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Interdependence and the WTO Agreement as a "Contractual Constitution"

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Book Chapter

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oxford university press

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Interdependence is a theme in international trade law. It pervades virtually every aspect of the law of the World Trade Organization (WTO), from tariff negotiations to service commitments to the minimum level of intellectual property protection mandated in the WTO Agreement. But this still leaves open the more profound question of what interdependence means legally. What are its substantive implications? This is the central question that I am interested in exploring in this contribution. In particular, I am interested in examining how awareness of interdependence can help to explain and reconcile two competing understandings of the WTO Agreement, one as a “contract”, the other as a “constitution”. What I suggest here is that neither of these images is entirely accurate on its own. Instead, what is necessary is a more comprehensive understanding of the treaty that recognizes the ongoing role of interdependence, the way that interdependence encourages countries to calibrate their behavior, if not always in a lockstep manner, and how this results in an arrangement that is a hybrid of the two legal classifications mentioned above, something that can be identified by the shorthand of a “contractual constitution”.


This chapter originally appeared in Julien Chaisse & Tsai-Yu Lin (eds), International Economic Law and Governance: Essays in Honour of Mitsuo Matsushita (Oxford University Press, September 2016)

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