13 Feb 2017, SAGE journals

Legalization in context: The design of the WTO’s dispute settlement system

Journal article by Manfred Elsig in British Journal of International Relations and Politics Volume 19, No. 2

Abstract: This article asks why the dispute settlement provisions of the multilateral trading system underwent significant reforms during the negotiations that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Why did the leading trading powers accept a highly legalized system that departed from established political–diplomatic forms of settling disputes? The contribution of this article is threefold. First, it complements existing accounts that exclusively focus on the United States with a novel explanation that takes account of contextual factors. Second, it offers an in-depth empirical case study based on interviews with negotiators who were involved and novel archival evidence on the creation of the new WTO dispute settlement system. Third, by unpacking the long-standing puzzle of why states designed a highly legalized system, it addresses selected blind spots of the legalization and the rational design literatures with the aim of providing a better understanding about potential paths leading toward significant changes in legalization.

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