Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Initiation of WTO Trade Disputes by the private sector by SADC/COMESA countries

Trade Reports

Initiation of WTO Trade Disputes by the private sector by SADC/COMESA countries

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WTO dispute settlement is inter-governmental in nature since the rules and procedures apply to the settlement of disputes between Members concerning their rights and obligations under the provisions of the WTO Agreement. Only the Members of the WTO are party to the covered agreements and are the primary bearers of the rights and obligations in those agreements. Non-State actors cannot access the dispute settlement mechanism directly, and must go through Member States. In that sense, each WTO Member necessarily acts as a filter of disputes involving its traders and other parties.

However, it would be entirely wrong to consider that the position of individuals is of no relevance to the GATT/WTO legal matrix. Many of the benefits to Members, which are meant to flow as a result of the acceptance of various disciplines under the GATT/WTO, depend on the activity of individual economic operators in the national and global marketplaces. The purpose of many of these disciplines, indeed one of the primary objects of the GATT/WTO as a whole, is to produce certain market conditions which would allow this individual activity to flourish. So although the WTO dispute settlement system is inter-governmental in nature, it remains true that the real players are the individual operators.

This paper draws lessons from the practice in the EU, the US and Australia, and seeks to find ways in which SADC and COMESA countries could put in place effective national systems in terms of which their economic operators can petition their governments to institute dispute settlement proceedings on their behalf when necessary.

Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.


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