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A Post-Montesquieu Analysis of the WTO


  • Steve Charnovitz

    () (GW Law, George Washington University)


In writing The Spirit of Laws in 1748, baron de la Brde et de Montesquieu does not foresee the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) (Montesquieu 1748). Nevertheless, one can employ Montesquieus methodology to analyse the functions and dysfunctions of the WTO because his cogent framework, although written for the national level, is translatable to the international level of government. Although Montesquieu has been discussed tangentially in WTO scholarship, this chapter places him at the centreof an analysis of how the WTO can be improved.This chapter is titled post-Montesquieu because it will update Montesquieus framework in a few important respects. Montesquieu did not anticipate the ubiquity of democracy (much of his book discusses monarchies), the political importance of public participation, and the rise of international organisations. More telling, though, is how little of The Spirit of Laws needs to be updated, because of the presence of Montesquieus spirit in modern political institutions an economic development. Although many scholars anthropomorphise the WTO, I have come to the view that it (like any international organisation) ought to be viewed primarily as a community. The actors in the WTO community are the Members represented by ambassadors, the Director-General (DG), the Secretariat, the private enterprises that trade, and civil society. Of course, the WTO still lags behind other major international organisations in providing for ongoing participation by civil society (see Ripinksy and van den Bossche 2007: Chapters 1112).This chapter proceeds in three sections: Section I summarises the ideas from The Spirit of Laws that are most relevant to the WTO, and explains where Montesquieus analysis needs adaptation. The second section uses Montesquieu to benchmark the WTO and point out areas for improvement. The last part of this section uses the post-Montesquieu framework to discuss the relationship between the WTO, business enterprises, civic society, and Member governments. The third section provides a conclusion, kept brief due to space limitations.

Suggested Citation

  • Steve Charnovitz, 2010. "A Post-Montesquieu Analysis of the WTO," Working Papers 2010-3, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
  • Handle: RePEc:gwi:wpaper:2010-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel C. Esty, 2007. "Good Governance at the World Trade Organization: Building a Foundation of Administrative Law," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 509-527, September.
    2. Thomas Cottier, 2007. "Preparing for Structural Reform in the WTO," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 497-508, September.
    3. Jones, Kent, 2009. "The political economy of WTO accession: the unfinished business of universal membership," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 279-314, April.
    4. Steve Charnovitz, 1995. "Strengthening the international employment regime," Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, Springer;ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics;Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), vol. 30(5), pages 221-233, September.
    5. Tijmes-Lhl, Jaime, 2009. "Consensus and majority voting in the WTO," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 417-437, July.
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