Secretariat’s informal consultations concerning the panel process

The WTO has one of the most active international dispute settlement mechanisms in the world, having issued over 350 dispute settlement decisions in 21 years. Settlement of disputes is one of the core activities of the WTO. The dispute settlement mechanism has earned a reputation the world over for high-quality results and has produced a substantial body of case law. It nevertheless requires the dedication of significant resources of the WTO Secretariat as well as of disputing parties. The Secretariat is currently conducting informal consultations on the dispute settlement panel process to identify possible efficiency gains.

Initial consultations(2010-2013)

At the request of the former Director-General Pascal Lamy, former Deputy Director-General Alejandro Jara initiated in 2010 a process of informal consultations with WTO Members, panelists, trade law practitioners and Secretariat experts involved in the WTO dispute settlement system, with a view to exploring whether it is possible to find efficiency gains in the panel process so as to reduce the burden on Members and the Secretariat. His overriding approach was that any improvements would have to be consistent with existing rules and that changes could be contemplated only if they did not involve amending the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). Any adjustments would also have to be effected without undermining the excellent reputation and high quality output of the system. 

Ideas brought forward by Members and others in the context of these consultations (the so-called “Jara process”), such as agreed page limits for executive summaries, time limits for oral argument, expeditious expert consultation in disputes concerning sanitary and phytosanitary measures, questions sent in advance of a panel's meetings with parties and third parties, are being implemented by individual panels on an ad hoc basis, with the agreement of the disputing parties in the particular case.

DDG Jara’s consultations were complemented by efforts within the Secretariat to promote harmonized practices more generally in respect of panel proceedings.


Current consultations (2015 to date)

In a speech to the Dispute Settlement Body on 28 October 2015, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo announced that he had asked Deputy Director-General Karl Brauner to continue with the “Jara process” and to “engage with Delegations to gather views … on improving the functioning of the system further, bearing in mind the budgetary constraints and headcount limitation imposed by Members”. This process has been renamed the “Dispute Settlement Efficiency Exercise”.

DDG Brauner is consulting interested stakeholders, including government officials from WTO Members, panelists, trade law practitioners and Secretariat staff. These consultations include the current debate on how to avoid backlogs as well as, more generally, all the possible ways and best practices available to enhance the efficiency of the WTO dispute settlement system. This process continues to be separate from, and must not diminish in any way, the DSU review process currently underway.