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Three significant issues will determine the future of the WTO: dispute settlement, negotiations and regional integration. Dispute settlement is widely regarded as one of the major successes of the WTO in its first ten years. Concluding the Doha round negotiations is one of its main challenges. Regional integration is now at the frontline of debate as regional agreements proliferate and policy-makers and academics come to grips with their impacts on the multilateral trading system. These issues, and the interplay between them, are examined by leading scholars and practitioners in the field of international trade law from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. In addition, special sections focus on the Asia-Pacific region, its participation in WTO dispute settlement and negotiations, and recent trends towards greater regional integration.
The dispute settlement system of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is generally regarded as a big success. Most commentators agree that the system has worked remarkably well in its first ten years. Many factors explain the system's success. In this chapter, I focus on one factor that, in my view, helps explain this success: the WTO dispute settlement system's ability to evolve. Indeed, the WTO dispute settlement system has not remained static. Rather, the system has been evolving as each case raises new issues and poses new challenges.
Negotiations to reform the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU) have been ongoing for several years. Some of the proposals that have been tabled seek to address perceived deficiencies in the system. Other proposals are more ambitious and would change the nature of the system. While the negotiations have not advanced as rapidly as initially hoped, this does not seem to pose a threat to the functioning of the system. The system has been able to overcome, in practice, some of the deficiencies that have been identified. At the same time, the system continues to evolve in such a way that new solutions could be found for issues that may arise in the future.
The WTO dispute settlement system has been able to evolve because DSU rules provide a degree of flexibility to WTO Members. The ability to evolve is also linked to the fact that the DSU leaves the WTO adjudicative bodies – that is, panels and the Appellate Body – some discretion in adopting their own working procedures.
This book examines three issues that are central to the future of the World Trade Organization (WTO): dispute settlement; the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations; and the relationship between regional integration and the multilateral trading system. Dispute settlement is often described as one of the most successful functions of the WTO. Some commentators have expressed concern about the imbalance between the effectiveness of the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism, on the one hand, and the difficulties facing the WTO as a negotiating forum, on the other hand. Some of these concerns may have been put to rest with the successful launch of the DDA in 2001. At the time this book was edited, intense negotiations were taking place in the context of the DDA, but much remained to be negotiated. It has long been recognized that regional integration could support the aims of the multilateral trading system. Today, however, several observers are expressing concern about the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs). These observers fear that, unless the DDA is concluded successfully, there will be greater pressure on WTO Members to pursue bilateral and regional avenues for trade liberalization, which could undermine the multilateral trading system. Thus, these three issues – dispute settlement, multilateral negotiations, and regional trade agreements – are closely inter-related and the future of the WTO in many ways may depend on how these three issues are addressed in the coming years.