China is set to get its first judge on the World Trade Organization’s highest court, diplomats and officials said.

Yuejiao Zhang is among three women expected to fill four soon-to-be vacant seats on the WTO Appellate Body, which issues rulings in international trade disputes that can be worth billions of dollars.

A selection committee including WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has also endorsed Jennifer Hillman of the United States, Lilia Bautista of the Philippines, and Shotaro Oshima of Japan to join the seven-member body, sources said.

The four candidates are expected to be officially selected at a Monday meeting at the WTO, where any of the trade body’s 151 member states can block them.

Hillman and Bautista would join the top court next month, replacing Yasuhei Taniguchi of Japan and Merit Janow of the United States, the first woman to serve as WTO appellate judge.

Zhang and Oshima would join in June, taking the place of Georges Michel Abi-Saab of Egypt and Arumugamangalam Venkatachalam Ganesan of India. The judges can serve up to two four-year terms.

Trade disputes between countries are expected to become more frequent and acute in coming years, especially if efforts to wrap up six-year-old talks over a new global trade pact collapse.

All WTO member states can ask for a ruling about other countries’ policies that they believe violate international trade rules. Disputes are first reviewed by a three-member panel, whose findings can be appealed to the Appellate Body.

The United States and China have turned to the WTO to resolve several issues marring their economic relationship. Washington has launched disputes over Chinese rules on car parts, taxes, copyright protection and movies, and Beijing has brought a case on US policies affecting its paper industry.

According to the WTO, “each member of the Appellate Body is required to be a person of recognized authority, with demonstrated expertise in law, international trade and the subject matter of the covered agreements generally”.

“They are also required to be unaffiliated with any government and are to be broadly representative of the membership of the WTO,” a statement on its website reads. (Reuters)