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The participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the WTO dispute settlement system

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This article focuses on a particular aspect of the post-Uruguay Round trade dispute settlement system: the extent of the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in WTO dispute settlement. It presents this issue in a larger context of NGO representation in the WTO in general. After providing a brief summary of the present dispute settlement system, the central portion of this article will deal with the repeatedly voiced calls for a participation of NGOs in the WTO dispute settlement system. There is little doubt that in a rapidly growing global village, trade policy and other policy areas overlap more and more and thus an involvement of NGOs in the WTO dispute settlement system may be required to satisfy the need for well-informed and all-embracing decision-making. But opinions differ considerably as to whether, and how, such an active role for NGOs should be defined. Radical reformers demand standing for NGOs before WTO dispute settlement panels, whereas most scholars and policymakers would be satisfied with an extended indirect role of NGOs in panel proceedings. This article will explain the theoretical basis for this demand, examine the role NGOs currently play in WTO dispute resolution proceedings, put forward arguments for and against NGO participation, and briefly outline potential future developments.

Affiliations: 1: Institut für Völkerrecht und Internationale Beziehungen, Universitätsstrasse 2, A-1090 Vienna, Austria; 2: University of Passau, Germany (author for correspondence, E-mail:


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