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The focus of our research was to broaden our understanding of the functioning of dispute resolution mechanisms (DRMs) in order to uncover their strengths and weaknesses. We chose to study the DRMs of two well-established free trade agreements: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We first investigated the primary information sources such as the texts of the agreements themselves, conventions, and dispute panel reports, as well as secondary information sources such as academic literature, government, NGO, and other media publications.

A range of options to be considered for recommendations to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was conceptualized. Subsequently, we conducted fifteen interviews with scholars, NGO representatives and past members of dispute resolution panels, in order to amass expert opinion both on our various options, as well as to add to our option list.

Our final step was to critically evaluate our list of options. To do this, we considered the pros and cons of each option based on their assessments given within the literature as well as within the interviews. We were then able to finalize our recommendations along with the necessary provisions that would ensure the optimal effectiveness of the recommendation.

We separated the options into three major areas of concern regarding the effectiveness of DRMs: transparency, balance of expertise and the public ability to voice concerns. Transparency is a key component in ensuring the public's ability to understand the basic functioning of a regime, to be able to hold the regime accountable, and to ensure that the dispute settlement process is balanced and fair.

Ensuring that the knowledge of experts is involved in the dispute deliberations is necessary to obtain balanced decisions. With only trade experts, it is not surprising that decisions often favour trade issues.

Finally, the concerns of the public must also be recognized by the process in which they are stakeholders. The public should have some way to participate in the process to encourage a fair distribution of interests.