Trade litigation

Can the WTO’s dispute settlement panel bear its increasing load of contentious cases?

Alan Beattie voices concern:

WTO panels comprise three from a roster of part-time panellists that includes trade officials, diplomats and academics. Some, oddly, are moonlighting from day jobs as national ambassadors to the WTO, meaning they are negotiating over trade deals one day and ruling on their meaning the next. They do not have to be lawyers, though there is a separate appellate body whose members must have legal expertise. Panels rely heavily on advice from the WTO’s small secretariat to interpret legal questions.

It is hard completely to dismiss the contention that law affecting thousands of businesses, millions of workers and billions of dollars is being determined by panels of part-time amateurs making it up as they go along.

Peter Gallagher is happier:

Governments are to blame for every one of the legal entanglements that Mr Beattie mentions… The WTO’s appellate body now interprets trade agreements in precisely the same way as every other treaty using standards of jurisprudence that citizens – even lawyers – everywhere demand in municipal courts. Governments that accept the WTO agreements must, as a consequence, now say what they mean and do as they say they will do. Is this a bad thing?