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June 16, 2017
WTO appellate body struggles to keep up with number of cases
According to the chairman of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Appellate Body, Ujal Singh Bhatia, the increasing number of cases brought for appeal at the WTO means the Appellate Body is facing difficulty in meeting the requirement of "prompt" resolution of disputes.
Additionally, an expected increase in the number of appeals in large and complex disputes will further exacerbate the problem of delays, Mr Bhatia said. Thus, a "significant portion of the Appellate Body's resources will be unavailable for other appeals for considerable periods of time."
When delays in WTO dispute resolution become the norm, "they cast doubt on the value of the WTO's rules-oriented system itself," Mr Bhatia said. "Delays compel WTO Members to look for other solutions, potentially elsewhere. And in this, it is the weaker countries that stand to lose the most."
The chairman said that despite this, "there is much today in the WTO's dispute settlement system that should be celebrated, not bemoaned. The system at large, including the Appellate Body, commands enormous support and respect from its users. The compliance rate with DSB rulings and recommendations remains very high. The increasing use of WTO case law by other dispute settlement systems testifies to the growing influence of the WTO's dispute settlement system on international dispute settlement."
"But like any other man-made system, the WTO's dispute settlement system should not be taken for granted. It requires nurturing through timely interventions when problem areas emerge. The issue of delays is one such problem area which calls for broad, systemic solutions. It should be possible to find such solutions through determined action by WTO Members."
The WTO's dispute settlement system had its busiest year in 2016, averaging 22 cases per month where active proceedings are under way. These are cases where a panel or arbitration has been composed and where preparations are ongoing for the finalization of a panel, arbitration or Appellate Body report. The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) received 17 requests for consultations, the first step in the dispute settlement process, and established eight new panels.
The Appellate Body also had a busy year in 2016, with eight panel reports appealed and six Appellate Body reports circulated. In addition, an arbitration concerning the reasonable period of time for implementation of Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) recommendations and rulings was carried out in 2016.
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