Agriculture Flavours the 6th Annual African WTO Moot Court

The Annual African Trade Moot is a joint initiative of the University of Pretoria and the University of the Western Cape, now in its 6th year. Drawing on our expertise in agricultural trade issues, Hilton Zunckel has designed the 2009 moot problem for the competition. The competition is a unique opportunity for students from Anglophone African countries to engage in topical agricultural trade issues in international trade law as would be argued before a WTO panel.
Students studying towards a Bachelors degree in law or economics are eligible to participate in the competition and ideally a team should consist of one law and one economics student. The judges who act as the WTO panelists will consist of representatives of the participating law faculties in the preliminary rounds. In the final rounds judges will be a panels of regional trade experts which will include representatives from the WTO Secretariat and actual former WTO panelists.

WTO dispute settlement is essentially an international quasi-judicial process for trade matters – a trade court. Officially, the WTO legal text that governs the settlement of disputes is the ‘Understanding of the Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes’, colloquially referred to as the dispute settlement understanding, or DSU for short.

Dispute settlement is a central feature in the multilateral trading system. Sadly Africans have been relatively shy in engaging in the process, hence the importance of events like the African WTO Moot Court in engendering an understanding of the benefits of dispute settlement. Over the past 15 years, that is since its inception, WTO Dispute Settlement has proven to be one of the most effective instruments available in any multilateral forum to defuse disagreements between countries as to their respective rights and obligations under the WTO’s rather unique aquis of international law. The WTO’s 10 year anniversary strategic review under the auspices of former Director General Peter Sutherland found the dispute settlement system to be a ‘unique contribution’ to the stability of the global economy, a construct ‘to be admired’ and ‘a significant step forward’ in the rules based system of international trade diplomacy. Matters before the WTO are between the governments of Member countries and natural or legal persons parties do not have standing in the WTO generally, or under the dispute settlement system. Industries and farmers thus rely on the government to initiate a WTO action.

With 3 out of every 4 Africans working in the agricultural sector, where the continent has a sizeable comparative advantage, it is not surprising that agricultural subsidies as provided to farmers in the developed world have been contentious for African farmers. The 2009 Trade Moot Court competition is thus designed to attune participants to the role of agriculture on the African continent and to introduce them to the key concepts surrounding the use of agricultural subsidies in terms of the WTO’s rules.

The event will be held between 28 September – 2 October 2009, and further details can be found at We actively encourage regional law faculties to make use of this unique learning experience.