11 September 2003
WTO disputes overtake 300 mark
Three hundred and one disputes have been initiated under the dispute settlement system of the World Trade Organization since its creation less than nine years ago. This compares to the roughly 300 disputes brought to its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), during its entire existence of almost 50 years.
Under the WTO dispute settlement system, once a Member government has initiated a dispute settlement proceeding against another Member government, there is a mandatory 60-day consultation period between the disputants before either Member can request the establishment of an independent three-person panel to hear and rule on the dispute. Significantly, in over 100 cases the dispute has been clearly settled or defused as a result of these mandatory bilateral consultations. With respect to another 70 or so of the complaints, the parties are either continuing to consult bilaterally or the complaint has not been pursued further. Of the 301 disputes initiated so far in the WTO, only about one third have led to the creation of a panel. Any panel report can be appealed by either party to the WTO Appellate Body, which has happened for seven of every ten panel reports to date.
Overall, since 1995 developing countries have brought nearly 40% of the complaints filed in the WTO. However, since 2000, developing countries have brought nearly 60% of the complaints.
The WTO's unique system of settling disputes continues to show how even the most intractable international issues can be resolved successfully under a multilaterally-agreed system, said Dr. Supachai. A few headline-grabbing disputes belie the fact that a large number of cases brought to the WTO are settled without litigation. However, where litigation is necessary, the WTO offers an efficient, impartial, and highly credible system within which Members can present their arguments and receive rulings to help them to resolve their differences. It is noteworthy that the 146 WTO Member governments account for some 97% of the US$8 trillion worth of international trade annually. Only a small part of that trade is affected by disputes brought to the WTO. The existence of a WTO dispute settlement system encourages countries to abide by the WTO rules they have agreed and to look to the WTO for multilateral solutions when problems arise. The WTO system advances international cooperation by discouraging unilateral action by Members and encouraging agreed trade solutions to trade disputes.
Under the former GATT's procedure for settling disputes, there were no fixed timetables, adoption of rulings could be blocked by the losing party, there was no Appellate Body, and many cases dragged on for a long time inconclusively. Under the WTO, access to panels and the Appellate Body is automatic, rulings by Panels and the Appellate Body are automatically adopted unless there is a consensus to reject a ruling, binding arbitration is available, and surveillance of a Party's implementation of adverse rulings is more rigorous. These new features in the WTO dispute settlement system have led to a greater percentage of disputes being resolved successfully and on a more timely basis than was previously the case under the GATT.
Note to Editors
All figures as at 11 September 2003.
An overview of all the 301 disputes is available on the WTO website.
A summary of some of the statistics is given below:
Annual progress of disputes
25 cases filed
39 cases filed
50 cases filed
41 cases filed
30 cases filed
34 cases filed
23 cases filed
37 cases filed
2003 (till 11 September)
22 cases filed (up to DS301)
Number of cases by country
|Antigua and Barbuda||1||0||Mexico||13||10|
|Dominican Republic||0||1||Slovak Republic||0||3|
|Honduras||5||0||Trinidad and Tobago||0||2|
|Hong Kong, China||1||0||Turkey||2||7|
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WTO dispute settlement statistics as at 11 September 2003
|Requests for consultations||25||39||50||41||30||34||23||37||22||301|
|Panels established by DSB 1||5||12||15||14||20||11||15||11||15||118|
|Number of disputes covered by panels established 2||9||12||22||15||23||12||16||18||19||146|
|Panels composed 3||4||9||13||11||19||7||12||8||8||91|
|Number of disputes covered by panels composed||8||9||20||12||22||8||13||15||8||115|
|DG composition 4||||3||7||4||9||4||9||6||6||48|
|Mutually agreed solutions||3||7||10||11||1||7||10||5||3||57|
|Panel Reports circulated 5||||4||10||10||13||18||7||10||7||79|
|Panel Reports adopted||||2||5||12||9||15||13||11||6||73|
|Appeals notified 6 (not including 21.5 appeals)||||4||6||8||9||11||5||6||3||52|
|Appellate Body Reports adopted||||2||5||8||7||8||9||6||3||48|
|Article 21.3 Awards circulated||||||1||3||2||3||4||2||2||17|
|Article 21.5 Panel Reports circulated||||||||||2||5||5||2||0||14|
|Article 21.5 Panel Reports adopted||||||||||1||4||4||1||2||12|
|Article 21.5 appeals notified||||||||||||2||4||1||1||8|
|Article 21.5 Appellate Body reports adopted||||||||||||2||3||1||2||8|
|Article 22.6 Arbitration Decisions circulated||||||||||3||2||0||1||1||7|
|Article 25 Arbitrations Award circulated||||||||||||||1||0||0||1|
 As the dates of
the establishment of a panel and the constitution of a panel may be in
two different years, the date of establishment of a panel is taken as
the base for these statistics.
 In some cases, several similar disputes were consolidated into one panel proceeding; thus, the number of disputes that have gone to a panel exceed the number of panels established i.e. the recent US Steel Safeguards case was established as one panel but deals with eight complaints (WT/DS248, WT/DS249, WT/DS251, WT/DS252, WT/DS253, WT/DS254, WT/DS258, WT/DS259).
 In some cases where there have been decisions by the DSB to establish a panel, the dispute has been settled before the actual constitution of the panel; in other cases, panels are still in the composition stage.
 Pursuant to Article 8.7 of the DSU, if, within 20 days after the establishment of a panel, the parties cannot decide on the selection of the panellists either party can request the Director-General to determine the composition of the panel either in its entirety or partially in those cases where the parties have agreed on some but not all of the panellists.
 In three instances, the parties notified a mutually agreed solution before the issuance of the final panel report. Therefore, a short panel report was circulated but was not adopted i.e. WT/DS7/R and WT/DS12/R, WT/DS14/R in 1996; and WT/DS72/R in 1999.
 In the disputes EC Hormones (WT/DS26 and WT/DS48) and US 1916 Act (WT/DS136 and WT/DS162), there were separate panel reports but they were joined at the appeal stage.