WTO Dispute Settlement and the Missing Developing Country Cases: Engaging the Private Sector

Bernard M. Hoekman and Chad P. Bown


The poorest WTO member countries almost universally fail to engage as either complainants or interested third parties in formal dispute settlement activity related to their market access interests. This paper focuses on costs of the WTO’s extended litigation process as an explanation for the potential but “missing” developing country engagement. We provide a positive examination of the current system, and we catalogue and analyze a set of proposals encouraging the private sector to provide DSU-specific legal assistance to poor countries.

We investigate the role of legal service centres, non-governmental organizations, development organizations, international trade litigators, economists, consumer organizations, and even law schools to provide poor countries with the missing services needed at critical stages of the WTO’s extended litigation process. In the absence of systemic rules reform, the public-private partnership model imposes a substantial cooperation burden on such groups as they organize export interests, estimate the size of improved market access payoffs, prioritize across potential cases, engage domestic governments, prepare legal briefs, assist in evidentiary discovery, and pursue the public relations effort required to induce foreign political compliance.