Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the Working Session on Dispute Settlement Reform at the Thirteenth Ministerial of the World Trade Organization

ABU DHABI – On February 28, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai delivered remarks at the Working Session on Dispute Settlement Reform at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Thirteenth Ministerial Conference (MC13).
In her remarks, Ambassador Tai emphasized the progress made through the interest-based approach to dispute settlement reform thus far and recognized the efforts of WTO Members in fostering productive discussions. Ambassador Tai also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to working with other WTO Members to having a well-functioning dispute settlement system that is accessible to all WTO Members.
During MC13, WTO Members adopted a Ministerial Decision on dispute settlement reform.  
Ambassador Tai’s remarks are below:
In the midst of our deliberations at the WTO, we at times get lost in the forest and see only the trees. In this context, it can be helpful to pull back and look at surroundings, to look at context and history to understand better where we are today.
The WTO is 29 years old this year – and the institution is showing its age. For the entirety of the time that the WTO has been operating, we have had a Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) review exercise where our legal advisors got together every few months to talk about how to improve the system by reforming the DSU.
This is an important part of our history: Since the beginning, WTO Members have acknowledged that the system was not perfect when it was brought forward. There was a recognition that there would be an opportunity to improve and reform the system.
The DSU review exercise was active for nearly 20 years. And we sit here today without any reform to show for it. It was a classic WTO negotiation – officials came from capital with their positions, engaged with one another – and nothing happened.
Let’s compare that experience with where we are today.
After MC12, less than two years ago, an interest-based process was initiated through U.S. efforts. This marked a different way of engaging with each other—not a discussion that is chilled from putting down positions, which is the typical negotiation dynamics that we see at the WTO and in every other negotiating room in Abu Dhabi right now.
Through this interest-based process, every Member was asked to identify and share the interests that they want served by a WTO system that supports Members in resolving disputes with other WTO Members. Because the reality is that all WTO Members have trade tensions – this is just the world we live in. But, historically, only a small subset of us have availed ourselves of the tools that were created for all of us.  
You took us up on this effort. Hundreds of interests were collected from WTO Members. Instead of beginning the discussion with a position or a proposal with each of our preferred text or words, Members identified their respective interests in dispute settlement.
We must recognize the work of the facilitator in the effort to take forward the discussion on these interests. We were fortunate to have amongst us someone so skilled in convening and bringing Members to the table and fostering a process for real conversation.   
The facilitator organized discussions on these interests around 12 groups of interests. The collective and collaborative work resulted in draft text totaling 50 pages of potential reforms that would advance shared interests.
It is important to give ourselves credit when credit is due. In just a year, we have made amazing progress. We have made more progress in one year than was made in nearly 20 years of the sometimes painful DSU review process.
The interest-based approach to discussions reflects a maturation of negotiation dynamics in Geneva. It is serving us well and will continue to do so. My officials tell me that the dispute settlement reform conversation is the only one where delegates come and actually talk to each other, instead of talking at each other. I want to appreciate how phenomenal this is.
I want to express the commitment of the United States to continuing with this interest-based process. With motivation and in good faith, we are working to achieve the commitment at MC12 to conduct discussions with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system – that is accessible to all Members – by 2024.
The work ahead of us is going to be hard. But frankly, everything at the WTO is hard. The WTO is worth this effort.
For WTO Members that have never used dispute settlement or are infrequent users, let me reflect to you that the interest-based approach is for all of us, including and especially you. Some of us have loud voices. But the interest-based process is meant to include everyone so that when we stand up a fully and well-functioning system again, each Member can see its interests reflected in it.
I want to close by affirming that this work is important to me. I started my life in trade policy as a WTO litigator. I want to celebrate the work of our legal advisors. They are not the fancy Ministers in this room, but they are making progress in the rooms where meaningful conversations are taking place. And in doing so, they are potentially creating for all of us a more mature way for WTO negotiators to come together to discuss issues, as well as potentially creating for us an improved way for Members to resolve trade disputes.
In closing, and on a personal level, I want to reiterate that I care deeply about this institution and the dispute settlement mechanism in particular. Although it developed problems over time, there is an opportunity for us now to continue to engage – with constructiveness and with collaboration – to create something new and better for all.