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Revisiting the "Compliance-vs.-Rebalancing" Debate in WTO Scholarship a Unified Research Agenda

This paper constitutes an attempt to reframe and eventually deflate the ongoing “compliance-vs.-rebalancing” debate which has permeated WTO scholarship for the last 10 years. At face value, this controversy circles around object and purpose of WTO enforcement and the legal nature of dispute panels’ recommendations: Compliance advocates maintain that the objective of WTO enforcement is to induce compliance with DSB panel/AB rulings, and to deter future violations of the Agreement, while rebalancing advocates detect an inherent “pay-or-perform” logic in WTO enforcement. In the paper we examine the shortcomings of each approach separately. Our main criticism, however, concerns the substance of the entire debate. We find that scholars on both sides of the compliance/rebalancing controversy put an unduly rigid emphasis on the subsequent issues of WTO enforcement and the interpretation of the wording of the dispute settlement understanding. They thereby neglected systemic issues of contracting, viz. the nature of contractual entitlements, the need for trade policy flexibility mechanisms and the optimal design of the appropriate remedies. We redefine and recalibrate the compliance/rebalancing controversy along the lines of the nature of the WTO contract. This results in to three key findings: First, none of the two schools of thought succeeds in giving an accurate picture of the WTO treaty. Second, the two perspectives actually portray two strikingly different concepts of the WTO contract, and therefore have been at cross-purposes from the very beginning. This implies a third finding: The two schools of thought essentially describe different facets of the same complex WTO contract. Hence, they have hardly been at loggerheads at all, and are actually complementing each other in important aspects. We lay out a unified research agenda that practitioners, economists, trade lawyers, and international relations scholars alike can accept. The agenda may contribute to reconciling the two opposing views and help WTO scholarship tackle the real systemic issues of the WTO Agreement.

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File URL: http://repec.graduateinstitute.ch/pdfs/Working_papers/HEIWP29-2007.pdf
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Paper provided by Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies in its series IHEID Working Papers with number 29-2007.

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Length: 55
Date of creation: Dec 2007
Date of revision: Dec 2007
Handle: RePEc:gii:giihei:heiwp29-2007
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  9. Devashish Mitra, 1999. "Endogenous Lobby Formation and Endogenous Protection: A Long-Run Model of Trade Policy Determination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1116-1134, December.
  10. Krishna, Pravin & Mitra, Devashish, 2005. "Reciprocated unilateralism in trade policy," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 461-487, March.
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  13. Jolls, Christine, 1997. "Contracts as Bilateral Commitments: A New Perspective on Contract Modification," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(1), pages 203-37, January.
  14. Donald H. Regan, 2006. "What Are Trade Agreements For? -- Two Conflicting Stories Told by Economists, With a Lesson for Lawyers," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(4), pages 951-988, December.
  15. Petros C. Mavroidis & Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2004. "The case for tradable remedies in WTO dispute settlement," Discussion Papers 0405-05, Columbia University, Department of Economics.
  16. Chad P . Bown, 2002. "The Economics of Trade Disputes, the GATT's Article XXIII, and the WTO's Dispute Settlement Understanding," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 14(3), pages 283-323, November.
  17. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2004. "The Economics of the World Trading System," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262524341, June.
  18. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 1988. "A Theory of Managed Trade," NBER Working Papers 2756, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Kyle Bagwell & Robert W. Staiger, 2005. "Enforcement, Private Political Pressure, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization Escape Clause," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(2), pages 471-513, 06.
  20. Tim Josling, 2004. "WTO Dispute Settlement and the EU--US Mini Trade Wars: A Commentary on Fritz Breuss," Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, Springer, vol. 4(4), pages 337-344, December.
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  25. Fritz Breuss, 2004. "WTO Dispute Settlement: An Economic Analysis of four EU-US Mini Trade Wars," WIFO Working Papers 231, WIFO.
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