Thailand is hoping to convince Asean members to promote and restore the World Trade Organization's (WTO) multilateral system of settling disputes.
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said as Thailand chairs Asean this year it will make such a proposal at the 2nd Asean senior meeting in Vientiane, Laos, scheduled for April 4-7.
"The WTO's heart is about to stand still, as it has not been able to appoint six of the seven members to the appellate body, with their terms expiring this December," said Mrs Auramon.
The appellate body is a seven-member group that functions as the WTO's highest adjudicator. Each member serves a four-year term, with the possibility of a one-time renewal.
The group has not been able to work at full capacity for over a year because of insufficient members. Under WTO rules, a minimum of three judges must sign off on any ruling.
Mrs Auramon said over the past few years, trade tensions have erupted, with many countries introducing protectionist measures on a bilateral basis. This is a challenge for the WTO, which was established to promote the principles of fair trade, liberalisation and transparency.
The WTO's general council, the highest decision-making body of the organisation, is chaired by ambassador Sunanta Kangvalkulkij of Thailand.
"Thailand is hopeful for urgent reform of the WTO, especially its dispute settlement mechanism," she said.
"The first priority is to speed up the appointment of vacant seats on its appellate body as soon as possible."
In a related development, Mrs Auramon said Thailand will delay its application to join a trans-Pacific free trade agreement until after the election.
The government, which had earlier intended to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) this month, will instead await a mandate from the next government, she said.
Mrs Auramon said Thailand is likely to join the CPTPP as a study conducted by the Trade Negotiations Department on the impact of participation found that it would benefit the Thai economy and draw more foreign investment.