September 17, 2002
Two Asean trade diplomats have rejected a United States proposal to open up the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement mechanism to public scrutiny, and to allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to offer unsolicited briefs as friends of the court - or amicus curiae in legal parlance - to the dispute settlement panels and the Appellate Body.
The Asean representatives said that Washington's move would undermine the inter-governmental framework of the WTO.
Singapore's WTO ambassador Vanu Menon told BT that his delegation had serious reservations on allowing NGOs unrestricted access to dispute settlement panels, which accomplish a range of sensitive tasks in resolving trade disputes among sovereign nations. At issue is how to reform the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism, which has taken up some 260 disputes ranging from brooms to textiles, from bananas to steel, and from shrimp-turtles to reform of domestic tax systems.
By May 31, 2003, WTO members are required to agree on a set of reform proposals to improve the functioning of its dispute settlement understanding, and currently members are busy tabling reform proposals.
The US, which is championing the cause of NGOs, made a three-page proposal related to transparency - calling for complete public access to hearings, unrestricted access to amicus curiae briefs, timely access to submissions, and timely access to final reports.
Mr Menon said that while there were some good aspects in the US proposal regarding timely access to panel reports, the key proposal to throw open proceedings to the public was unacceptable. Malaysia, a strong critic of the US proposal, maintained that Washington's proposal could not be considered because it fell outside the mandate of the WTO.
A US trade official strongly defended Washington's move last Thursday by saying that the time has come to address the issue of transparency, and allow powerful stakeholders like NGOs to have access to the trade dispute proceedings. The official said the issue could not be swept under the carpet any longer.
The amicus curiae issue, which involves NGOs in environment or industry lobbies submitting briefs directly to panels or the Appellate Body, has divided the WTO.
Barring the US, the EU, Norway, and a few other western countries, the entire membership of the WTO is opposed to allowing briefs from interested parties and lobbies gaining access to the trade dispute resolution mechanism.
More Information on NGOs
More Information on NGOs and the WTO
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C Â§ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.