Monday, June 4, 2012

Policy autonomy and the WTO

Alvaro Santos has published "Carving Out Policy Autonomy for Developing Countries in the World Trade Organization: The Experience of Brazil and Mexico," discussed last week at Opinio Juris where Santos says:
I argue against the commonly held assumption that WTO legal obligations overly restrict countries' regulatory autonomy.  Despite the presence of restrictions, I claim that there is still flexibility in the system for countries to carve out regulatory space for themselves. That countries can expand their policy autonomy means that governments of developing countries have more agency and responsibility than development scholars typically admit. At the same time, however, the asymmetry of power and resources between countries does affect their experience in the system and thus influences the outcomes to a greater extent than liberal trade scholars usually acknowledge.
...countries are creating policy space ... as repeat players (RPs), to make use of textual open-endedness in legal obligations, to seek out favorable rule interpretation, and to actively participate in the WTO system through strategic lawyering and litigation. To pursue this strategy, countries invest in "developmental legal capacity," through which governments recognize the need to make gains in policy autonomy in order to pursue economic policy goals that may be in tension with the WTO's free trade objectives.
Santos analyzes the trajectories of Brazil and Mexico in the WTO to show two different experiences of repeat players and explore how and why their strategies differ.  More discussion at the Opinio Juris link.

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