Negotiations to improve dispute settlement procedures

The Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), the WTO's "rule book" for settling trade disputes between Members, has been the subject of review since the 1990s. The subsequent mandate given to Members was simple: “agree to negotiations on improvements and clarifications of the Dispute Settlement Understanding”.

The mandate and history

In 1994, Members of what was then the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) adopted a decision at their Ministerial Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco to complete a full review of dispute settlement rules and procedures under the newly-created WTO within four years after the entry into force of the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization.  Members were to take a decision at that time on whether to continue, modify or terminate such dispute settlement rules and procedures.

Members did not complete the review on time, and the talks failed to advance after the 1999 Ministerial Conference in Seattle.  At their 2001 Ministerial Conference in Doha, where the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations were launched, Members agreed to continue the review on improvements and clarifications to the DSU. Members also agreed that the review would not be part of the DDA “single” undertaking — i.e. that the review would not be tied to the other issues under negotiation, nor subject to conclusion of the DDA.

The Doha mandate also set a deadline of May 2003 to conclude the review. In July 2003, the WTO's General Council extended the deadline to May 2004. A further extension was agreed by the General Council on 1 August 2004 without setting a new deadline.

Current work

Although Members have expressed general satisfaction with the WTO's dispute settlement system, the review has revealed some desire to improve or clarify aspects of the DSU or to address issues that are not currently covered by the agreement. The DSU review is currently being carried out within a framework of 12 “thematic” issues covering a broad range of proposals:

  • Third party rights
  • Panel composition
  • Remand
  • Mutually agreed solutions
  • Strictly confidential information
  • Sequencing
  • Post-retaliation
  • Transparency and amicus curiae briefs
  • Timeframes
  • Developing country interests, including special and differential treatment
  • Flexibility and Member control
  • Effective compliance

The current chair of the DSB in Special Session is .

On 3 November 2016 the chair outlined to members the scope, sequencing, and structure of work ahead on the DSU review, with an initial focus on the 12 thematic issues. The chair said his goal is to have negotiating group prepare a series of issue-specific possible outcomes, with work beginning on those issues for which there is a higher level of convergence or maturity. The chair said the aim is to complete as much work as possible by July 2017, at which point he would invite Members to take stock of progress made. Such possible outcomes could then be put to Members' joint consideration, at the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference in late 2017, or at another time, to approve all, some, or none of the possible outcomes.

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DSU negotiations documents use the code TN/DS/* (where * takes additional values)
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  • Reports by the Chairman to the Trade Negotiations Committee (Document code TN/DS/* and keyword “Report by the Chairman”)  > search
  • Minutes of the Special Sessions (Document code TN/DS/M/*)  > search
  • Working documents of the DSU negotiations (Document code TN/DS/W/*)  > search
  • The DSB decision to extend the review deadline, December 1998 (Document code WT/DSB/M/52)  > search


DSB special session meetings