Partners in Compliance: The Political Cover of WTO Rulings

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The concept of compliance has long preoccupied scholars of legal institutions, law, and courts. In contrast to studies that focus on a government’s (dis)incentives to comply with a judicial ruling, this article approaches the question of compliance in terms of the strategies courts have to foster timely implementation. Employing original measures of dispute judgments and compliance outcomes, this article argues that the adjudicative bodies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) use the content of their rulings to ease the domestic political costs of trade policy changes, thereby acting as ‘partners in compliance’ with a government’s executive branch. Yet the extent to which these strategies successfully facilitate swifter implementation is conditional on the domestic politics of compliance. The political cover provided by adverse rulings has no observable impact on the fact or timing of compliance for disputes that can be implemented through executive action alone. However, relatively greater validation of a trade measure does increase the probability of compliance and swifter implementation when legislative action is required. This suggests that the WTO’s quasi-judicial bodies at times successfully facilitate compliance through the content of their rulings, with the goal of improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of the dispute settlement system. 

Last updated on 08/27/2015