World Trade Organization Receives Its 500th Dispute
In its 20th anniversary year, the World Trade Organization has reached a significant milestone with the receipt of its 500th trade dispute for settlement.
Since the WTO was established in January 1995, its members have initiated disputes covering a variety of trade concerns, and developing and developed members have brought complaints in about equal numbers. While the majority of complaints have focused on WTO rules regarding subsidies and anti-dumping, members have also challenged various tariff regimes, food safety measures, commitments in services schedules, labelling and packaging rules, animal welfare measures, and environmental schemes. Of the 500 cases filed, just over half have reached the litigation stage, suggesting that the system’s requirement for the members concerned to try to find a solution by consulting with each other helps to avoid many cases entering the litigation phase.
“This shows that the WTO’s dispute settlement system enjoys tremendous confidence among the membership, who value it as a fair, effective and efficient mechanism to solve trade problems,” said WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo.
A total of 300 disputes were brought under the dispute settlement system of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)—the predecessor to the WTO—over a period of 47 years.
The 500th dispute was submitted on November 10, when Pakistan filed a request for consultations with South Africa regarding South Africa’s provisional anti-dumping duty on cement from Pakistan. The two sides will now consult with the aim of arriving at a mutually agreed solution.
“There is no doubt that the WTO dispute settlement system has served the membership extremely well,” said Azevêdo. “It is a system recognized the world over for providing fair, high quality results that respond to both developing and developed members.”
Azevêdo acknowledged however that “the success has brought challenges and while the system is still faster than most if not all international dispute settlement systems operating today, we are clearly in a situation where the high demand is testing our capacity”.
Disputes are generally more complex and voluminous now than they were in the first decade of the WTO. As the jurisprudence has grown, so have the size and nature of parties’ submissions and the length of panel and Appellate Body reports. The disputes of today are different from those in the minds of the drafters of the dispute settlement rules, and appeals are not the rare occurrences members thought they would be.
“We are allocating more resources to dispute settlement and are working with members to find solutions. I am confident that we can work together to ensure that the dispute settlement system continues to provide members with the highest possible level of service,” said the Director General.
Of the 500 disputes have been brought to the WTO, 110 have been resolved bilaterally or withdrawn, 282 have proceeded to the litigation phase, and the remainder, no outcome has been notified to the WTO.
The authorization for a member to retaliate once another member has been found to be in violation of its WTO obligations has been given 18 times. WTO reports the compliance rate with dispute settlement rulings at 90 percent.