The Law and Politics of WTO Dispute Settlement
The Politics of International Law, eds. Wayne Sandholtz & Christopher Whytock, Oxford University Press, 2016
33 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2016 Last revised: 17 May 2016
Date Written: March 16, 2016
Since its inception in 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) includes a highly judicialized dispute settlement system that is unique in international law and politics at the multilateral level. The WTO’s institutionalized processes significantly mediate power in dispute settlement. In this chapter, we evaluate “this move to law,” and assess the operation of the WTO dispute settlement system in political context across different governance stages. We analyze three stages of dispute settlement in line with the “stages of governance” framework developed by Wayne Sandholtz and Chris Whytock: first, we evaluate the selection process of those who interpret the rules; second, we address the context and politics of rule interpretation; and third, we discuss compliance with WTO dispute settlement rulings. The chapter shows how the law and politics of these three stages interact, so that a static analysis of individual governance stages is insufficient. As we explain, the selection of Appellate Body members, panelists, and secretariat members affects the interpretation of WTO rules. Certain interpretations, in turn, encounter stark resistance, leading to compliance challenges. The compliance challenges threaten the authority of panels and the Appellate Body, and can, in turn, inform subsequent interpretive choices, as well as the selection process of Appellate Body members and panelists. Law and politics thus continuously interact, shaping the WTO’s dispute settlement process. The chapter first evaluates the external and internal factors that drove the legalization and judicialization of the WTO dispute settlement system, and that of its predecessor, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It then analyzes three stages of governance and explains their interaction.
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