Strengthening Legal Capacity in Developing Countries Through South-South Dialogue: Specialised Training on WTO Litigation

30 April 2012 to 4 May 2012

Trade diplomats from 26 developing countries gathered in Geneva on the eve of 2 May 2012, to kick-off a South-South Dialogue on Managing Trade Litigation. The event was part of a cutting-edge specialised training course set to explore real-life litigation challenges. Hosted by ICTSD in cooperation the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), the two-day meeting immediately followed a three-day advanced course for delegates on WTO dispute settlement.

The initiative directly builds upon earlier work conducted by ICTSD’s Legal Capacity Project, first and foremost the outcome of a series of regional and national dialogues as summarised in the CUP volume “Dispute Settlement at the WTO: The Developing Country Experience” edited by Gregory Shaffer and Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz. It also marks the beginning of the second phase of ICTSD’s Legal Capacity Project, paving the way for another series of regional and national dialogues.

The tripartite partnership deploys a novel, interactive approach to legal capacity building that targets the ability of developing countries to manage international trade disputes.

Three innovative characteristics are particularly noteworthy:

1. Training through South-South exchange.
2. Focus on the practical challenges of dispute settlement.
3. Three organisation cooperation.

During the first three days of the training course, coordinated by the WTO and the ACWL, the participants attended interactive sessions on WTO dispute settlement. Experts on each of the stages of WTO dispute settlement provided instruction on their respective areas of expertise. The aim of the training was also to get the delegates ‘up to speed’ in order to enable them to participate in the following high-level experience exchange and to benefit from the identification of best practices.

At the South-South Dialogue on Managing Trade Litigation organised by ICTSD, which followed on 3-4 May, fifty senior experts from 26 developing countries focus their discussions on commonly faced, practical challenges. Discussions range from interagency coordination and the use of private counsel to pre-litigation conflict management, with the aim of jointly identifying challenges and solutions.

According to ICTSD research, 88 percent of developing countries cited legal capacity as the major advantage of developed trading nations in dispute settlement.

But there are some true dispute settlement masters among developing countries. To learn from their experiences can be vital for countries’ efforts to build the domestic systems needed for managing litigation. This starts with inter-agency coordination and ends with public-private partnerships to implementing authorised countermeasures.

The group of experts that attended the South-South Dialogue comprises senior dispute settlement delegates, independent experts and the delegates that attended the earlier training workshop. The experts plan to identify best practices for conflict resolution in the multilateral trade system as well as litigation techniques and pitfalls. These will be shared at a later stage in the form of a comprehensive meeting report and a detailed guide to managing trade litigation. The latter is meant to inform governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in their efforts to shape trade litigation.

Views & Opinions

A participant called the Dialogue a “South-South conversation where the trainers are also the trainees, which has a different feel from a North-South exchange or classroom setting”. “The countries represented here are diverse but share common challenges, and learning how your peers recently overcame the same problems you face today is a fruitful way to learn.”

Lauding the three institution partnership during Wednesdays kick-off reception, Miguel Rodriguez Mendoza, Senior Associate at ICTSD said:  “The opportunity to partner with the WTO and ACWL and bring all these countries together is crucial for shifting our focus from information gathering to information dissemination and active trade litigation capacity building.”

"This is also a new way of capacity building in the WTO" said WTO Deputy Director General Alejandro Jara.  "Bringing together three institutions with shared interests towards developing countries, but with distinct knowledge, expertise and experience in dispute settlement, can only enrich our TA beneficiaries.  We are keen to take this partnership forward into other areas and other regions."

Frieder Roessler, Executive Director at the ACWL finally explained the format of the event as follows: "The handling of WTO dispute settlement procedures is becoming increasingly complex, and this increasing complexity poses a challenge in the training of government officials from developing countries and LDCs,” Roessler said. “Nowadays training requires a combination of hands-on experience and the ability to transmit and share that know-how.  This is the underlying philosophy of this workshop, and the ACWL is firmly committed to this approach."

Dispute Settlement Understanding