Busier than Ever? A Data-Driven Assessment and Forecast of WTO Caseload

Joost Pauwelyn, Weiwei Zhangb
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for Trade and Economic Integration, The Graduate Institute (IHEID)
Conventional wisdom has it that, in recent years, the legalized mechanism of dispute settlement before the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been “busier than ever”, “a victim of its own success”. This paper uses count data to assess the WTO’s current caseload and examines how it has evolved since the WTO’s creation in 1995. We also forecast panel and Appellate Body (AB) caseload ten years from now using different scenarios. WTO dispute settlement does, indeed, currently experience a peak in terms of the total number of cases pending before panels and the AB (as of 30 April 2018, respectively, 18 and 8). However, this is not due to an increase in new cases filed (new consultation requests markedly reduced, from a high of 50 in 1997 to “only” 17 in 2017), but rather because pending cases take much longer to conclude as they have become more complex and are often delayed for lack of human resources. In addition, fewer cases filed get formally settled (from 20% in the first five years of the WTO to almost zero after 2014), appeal rates remain very high (on average 68%), and the share of follow-up disputes over compliance (DSU Art. 21.5) has markedly increased, all three factors leading to more (pending) caseload without actually more (new) cases filed, or more panel or AB reports issued (the number of reports produced per year has actually gone down, dropping from a peak of 26 panel reports and 13 AB reports in 2000, to “only” 13 panel reports and 6 Appellate Body reports in 2017).
Economics, International Trade and Finance, World Trade Organization, Global Political Economy
Political Geography
Switzerland, Global Focus