WTO Dispute Settlement


The WTO provides a platform for members to discuss their trade-related concerns and differences. Dispute resolution forms a central element of this process.

WTO members have committed to making use of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism instead of taking unilateral measures in trade disputes. The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) is the primary authority in this area. The dispute resolution process begins with a consultation phase. If the parties do not find a solution within 60 days, the complainant can request that a panel be appointed to carry out a legal assessment of the case. The parties then have an opportunity to appeal to the Appellate Body. If WTO rules have been broken, the losing party in the dispute is ordered to bring its practices into compliance with WTO law. The WTO member can decide for itself whether to abolish the practice or make adjustments. The complainant can request permission to retaliate only if the respondent to the complaint does not comply. The WTO dispute settlement mechanism is an efficient means of achieving compliance with the rules of international trade. It also has an equalising effect: even small countries can win cases against major trade powers in the dispute resolution process.  

Importance for Switzerland

A rules-based trading system is highly significant for a small country like Switzerland. While Switzerland has never had to defend itself in a dispute settlement procedure, it has already made two complaints (in 2002 and 2018), both of which concerned the US imposing countervailing duties on steel and aluminium.

Switzerland is participating as a third party in a current case between the EU and the US in the agriculture sector. The dispute centres on countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Spanish olives (DS 577 US –  Ripe Olives from Spain). As a third party, Switzerland does not have to take an official position, but receives privileged access to information concerning the dispute. Although the focus remains largely on the subsidy agreement, there could be discussion of issues relevant to agricultural policy. 

Efforts to reform the multilateral trading system have focused on dispute settlement for some time now. The US has been persistently blocking the appointment of new members to the Appellate Body. The Body has not been operational since December 2019 for this reason, which is preventing it from hearing new appeals. Switzerland has worked with other WTO members to draw up a provisional multi-party agreement that provides for an appeal procedure by means of arbitration. Currently, a total of 21 WTO members participate in this mechanism. The arrangement is based on existing WTO rules, and it will remain in force among the participants only until the Appellate Body becomes fully operational again. The Federal Council decided on 3 April 2020 that Switzerland should join the agreement. 

Overview of significant agricultural disputes:

Last modification 04.01.2023

Top of page


Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG
International Trade relations

Schwarzenburgstrasse 165

3003 Bern
+41 58 466 07 83

Michèle Däppen

Print contact