Introduction to the WTO dispute settlement system

Click the + to open an item.

1.5 Substantive scope of the dispute settlement system

show help page

The “covered agreements”

The (WTO) dispute settlement system applies to all disputes brought under the WTO Agreements listed in Appendix 1 of the DSU (Article 1.1 of the DSU). In the DSU, these agreements are referred to as the “covered agreements”. The DSU itself and the WTO Agreement (in the sense of Articles I to XVI) are also listed as covered agreements. In many cases brought to the dispute settlement system, the complainant invokes provisions belonging to more than one covered agreement.

The covered agreements also include the so-called Plurilateral Trade Agreements contained in Annex 4 to the WTO Agreement (Appendix 1 of the DSU), which are called “plurilateral” as opposed to “multilateral” because not all WTO Members have signed them. However, the applicability of the DSU to those Plurilateral Trade Agreements is subject to the adoption of a decision by the parties to each of these agreements setting out the terms for the application of the DSU to the individual agreement, including any special and additional rules or procedures (Appendix 1 of the DSU). The Committee on Government Procurement has taken such a decision, but not the Committee on Trade in Civil Aircraft for the Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft. Two other plurilateral agreements, the International Dairy Agreement and the International Bovine Meat Agreement, are no longer in force.


A single set of rules and procedures back to top

By applying to all these covered agreements, the DSU provides for a coherent and integrated dispute settlement system. It puts an end to the former “GATT Ó la carte”, where each agreement not only had a different set of signatories but also separate dispute settlement rules.1 Subject to certain exceptions, the DSU is applicable in a uniform manner to disputes under all the WTO Agreements. In some instances, there are so-called “special and additional rules and procedures” on dispute settlement contained in the covered agreements (Article 1.2 and Appendix 2 of the DSU). These are specific rules and procedures “designed to deal with the particularities of disputes under a specific covered agreement”. They take precedence over the rules in the DSU to the extent that there is a difference between the rules and procedures of the DSU and the special and additional rules and procedures (Article 1.2 of the DSU). Such a “difference” or conflict between the DSU and the special rules exists only “where the provisions of the DSU and the special or additional rules and procedures of a covered agreement cannot be read as complementing each other” because they are mutually inconsistent such that adherence to the one provision would lead to a violation of the other provision.2 Only in that case and to that extent, do the special additional provisions prevail and do the DSU rules not apply.



1. See the section on Dispute settlement under the Tokyo Round “codes”  back to text

2. Appellate Body Report, Guatemala — Cement I, paras. 65 and 66  back to text



show previous page show next page

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.

Chapters done:

show previous page show next page