The World Trade Organization is the only international body that oversees the rules of international trade. It focuses on promoting free trade by abolishing tariffs and other barriers to commerce, and is involved in intense negotiations that can cover many trade areas and extend over many years.
Despite legitimate criticisms of the insufficient role of developing and less developing countries in trade negotiations -not to mention the limited role of civil society and NGOs-, the WTO is nonetheless one of the only international organizations with highly effective sanctions mechanisms, a dispute settlement body, and a standard practice that privileges consensus in decision-making process. And although the nature of its institutional framework may slow down negotiations, recent research has found that justice principles inherent to the WTO can actually increase the chance of reaching effective agreements.
Focusing on bilateral and multilateral trade talks, researchers found that principles of procedural justice such as transparency, representation, and voluntary decisions, among others, have a central role in the way international trade negotiations unfold through the WTO and effective agreements are reached. Moreover, results indicate that principles of distributive justice that are more linked to the outcomes of negotiations, such as equality, compensation, and need, have a significant impact on the effectiveness of agreements only when procedural principles are respected in the first place.
These findings support the idea that fairness in processes is a critical factor that can enhance effectiveness in negotiation, and provide a strong argument for more inclusive international processes. In this spirit, a future research agenda could include the question of how broader non-state representation in international negotiations could positively affect the sustainability and effectiveness of agreements.
Albin, C., Druckman, D. (2012). Procedures matter: Justice and effectiveness in international trade negotiations. IACM 25th Annual Conference Paper.