Court TV comes to WTO

A Panel session with the parties to the latest dispute in the long-running beef hormones dispute will be televised. This is the first time that a WTO disputes procedure has been opened to non-participants and to the public The Chair of the Panel has written to the WTO Secretariat, ordering theinnovation bq.  With regard to the proceedings of the Panels in the two above-referenced cases, I am writing to advise you that following a common request made by the parties on 13 June 2005 and after careful consideration of the existing provisions of the DSU, we have decided that the panel meetings to which the parties are invited to appear will be open for observation by the public through a closed-circuit TV broadcast. The meeting of the Panels with the third parties will remain closed as not all the third parties have agreed to have it open for observation by the public. (“Communication from the Panel Chair”:http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/ds320-21-8_e.doc [Word document about 44k]) WTO Panels adopt their own procedures (within limits), so this innovation was always up to them, and the parties to the dispute, to decide. It’s an idea whose time is probably overdue. There’s no reason to spare the public the banality of Panel proceedings. Some greater transparency will help to dispel the myth that WTO disputes are somehow ‘fixed’ by the major economies or that they are a means of overriding national sovereignty. Most of the inter-Party action in a dispute is by written submission. The Panel usually conducts an interrogatory session with the representatives of the disputants that is not unlike, say, a supreme court interrogatory. There is no ‘examination’ (in-chief, or cross-) of the parties by the representatives of the other party and you can count on a minimum of drama. This dispute concerns the continued refusal of the EC to implement a long-standing decision of the WTO that it must lift its ban on the import of beef treated with growth promoting hormones (failing any sound scientific justification for the ban). Perhaps a public display of argument on this emotive issue will encourage a little drama in the presentations and playing to the pit. Perhaps that’s what led to this decision. But I hope not.

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