Decisionmaking in the WTO: Why Trade Negotiation Resembles Lawmaking in the U.S. Congress

May 05, 2005 // 8:30am10:00am

"Multilateral negotiation in the WTO is the means by which the institution produces the rules" that referee international trade. "The negotiation practices of the WTO demand as much by way of explanation and interpretation as do the rules of the institution... Understanding this process is an imperative for policymakers and analysts."

The bilateral trade agreement system of the past was superseded by the GATT and then institutionalized by the WTO. Also outdated is a bilateral international negotiation theory that overlooks the complex environment and interactions of the WTO and other similar multilateral organizations. Gilbert Winham proposes the development of a new theory of multilateral negotiation and suggests that its origins might be remarkably close to home. Finding parallels between the structures and negotiations of national parliaments and international institutions, both filled with many diverse competing actors, he argues that understanding the strategies used by 435 U.S. congressmen representing districts with conflicting interests might also help 148 WTO negotiators to negotiate trade agreements more effectively with their peers.

Gilbert Winham, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, specializes in international trade policy and has served frequently on NAFTA dispute settlement panels, assisted the accession to the WTO of Jordan and the Kyrgyz Republic, and has trained developing country government officials in negotiation and trade policy at the GATT/WTO. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and former Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow, he holds a B.A. from Bowdoin, a law degree from University of Manchester, and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and served also as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team.

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