How does economic interdependence shape political relations? We show a new pathway to support a commercial peace in which economic interdependence changes strategies for conflict management. The uncertainty arising from political disputes between countries can depress trade flows. As states seek to protect trade from such negative effects, they are more likely to bring their disputes to legal venues. We assess this argument by analyzing why countries bring cases to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Using data on 190 countries from 1960 to 2013, we find that countries are more likely to file ICJ cases against important trading partners than against states with low levels of shared trade. We conclude that economic interdependence changes the incentives for how states resolve their disputes.
Which states join international institutions? Existing theories of the multilateral trade regime, the GATT/WTO, emphasize gains from cooperation on substantive policies regulated by the institution. We argue that political ties rather than issue-area functional gains determine who joins, and we show how geopolitical alignment shapes the demand and supply sides of membership. Discretionary accession rules allow members to selectively recruit some countries in pursuit of foreign policy goals, and common interests attract applicants who are not yet free traders.We use a duration model to statistically analyze accession time to application and length of accession negotiations for the period 1948–2014. Our findings challenge the view that states first liberalize trade to join the GATT/WTO. Instead, democracy and foreign policy similarity encourage states to join. The importance of political ties for membership in the trade regime suggests that theories of international institutions must look beyond narrowly defined institutional scope.
Hard times give rise to greater demand for protection. International trade rules include provisions that allow for raising barriers to aid industries when they suffer economic injury. Yet widespread use of flexibility measures may undermine the trade system and worsen economic conditions. How do states balance these conflicting pressures? This article assesses the effect of crises on cooperation in trade. We hypothesize that governments impose less protectionism during economic crisis when economic troubles are widespread across countries than when they face crisis in isolation. The lesson of Smoot–Hawley and coordination through international economic institutions represent mechanisms of informal governance that encourage cooperation to avoid a spiral of protectionism. Analysis of industry-level data on protection measures for the period from 1996 to 2011 provides support for our claim that under conditions of shared hard times, states exercise strategic self-restraint to avoid beggar-thy-neighbor policies.
Can governments still use trade to reward and punish partner countries? While World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and the pressures of globalization restrict states’ capacity to manipulate trade policies, politicization of trade is likely to occur where governments intervene in markets. We examine state ownership of firms as one tool of government control. Taking China and India as examples, we use new data on bilateral trade disaggregated by firm ownership type as well as measures of political relations based on bilateral events and United Nations voting data to estimate the effect of political relations on import flows since the early 1990s. Our results support the hypothesis that imports controlled by state-owned enterprises are more responsive to political relations than imports controlled by private enterprises. This finding suggests that politicized import decisions will increase as countries with partially state-controlled economies gain strength in the global economy. Extending our analysis to exports for comparison, we find a similar pattern for Indian but not for Chinese exports and offer potential explanations for these differential findings.
Do political tensions harm economic relations? Theories claim that trade prevents war and political relations motivate trade, but less is known about whether smaller shifts in political relations impact economic exchange. Looking at two major economies, we show that negative events have not hurt U.S. or Japanese trade or investment flows.We then examine specific incidents of tensions in U.S.-French and Sino-Japanese relations over the past decade—two case pairs that allow us to compare varying levels of political tension given high existing economic interdependence and different alliance relations. Aggregate economic flows and high salience sectors like wine and autos are unaffected by the deterioration of political relations. In an era of globalization, actors lack incentives to link political and economic relations.We argue that sunk costs in existing trade and investment make governments, firms, and consumers unlikely to change their behavior in response to political disputes.
This article examines the effect of overlapping institutions in trade policy, where theWorld Trade Organization, preferential trade agreements, and other economic negotiation venues give states many options for negotiating rules and settling disputes. This article argues that overlapping institutions influence trade politics at three stages: selection of venue, negotiation of liberalization commitments, and enforcement of compliance. First, lobby groups and governments on both sides of a trade negotiation try to choose the set of rules that will favor their preferred outcome. WTO rules that restrict use of coercive tactics outside of the WTO generate a selection process that filters the most difficult trade issues into WTO trade rounds or dispute adjudication while easier issues are settled in bilateral and regional fora. This selection dynamic creates a challenge at the negotiation stage by disaggregating interest group pressure for liberalization commitments. The narrowing of interest group lobbying for the multilateral process may impede negotiation of liberalization agreements that could only gain political support through a broad coalition of exporter mobilization. At the enforcement stage international regime complexity creates the potential for contradictory legal rulings that undermine compliance, but also adds greater penalties for noncompliance if reputation effects operate across agreements.
The potential for international law to reduce power asymmetries depends on weaker countries learning to navigate the legal system. This paper examines the use of courts by developing countries to defend their trade interests. Power relations and low capacity may prevent these countries from fully participating in the international trade system. Yet some developing countries have been among the most active participants in GATT/WTO adjudication. We argue that high startup costs for using trade litigation are a barrier to developing country use of the dispute settlement process. Analysis of dispute initiation from 1975 to 2003 shows that past experience in trade adjudication, as either a complainant or a defendant, increases the likelihood that a developing country will initiate disputes. As weaker countries overcome these initial capacity constraints they will increasingly benefit from the international legal structures they have joined.
What explains the selection of cases for WTO adjudication? This article explores the business conditions under which industries lobby their home government to use the WTO adjudication process and the political factors that influence government decisions. It explains the industry pattern of selection for international trade disputes as a function of the velocity of the business environment. While WTO adjudication is seen as costly and slow, a positive ruling brings broad benefits in terms of deterrence against future discrimination. Firms in static industries will invest in WTO dispute settlement to achieve these benefits, but firms in industries shaped by dynamic competition have high opportunity costs that make them less willing to pursue adjudication. This argument accounts for why there are fewer WTO cases about electronics industry issues than there are likely incidences of protectionist measures. Since Japan is a leading exporter and provides a government report with unique data on potential WTO disputes, it was chosen to test the argument in greater depth. Interviews with Japanese business officials and statistical analysis of an original data set provide support for the argument. The authors conclude that the passive attitude toward WTO adjudication by Japan's largest export industry, electronics, and the sensitivity of Japan's diplomatic relations with China have constrained the cases that Japan files. These findings suggest that the effectiveness of the WTO for dispute settlement is conditional upon the time horizon of the industry and the political relations among members.
This article explains how the institutional context of international negotiations influences their outcomes. I argue that issue linkage counteracts domestic obstacles to liberalization by broadening the negotiation stakes. Institutions bolster the credibility of the linkage to make it more effective. I test the argument in the agricultural sector, which has been among the most difficult sectors for governments to liberalize. Statistical analysis of U.S. negotiations with Japan and the EU from 1970 to 1999 indicates that an institutionalized linkage between agricultural and industrial issues encourages agricultural liberalization in both Japan and Europe. Through case studies of key negotiations, I first examine why countries choose to link issues, then show how the linkage changes interest group mobilization and shifts the policy process to promote liberalization.