Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Government seeks WTO pledge

A WAY OUT The row centers on Chinese judge Zhang Yuejiao, a senior counsel practicing in foreign investment law, international trade law and intellectual property

AP , TAIPEI

Taiwan may back away from its boycott of the placing of a Chinese judge on the WTO's top legal panel if it is assured of fair treatment, government spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉) said yesterday.

Last Monday, Taiwan blocked an entire dispute meeting after failing to persuade WTO members to delay the naming of new judges to the seven-member WTO appeals body. The meeting would have appointed four new members, including Beijing attorney Zhang Yuejiao (張月姣), who would have been the first Chinese judge.

Taiwan's refusal to allow the Chinese judge on the panel has paralyzed the work of the global trade body.

But Shieh said yesterday that the nation would back away from its opposition if impartiality by the Chinese judge were assured.

"We want a concrete assurance from the WTO that the Chinese judge will be impartial and not accept instructions from the Chinese government when handling matters regarding Taiwan," Shieh said.

"This is a legitimate request," he said, adding that Taiwan has been mistreated by China in many international organizations in the past.

The move came after Taiwan rejected calls on Friday from the world's biggest commercial powers to back down at a meeting called specifically to deal with the problem.

It has become an "extremely serious challenge to a system that is really the cornerstone of this organization," said Bruce Gosper, the Australian ambassador chairing the WTO's dispute settlement body.

For the 151-member WTO, whose global free-trade talks have repeatedly stalled, the dispute system and its regular sessions, investigative panels, rulings and occasional sanctions, has been a symbol of reliability. But many negotiators are warning that the continued failure of liberalization efforts could lead to a surge of new disputes.

"If this situation persists much longer then we'll have a crisis," Gosper said.

Taiwan has not publicly mentioned Zhang by name, but insists that it has serious reservations about the "impartiality and qualifications" of one of the possible judges. The other three nominations are from the US, Japan and the Philippines.

Zhang is senior counsel for Jun He Law Offices in Beijing, where she practices in the fields of foreign investment law, international trade law, intellectual property and arbitration. She was appointed director of the West African Development Bank in 2005 and has been a professor at Chinese schools and Columbia University in New York. Zhang speaks Mandarin, English and French.

The standoff has angered China and other countries as the failure to agree on an agenda is preventing the WTO from taking up a number of other major disputes.

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