Committee on SMEs and Dispute Settlement

Under other barriers that SMEs face within the international trade system, one that has already been mentioned by some scholars, is the dispute settlement system. Although the dispute settlement system is considered as one of the milestones that the WTO has been able to implement, it still presents some barriers for minor players in international trade, as is the case of SMEs (OECD, 2008, pp. 97-98).

Currently the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) only allows for governments to bring cases to the dispute settlement court (WTO, 1994). Apart from this, legal costs for such a dispute settlement are high and almost inaccessible for most SMEs. (Nordström & Shaffer, 2008, p. 588; De Palo & Costabile, 2005)

Due to these restraints, it is in the best interest of WTO Members as well as the international trade system, to facilitate such procedures for Small and Medium Enterprises. As possibilities for this facilitations are:

  • The implementation of alternative dispute settlement methods for smaller players like mediation or a Small Claims Court which could possibly solve minor disputes at much lower costs and faster. This could include systems of arbitration which are already existent under the DSU agreement (Nordström & Shaffer, 2008, pp. 604-606; WTO, 1994). Such alternative dispute settlement methods could further be made similar to those existing within the SPS Agreement (Art. 12.2) and NAMA Negotiations.
  • Enable dispute settlement through internet technology. Although this might seem as a long-term solution, it is believed that the international trade system should take more advantage of such technologies (OECD, 2008, p. 98).
  • Implement possible solutions which make it more attractive for governments to bring the disputes of these smaller cases to dispute settlement.

Solutions for the area of dispute settlement for smaller players seem to be a more distant goal. However, these issues have to be tackled already so that members as well as the WTO itself, can prepare themselves and create a framework, which facilitates the implementation of such measures.

In this committee you shall discuss the possible implementation of measures which facilitate SMEs access to dispute settlement on international basis. This should be done either an inclusion into the already existing Dispute Settlement understanding or as a new agreement or annex to an already existing one. Such rules shall not contradict any of the existing laws (unless you amend them) nor amendments of your colleagues in other committees.

Download full PDF fileThe WTO and Small and Medium Enterprises

Meet the Chairs

Bagirathy Suriyakumaran


Kenneth Ruhee