Recalling how the free trader Benjamin Franklin pondered whether politics in America would be able to keep the republic he had helped to create, this essay looks at whether politics in the world will now be able to keep the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the face of the ongoing attacks by the US government. The essay makes several theoretical contributions: (1) to debunk the Trump Administration's arguments that there is a trade-off between American sovereignty and global governance by showing that this is a false dichotomy; (2) to identify the key design features of specialized international organizations that are crucial to organizational success and to point out the irony of the fact that the presence of those features in the WTO does not seem to enhance the WTO's popularity while the absence of these features in the Paris Agreement on Climate does not seem to undermine that Agreement's popularity; and (3) to dismiss application of the "embedded liberalism" thesis to the WTO. In addition, the essay makes several historical contributions: (1) to chronicle the 19th and early 20th century roots of the post-World War II trading system; (2) to show how the current US criticism of the WTO Appellate Body fits into the broader and longtime American governmental fears of being held accountable by international courts; and (3) to offer a revisionist interpretation of the US-China trade war that emphasizes the failure of the WTO to honor its commitments to China and the failure of the US to make use of the WTO judicial system to bring cases against China's violations of its applicant WTO-plus commitments. The essay concludes with several practical suggestions: (1) to recognize the geopolitical dangers in the unprincipled economic sanctions against China by the Trump Administration and to understand the need to take steps to resist the rise of US mercantilism and protectionism; (2) to enhance the nascent parliamentary dimension of the WTO in order to build more political support for and legitimacy of trade rules; and (3) to devise a workaround to WTO rules on consensus decision making and nondiscrimination by moving forward with broad-based, open plurilateral agreements among like-minded countries to foster more opportunities for international trade.
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2019-46; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-46
Charnovitz, Steve, A WTO If You Can Keep It (November 2019). Steve Charnovitz, A WTO If You Can Keep It, Questions Int'l L.J., Nov. 2019, at 5.; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2019-46; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-46. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3498574