IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Saving the WTO from the Risk of Irrelevance: The WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism as a 'Common Good' for RTA Disputes


  • Henry Gao
  • C. L. Lim


Over the past few decades, Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) have proliferated globally. Such proliferation of RTAs created a renewed sense of urgency for the WTO to take action in order to avoid the fate of being eclipsed into irrelevance. There are several options for coping with the challenge. Theoretically speaking, the best approach would be to heighten the level of ambition in global trade talks to reduce all trade barriers to zero so that the discriminatory effect created by RTAs could be reduced or even eliminated. In reality, such an approach would be impossible for well-known reasons. The next best option would be for the WTO to draft 'best practices' or model RTAs to minimize the effect of further fragmentation created by different breeds of RTAs. The problems with this approach are first the resource constraints of the WTO, second the bounded rationality of human beings, and third, whether a 'one size fits all' approach would work. Yet another option offered is to strengthen the WTO's monitoring system of RTAs, with the 2006 rules on transparency being the most recent example. Unfortunately, as the Committee on RTAs (CRTAs), the main enforcer of the monitoring rules in the WTO, has been plagued with ineffectiveness because of the consensus rule, heightened monitoring rules would not be of much help either. In this article, we will discuss a fourth option, i.e. to use the WTO dispute settlement mechanism as a venue for resolving RTA disputes. The rationale underlying this initiative is that, by using the WTO dispute settlement system for RTA disputes, the Members will be able to develop a body of 'common law' on RTAs, which would then either form the basis of multilateral rules on RTAs or harmonize RTAs. This way, we can try to minimize the harmful effect of RTAs, and indeed turn RTAs from 'stumbling blocks' into 'building blocks' of the multilateral trading system. , Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Henry Gao & C. L. Lim, 2008. "Saving the WTO from the Risk of Irrelevance: The WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism as a 'Common Good' for RTA Disputes," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(4), pages 899-925, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jieclw:v:11:y:2008:i:4:p:899-925

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:jieclw:v:11:y:2008:i:4:p:899-925. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.