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In the Shadow of Law or Power? Consensus-Based Bargaining and Outcomes in the GATT/WTO

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  • Steinberg, Richard H.

Abstract

This article explains how consensus decision making has operated in practice in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO). When GATT/WTO bargaining is law-based, consensus outcomes are Pareto-improving and roughly symmetrical. When bargaining is power-based, states bring to bear instruments of power that are extrinsic to rules, invisibly weighting the process and generating consensus outcomes that are asymmetrical and may not be Pareto-improving. Empirical analysis shows that although trade rounds have been launched through law-based bargaining, hard law is generated when a round is closed, and rounds have been closed through power-based bargaining. Agenda setting has taken place in the shadow of that power and has been dominated by the European Community and the United States. The decision making rules have been maintained because they help generate information used by powerful states in the agenda-setting process. Consensus decision making at the GATT/WTO is organized hypocrisy, allowing adherence to the instrumental reality of asymmetrical power and the sovereign equality principle upon which consensus decision making is purportedly based.

Suggested Citation

  • Steinberg, Richard H., 2002. "In the Shadow of Law or Power? Consensus-Based Bargaining and Outcomes in the GATT/WTO," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(02), pages 339-374, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:56:y:2002:i:02:p:339-374_44
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    12. Julia Morse & Robert Keohane, 2014. "Contested multilateralism," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 9(4), pages 385-412, December.
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    14. Bradstreet Richard S., 2011. "The Impact of Globalization of Antitrust Law on Developing Countries: Harmony or Hegemony?," Asian Journal of Law and Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 2(3), pages 1-34, October.
    15. Natália Barbosa & Maria Helena Guimarães & Ana Paula Faria, 2013. "Single Market non-compliance: how relevant is the institutional setting?," NIPE Working Papers 06/2013, NIPE - Universidade do Minho.
    16. Tana Johnson, 2015. "Information revelation and structural supremacy: The World Trade Organization’s incorporation of environmental policy," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 207-229, June.
    17. Christopher Marcoux & Johannes Urpelainen, 2013. "Non-compliance by design: Moribund hard law in international institutions," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 163-191, June.
    18. Tanja A. Börzel & Tobias Hofmann & Diana Panke, 2011. "Policy Matters But How? Explaining Non-Compliance Dynamics in the EU," KFG Working Papers p0024, Free University Berlin.
    19. Barbara Koremenos, 2007. "If Only Half of International Agreements Have Dispute Resolution Provisions, Which Half Needs Explaining?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 189-212, January.
    20. Jeff Colgan & Robert Keohane & Thijs Van de Graaf, 2012. "Punctuated equilibrium in the energy regime complex," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 117-143, June.
    21. Mareike Kleine, 2013. "Knowing your limits: Informal governance and judgment in the EU," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 245-264, June.
    22. Renwick, Alan & Islam, Md. Mofakkarul & Thomson, Steven, 2012. "Power in Global Agriculture: Economics, Politics, and Natural Resources," International Journal of Agricultural Management, Institute of Agricultural Management;International Farm Management Association, vol. 2(1), October.
    23. Oliver Westerwinter, 2015. "Joost Pauwelyn, Ramses A. Wessel and Jan Wouters (Eds.). 2012. Informal international lawmaking. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 10(1), pages 97-101, March.

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