Investigations shall, except in special circumstances, be concluded within one year, and in no case more than 18 months, after their initiation. (emphasis added)
We consider that the requirement set out in Article 11.11 is clear and unequivocal. This provision starts with a general rule – that investigations must be concluded within one year — and then provides for a limited, conditional exception. In particular, in "special circumstances" an investigation may be prolonged, but "in no case" may the total period of investigation exceed 18 months. We see no basis in this provision (nor authority in any other part of the SCM Agreement) to prolong an investigation beyond 18 months for any reason, including requests from interested parties.
Concerning the facts of the case, while Mexico disagrees with the European Communities about the exact date of initiation (see section VII.B, supra), it does not deny that the olive oil investigation lasted longer than the 18-month maximum provided for in Article 11.11. We recall our finding, above, that the date of initiation was 17 July 2003. As such, the total length of the investigation was more than 24 months, i.e., well in excess of the 18-month absolute maximum.
We find that Mexico's investigation in this case was concluded more than 18 months after the date of its initiation, and that Article 11.11 does not permit such prolongation under any circumstances. For that reason, we conclude that Mexico has acted inconsistently with its obligation under Article 11.11 of the SCM Agreement.