America is preventing the WTO from getting enough judges to settle trade disputes.
The World Trade Organisation was set up in 1995 to help the countries of the world trade with each other as much as possible and settle any arguments its 164 members have. It is generally credited as doing the job it’s supposed to do - global trade rose 17 percent from when it was founded to 2017. But on the 11th December the WTO stopped functioning properly because the USA has prevented it from appointing any new judges.
These judges are the people who rule on trade disputes. Without them, countries who have problems with each other's trade practices (like America and China at the moment) have nowhere neutral to bring their case, and may therefore resort to instead raising tit-for-tat tariffs (taxes) on each others products.
Some people wouldn’t be sorry if the WTO goes permanently. It’s been criticised for favouring big, powerful countries and for being undemocratic. And countries that have elected protectionist leaders, like America’s Donald Trump, increasingly want to put their own interests first, saying that the globalised system of multinational firms has been a bad deal for ordinary folk.
Others think that free trade has created a lot of benefits for many people all over the world, both by helping companies grow richer (which often means they pay more tax and hire more staff) and by giving consumers access to cheaper things from all over the world.
Read our explainer on: what is the World Trade Organisation?