Evaluation of the WTO dispute settlement system: results to date

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12.3 Strengths and weaknesses

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The system has both strengthens and weaknesses. For example, with respect to its weaknesses, despite the deadlines, a full dispute settlement procedure still takes a considerable amount of time, during which the complainant suffers continued economic harm if the challenged measure is indeed (WTO)-inconsistent. No provisional measures (interim relief) are available to protect the economic and trade interests of the successful complainant during the dispute settlement procedure. Moreover, even after prevailing in dispute settlement, a successful complainant will receive no compensation for the harm suffered during the time given to the respondent to implement the ruling. Nor does the “winning party” receive any reimbursement from the other side for its legal expenses. In the event of non-implementation, not all Members have the same practical ability to resort to the suspension of obligations. Lastly, in a few cases, a suspension of concessions has been ineffective in bringing about implementation. However, these cases are the exception rather than the rule.

How successful one considers the dispute settlement system to have been depends on the benchmark one applies. If one compares the WTO dispute settlement system with the previous dispute settlement system of GATT 1947, the current system has been far more effective. Moreover, its quasi-judicial and quasi-automatic character enables it to handle more difficult cases. These features also provide greater guarantees for Members that wish to defend their rights. Compared with other multilateral systems of dispute resolution in international law, the compulsory nature and the enforcement mechanism of the WTO dispute settlement system certainly stand out.



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This interactive training module is based on the “Handbook on the WTO Dispute Settlement System” published in 2004. The second edition of this handbook published in 2017 can be found at here.

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