The event, co-organized by the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), is in two parts.
According to ICTSD research, 88% of developing countries say they are at a disadvantage in trade disputes because they have a more limited capacity to handle legal issues. The rest blamed the design of the dispute settlement system.
New in the event is a two-day “South-South Dialogue on Managing Trade Litigation”, on 3 and 4 May . This part of the event, coordinated by ICTSD, brings together 50 experts and delegates from the developing countries to discuss their experiences, and explore real-life challenges in litigation.
The Dialogue is interactive and designed to strengthen developing countries’ ability to manage international trade disputes.
Participants in the Dialogue include 25 delegates from WTO member governments who also took part earlier in the week in the latest three-day WTO advanced training course on dispute settlement on 30 April to 2 May, coordinated by the WTO and the ACWL. Experts on each of the stages of WTO dispute settlement provided instruction on their respective areas of expertise.
The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, working on the international trade system and sustainable development by sharing information and knowledge and promoting dialogue among a broad range of actors.
The Advisory Centre on WTO Law advises developing and least-developed countries on all issues relating to WTO law, including free legal advice in general or at discounted rates on WTO dispute settlement.
Learning from masters
“The dispute settlement system has provided great benefits to the multilateral trading system and all WTO members,” said WTO Deputy Director-General Alejandro Jara in his statement opening the course on 30 April.
“But developing countries can only make use of these opportunities if they have the means to navigate this increasingly complex legal system. It is not only about knowing the rules — but more so about knowing how to manage litigation in practice.”
ACWL Executive Director Frieder Roessler echoed Mr Jara’s sentiment: “The handling of WTO dispute settlement procedures is becoming increasingly complex, and this increasing complexity poses a challenge in the training of government officials from developing countries and LDCs,” he said.
“Nowadays training requires a combination of hands-on experience and the ability to transmit and share that know-how. This is the underlying philosophy of this workshop, and the ACWL is firmly committed to this approach.”
The Dialogue discussions on 3–4 May range from coordination among different government agencies, the use of private lawyers to manage conflict before it becomes litigation and the different experiences of different regions.
“There are some true dispute settlement masters among developing countries,” said ICTSD Senior Associate Miguel Rodriguez-Mendoza.
“To learn from their experiences can be vital for countries’ efforts to build the domestic systems needed for managing litigation. This starts with inter-agency coordination and ends with public-private partnerships to implementing authorised countermeasures.”
Participants in the Dialogue comprise senior dispute settlement delegates, independent experts, and the delegates that attended the earlier training workshop. The experts’ task is to identify best practices for resolving conflicts in the multilateral trade system, and to discuss litigation techniques and pitfalls.
“It’s a South-South conversation where the trainers are also the trainees, which has a different feel from a North-South exchange or classroom setting,” said one participant. “The countries represented here are diverse but share common challenges, and learning how your peers recently overcame the same problems you face today is a fruitful way to learn.”
Lauding the three institutions’ partnership, ICTSD’s Mr Rodriguez Mendoza said: “The opportunity to partner with the WTO and ACWL and bring all these countries together is crucial for shifting our focus from information gathering to information dissemination and active trade litigation capacity-building.”
“This is also a new way of capacity building in the WTO” said the WTO’s Mr Jara. “Bringing together three institutions with shared interests towards developing countries, but with distinct knowledge, expertise and experience in dispute settlement, can only enrich our TA [technical assistance] beneficiaries. We are keen to take this partnership forward into other areas and other regions.”