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Open Dispute Hearing at WTO Reflects U.S. Transparency Effort

By Roya Stephens, Office of Public and Media Affairs

Earlier this week, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body began its two day public hearing in the feed-in tariff (FIT) dispute brought by the European Union (EU) and Japan against Canada’s domestic content requirements for solar and wind power. The hearing is the latest in a series of public WTO dispute settlement hearings at the WTO. Japan, Canada and the EU’s open session statements were broadcast to members of the public who registered to observe the hearing via closed circuit television in an adjoining room at the WTO. The public hearing is an affirmation of the U.S. drive to increase, and progress in increasing, transparency in WTO dispute settlement.

For years, the United States has urged WTO Members to join its efforts to make dispute settlement hearings public. At the 50th anniversary of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1997, President Clinton invited other parties to U.S. WTO disputes to agree to participate in open and public dispute hearings. The first instance of public observation of a dispute settlement proceeding was in September 2005, during the EC (European Communities) Hormones – Continued Suspension dispute involving the EU, Canada, and the United States. The panel and Appellate Body both agreed to hold their hearings in open sessions, and over 200 members of the public registered to attend.

Since then, the number of open hearings has grown as well as the number of Members willing to make open session, or public, statements. To date, there have been at least 12 different panel proceedings, including the Canada FIT dispute and nine other Appellate Body proceedings, producing at least 20 different public hearings. At least 30 WTO Members have made, or have agreed to make, a statement in at least one open session dispute settlement hearing, and over 350 members of the public have registered to attend at least one WTO public hearing. Any member of the public can register with the WTO to view the hearings, and many travel to Geneva solely for this purpose, reflecting the benefit and public value for having these hearings open for public observation. This trend in WTO dispute settlement demonstrates the value of the efforts to improve the transparency of the WTO dispute settlement system, as well as many Members’ increased acceptance of the value of transparency.