The WTO agreements provide for many wide-ranging rules concerning international trade in goods, trade in services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. In view of the importance of their impact, economic and otherwise, it is not surprising that WTO Members do not always agree on the correct interpretation and application of these rules. Members frequently argue about whether or not a particular law or practice of a Member constitutes a violation of a right or obligation provided for in a WTO agreement. The WTO disposes of a remarkable system to settle such disputes between WTO Members concerning their rights and obligations under the WTO agreements.
The WTO dispute settlement system has been operational for ten years now. In that period it has arguably been the most prolific of all international dispute settlement systems. Between 1 January 1995 and 1 September 2004, a total of 314 disputes had been brought to the WTO system for resolution.That is more than were brought to the GATT, the WTO's predecessor, in the forty-seven years between 1948 and 1995. In almost a quarter of the disputes brought to the WTO system, the parties were able to reach an amicable solution through consultations, or the dispute was otherwise resolved without recourse to adjudication. In other disputes, parties have resorted to adjudication.
Some of the disputes brought to the WTO dispute settlement system have triggered considerable controversy and public debate and have attracted much media attention.