WTO to rule in Swiss row with Trump over tariffs

The World Trade Organization agreed Tuesday to hear complaints from Switzerland and India over US steel and aluminium tariffs, bringing the total number of such complaints it is reviewing to nine.

WTO to rule in Swiss row with Trump over tariffs
US President Donald Trump says massive flows of imports to the US threaten national security. Photo: AFP

The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has agreed to establish panels to review US President Donald Trump's decision to hit a long line of countries with tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium.

The DSB accepted Tuesday to create separate panels to hear the complaints by Switzerland and India, after the two countries filed a second request for their cases to be heard.

The DSB already agreed last month to establish panels to hear disputes brought by the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Russia and Turkey.

Marking a departure from a decades-long US-led drive for free trade, Trump has justified the steep tariffs with claims that massive flows of imports to the United States threaten national security.

Washington invoked a rarely used WTO exception that allows a country to take “any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests”.

The decision to establish the panels follows rounds of failed consultations between the parties and mark an escalation in an ongoing showdown at the WTO around Trump's controversial trade policies.

Under WTO regulations, parties in a dispute can block a first request for the creation of an arbitration panel, but if the parties make a second request, it is all but guaranteed to go through.

Russia on Tuesday blocked a first request from Washington to establish a dispute panel to rule on the legality of retaliatory tariffs imposed by Moscow.

But the DSB has already agreed to hear US complaints over similar retaliatory duties imposed by Canada, China, the European Union, and Mexico on US imports, and should soon agree to hear the US complaint over the Russian tariffs.

Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia blocked a first request from Qatar for a panel to hear its complaint over Saudi Arabia's alleged failure to provide adequate protection of the intellectual property rights of Qatari-based 

Qatar launched the dispute in October, accusing Saudi Arabia of blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN and of not taking proper action against piracy of beIN's content by a Saudi-based piracy outlet called “beoutQ”.

According to a Geneva trade official, Saudi Arabia insisted on Tuesday that the severance of diplomatic ties with Qatar made it impossible to conduct any dispute settlement in the matter.

Evoking the issue of national security, it insisted that a WTO panel had no power to rule in the matter and could not be turned into a venue to resolve national security disputes.

The US, Egypt and Bahrain came out in support of the Saudi position at Tuesday's meeting of the DSB, while the European Union and Turkey spoke up for Qatar's call for a panel, the Geneva trade official said.