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date: 01 December 2020

The Effectiveness of the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Systemlocked

  • Soo Yeon KimSoo Yeon KimDepartment of Political Science, National University of Singapore

Summary

The World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system is its judicial arm and enforcement mechanism, designed to assist members in resolving trade disputes that arise between them. Its design reflects a move toward greater legalization in trade governance under the multilateral trade regime. Compared with the dispute settlement system of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO’s dispute settlement provided a more structured and formal process with clearly defined stages and more discipline in the timetable of the dispute so as to resolve trade disputes as efficiently as possible. Most important, the WTO’s dispute settlement provides for virtually automatic adoption of panel rulings: a respondent losing a case can block the adoption only if it can persuade all members of the WTO not to do so. The legal basis for the WTO’s dispute settlement system is the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), which provides the principles and procedures by which members may bring their trade disputes to the multilateral trade regime for resolution. Overseeing the dispute settlement process is the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), which consists of all WTO members and meets regularly to receive and to adopt reports of disputes at their various stages of progress.

How effective is the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism? Effectiveness can be conceptualized as success in attaining the objectives of the dispute settlement under the WTO in three areas: the efficiency of dispute settlement; inclusiveness of the dispute settlement process, especially as it concerns developing country participation; and compliance with legal obligations resulting from arbitration. The existing scholarship on this topic features key debates and frontiers for future research on firms and global production networks/value chains that have the potential to advance our state of knowledge concerning this “crown jewel” of the multilateral trade regime.

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