Réseau universitaire international de Genève
Geneva International Academic Network

Français | English
Homepage > Research > Projects > Long Description

The WTO Dispute Settlement System and Developing Countries: Analysis of Strategies to Enhance Developing Country Legal Capacity

Annual Call for Projects 2004


This project, approved by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN) in 2004, concerns the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dispute Settlement System and developing countries. The Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU) which came into effect in 1995 introduced substantial reforms to the former GATT system by grounding the dispute settlement mechanism in clearly defined rules. As a result, the WTO dispute settlement system has become significantly more legalised. An ensuing advantage is that the power-oriented system of the GATT has been replaced with a rules-based system where, in theory, every country has an equal chance of success regardless of its economic situation. The legalised system, however, has become more complex and resource demanding for a country interested in accessing it. This has raised concern about the impact of the legalisation of WTO dispute settlement procedures on the capacity and the ability of developing countries to utilise the system effectively in safeguarding their trade rights and securing their development objectives.

Recognising that developing countries will have to adapt in a cost-effective manner if they are to realise any gains from the trading system through the use of the DSU, the aim of this project is to strengthen developing countries' understanding of the options and potential strategies for advancing their trade objectives and defending their trade rights through the DSU system. This objective will be achieved through two primary mechanisms. First, the project team will sponsor and coordinate original research by forming a network of academics from multiple disciplines from developed and developing countries. Second, three regional dialogues will be organised in Africa, Asia, and South America that will bring together developing countries' WTO representatives, government officials from different departments, the private sector, civil society representatives, development policy analysts, legal scholars, economists and political scientists to discuss developing country experiences, challenges and options. The regional dialogues will be an added opportunity for developing country stakeholders to establish networks for the pooling of legal resources.

The research outputs, which will be widely disseminated, will include the following: a survey and a quantitative study of the impact of legal capacity on developing country participation, case studies on specific regional challenges for developing countries, case studies on systemic problems affecting the DSU system, and a book on developing country experiences and challenges that synthesises cross-cutting issues from the above mentioned studies.

More specifically, the project has the following objectives:

• Empirically assess who participates and who wins under the current WTO dispute settlement system; in doing so, the project will assess causal explanations for litigation patterns and in particular, developing country participation and success rates;

• Examine and compare the manner in which developing countries currently organise internally to participate in the WTO dispute settlement system, both in terms of inter-departmental coordination and public-private coordination;

• Analyse the tradeoffs among different options for developing countries to enhance their capacity to participate effectively in the WTO dispute settlement system and bargaining in its shadow, including through the pooling of their resources, coordinating with private commercial interests, hiring outside law firms, and investing to develop local legal talent;

• Assess the tradeoffs among choices for the reform of the WTO Dispute Settlement System, in particular regarding WTO procedures and remedies;

• Bring together developing country government officials, private business and civil society representatives, private lawyers and academics from various disciplines to discuss developing country experiences, challenges and options through a series of original symposia in Africa, Asia and Latin America;

• Provide information to donors and developing countries as to how technical assistance in this area can be most usefully targeted;

• Support developing countries' informed participation in ongoing and future negotiations over modifications to the DSU.

At all stages of the project the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) will work closely with its project partners from the following institutions - the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), the University of Wisconsin Centre on World Affairs and the Global Economy, the Graduate Institute of International Studies and the University of Geneva. The project is especially timely as WTO members have put the Doha Round of Negotiations back on track, including the DSU review - an avenue where developing countries can, if empowered, effectively address some of the problems outlined above.

The grant provided by the GIAN for this project totals SFr 300,000

> See shorter summary

Project Team

Mr Leo Palma , Principal Member, Advisory Center on WTO Law (ACWL) .

Prof. Gregory Shaffer , Principal Member, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM) .

Related Links

> The WTO Dispute Settlement System and Developing Countries , Click here.


Research Output

The WTO Dispute Settlement System and Developing Countries
(available in English only)
> more