At a World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva on Monday, it was confirmed that the US had lodged an appeal against a disputes court ruling in China’s favour

China had sued the US over the unilateral imposition of two rounds of trade war tariffs, but lack of appeal court means US appeal cannot be heard

The United States has lodged an appeal against a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that some of President Donald Trump’s trade war tariffs on China were unlawful, according to a Geneva trade official.

The move was announced by the chair of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body at the start of a meeting in Geneva on Monday.

The US move effectively derails any action China might have taken against the dispute award, made in September.

The WTO’s appellate body – the Geneva body’s final appeal court –

, after the US refused to confirm any new judges in protest over perceived overreach in the court’s judgments. In WTO parlance, the case will now be “appealed into the void”, since there is no appeal court to hear it.

A disputes court panel ruled in China’s favour in September over unilateral US tariffs imposed on US$234 billion worth of goods in 2018 and 2019, after the US failed to convince the panel that the tariffs were legitimate under a “public morals” defence.

Additional WTO suits brought by Beijing over further rounds of US tariffs on China are still under review.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer lashed out against the ruling in September, saying: “This panel report confirms what the Trump administration has been saying for four years: the WTO is completely inadequate to stop China’s harmful technology practises.”

Thus, the US’ decision to appeal has not come as a surprise to trade watchers.

“With the Appellate Body no longer able to function, governments have the ability to appeal cases to prevent them from having legal effect. The US has done this before, and was expected to do this here,” said Simon Lester, a policy analyst at the pro-free trade Cato Institute.

“In terms of the practical effects of the US appeal, they are probably limited. Ultimately, the most a WTO victory can provide is authorisation to impose retaliatory sanctions,” Lester added. “But here, China already retaliated for the US tariffs at issue, so this WTO authorisation wouldn’t add much. It is more of a moral victory than a step towards US compliance.”

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