Together with the proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs), there has been a proliferation of dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) included in those agreements. While they are far from being used as often as the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, even in relative terms, these mechanisms are regular elements of RTAs and exist as one of the tools for handling trade differences. Considering the different paces of rule-making at the multilateral and regional levels, DSMs under RTAs are likely to become increasingly relevant in the future as litigious fora for addressing trade differences among trading partners, particularly with respect to WTO-extra obligations. For this to happen however, RTA DSMs need to function efficiently and effectively.
The few concluded RTA disputes highlight some of the challenges facing countries when using RTA DSMs and how such mechanisms relate to other international DSMs. While RTA DSMs may need to be improved in order for them to foster confidence and be able to resolve trade differences efficiently, they provide direct legal basis for RTA trade differences to be heard, especially those relating to WTO-extra matters. A relevant overarching question in this respect is therefore what can be done to promote a system that would address trade disputes in a more comprehensive manner.
As a contribution to this debate, this informal dialogue organized by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) aims at systematically reviewing dispute settlement provisions and practical experiences in using RTA DSMs. Leading experts, private sector representatives, practitioners and policy makers together with Geneva-based delegates and relevant IGOs will engage in the discussion. Ultimately, such a review will lead to the identification of priorities for action or governance reform that enhance coherence at the global level.