The process — Stages in a typical WTO dispute settlement case

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6.3 The panel stage

Deadlines, timetable and suspension

Dispute settlement panels operate under strict deadlines, which illustrates the importance the Members attribute to a “prompt settlement”1 of (WTO) disputes. As a general rule, a panel is required to issue the final report to the parties within six months from the date when it was composed (and, as the case may be, the terms of reference agreed). In cases of urgency, the panel attempts to issue its report to the parties within three months from the date of its composition (Article 12.8 of the DSU). When the panel considers that it cannot issue its report within six months (or three months in case of urgency), it must inform the DSB in writing of the reasons for the delay and provide an estimate of the period within which it will issue its report. The period from the establishment of the panel to the circulation of the report to the Members “should” in no case exceed nine months (Article 12.9 of the DSU). In practice, however, panel proceedings take an average of 12 months.

Panels may suspend their work at any time at the request of the complaining party for a period not exceeding 12 months. Such suspensions normally serve to allow the parties to find a mutually agreeable solution, which is the preference of the DSU (Article 3.7 of the DSU). If the suspension exceeds 12 months, the authority for the establishment of the panel lapses (Article 12.12 of the DSU). If unresolved, the dispute settlement proceedings would have to be started all over again.

Appendix 3 to the DSU provides a proposed timetable for panel work. This timetable may be adjusted depending on the circumstances of the case. There may also be additional, i.e. more than two substantive meetings with the parties (Articles 12.1 and 12.2 of the DSU). Appendix 3 provides for the following time-periods, counted from one step to the next:


Receipt of the first written submissions of the parties:
(a) Complaining party:
(b) Party complained against:

3-6 weeks

2-3 weeks


First substantive meeting with the parties; third party session:

1-2 weeks


Receipt of written rebuttals of the parties:

2-3 weeks


Second substantive meeting with the parties:

1-2 weeks


Issuance of descriptive part of the report to the parties:

2-4 weeks


Receipt of comments by the parties on the descriptive part of the report:

2 weeks


Issuance of the interim report, including the findings and conclusions,to the parties:

2-4 weeks


Deadline for party to request review of part(s) of report:

1 week


Period of review by panel, including possible additional meeting with parties:

2 weeks


Issuance of final report to parties to dispute:

2 weeks


Circulation of the final report to the Members:

3 weeks

In cases of multiple complaints on the same matter where more than one panel is established, the timetable for the process before each panel should be harmonized to the greatest extent possible (Article 9.3 of the DSU). This can result in one or the other time-period being shortened or extended. Where a single panel is established, it must organize its examination and present its findings to the DSB in such a manner so as not to impair the rights that the parties to the dispute would have enjoyed had separate panels examined the complaints (Article 9.2 of the DSU).

Accelerated procedures are available under the terms of the Decision of 5 April 19662 when a developing country Member brings a complaint against a developed country Member and the developing country Member makes use of its right to invoke those accelerated procedures (Article 3.12 of the DSU).3

The SCM Agreement provides for accelerated procedures with several shorter time-periods with respect to disputes on prohibited subsidies and actionable subsidies. Regarding prohibited subsidies, the complainant may request the establishment of a panel if consultations have not led to a mutually agreed solution within 30 days, and the DSB must immediately establish the panel, unless there is a consensus not to do so (Article 4.4 of the SCM Agreement). In other words, in a departure from the normal rules, the negative consensus rule applies at the first, and not just the second DSB meeting at which the request for establishment of the panel appears on the DSB agenda. The panel must circulate its report to all WTO Members within 90 days of the date of its composition and the establishment of its terms of reference (Article 4.6 of the SCM Agreement).

Dispute settlement with respect to actionable subsidies is also subject to some specific deadlines, including at the panel stage. For instance, the composition and terms of reference of the panel must be established within 15 days from the establishment of the panel (Article 7.4 of the SCM Agreement), and the panel must circulate its report to all Members within 120 days of the date of its composition and the establishment of its terms of reference (Article 7.5 of the SCM Agreement).



1. Article 3.3 of the DSU  back to text

2. BISD 14S/18  back to text

3. Since the establishment of the WTO, this has so far not happened  back to text



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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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