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From Sunshine to a Common Agent: The Evolving Understanding of Transparency in the WTO

The World Trade Organization at Twenty
Petros C. Mavroidis
Robert Wolfe

"The role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is often thought to be twofold—conducting formal rounds of negotiations and resorting to the dispute settlement system—but the third dimension of its work, which can be broadly grouped as transparency and accountability mechanisms, may be the most important. Transparency is part of the WTO’s DNA, and can be traced at least through the 1947 GATT back to a 1923 treaty on customs cooperation. This essential element of WTO institutional design illuminates trade policy practices to the benefit of both governments and traders. The WTO’s twentieth anniversary is an appropriate moment to describe the impressive evolution of its transparency mechanisms, assess the effectiveness of these mechanisms, and reflect on what more must be done if the WTO is to fulfill its potential as the central institution for governing the global trading system. "


Petros C. Mavroidis is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, New York, currently on leave at the European University Institute in Florence. He has recently acted as chief reporter for the ALI project “Prin- ciples of International Trade.” His latest publication is Regulation of International Trade (MIT Press, 2015).

Robert Wolfe is Professor of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. His recent publications include “An Anatomy of Accountability at the WTO” in Global Policy, and “First Diagnose, Then Treat: What Ails the Doha Round?” in World Trade Review. He is coeditor of Adapting Canadian Trade and Commerce Policies to New Global Realities (Institute for Research on Public Policy, forthcoming 2015).