The importance of regional trade agreements (RTAs) and their dispute settlement mechanisms (DSMs) will likely continue to grow considering the dynamics of the multilateral trade negotiations and the challenges faced by the World Trade Organization dispute settlement system. This paper examines the evolution RTA-DSMs and their common features. It looks at six aspects in particular: initiation, method of settlement, procedures for adjudication, enforcement, openness, and institutional arrangements. It argues that the evolution is a reflection of a continuous effort to improve the avenues available for resolving disputes, while calibrating a careful balance between retaining state flexibility and control, on the one hand, and the degree of delegation of resolution to neutral third parties, on the other hand. The author also puts forward policy options for those mechanisms to be more accessible and effective.
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