Developing countries in WTO dispute boost

A major step towards stamping out inequalities in global trade has been taken with the establishment of a panel of European and US law firms to represent developing countries in World Trade Organisation (WTO) disputes.

Financial constraints mean the developing world has largely been unable to carry out legal challenges to unfair trade and competition policy that sometimes favours richer countries.

The panel of eight law firms, which includes Clyde & Co, will be able to make these challenges possible by working for markedly reduced fee rates on behalf of 20 developing countries.

“Until now there was no funding available, so these countries just gave up [when either bringing or receiving claims] or simply didn’t litigate,” said Clydes’ panel representative, partner Philippe Ruttley, a former senior UN lawyer.

The panel has been set up by the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (AWCL), an independent body providing legal advice to countries that cannot afford to pay for WTO litigation. With only six lawyers, the AWCL will be heavily reliant on the external firms, as it will often come up against the heavyweight legal teams of the US and Europe.

The other panel firms are: Baker & Mckenzie; King and Spalding; Brussels food law specialist firm O’Connor & Company; Sidley Austin Brown & Wood; Washington DC firm Thomas and Partners; Brussels firm Vermulst Waer & Verhaeghe; and White & Case.

The panel will also focus on reversing some developing countries’ fear
of bringing WTO claims because, said Ruttley, “they feel it may sour relations with their donor countries”.

He added: “In this sense, our work will have a political element.”
It may also encourage the resolution of disputes between developing countries which until now have resorted to political gameplaying and threats.

However, the panel has met with criticism from the EU as it is made up of lawyers from countries that will often receive complaints from the developing countries they represent.

To access the panel, whose lawyers will be paid a significantly reduced hourly rate, developing countries will have to pay a token AWCL membership fee.