WTO holds first formal meeting on dispute settlement reform

Published : 31 May 2024 09:18 PM

WTO members met at Heads of Delegation level on 30 May for their first formal meeting on dispute settlement reform, with an initial focus on how to resolve issues regarding appeal/review and accessibility. 

The facilitator of the process, Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, said the discussions revealed a “strong appreciation for the dispute settlement system overall” as a core element of the WTO system.

At their 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members acknowledged the challenges and concerns with respect to the dispute settlement system, including those related to the Appellate Body, and agreed to conduct discussions with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024. 

That commitment was reaffirmed by members at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) earlier this year.

An informal process on dispute settlement reform was convened by Marco Molina, then deputy permanent representative of Guatemala, in February 2023.  A consolidated draft text which emerged from the informal process was circulated to members on 16 February for transparency purposes.

On 18 April, the Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body, Ambassador Petter Ølberg of Norway, informed the membership of the appointment of Ambassador Dwarka-Canabady as facilitator, thus signalling the formalization of the dispute settlement reform process.  

As part of the formal meeting process, interpretation, formal records and online participation of capital-based officials will be available, as well as the translation of documents, to ensure the process is conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.

The facilitator reminded members that the purpose of the monthly Heads of Delegation (HODs) meetings is to hear updates on the technical work to be carried out by experts and to allow members to share views on how to take the work forward. 

The meetings are also intended to resolve issues that can be handled only at the HODs level and allow HODs to provide the necessary political guidance to experts, as necessary. Technical work will continue solely amongst experts and should remain interest-based and solution-oriented, she said.