Dispute Settlement Mechanisms in RTAs

Organised by
8 February 2018
Geneva, Switzerland

This meeting is part of the RTA Exchange dialogue series aimed at constructing better trade and investment agreements for sustainable development at the regional and multilateral levels.

Together with the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs), there has been a proliferation of dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) included in those agreements. While they are far from being used as often as the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, even in relative terms, these mechanisms are regular elements of RTAs and exist as one of the tools for handling trade differences. In light of the different paces of rule-making at the multilateral and regional levels, DSMs under RTAs are likely to become increasingly relevant in the future as litigious fora for addressing trade differences among trading partners, particularly with respect to WTO-extra obligations. For this to happen however, RTA DSMs need to function efficiently and effectively.

The few concluded RTA disputes highlight some of the challenges facing countries when using RTA DSMs and how such mechanisms relate to other international DSMs. While RTA DSMs may need to be improved in order for them to foster confidence and be able to resolve trade differences efficiently, they provide direct legal basis for RTA trade differences to be heard, especially those relating to WTO-extra matters. A relevant overarching question in this respect is therefore what can be done to promote a system that would address trade disputes in a more comprehensive manner.

As a contribution to this debate, this informal dialogue organised by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) aimed at systematically reviewing dispute settlement provisions and practical experiences in using RTA DSMs. Leading experts, private sector representatives, practitioners and policy makers together with Geneva-based delegates and relevant IGOs engaged in the discussion. Ultimately, such a review will lead to the identification of priorities for action or governance reform that enhance coherence at the global level.

09:00 - 09:15
Welcome Remarks

RTA dispute settlement provisions follow the political, quasi-judicial or judicial model, providing both litigious and non-litigious means for the enforcement of substantive obligations of RTAs. This session provides an overview of the general structure of the modes of RTA DSMs and related development.

09:45 - 10:00
Coffee Break

When trade differences arise, countries have mechanisms available under RTAs to settle them. Over the years, RTAs have shown varying levels of utilization of RTA DSMs. This session is a reality check on the utilization of RTA DSMs, and explores possible ways of addressing challenges for disputing parties in using RTA DSM.

12:00 - 13:30

The cases are a test for the efficiency and effectiveness of RTA DSMs. They are good sources of ideas for improvements, and are useful contexts in future RTA negotiations. This session covers “conflict of laws” and forum selection clauses in RTAs, as well as other practical issues pertaining to RTA DSMs.

15:15 - 15:30
Coffee Break

Looking forward, a relevant overarching question is what can be done further to have a system that would address trade disputes in a more comprehensive manner. On the soft-law making side, good level of consistency at multilateral and regional levels is essential. This session will discuss ideas on achieving this consistency.

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