At the 12 December General Council, WTO members agreed with Chair Ihara's proposal to launch an informal process to overcome the impasse on the selection of Appellate Body members. Normally, there are seven members of the Appellate Body but the deadlock has prevented the appointment of new members to fill vacancies created when a member's term expires. As a result, there are currently only three sitting AB members, the minimum required for any appeal.
Following the General Council, Chair Ihara met with 25 delegations to hear their views on how he should proceed. He told an informal Heads of Delegation meeting on 17 January that these consultations revealed most delegations believed the issue of the Appellate Body needed to be addressed "very urgently", that the immediate outcome of the informal process should be the unblocking of the selection process and that discussions between members should be solution-oriented, focused and issue specific.
Chair Ihara said in looking for a facilitator he sought an ambassador with "thorough knowledge and practical experience" in WTO dispute settlement, someone who had chaired a WTO body and someone familiar with WTO informal processes. Amb. Walker accepted the chair's invitation and spoke to members at the 17 January meeting where he led the discussions.
During the meeting, WTO members debated three proposals on reforming the Appellate Body. While significant differences between members remain, there was a high level of engagement between ambassadors and all delegations showed willingness to intensify their efforts to finding a solution."I believe we had a good kick off to this process," said Amb. Walker. "I will reach out to members and discuss with them how to take the process forward, always in a solution-oriented spirit."