Monday, February 27, 2012

Understanding the WTO

Questioning the "rationalist" understanding of the WTO, Sungjoon Cho in this scholarly piece "Beyond Rationality: A Sociological Construction of the World Trade Organization" in the Virginia Journal of International Law has attempted to explain the WTO in the context of a sociological construct rather than a "rationalist" institutional choice.

Questioning the "Law and Economics" approach as providing all the answers to understanding the WTO the article concludes,
"This  Article argued that the rationalist framework  Shaffer and Trachtman adopt in their analysis of the WTO cannot provide a complete picture of the WTO because it excludes the WTO’s social dimension. In response to this dilemma, the Article offered a sociological (constructivist) paradigm that  recognizes the existence of reflective,  diverse communication amongst WTO members  that serves as a norm-building process. Under this new paradigm, the WTO is viewed as a community (Gemeinschaft) and not as a mere contractual tool to be used to carry out predetermined choices. 
This Article and the sociological framework that it presents can be used to  shed light on the  current Doha crisis, which  is suffering from mercantilist competition concerns that may be justified on rationalist grounds, but not on normative ones. Pursuing “rational” bargains may not deliver us to the goal of a development round. Perhaps we should reorient ourselves from a logic of calculation to the logic of discourse. The power of discourse and communication can close the gaps between trade norms and trade realities. Therefore, the new paradigm may disabuse WTO constituencies of a fatalistic yet erroneous conviction that “legal provisions can be nothing other than reflections of unstable and shifting interest constellations among powers” and help reinstate the “inspirational notions of virtue and of humans as social beings.” In this sense, the new paradigm proposed in this Article may generate a “moral” thesis that advocates human progress in the WTO."
 Is it time to rethink the underpinnings of the WTO to be an institution not merely an institution based on "rational" choices but far more complex with sociological underpinnings?

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