Turning Offense into Defense: Making Sense of Public Citizen's Arguments against the WTO



The World Trade Organization (WTO) is under considerable fire from nearly every quarter. Undoubtedly, the biggest gun currently belongs to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (GTW). GTW is the undisputed leader of the coalition that derailed the Millennium Round of WTO talks in Seattle. In 2004, GTW published a second edition of its book, Whose Trade Organization? that had been the manifesto of the Seattle protesters.

The WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) is one of the most frequent target of the anti-WTO crowd (and sometimes the pro-WTO crowd.) One chapter of GTW’s book is reserved for its criticism of the DSB. In this chapter, GTW makes four main arguments. One, that the GATT dispute settlement system was superior to that of the WTO. Two, that the dispute settlement system is rigged against the poor countries. Third, that the WTO dispute settlement system is secret and unaccountable. Fourth, that the DSB panelists and Appellate Body members are incompetent free trade fanatics.

The first argument is not true. The GATT system ensured that the most important decisions would never be implemented. The second argument is only true to the extent that any competitive system will favor a party that has more resources with which to compete. The third argument is true, although not nearly to the degree that GTW would have its readers think. The fourth argument is not true. Regardless of their truth, all of GTW’s arguments are converted into counterfactuals to evaluate their desirability.

The paper concludes that GTW makes three types of arguments. The first type is based on accurate assertions. The second is based on exaggerated assertions. The third type is based on inaccurate assertions. All of GTW’s counterfactually deduced propositions lead to questionable or undesirable outcomes.


International Trade Law

Date of this Version

August 2005