Developing countries account for seventy-five percent of the membership of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) and are increasingly able to use their power to influence negotiations traditionally dominated by developed countries. Although the organization operates on a one-country-one-vote basis and on a consensus mechanism (which formally also considers members on an equal basis), the reality of negotiations and of the decision-making process is much more complex and susceptible to the arbitrage of economic power. As a result, in most instances, developing countries have to act in coalitions in order to gain sufficient leverage and some developing country members have little—if any—voice if they do not ally with others. Despite their increased number and activity in the WTO, developing countries still find themselves in a relatively marginalized position and experience difficulties in linking their development agenda to multilateral trade negotiations.
The recent emergence of a multitude of developing country coalitions reflects fundamental changes in the landscape of developing country positions in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”) and the WTO and shows that such coalitions are beginning to change the organization’s dynamics. For instance, the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting signaled some progress on issues of interest to developing countries largely as a result of a coordinated approach by developing countries under the aegis of larger developing states such as India, Brazil, and Egypt. The increasing heterogeneity of developing countries and their diverging interests also is reflected in the plethora of coalitions. Coalition strategies therefore appear promising for developing countries but they face serious hurdles.
Developing country coalitions have received some attention in the field of political science and international relations (see, in particular, Amrita Narlikar’s empirical and theoretical analysis of developing country coalitions in the GATT and WTO), but recent studies on this subject are relatively scarce. More empirical research currently is being undertaken, but the results are not yet available. This Article relies on the existing literature, as well as interviews conducted by the author with WTO negotiators and Secretariat members. The suggestions for reform that it makes hopefully will in turn generate more theoretical and empirical analysis as additional data becomes available both in the legal and international relations fields. This Article argues that developing country coalitions in the WTO are relevant not only from an international relations and political perspective, but also from a legal perspective. Indeed, coalitions both affect and are the product of the organization’s legal and institutional framework. Because it is crucial for developing countries to be able to act through coalitions, it is important to ensure that they have the legal instruments to do so. Yet in many areas, WTO law is not conducive to coalitions, particularly the types of coalitions that developing countries are likely to create. Moreover, the WTO and its members may in fact benefit from being more supportive — as a legal and institutional system — of developing country coalitions, inasmuch as the latter improve the qualitative and quantitative participation of members with limited resources, thereby potentially enhancing the organization’s legitimacy.
Narlikar establishes a typology of developing country coalitions in the WTO and its predecessor, the GATT, with the objective of determining the characteristics of successful coalitions and the impediments to forming and sustaining these coalitions. She takes an essentially endogenous perspective, examining coalitions for their intrinsic features. International relations analysis on coalitions generally focuses on characteristics of coalition members, and some theories have expanded to the interplay between domestic and international politics on the model of Putnam’s two-level game theory. In contrast, this Article seeks to assess coalition strategies in the regulatory context of trade negotiations and in the institutional framework of the WTO. Whereas Narlikar’s work is grounded in an international relations perspective, this Article examines the interaction between coalitions and the legal and regulatory environment in which they operate. Although the much-heralded shift from a power-dominated system to a law-based system with the advent of the WTO in 1995 has not put an end to politics, it has affected the dynamics of the multilateral trading system by imposing a more pervasive legal framework. Some international relations scholars also have noted the ability of international organizations to “transform potential or tacit coalitions into explicit ones.” Indeed, coalitions find themselves at the intersection between political bargaining and the legal and institutional architecture for such bargaining.
The thesis proposed here is two-fold. First, this Article suggests that the ability to sustain developing country coalitions depends in part on the WTO’s legal structure. In some cases, the legal framework supports developing country coalitions, while in other instances, it hinders developing countries’ abilities to sustain coalitions. Second, and correlatively, members whose interests might be more effectively served if they are promoted by a group strategy could benefit from a legal framework that better supports developing country coalitions or groupings.
This Article assesses the impact of the WTO’s legal structure on coalition building and offers some suggestions for evolution. If smaller or poorer developing countries are to participate more fully in multilateral trade negotiations and if this can better be done through alliances, it may well be that the organization will have to adapt its law and practice to become more coalition-friendly or risk further marginalizing a large part of its membership and stalling negotiations for all members. The first part presents an empirical analysis of developing country coalitions in the GATT and the WTO. It elaborates a typology of developing country coalitions. The second part assesses the WTO institutional structure for a coalition objective, analyzing the organization’s impact on each type of coalition identified in the first part. The second part also suggests possible structural adjustments to improve developing countries’ participation through coalitions. The third part looks beyond the organization’s institutional arrangements at how some trade instruments (preferences and bilateral or regional trade agreements) are used within the WTO context to counter coalition strategies. . . .
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