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Letting the sun shine in at the WTO: How transparency brings the trading system to life

Listed author(s):
  • Wolfe, Robert
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    Without transparency, trade agreements are just words on paper. Transparency as disclosure allows economic actors and trading partners to see how rules are implanted; transparency in decision-making ensures fairness and peer review. In the first section of this paper, I discuss the logic of transparency in general and the motivation for its use in the trading system. Considerable information on WTO transparency mechanisms is available in the Minutes and annual reports of the various WTO bodies, and in the Director-General's annual overview of the trading system, but comparative analysis is not easy. In the second section, therefore, I develop a framework in which different transparency mechanisms can be compared to each other using the metaphor of three generations in the evolution of transparency in the trading system as a means of explaining how transparency works in the WTO. For sunshine to work, at least two things must happen. Information must be made available, and Members have to use it. Probing the extent to which Members comply with their notification obligations, in the third section, and their efforts to improve the notification process, allow an assessment of their commitment to being transparent. In the fourth section I consider how WTO committees are used to ensure that Members are accountable for their commitments, including to notify. Since the committees differ, I use the metaphor of the great pyramid of the legal order to compare committees to each other. Assessment of whether these mechanisms work underpins observations in the conclusion on whether more sunshine is needed, and efforts underway to improve existing mechanisms.

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    Paper provided by World Trade Organization (WTO), Economic Research and Statistics Division in its series WTO Staff Working Papers with number ERSD-2013-03.

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    Date of creation: 2013
    Handle: RePEc:zbw:wtowps:ersd201303
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    1. Wolfe, Robert, 2003. "Regulatory transparency, developing countries and the WTO," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(02), pages 157-182, July.
    2. Matthew Potoski & Aseem Prakash, 2009. "Information asymmetries as trade barriers: ISO 9000 increases international commerce," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(2), pages 221-238.
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    9. Simmons, Beth A. & Dobbin, Frank & Garrett, Geoffrey, 2006. "Introduction: The International Diffusion of Liberalism," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(04), pages 781-810, October.
    10. Busch, Marc L. & Reinhardt, Eric & Shaffer, Gregory, 2009. "Does legal capacity matter? A survey of WTO Members," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(04), pages 559-577, October.
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    13. Mitchell, Ronald B., 2011. "Transparency for governance: The mechanisms and effectiveness of disclosure-based and education-based transparency policies," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(11), pages 1882-1890, September.
    14. Yves Bonzon, 2008. "Institutionalizing Public Participation in WTO Decision Making: Some Conceptual Hurdles and Avenues," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(4), pages 751-777, December.
    15. Chris Downes, 2012. "The Impact of WTO Transparency Rules: Is the 10,000th SPS Notification a Cause for Celebration?--A Case Study of EU Practice," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(2), pages 503-524, June.
    16. Edieth Y. Wu, 2002. "China Today: Why Its Accession to the World Trade Organization is Inevitable and Good for the International Community," Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(3), pages 689-718, August.
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