The Political Economy of International Trade Law: Essays in Honor of Robert E. Hudec

By Daniel L. M. Kennedy; James D. Southwick | Go to book overview

7
International action on bribery and corruption:
Why the dog didn't bark in the WTO*
KENNETH W. ABBOTT AND DUNCAN SNIDAL

I Introduction

Throughout his scholarly career, Robert Hudec has made many important contributions to our understanding of international trade law. Yet none has been so important as his explication of the essential differences between “law” and “legal institutions” in the international trade system and their domestic counterparts. “International trade law” is a distinct institutional form adapted to the particular political context in which it has developed and is applied. Thus, in this volume we are enjoined to explore the political economy of international trade law: how national and international politics are intertwined with economic considerations in this unique set of institutions. We take that line of analysis one step further here by considering the relative effectiveness of alternative institutional arrangements in dealing with the politics of emerging issues on the international trade agenda.

A major premise of this paper is that one can learn much about the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a legal and political institution by considering the deeply political decision-making processes that determine which issues it will address and inwhatformitwilladdressthem. Inotherwords, wefocus hereonthe “legislative” side of the international trade system, which has received much less attention than the “judicial” side. We do so in terms of an expansive conception of international legalization–spanning the range from “soft” to “hard” law–which allows us to treat both political and legal factors.1

A second premise of the paper is that, to understand the WTO as an international institution, it is important to examine not only issues that the organization has addressed, but also issues on which it has failed to take action. Limiting analysis to successful actions creates a selection bias that can distort conclusions. Our focus on inaction is in the spirit of that renowned scholar of political economy Sherlock

____________________
*
We thank Amy Porges, Gregory Shaffer, and other participants in the Conference on the Political Economy of International Trade Law held at the University of Minnesota Law School, September 15–16, 2000, for valuable comments.
1
For an overview of international legalization and the hard law/soft law continuum on which we draw in this paper, see Kenneth W. Abbott et al., The Concept of Legalization, 54 Int'g. 401–419 (2000).

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