Dispute settlement reform is a priority for World Trade Organisation (WTO) Members as the thirteenth Ministerial Conference (known as ‘MC13’) in February 2024 rapidly approaches. With no sign of consensus among the Members of what a functioning dispute settlement must look like there is a growing feeling in Geneva that the WTO’s crisis is reaching a tipping point: ‘it is reform or die’.
The introduction of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 was considered a historic milestone for the rules-based trade order instituted in the aftermath of World War II. In particular, the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM), a rules-based dispute settlement system designed to ensure fair resolution of trade disputes among WTO members, was hailed as a "crown jewel" of the new system. Although not devoid of criticism, the two-tier system of the DSM had a relatively excellent start to life. Considered one of the most active international dispute mechanisms, especially since the turn of the millennium, the DSM has handled 621 disputes brought to the organisation, with over 350 rulings issued since its inception in 1995. However, the system's success has waned in recent years, effectively "grinding to a halt" with the U.S. spearheading its sabotage. Although the US was a major architect for its introduction in 1995, it opposed the appointment of new Appellate Body members, through successive US administrations and there are now no Appellate Body members since 2019. The demise of the Appellate Body created an impasse in the WTO that is yet to be resolved despite several efforts from WTO members. A primary criticism of the current system by the U.S. is that the Appellate Body has overstepped its limits and created new rules not envisaged by the WTO, an approach that the U.S. maintains does not support its interests. In this analysis, we argue that the proposed reforms to the WTO's DSM by the U.S. are self-serving, aligning with a consistent pattern of hegemonic powers shifting the goalposts and changing the rules when they face adverse consequences—the "bite"—of a regime they erstwhile championed.
This article provides interesting insights on the jurisdiction of the Southern African Development Community ("SADC") Tribunal. It also considers the impact of this jurisdiction on the settlement of disputes within the SADC region. The article also considers the extent to which the removal of private access from the Tribunal's jurisdiction affects the settlement of trade disputes within SADC; , and whether the Tribunal is reconcilable with the World Trade Organization ("WTO")'s dispute settlement mechanism, which is regarded as being one of the salient features of the international trading regime.
One would be justified in thinking that AU member states have intentionally created a court which they consciously know they would hardly use given the inertia identified above. If the reforms that would extend standing to private parties are not undertaken, there is little guarantee that Member States will suddenly change their habits. Assuming for once that they trigger the mechanism, it is also very likely that, consistent with their practice for political solutions to legal problems, they would not proceed beyond the consultation and good offices stages provided in Articles 7 and 8 of the Dispute Settlement Protocol.
The AfCFTA-DSM will be nestled in a culture of African States that does no pursue formal settlement of trade disputes before judicial or quasi-judicial bodies. Given the dearth of core economic integration disputes before the African regional economic community courts; and, the failure of previous WTO-like DSM transplanted at the regional level, what potential if any, has the AfCFTA-DSM to chart a new course? Similarly, what can we garner about the culture of African States towards trade disputes?