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Using negotiation to promote legitimacy: an assessment of proposals for reforming the WTO

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How can negotiations be conducted to promote the legitimacy of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO)? Can negotiation procedures be designed so as to strengthen the WTO as an institution and the agreements it concludes? One reason for which the legitimacy of the organization is being questioned is its decision-making—especially negotiation—procedures. These have contributed significantly to recent setbacks in WTO talks. Yet proposals for procedural reform have not been subject to much discussion or review, in particular with no regard to content which may boost legitimacy. Justice and other values associated with legitimacy have generally not been addressed by trade experts, and conceptual tools for identifying what practical form their inclusion could take are lacking. This article reviews a variety of proposals, formal and informal, for reforming the WTO's negotiation procedures. It develops an approach to procedural justice which is used to identify the justice content in these proposals, based on four main principles. Drawing on this analysis, the article concludes by highlighting promising elements of reform. In so doing, it brings research literature on justice and negotiation to bear on current debates over the legitimacy deficit in international institutions, using the WTO as a significant case. More practically, the article helps to identify what more legitimate negotiation procedures may mean and require, and how their justice content may be assessed and increased.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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