Mapping of Dispute Settlement Mechanisms in Regional Trade Agreements — Innovative or Variations on a Theme?

Regional trade agreements (RTAs) have become an indelible feature of the international trading landscape. Most, if not all, RTAs contain provisions that establish procedures for resolving disputes among their signatory members.

Yet, the design and functioning of these dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) and, more specifically, how they differ from the WTO dispute settlement system remain relatively unexplored. Existing academic literature has primarily focused on the narrow issue of jurisdictional conflict between DSMs of RTAs and the WTO dispute settlement system. Literature mapping out and classifying systematically the DSMs of RTAs is more limited. This research paper goes beyond considering the issue of jurisdictional conflict between the multilateral and "regional" regimes. We map out the DSMs in RTAs that have been notified to the WTO and were in force at the end of 2012, and consider a typology of these DSMs based on their nature and design. We also use the data obtained from our mapping exercise in two ways. First, we identify trends and patterns of use, either regionally or by individual countries, of the different types of DSMs in RTAs. Trends are analysed in relation to five key factors: (i) evolution over time, (ii) level of economic development, (iii) regional characteristics, (iv) level of integration (partial scope agreement, free trade agreement or customs union), and (v) configuration (bilateral or plurilateral). Second, we undertake a "nuts and bolts" analysis of the DSMs of RTAs by examining their approach to various issues in international dispute settlement. Our aim is to draw conclusions about the extent to which the predominant type of DSM in RTAs has features that are different from those of the WTO dispute settlement system.


No: ERSD-2013-07


Claude Chase, Alan Yanovich, Jo-Ann Crawford, and Pamela Ugaz, World Trade Organization

Manuscript date: June 2013

Key Words:

Dispute Settlement, Regional Trade Agreements, RTAs, Dispute Settlement Mechanisms, WTO Dispute Settlement

JEL classification numbers:

F13, F15, F53, K33

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This is a working paper, and hence it represents research in progress. This paper represents the opinions of the author, and is the product of professional research. It is not meant to represent the position or opinions of the WTO or its Members, nor the official position of any staff members. Any errors are the fault of the author. Copies of working papers can be requested from the divisional secretariat by writing to: Economic Research and Statistics Division, World Trade Organization, Rue de Lausanne 154, CH 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland. Please request papers by number and title.

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