This paper discusses the challenge of improving transparency and participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Part I explores the development in international trade law of the norm for transparency and participation at the national level. The analysis begins with Immanuel Kant and traces the history of the issue in trade through the League of Nations and then to the postwar trading system culminating in the WTO. Part II describes the WTO's practices regarding openness and public participation, and then criticizes the current limitations. Part III proposes several new steps for the WTO to take to promote transparency and participation. The paper is situated in the new subfield of global administrative law. The feature of the WTO that most renders it an administrative agency is that the principals - that is, the Members - have given the WTO competence as their joint agent to carry out certain discrete international functions. From the perspective of a national legislature, the WTO resembles an administrative agency in the sense that it makes decisions that affect a domestic polity and yet extend beyond the direct legislative control of national elected officials. It is that similarity to the domestic agency that forms the basis for the application of administrative law principles to the WTO itself. Just as a legislature would impose administrative law on a domestic agency to make it more fair, transparent, and accountable, that legislature could conceptualize a similar role for the application of administrative law principles to the WTO. In doing so, the legislature (or the electorate) might have two targets in mind: one will be the WTO and its decisionmaking. The other will be the government's own representatives to the WTO for which WTO secrecy may present a barrier to effective parliamentary (and public).
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 142
Steve Charnovitz, Transparency and Participation in the World Trade Organization, 56 Rutgers L. Rev. 927 (2004).