Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Reconstruing WTO Legitimacy Debates

Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 64, 2011

37 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2011  

Michael Fakhri

University of Oregon - School of Law

Date Written: December 5, 2011


There is an emerging consensus that the WTO is in grave need of institutional redesign. For the last fifteen years, questions of WTO institutional reform have been framed as a matter of improving the WTO’s legitimacy. This Article suggests that thinking about WTO redesign as a matter of improving its legitimacy limits our ability to fundamentally appreciate what the WTO’s function and purpose is and conceptualize what it should be. It would be more useful to know what is exactly at stake and what have been the social, political, and economic implications of the legitimacy debate thus far.

The legitimacy debate appears in discussions regarding constitutionalization, the dispute settlement system, and non-state actor participation and institutional transparency. The divisions between arguments in the legitimacy debate are usually understood to be between rule-based constitutionalization versus economic rights constitutionalization, sympathy versus skepticism regarding non-state actor participation, and support for a more legalized dispute-settlement system versus a more politicized dispute-settlement system.

By reconstruing the legitimacy debate, the Article uncovers how what at first seem to be incongruent positions appear to be more related. Constitutional discourse draws from a desire to reduce politics in international trade and is a way of subordinating the state to markets or international institutions. Dispute settlement debates are a way to negotiate the relationship between the WTO and the state. Participation and transparency arguments derive from a shared empirical assumption that the WTO’s power to govern globally is pervading everyday life and the state’s power is waning.

Keywords: international trade law, WTO, international legitimacy, international organizations

JEL Classification: K33, O19

Suggested Citation

Fakhri, Michael, Reconstruing WTO Legitimacy Debates (December 5, 2011). Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 64, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Michael Fakhri (Contact Author)

University of Oregon - School of Law ( email )

1515 Agate Street
Eugene, OR Oregon 97403
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views