When the WTO Works, and How it Fails

46 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2010 Last revised: 5 Apr 2010

See all articles by Anu Bradford

Anu Bradford

Columbia University - Law School

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Date Written: March 4, 2010


This Article seeks to explain when an international legal framework like the WTO can facilitate international cooperation and when it fails to do so. Using an empirical inquiry into different agreements that the WTO has attempted to facilitate – specifically intellectual property and antitrust regulation – it reveals more general principles about when and why the WTO can facilitate agreement in some situations and not others. Comparing the successful conclusion of the TRIPs Agreement and the failed attempts to negotiate a WTO antitrust agreement reveal that international cooperation is likely to emerge when the interests of powerful states are closely aligned and when concentrated interest groups within those states actively support cooperation. They further suggest that the WTO provides an optimal forum for cooperation when states need to rely on cross-issue linkages to overcome existing distributional conflicts, when the underlying issue calls for an enforcement mechanism, or when both the net benefits of the agreement and the opportunity costs of non-agreement are high. Contrasting the key differences between IP and antitrust cooperation, this Article disputes the widely held view that the strategic situation underlying IP and antitrust cooperation are similar and that the conclusion of the TRIPs Agreement is a relevant precedent predicting a successful WTO negotiation on antitrust or a host of other new regulatory issues. Given the ongoing changes in the economic and political landscape, cooperation in the WTO is even more challenging today and it is possible that – absent institutional reforms – the WTO’s recent expansion may well have met its limits.

Suggested Citation

Bradford, Anu, When the WTO Works, and How it Fails (March 4, 2010). U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 300, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1569838 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1569838

Anu Bradford (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

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New York, NY 10009

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