Principles of WTO Settlement
Agreements and National Policy
Since the various agreements that constitute the WTO cover such a wide range of topics, dispute settlement panelists find that a number of subjects come under their authority. This places WTO dispute panels in a delicate position. On the one hand they must identify cases where nations are failing to comply with international trade agreements; on the other, they must be cautious when making recommendations that reverse the preferences of national governments.
Thus far, in the decisions of the panels and the Appellate Body, there has been a tendency to write decisions in a way that minimizes the burden on nations to change their regulations and laws in order to comply with their WTO trade obligations. This does not mean that dispute settlement panels have not found nations in violation of the trade agreements. When they have, however, they have left national governments with a variety of options in order to come into compliance.
Two cases in which panel reports were adopted reflect the WTO’s tendency to avoid becoming overly involved in the internal regulatory affairs of nations. These cases have been selected as examples because they have received a lot of attention, but the trend described can be found in each case where a panel report has been issued. Both examples are complaints by the United States, one against the European Union (EU) regarding restrictions on import of hormone treated meat, and the other against Japan regarding the photographic film industry. In the first case the United States won the concessions it sought; in the second case the panel found no evidence of violation of the trade agreements.