Venezuela launches WTO legal challenge against US sanctions

Venezuela's complaint comes days before President Nicolas Maduro is to be sworn in for a new term after a controversial re-election (AFP Photo/Federico Parra)

Geneva (AFP) - Venezuela launched a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization Tuesday against a raft of US sanctions, even as Washington announced new measures targeting the crisis-hit country.

Venezuela's complaint takes aim at four rounds of sanctions adopted by President Donald Trump's government against Caracas last year.

The measures target Venezuela's financial system and key members of President Nicolas Maduro's inner circle.

The new sanctions announced by the US Treasury Department Tuesday, which are not named in Venezuela's WTO complaint, focus on seven individuals including the owner of news network Globovision for allegedly plundering billions of dollars through black-market currency exchanges.

In the complaint circulated to the WTO's 164 members, Caracas accuses Washington of trying "to isolate Venezuela economically."

The complaint, known as "a request for consultations" in WTO parlance, accuses the US of multiple violations of international trade law, including the illegal use of "coercive trade-restrictive measures."

Under WTO rules, the US has 60 days to respond to Venezuela's complaint, posted Tuesday on the WTO website.

If the two sides fail to reach a compromise through consultations -- a near certainty given the hostility between the Trump and Maduro governments -- Venezuela can ask for an arbitration panel to hear the case.

The complaint came days before Maduro is to be sworn in for a new term after a controversial re-election.

Venezuela has faced a mounting economic crisis as prices sag for its oil exports and Maduro's socialist government struggles to ensure supply of medicine and basic foods.

Inflation is expected to soar to 10 million percent in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.

More than 2.3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, with the United Nations expecting the number to surpass 5.3 million this year.