> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Good afternoon everyone. I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the DSB once again.

I spoke to you here just over a year ago, about the challenges facing the WTO dispute settlement system and what we were doing to address them.

There is no question that we have made some progress during the past year.

But, as you well know, things are still very challenging.

Many delegations referred to the current challenges we face at the August DSB meeting, and some of you have spoken to me about your concerns as well.

And of course I fully understand all those concerns.  

Our dispute settlement system is highly efficient — and remains faster than other international adjudicatory systems the world over. Nevertheless, we can do better.

So I want to talk to you today about the challenges before us, and what we can do to meet them.



Let me first explain what has been done since I spoke to you last September.

We continue to work under the zero nominal growth principle and caps on personnel expenditure and headcount. I have continued to reallocate existing resources to the legal divisions, but always observing these constraints that you have set.

Specifically, I promised to temporarily assign two to three staff members from non-dispute settlement divisions to pending and upcoming disputes as lead lawyers. This was done.

I also mentioned that I had allocated 15 additional lawyer posts to the three dispute settlement divisions — and that vacancies for these posts would be announced soon after my statement. Several recruitments followed.

But I have to tell you that it has not been easy to find the senior talent which is what we need most.

As you know, this is a specialized area of practice. People with the knowledge and experience required to lead teams supporting WTO dispute settlement panels are hard to find.

We have also lost out on occasion because we are not always competitive. Some attractive CVs were received but our offers were turned down because candidates preferred jobs elsewhere.

Despite these setbacks, I have continued to shore up the resources dedicated to dispute settlement by reallocating several posts from other divisions.

As I mentioned at the CBFA meeting on 23 October, a total of 19 lawyer posts ranging from Grade 7 through Grade 10 have been allocated as follows:

  • five to the Appellate Body Secretariat
  • seven to the Rules Division, and
  • seven to the Legal Affairs Division
  • In addition, eight posts for paralegals, secretaries and an editor were put in place in the three divisions.

Overall the number of professional posts in the three legal divisions has almost doubled since I took office in September 2013 — from 30 to 57 in terms of allocated posts.

We have also restructured our Languages, Documentation and Information Management Division in order to be able to cope with the extra burden on translation services. We have found it more appropriate to keep this specialized type of work in-house. As demand continues to increase, we will need to look at recruitment in this area to build up required expertise over time.



Looking ahead, I will continue doing all I can to direct available resources to the dispute settlement divisions.

As I mentioned last year, my intention is to create overcapacity in the dispute settlement area. Should dispute settlement activity wane in a year or two then we will put these talents to work elsewhere in the Secretariat — and bring them back if the workload in dispute settlement so requires.

However, it seems extremely unlikely that the high volume of casework is just a temporary surge.

2015 has turned out to be the busiest period on record with 30 active panels per month, on average.

  • Currently, there are 19 panels in the system — 12 in trade remedies, and seven in all other areas, as well as three appeals, and two arbitrations.
  • In addition there are 11 panels in composition.
  • And since I spoke to the DSB last September we have received 17 new requests for consultations. Of those 17 new requests, 11 have been in the Rules area, and six in Legal Affairs.

The vast majority of disputes in recent times have thus been in the trade remedies area.

They also include two of the largest disputes ever brought before the system (the Aircraft disputes). Two robust Rules Division teams have been dedicated to those disputes for over three years now, putting a strain on Rules Division resources. And we know from experience that the Appellate Body will have difficulty coping with these large disputes, should they reach that level, together with other appeals that will be on the docket at the time.

In assisting panels, we are currently organised so that Rules Division staff are supposed to handle all disputes dealing with trade remedies — specifically: anti-dumping, subsidies, and safeguards. Meanwhile, Legal Affairs Division staff handle disputes in the other areas.

Legal Affairs has pitched in to handle some Rules cases in the sequence they arose when they had available staff with relevant expertise. But this has not been sufficient to deal with the recent surge in Rules cases.

We are therefore recruiting and developing expertise in the trade remedies area. We need to ensure that the dispute settlement teams will continue to receive the experienced and specialized assistance they will need, including in the ever-expanding number of trade remedies disputes.

Through our recent actions on resource reallocation and recruitment, we are likely to shorten the waiting periods for Rules cases in the current queue by several months.

My aim is to have all the cases in the current queue underway by April next year. Whether this will be possible depends on several elements. And we cannot eliminate the possibility of having a new queue of cases between now and then if many new panels are established in the meantime.

It seems inevitable that the pressures will continue to mount. It takes time to recruit and train new staff members, and new disputes will continue to be filed.

We should acknowledge that reallocation and recruitment alone will not eliminate the challenges we are currently facing. Indeed, we are at the limit of what reallocation can achieve. As I said at the CBFA, members may want to reflect on how we deal with this issue in the future. You have to carefully consider how much resources you want to make available for dispute settlement.

The increased breadth and complexity of disputes over the last 20 years has changed the face of WTO dispute settlement completely. This is set out in more detail in the paper on current dispute settlement (DS) activity prepared by the Secretariat and provided as a room document.

We are therefore exploring ways that will allow us to be more flexible in meeting demand as it arises — and your views will be central to this process.

One idea is to develop more flexibility in staffing panels at the junior level (Grade 7s). For example, we could create a single pool of junior lawyers dedicated to assist all dispute settlement panels — be they trade remedies or otherwise.

We could draw the junior members of dispute settlement teams from the general pool, rather than being limited to staff from the responsible legal division which may not have junior staff available at the time.

Let me be clear here. This does not mean that we are proposing to merge the Rules and Legal Affairs Divisions, or necessarily to put senior level lawyers in the general pool. Currently we have no such plans. 

Our senior level lawyers (Grades 9s and 10s) will continue to be assigned to lead dispute teams in their areas of expertise. In other words, those with expertise in trade remedies will lead disputes in trade remedies cases, and others will lead disputes in the other areas. And the reason for this is to preserve efficiency and consistency.

We would shift junior resources between Rules and Legal Affairs as demand arises in a particular subject area, while preserving the expertise needed for each dispute.

Now, how will this address the problem of insufficient senior level expertise?

The answer is that it won’t, right away. But it will allow us over time to build up expertise at the mid-level, which we currently do not have.

The idea is to enhance the capacity of senior lawyers. Today, each senior lawyer handles just one case at a time, often doing most of the drafting, besides reviewing and revising the work of junior lawyers. Our goal is to get more junior lawyers doing most of the drafting. If we succeed with better support and assistance, 10 senior lawyers may be able to handle up to 20 cases in future, rather than only 10, as is the situation today.

For this to happen, of course, we need adequate resources at all levels — junior and senior. And as I said, we are continuing to work on building up those levels.

So this is one idea that might complement the actions I have taken through resource reallocation.

We can continue to think about other ideas and I would welcome your thoughts as well.

I have asked DDG Brauner to engage with delegations to gather views from you on improving the functioning of the system further, bearing in mind the budgetary constraints and headcount limitation imposed by members.

I also encourage you to continue to actively participate in the DSU review process. This is one of the avenues available to members to make contributions in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the dispute settlement system.



Finally, I want to say something about non-discrimination and transparency.

I have said it before — but let me say it again: there has not been and there will not be any favouritism.

Once panels are composed, they are staffed by either the Rules or Legal Affairs Division experts — depending on the subject matter — and move forward by date of composition.

If staff are unavailable, panels are set down in a queue — be it a trade remedies or non-trade remedies queue, again by date of composition. And they are staffed as soon as staff members with the right level of seniority and experience in the relevant Division become available.

No one is permitted to jump the relevant queue. There are no exceptions.

Turning to transparency, many of you have pointed to a need for more transparency on the status of the queue and on approximate "wait times" for panels to get underway.

I appreciate that you need to be able to plan for upcoming panel work as well as to prepare your domestic constituencies appropriately.

It is often difficult for the Secretariat to predict when individual disputes will proceed from consultations to the DSB to a request that a panel should be established — or how much time it will take for panel composition.

Workload planning is also complicated at the appellate stage. It is difficult to predict exactly when panel reports will be ready for circulation to members, whether they will be appealed and when the reports will be appealed.

I have been thinking what we can do to shed more light on the queue and expected delays despite the existing constraints. I have also discussed this with Ambassador Neple.

And so we will do the following…

The Secretariat will post on the WTO website two lists of panels, one with trade remedies and the other with non-trade remedies disputes, that have been composed and set down in a queue by date of composition.

Currently, there is only one queue — for trade remedies cases. But this can change depending on future panels composed and we may have times where there are two queues.

We will also post a list of panels that have been established but have not yet been composed.

And we will post relevant information about appeals as well.

To be clear, this information is already available on the website. But we are going to present it in a more organized, user-friendly manner.

In addition, Ambassador Neple, and his successors as DSB chair, will announce at the DSB meeting each month the number of disputes at panel composition stage and the ability of the Secretariat to meet expected demand over the coming period. Similar information will be provided about the Appellate Body's workload.  

This information should enable you to plan your dispute settlement activities better, and to brief your domestic constituencies more accurately.



In conclusion, I think that, despite our current challenges, we should not forget what we have in the WTO's dispute settlement system. It is unquestionably one of — if not the — most active international adjudicatory systems in the world. And it still operates faster than any other.

So clearly we need to work together to maintain and improve the system, and to keep it running well.

I have limited my remarks today to what I can do to address the current challenges we face in dispute settlement. I intentionally avoided focusing on what you can do to improve the system.

But of course, what I can do is only part of the picture. As you will see in the dispute settlement activity annexed to my statement, we are in a new world of disputes. You can do much more than I can to make the system work more expeditiously and more efficiently.

I appreciate the thoughts that you have already shared on this issue, and I am keen to hear your ideas.

As I mentioned, DDG Brauner will engage with you to gather your views and ideas.

I also encourage you to provide comments on the paper recently distributed by the Appellate Body about limits on the length of submissions. They have set up a dedicated section of the WTO members’ website for this purpose.

Ambassador Neple is also available to consult with you to find solutions.

But before we open the floor, I have one final thing to say.

I cannot close this presentation without saluting the lawyers and non-lawyers alike, across this house, who work so hard to make the dispute settlement such a source of pride for the whole organisation.

I want to thank them for their commitment.

That concludes my statement. Thank you for listening.

Annex to DG statement at DSB meeting: Current dispute settlement activity


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