Back in July, I blogged about how many WTO disputes there had been so far in 2012. At this pace, I said, we will see 24 complaints in 2012. As it turns out, I was pretty close, but actually underestimated the total. The final tally is now in: 27 complaints in 2012.
That's a pretty significant increase over recent years, even if you count things by informal "matters" (i.e. similar cases grouped together). Here's the annual number of complaints since the beginning of the WTO:
So 2012 had the most complaints and most matters since 2002.
What's going on here? A surge in protectionism, and an increasing number of WTO complaints as a response? More WTO Members, so more countries to complain about? Let's look at the list of 2012 complaints to see if there are any obvious explanations:
Based on this list, I'm not sure whether 2012 tells us much about the trend. One thing that jumps out is all the complaints involving Argentina: 8 of them. That seems unlikely to become a regular occurrence. Without that Argentina surge, the year looks a lot more normal.
In addition, there are 10 disputes involving China. That might be slightly more than usual, but it's a little less out of the norm than what happened with Argentina.
I also see more activity from developing country Members and from Japan and the U.S. than there has been in recent years.
And there are a couple recently acceded Members -- Ukraine and Viet Nam -- bringing cases.
I'm going to wait another year before I conclude that there has been any long-term change here.
ADDED: I've been double-checking this data, and upon further reflection, I changed the number of "matters" in 2012 from 21 to 20.