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WTO Interpretation of Multilingual Legal Texts.

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Presentation on theme: "WTO Interpretation of Multilingual Legal Texts."— Presentation transcript:

1 WTO Interpretation of Multilingual Legal Texts


3 Phases of multilingual treaties Negotiation/Drafting Translation Interpretation/Litigation

4 Issues common to all phases Ambiguous terms Terminology from other agreements Different usage in different countries in same language


6 You say tomato, I say tomato….

7 An ounce of prevention… Errors and problems always will occur Goal is full concordance of legal texts Need procedures ex post and ex ante Need to institutionalize best practices Translation professionals need time UN uses VCLT Art 79 rectification. Uruguay Round agreed to use Art 79 for Spanish and French GATT, but corrections never authenticated.

8 Negotiation & drafting



11 WTO negotiation & drafting issues Constructive ambiguity (flexibility) Terminology from other agreements (effect of context, jurisprudence) Different usage in different countries in same language (intra-linguistic differences)

12 Translation


14 Translation issues Ambiguity is hard to translate Harmonization problems (terminology from other agreements) Simple errors or differences in usage? (should/shall, and/or)


16 Categorization of Potential Discrepancies in 3 Legal Texts Substantive versus superficial differences –Translation versus interpretation perspective –Translation versus negotiation issues Identify categories of substantive translation and interpretation issues to: –Create rectification procedures –Create rules of interpretation To address discrepancies by category

17 Interpretation VCLT Art 31, 32, 33

18 VCLT Art 31: General rule of interpretation 1. A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose. 2. The context for the purpose of the interpretation of a treaty shall comprise, in addition to the text, including its preamble and annexes: (a) any agreement relating to the treaty which was made between all the parties in connection with the conclusion of the treaty; (b) any instrument which was made by one or more parties in connection with the conclusion of the treaty and accepted by the other parties as an instrument related to the treaty.

19 VCLT Art 31: General rule of interpretation 3. There shall be taken into account, together with the context: (a) any subsequent agreement between the parties regarding the interpretation of the treaty or the application of its provisions; (b) any subsequent practice in the application of the treaty which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation; (c) any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties. 4. A special meaning shall be given to a term if it is established that the parties so intended.

20 VCLT Art 32 Supplementary means of interpretation Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31: (a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable.

21 VCLT Art 33: Interpretation of treaties authenticated in two or more languages 1. When a treaty has been authenticated in two or more languages, the text is equally authoritative in each language, unless the treaty provides or the parties agree that, in case of divergence, a particular text shall prevail. 2. A version of the treaty in a language other than one of those in which the text was authenticated shall be considered an authentic text only if the treaty so provides or the parties so agree. 3. The terms of the treaty are presumed to have the same meaning in each authentic text. 4. Except where a particular text prevails in accordance with paragraph 1, when a comparison of the authentic texts discloses a difference of meaning which the application of articles 31 and 32 does not remove, the meaning which best reconciles the texts, having regard to the object and purpose of the treaty, shall be adopted.

22 Categories of existing discrepancies Simple errors; Different terms to express same idea in different texts (intra-linguistic differences); Ambiguous terms; Harmonization problems (phrases that are identical across different agreements); Ambiguity from different placement of terms in different languages.

23 Simple errors or intra-linguistic differences ? should/shall and/or

24 DSU Art. 18.2 A petición de un Miembro, una parte en la diferencia podrá también facilitar un resumen no confidencial de la información contenida en sus comunicaciones escritas que pueda hacerse público. A party to a dispute shall also, upon request of a Member, provide a non-confidential summary of the information contained in its written submissions that could be disclosed to the public. Une partie à un différend fournira aussi, si un Membre le demande, un résumé non confidentiel des renseignements contenus dans ses exposés écrits qui peuvent être communiqués au public.

25 DSU Art 11 A panel “should make objective assessment of the matter before it”. English interpreted as mandatory due process provision (EC — Hormones, AB, n 64; Canada — Aircraft, AB, para. 187). Deberá hacer Devrait procéder AB did not consider Spanish and French.

26 GATS, Art. XVII:1 … cada Miembro otorgará a los servicios y a los proveedores de servicios de cualquier otro Miembro…un trato no menos favorable que el que dispense a sus propios servicios similares o proveedores de servicios similares. … each Member shall accord to services and service suppliers of any other Member…treatment no less favourable than that it accords to its own like services and service suppliers. …chaque Membre accordera aux services et fournisseurs de services de tout autre Membre…un traitement non moins favorable que celui qu'il accorde à ses propres services similaires et à ses propres fournisseurs de services similaires.

27 GATS Art. II:1 …cada Miembro otorgará inmediata e incondicionalmente a los servicios y a los proveedores de servicios de cualquier otro Miembro un trato no menos favorable que el que conceda a los servicios similares y a los proveedores de servicios similares de cualquier otro país. …each Member shall accord immediately and unconditionally to services and service suppliers of any other Member treatment no less favourable than that it accords to like services and service suppliers of any other country. …chaque Membre accordera immédiatement et sans condition aux services et fournisseurs de services de tout autre Membre un traitement non moins favorable que celui qu'il accorde aux services similaires et fournisseurs de services similaires de tout autre pays.

28 Ambiguity

29 Safeguards Agreement Article 4.1(c)...a “domestic industry” shall be understood to mean...those whose collective output...constitutes a major proportion of the total domestic production of those products....l’expression “branche de production nationale” s’ ceux dont les productions additionées...constituent une proportion majeure de la production nationale totale de ces entenderá por “rama de producción nacional”...aquellos cuya producción conjunta...constituya una proporción importante de la producción nacional total de esos productos.

30 GATT Article XX(g) Requires that conservation measures be “made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption”. French (“sont appliqués”) and Spanish (“se apliquen”) are less ambiguous. French and Spanish confirm no requirement that the conservation measure be primarily aimed at making effective the restrictions on domestic production or consumption: China – Raw Materials (AB).

31 Harmonization

32 TRIPS Article 4 GATT Article I:1 (MFN) shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally seront, immédiatement et sans condition, étendus será concedido inmediata e incondicionalmente TRIPS Article 4 (MFN) shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally seront, immédiatement et sans condition, étendus se otorgará inmediatamente y sin condiciones

33 AoA Art 9.1 & SCM Art 1.1(a)(1) AoA 9.1, (a) and (b): export subsidies –“governments or their agencies” –“les pouvoirs publics ou leurs organismes” –“por los gobiernos o por los organismos públicos” SCM 1.1(a)(1): financial contribution –“by a government or any public body” –“des pouvoirs publics ou de tout organisme public” –“de un gobierno o de cualquier organismo público” Same term “organismo público” does not require same interpretation: US – Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties (China) (AB).

34 Different placement of terms

35 TBT Agreement Annex 1.1 “Requirements” refers only to labelling? It may also include or deal exclusively with terminology, symbols, packaging, marking or labelling requirements as they apply to a product, process or production method. Il peut aussi traiter en partie ou en totalité de terminologie, de symboles, de prescriptions en matière d'emballage, de marquage ou d'étiquetage, pour un produit, un procédé ou une méthode de production donnés. También puede incluir prescripciones en materia de terminología, símbolos, embalaje, marcado o etiquetado aplicables a un producto, proceso o método de producción, o tratar exclusivamente de ellas.

36 Other categories of potential discrepancies Generic terms subject to evolutionary interpretation; Terms with special meaning: VCLT Article 31(4); False friends (actual (English), actuel/actuelle (French) and actual (Spanish)); Terms with no equivalent in the other languages (liability/responsibility); Need to use the terms used in old agreements to express the same idea in new agreements.

37 Interpretation & Litigation


39 What does Art. 33 require? (1)Understand the treaty on the basis of one text, presumed to express the common meaning; (2)If there is a problem or lack of clarity, compare the authentic texts in an effort to find their common meaning; (3)If there is a difference of meaning, apply Article 31 and, as a supplementary means, Article 32; and (4)Reconcile the texts in light of the object and purpose.

40 WTO dispute settlement practice Presumption of common meaning versus English as a master text Text comparison to resolve ambiguity by reference to clearer terms in other texts Text comparison to confirm English text What about multilingual jurisprudence?


42 Best practices & proposed reforms

43 EU Practice Drafting by non-native English or native speakers that lost touch with mother tongue. EU database of texts with similar phrases, terms judicially considered. Codification process harmonizes terminology in subsequent versions of legislation. Some EU guidelines: –Self-control by drafters to avoid phrasing that would be difficult to translate; –“Wrong once-forever right syndrome”: allow changes to inappropriate translations in subsequent legal texts.

44 UN ILC Practice Translators in drafting process from start. Separate editing and correction process. Concordance committee meets face-to-face. ILC plenary: discuss terms in all languages. “Use of terms”: concepts, definitions, choices. Late stage discrepancies: corrigendum. “Wrong once-forever right syndrome”: translators add note with reason for change.

45 WTO practice No separate procedure for quality control, editing and proofreading. Translators serve these functions, in addition to function as translators. Short time limits.

46 Proposals, prevention ex ante Provide more time for translations. Create a list of categories of discrepancies. Annual workshop to develop best practices guidelines based on: –experience of WTO; –other international organizations; and –countries with multilingual legislation.

47 Proposed best practices Online drafting guidelines for negotiators; Better use by drafters of database:; Involve translators from start, especially in harmonization of original text; Procedure to edit translations after approval is unlikely; Allow drafters & translators to provide notes to explain choice and meaning of terms used in texts.

48 Proposals, cure ex post Rules of interpretation to address certain categories of discrepancies; Rule of interpretation: English, French and Spanish texts are authentic, but original text prevails in case of discrepancy; System to correct existing errors: VCLT Art. 79; Rectification procedure, borrowing from GATT/ WTO practice to correct errors in tariff schedules.

49 Conclusion Concordance of multilingual legal texts raises drafting, translation & interpretation issues. Drafters should choose translatable terms & phrases. WTO translators work with short deadlines and without the benefit of separate procedures for quality control or editing.




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