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The monthly meeting of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlement body had to be cancelled today, a highly unusual occurrence, due to disagreements between the United States and Venezuela over the inclusion on the agenda of a trade dissent affecting both.
The meeting was suspended after the United States requested at the beginning of the meeting to remove this bilateral dispute from the agenda because it did not come from the “legitimate Government of Venezuela,” in reference to the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuela, on the other hand, wanted the WTO to create a panel today to analyze numerous trade sanctions issued in recent years by the United States against Maduro’s regime in order to judge whether or not they comply with international trade law.
The Venezuelan delegation insisted that it was within its rights to bring the issue to the WTO, thus initiating a debate in which countries like Cuba or Russia expressed their support for Venezuela while others like Peru, Brazil or Colombia positioned themselves on the U.S. side.
The dispute settlement body finally decided to suspend the meeting to allow time for consultations to continue before its next meeting on April 28.
Venezuela took its disagreements with the United States to the WTO on December 28, 2018, which in theory opened a phase of bilateral consultations between Washington and Caracas that never took place, due to the refusal of the Administration then presided by Donald Trump to dialogue with Maduro’s regime.
The dispute settlement mechanism establishes that, if after two months of bilateral dialogue an agreement has not been reached, the WTO can create a panel to deal with the matter in case the country that has opened the case requests it.
Venezuela has apparently taken two years to try to move to that second phase in the hope that the new U.S. administration of Democrat Joe Biden would adopt a “more open” position.
The suspension of today’s meeting has forced the postponement of other discussions, since the agenda also included trade disputes such as the long-standing conflict between Airbus and Boeing, or the dispute between China and Australia over the export of agricultural products.
This is the first meeting of the dispute settlement body since the arrival of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as WTO director-general on March 1st.