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How the world trade community operates: norms and discourse

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2014

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, USA


Based on the new conceptualization of the world trading system as the world trade ‘community’, this Article illuminates its internal operation based on legal discourse. The Article first defines WTO norms as lingua franca of the world trade community that enables various forms of discourse among members of the community. It then introduces three main institutionalized forms of the WTO discourse, namely adjudication, peer review, and consultation/negotiation. These three forms of WTO discourse are mainly responsible for the diurnal operation of the world trade community. The Article also explores the intermodal dynamics among these three forms of WTO discourse and demonstrates that such dynamics might generate both positive and negative consequences.

Review Article
Copyright © Sungjoon Cho 2014 

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28 ‘ACP Countries Call For “Immediate Action” on Cotton Subsidies’, 15 Bridges Weekly Trade News Digest, no. 3, 2011.

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39 WTO Agreement, art. XVI, ¶1.

40 Japan − Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages, Appellate Body Report adopted on November 1 1996, WT/DS8/AB/R, WT/DS10/AB/R, WT/DS11/AB/R.

41 See, e.g., Mexico − Anti-Dumping Investigation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from United States, Recourse to Article 21.5 of the DSU by the United States, Appellate Body Report adopted on 21 November 2001, WT/DS132/AB/RW:

107. In our view, the duty of panels under Article 12.7 of the DSU to provide a ‘basic rationale’ reflects and conforms with the principles of fundamental fairness and due process that underlie and inform the provisions of the DSU … Article 12.7 also furthers the objectives, expressed in Article 3.2 of the DSU, of promoting security and predictability in the multilateral trading system and of clarifying the existing provisions of the covered agreements, because the requirement to provide ‘basic’ reasons contributes to other WTO Members' understanding of the nature and scope of the rights and obligations in the covered agreements. (emphasis added).

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49 Cf. Park, supra n. 47 (emphasizing NGO's active participation in the legal discourse within international organizations via ‘transnational advocacy networks’).

50 See Progressive Policy Institute, The WTO Has Handled 391 Disputes Since 1995, 22 April 2009.

51 I owe this insight to an anonymous referee.

52 United States − Taxes on Petroleum and Certain Imported Substances, Panel Report adopted on 17 June 1987, BISD 34S/136.

53 Brunnée and Toope, supra n. 29, at 48.

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63 Cf. Bartels, Lorand, Procedural Aspects of Shared Responsibility in the WTO Dispute Settlement System (University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No.27-2012, 2012)Google Scholar, available at (raising various situations in which third parties may share elements of a primary actor's responsibility).

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66 Abram Chayes famously attributed this ‘demise of the bipolar structure’ to one of the characteristics of public law litigation as opposed to private law litigation. Chayes, Abram, ‘The Role of the Judge in Public Law Litigation’, 89 Harv. L. Rev. 1281, 1289 (1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also, Monaghan, Henry P., ‘Constitutional Litigation: The Who and When’, 82 Yale L. J. 1363, 1371 (1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar (observing that constitutional litigation as ‘public actions’ might not involve private rights).

67 According to Amelia Porges, about a half of formal complaints launched in the WTO dispute settlement system reached a panel stage from 1996−2000, and only 35% of these complaints resulted in a panel ruling. In the domestic setting, only 10% of all suits reach a trial. Amelia Porges, ‘Settling WTO Disputes: What Do Litigation Models Tell Us?’, 19 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 142 (2003).

68 Ibid. at 154.

69 Cf. Chayes, Abram and Handler Chayes, Antonia, The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 27Google Scholar.

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82 Robert Echandi, ‘How to Successfully Manage Conflicts and Prevent Dispute Adjudication in International Trade’, 26 (ICTSD Issue Paper No. 11, 2013).

83 See, e.g., GATT art.XXII

84 See, e.g., WTO DSU, arts. 4.2, 4.6

85 WTO, Dispute Settlement System Training Module: Chapter 6, The Process − Stages in a Typical WTO Dispute Settlement Case, available at

86 See Davey, William J. and Porges, Amelia, ‘Performance of the System I: Consultations and Deterrence’, 32 Int'l Law 695, 705 (1998)Google Scholar.

87 Jon Elster, ‘Arguing and Bargaining in Two Constituent Assemblies’ (presentation, The Storrs Lectures, New Haven, CT, 1991), quoted in Habermas, supra n. 11.

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91 Finger, J. Michael et al. , Market Access Bargaining in the Uruguay Round: Rigid or Relaxed Reciprocity? 24 (World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper No. 2258, 1999)Google Scholar.

92 See Kono, ‘Optimal Obfuscation’, supra n. 3, at 371 (viewing that democracy reduces incentives to employ tariffs while increasing incentives to employ less transparent NTBs).

93 See, generally, World Trade Organization, 15 Years of the Information Technology Agreement: Trade, Innovation and Global Production Networks (Geneva: World Trade Organization, 2012).

94 Ibid. at 27.

95 See Cho, Sungjoon and Kelly, Claire R., ‘Promises and Perils of New Global Governance: A Case of the G20’, 12 Chi. J. Int'l L. 491 (2012)Google Scholar.

96 Cf. Habermas, supra n. 11, at 166.

97 See Steinberg, Richard H., ‘In the Shadow of Law or Power?: Consensus-Based Bargaining and Outcomes in the GATT/WTO’, 56 Int'l Org. 339 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cf. Mnookin, Robert H. and Kornhauser, Lewis, ‘Bargaining in the Shadow of Law: The Case of Divorce’, 88 Yale L. J. 950 (1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

98 DSU art. 3.7; Ceva, Emanuela and Fracasso, Andrea, ‘Seeking Mutual Understanding: A Discourse-Theoretical Analysis of the WTO Dispute Settlement System’, 9 World Trade Rev. 457, 476 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99 Cf. Barnett, Michael and Duvall, Raymond, in Barnett, Michael and Duvall, Raymond (eds.), Power in Global Governance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1317Google Scholar.

100 See Cho and Kelly, supra n. 95, at 509.

101 Cf. Taylor, supra n. 9, at 60.

102 See, generally, Cho, Sungjoon, ‘Of the World Trade Court's Burden’, 20 Eur. J. Int'l L. 675 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

103 Schmidt, Vivien A., The Futures of European Capitalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

104 See , Sungjoon Cho, ‘United States – Continued Suspension of Obligations in the EC–Hormones’, 103 Am. J. Int'l L. 299 (2009)Google Scholar.

105 ‘Canadian Ban on Brazilian Beef Imports Escalates Trade Battle’, Bridges Weekly Trade News Digest. (Int'l Centre for Trade and Sustainable Dev., Geneva, Switzerland), 13 February 2001.

106 WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Implementation Proposal under Paragraph 21: Proposal by Brazil, G/SPS/W/108 (22 June 2001).

107 WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Recommended Procedures for Implementing the Transparency Obligations of the SPS Agreement (Article 7): Revision, G/SPS/7/Rev.2 (2 April 2002).

108 See, generally, Sungjoon Cho, ‘From Control to Communication’, 44 Cornell J. Int'l L. 249.

109 WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Review of the Operation and Implementation of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, G/SPS/36, 11 July 2005.

110 See, generally, World Health Organization, Food Safety: Risk Communication, available at

111 Panel Report, European Communities and its Member States − Tariff Treatment of Certain Information Technology Products, WT/DS375/R, Aug. 16, 2010.

112 See, e.g., WTO, Information Technology: Progress Reported on Expanding Product Coverage, 1 November 2012.

113 See Smith, Fiona, ‘Law, Language and International Trade Regulation in the WTO’, 63 Current Legal Problems 2010, 458 (Letsas, George and O'Cinneide, Colm eds., 2010)Google Scholar.

114 United States − Taxes on Petroleum and Certain Imported Substances, supra n. 52.

115 United States − Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, Panel Report adopted on 7 November 1989, B.I.S.D.36S/386, para. 5.11 (1989) [hereinafter Section 337].

116 Guzman and Simmons, supra n. 81, at S205.

117 ‘Governments Exploring How to Restart Doha Round Talks’, 10 Bridges Weekly Trade News Digest, no. 28, 2006.

118 Busch and Reinhardt, supra n. 60, at 446.

119 William J. Davey, ‘The WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism’, Illinois Public Law and Legal Theory Research Papers Series, no. 03-08 (University of Illinois, 2003), 15.

120 Busch and Reinhardt, supra n. 60, at 457.

121 Ibid. at 448.

122 See Cho, Sungjoon, ‘Doha's Development’, 25 Berkeley J. Int'l L. 165 (2007)Google Scholar.

123 Jonathan, Wheatley, ‘Brazil to Dispute US Subsidies’, Financial Times, 3 August 2008Google Scholar.

124 Ibid.

125 See Davey, William J., ‘WTO Dispute Settlement: Segregating the Useful Political Aspects and Avoiding “Over-Legalization”’, in New Directions in International Economic Law: Essays in Honor of John H. Jackson 295–56 (Bronckers, Marco and Quick, Reinhard eds., 2000)Google Scholar (prioritizing ‘consultation’ over adjudication in resolving politically sensitive disputes).

126 See Baldwin, Richard, ‘WTO agreement: The Bali Ribbon’, Vox (12 December 2013)Google Scholar.

127 The WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo also attributed the Bali success to a ‘collective awareness’ among WTO members that: ‘(1) the agreement being pursued was desirable for everyone and, above all, doable for everyone; (2) a positive outcome would not produce winners and losers, nor a North-South divide (both developed and developing countries would need to work for the agreement); (3) the multilateral trading system needs to be reinvigorated to benefit everyone, particularly the smallest countries and those with least capacity to manage the intricacies of large-scale trade negotiations'. WTO, WTO News, ‘“Bali Is Just the Start” –Azevêdo’ (6 January 2014), However, as of 31 July 2014, the Protocol of Amendment for the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement remains unadopted. See ‘WTO Trade Facilitation Deal in Limbo as Deadline Passes Without Resolution’, 18 Bridges Weekly Trade News Digest, no. 28 (31 July 2014), available at

128 See Uri Dadush, ‘How Can the World Trade Organization Stay Relevant?’, World Econ. Forum (14 January 2014), available at

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