In the twenty-first century, World Trade Organization (WTO) members have put great energy and creativity in liberalising trade through regional trade agreements (RTAs), even as trade liberalisation in the WTO has met increasing challenges. This paper discusses how the parties to RTAs have approached the problem of enforcing RTA obligations and settling disputes. It examines why there have been relatively few known RTA panel disputes so far, and how this situation could change. Even if dispute settlement mechanisms are not currently used, they give RTA parties the option to bring and pursue disputes about RTA compliance. This is important as having options matters for real-world outcomes. The paper further introduces a proposal to facilitate options for RTA parties to settle their disputes by drafting a model set of unambiguous common dispute settlement procedures, with standardised differentiated options to accommodate governments’ needs and situations. Other suggestions include creation of a reference database of RTA dispute settlement provisions and a checklist of practical issues for administering an RTA dispute.
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