Technical note: Dispute settlement is not essential (but it helps)

This technical note accompanies
How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement (with more details),
A bit of bother down at the WTO court — Why? And is it a killer? Long read,
By Christmas 2019 the WTO was supposed to be dead — why wasn’t it? A short explanation
and The WTO is regularly in crisis, but this time could be different

By Peter Ungphakorn

The vast majority of trade measures introduced by WTO members comply with their commitments and with WTO rules, and pass almost unnoticed.
This is most clearly seen with the two most important types of non-tariff barriers: sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS, which is food safety and animal and plant health) and technical barriers to trade (TBT, all other product standards, regulation and labelling, including for nutrition, health and safety). Each has a committee in the WTO comprising all WTO members.
Key figures: less than 0.07% of SPS and TBT measures notified to the WTO (less than seven in every 10,000 measures) end up as “full” disputes going through the major stages of the process (0.15% if disputes that were withdrawn, settled out of court or dormant are included).
Less than 2% of notified measures are raised as concerns in the SPS and TBT committees and over 90% of those never become disputes because they are resolved through the committees, or in informal discussions in the sidelines of those meetings.

How is it doing? The WTO’s purpose is free-flowing trade | CC BY-SA 2.0. Click the image to see it full size
Non-tariff barriers (SPS and TBT) notified to the WTO, concerns raised, and disputes to October 29, 2021
Source: WTO. Data retrieved November 13, 2021 from the WTO’s SPS database, TBT database and its webpages on SPS disputes and TBT disputes. Download the data: pdf, 15 pages. (Click the images to see them full size)

November 13, 2021 — updating charts and figures
February 14, 2021 — adding bubble chart and updated bar chart

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