, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 695-716

Joining the WTO: Why Does It Take So Long?

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Abstract

The WTO aspires to universal membership, but the process of joining has become very lengthy and many countries have faced particularly difficult and prolonged negotiations. The WTO applies a detailed and legalistic approach to accession, due to its accumulation of policy coverage over the years and the enforcement powers of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. In WTO accession cases, WTO incumbent members appear to have a superior bargaining position. At the same time, applicant countries appear to differ in their capability or willingness to gather information and institute the many reforms required to conclude the accession negotiation. Based on the record of completed and ongoing accession negotiations, the present study uses an endurance model to identify the factors that determine the probability of an applicant’s joining in a given month. In addition to the number of completed accessions, World Bank indexes of “government effectiveness” have a particularly strong influence on the duration of the accession process. In view of the difficult cases remaining in order to complete universal WTO membership, the authors propose a broader approach to WTO membership and more flexibility in accession requirements.

The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful comments and suggestions by the editor and an anonymous referee. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the authors.