India will only finalise new deals at a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting if the United States stops blocking an agreement on a dispute settlement mechanism, New Delhi’s trade minister said on Wednesday.

Delegates are hoping for progress on issues such as fisheries and agriculture at the WTO’s 13th ministerial meeting, underway in Abu Dhabi.

But Indian minister Piyush Goyal told AFP on the sidelines of the talks his country would not “finalise” any new agreements without progress on the dispute-settlement system.

“It’s important that the first issue we should settle is that there should be an appellate body and some countries are not allowing that to happen,” he said.

Washington brought a WTO dispute settlement to a grinding halt in 2019 after blocking for years the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court.

Goyal said that “the entire working of WTO currently has come to a little bit of a standstill”.

New agreements require full consensus between the WTO’s 164 member states as per the body’s rules.

“I think it’s important that the issues which relate to the past and have been under consideration for many years should be addressed first and among them is the appellate body which is of prime importance,” Goyal said.

“Only after that, we can look at fresh other issues in the future,” Goyal added.

Washington had accused the appellate body of over-interpreting WTO rules and said that judges’ decisions should not go against the national security of countries.

It is now pushing for a dispute settlement reform that will create a “fair” system and not replicate the flaws of the previous body, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said this week.

During the last WTO ministerial conference in 2022, member states committed to hold discussions on the dispute settlement system “with a view to having a fully operational system by 2024”.

But there has been little progress, causing frustration ahead of the possible reelection of Donald Trump as US president in November.

When asked if the issue should have been resolved before the Abu Dhabi conference, Goyal said: “It should have been fixed, because unless that is fixed, every other decision is only a paper decision” that cannot be implemented.

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