, alleging that the
U.S. case was illegal and renewable energy markets in Italy and
Greece were rigged in favour of local firms.
Other recent disputes have taken aim at countries using
environmental or health concerns as trade barriers, such as
China's export restrictions on rare earths and Australia's tough
cigarette packaging laws.
One of the most fertile areas for potential new disputes in
2013 is trade-distorting subsidies, whether overt or covert.
The United States and China are already wrangling over the
legality of Beijing's alleged subsidies and Washington's
attempts to root them out.
But China was hit from an unexpected angle in October when
Mexico launched a wide-ranging complaint about China's support
for exports of clothes and textiles.
Eight WTO members - including the EU, United States, Brazil
and Australia - asked to observe the case as interested third
parties but, in a highly unusual move, China refused to admit
any of them, cloaking the dispute in even more secrecy than is
usual and fuelling speculation that it is concerned about others
building their own case against Beijing.
Covert subsidies include "local content" rules, where a
country makes sure local firms get a certain cut of government
projects at the expense of foreign competitors.
Appetite for "local content" disputes has been boosted by a
case against Canada brought by the EU and Japan, which Canada is
expected to lose.
China has already brought the complaint against renewable
energy rules in Italy and Greece, while the EU, United States
and Japan have repeatedly criticised local-content rules in
Brazil, India, Indonesia and Nigeria.
More disputes could also come from this year's addition of
Russia to the WTO. The EU has said it is ready to take open
legal cases on several fronts, and the United States has said
Russia's rules on meat imports appear to be inconsistent with
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