In 2015, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body faced unprecedented challenges. Many consider the large number of dispute reports a testament to the success of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, but others fear that the future success of that system is by no means assured. Recently, there have been delays in the dispute settlement process. Some argue that the factual intensity and overall complexity of disputes is pushing the limits of the system’s capacity and stretching the resources of the WTO’s Secretariat to the breaking point. Moreover, the limited outcomes of the recent Nairobi Ministerial Conference demonstrate that the WTO’s negotiating branch itself is beset with stasis and challenges, leading WTO Members to look more frequently to the dispute settlement system for answers to problems that cannot be overcome through negotiations. A further challenge emerges with the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), and progress on other “mega-regionals.” Some suggest that the dispute settlement mechanisms in regional trade agreements (RTAs) may offer appealing alternatives to the WTO, especially where underlying disciplines in RTAs are more expansive than those offered under the WTO covered agreements.
Sidley’s Geneva team, in an initiative led by Christian Lau, brought together a panel of five leading WTO law practitioners to talk freely about these challenges. The panel for “WTO Dispute Settlement in 2016: Blue Skies or Storm Clouds Ahead?” included James Flett (EU Commission, Legal Service); Professor Gabrielle Marceau (Professor, UNIGE and Counselor, WTO Legal Affairs Division); Koji Saito (Director, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs); Iain Sandford (Partner, Sidley) and David Unterhalter (Former Appellate Body Member).
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|Christian A. Lau
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