The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 243–272 | Cite as

Domestic political determinants of the onset of WTO disputes

  • B. Peter Rosendorff
  • Alastair Smith


Trade disputes are driven by domestic politics, and the onset of trade disputes are driven by changes in the leadership within states. We offer two stylized facts for explanation: Leader change leads to dispute onset, and the effect is greater in autocracies than in democracies. We develop a model that explains changes in trade policy and dispute onset induced by shifts in the sectors represented in government when leaders change. Democracies protect a wider set of industries at shallower levels than do autocracies. When leaders change in autocracies, new sectors enter the winning coalition, resulting in new deeper barriers that spark disputes. When leaders change in democracies, the change in the winning coalition is not as stark, and the depth of the shifts in trade barriers is not that large, resulting is a smaller effect on dispute initiation.


Leader change Dispute onset WTO Regime type 

JEL Classification


Supplementary material (21.4 mb)
(ZIP 21.3 MB)


  1. Banks, A.S. (1979). Cross-national time-series data archive. Center for Social Analysis, State University of New York at Binghampton.Google Scholar
  2. Betz, T., & Kerner, A. (2016). Real exchange rate overvaluation and WTO dispute initiation in developing countries. International Organization, 70(4), 797–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blonigen, B., & Bown, C.P. (2003). Antidumping and retaliation threats. Journal of International Economics, 60, 249–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bobick, T., & Smith, A. (2013). The impact of leader turnover on the onset and the resolution of WTO disputes. Review of International Organizations, 8(4), 423–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bown, C.P. (2002). The economics of trade disputes, the GATT’s article XXIII, and the WTO’s dispute settlement understanding. Economics and Politics, 14(3), 283–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bown, C.P. (2004). On the economic success of GATT/WTO dispute settlement. Review of Economics and Statistics, 86(3), 811–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Broz, J.L., & Werfel, S.H. (2014). Exchange rates and industry demands for trade protection. International Organization, 68(2), 393–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bueno de Mesquita, B., Smith, A., Siverson, R., Morrow, J. D. (2003). The logic of political survival. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bueno de Mesquita, B., & Siverson, R.M. (1995). War and the survival of political leaders: a comparative study of regime types and political accountability. American Political Science Review, 89(04), 841–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Busch, M.L. (2000). Democracy, consultation, and the paneling of disputes under GATT. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 44(4), 425–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Busch, M.L., & Reinhardt, E. (2003). Developing countries and GATT/WTO dispute settlement. Journal of World Trade, 37(4), 719–35.Google Scholar
  12. Busch, M.L., & Pelc, K.J. (2015). Dispute settlement in the WTO. In Martin, L. L. (Ed.) Oxford handbook of the politics of trade. Oxford University Press chapter 21.Google Scholar
  13. Busch, M.L., Raciborski, R., Reinhardt, E. (2008). Does the rule of law matter? The WTO and US antidumping investigations. In Typescript. Emory University.Google Scholar
  14. Chaudoin, S. (2011). International cooperation, legalized dispute settlement and information transmission to domestic audiences. Working Paper.Google Scholar
  15. Chaudoin, S. (2014). Audience features and the strategic timing of trade disputes. International Organization, 68(4), 877–911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chaudoin, S., Kucik, J., Pelc, K. (2013). Do WTO disputes actually increase trade? Available at SSRN 2299651.Google Scholar
  17. Davis, C. (2012). Why adjudicate? Enforcing trade rules in the WTO. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Davis, C.L., & Bermeo, S.B. (2009). Who files? Developing country participation in GATT/WTO adjudication. The Journal of Politics, 71(03), 1033–1049.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Davis, C.L., & Shirato, Y. (2007). Firms, governments, and WTO adjudication: Japan’s selection of WTO disputes. World Politics, 59(2), 274–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Downs, G.W., & Rocke, D.M. (1995). Optimal imperfection? Domestic uncertainty and institutions in international relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Dreher, A., & Jensen, N.M. (2013). Country or leader? Political change and UN General Assembly voting. European Journal of Political Economy, 29, 183–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldstein, J., & Martin, L.L. (2000). Legalization, trade liberalization, and domestic politics: a cautionary note. International Organization, 54(3), 603–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Henisz, W.J., & Mansfield, E.D. (2006). Votes and vetoes: the political determinants of commercial openness. International Studies Quarterly, 50(1), 189–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hollyer, J.R., & Rosendorff, B.P. (2012). Leadership survival, regime type, policy uncertainty and PTA accession. International Studies Quarterly, 56(4), 748–764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hudec, R.E. (1993). Enforcing international trade law: the evolution of the modern GATT legal system. Butterworth Legal: Salem.Google Scholar
  26. Jackson, J.H. (2004). International law status of WTO dispute settlement reports: obligation to comply or option to “buy out”? American Journal of International Law, 98, 109–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jensen, J.B., Quinn, D.P., Weymouth, S. (2015). The influence of firm global supply chains and foreign currency undervaluations on US trade disputes. International Organization, 69(4), 913–947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johns, L., & Rosendorff, B.P. (2009). Dispute settlement, compliance and domestic politics. In Hartigan, J.C. (Ed.) Trade disputes and the dispute settlement understanding of the WTO: an interdisciplinary assessment: Emerald Group.Google Scholar
  29. Johns, L., & Pelc, K.J. (2014). Who gets to be in the room? Manipulating participation in WTO disputes. International Organization, 68(3), 663–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kim, M. (2008). Costly procedures: divergent effects of legalization in the GATT/WTO dispute settlement procedures. International Studies Quarterly, 53(3), 657–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kim, S.Y. (2010). Power and the governance of global trade: from the GATT to the WTO. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  32. King, G., Tomz, M., Wittenberg, J. (2000). Making the most of statistical analyses: improving interpretation and presentation. American Journal of Political Science, 44(2), 347–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Leeds, B.A., & Mattes, M. (2013). Change in source of leader support (CHISOLS) dataset: coding rules. Unpublished.Google Scholar
  34. Mansfield, E.D., Milner, H.V., Rosendorff, B.P. (2000). Free to trade: democracies, autocracies and international trade. American Political Science Review, 94(2), 305–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mansfield, E.D., Milner, H.V., Rosendorff, B.P. (2002). Why democracies cooperate more: electoral control and international trade agreements. International Organization, 56(3), 477–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Marshall, M.G., Jaggers, K., Gurr, T.R. (2000). Polity IV project: political regime characteristics and transitions, 1800–1999. Available at (Accessed July 1, 2012).
  37. Mattes, M., Leeds, B.A., Carroll, R. (2015). Leadership turnover and foreign policy change: societal interests, domestic institutions, and voting in the united nations. International Studies Quarterly, 59(2), 280–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McGillivray, F., & Smith, A. (2008). Punishing the prince: a theory of interstate relations, political institutions, and leader change. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Reinhardt, E. (2000). Aggressive multilateralism: the determinants of GATT / WTO dispute initiation 1948–1998. Working paper, Emory University.Google Scholar
  40. Rickard, S.J. (2010). Democratic differences: electoral institutions and compliance with GATT/WTO agreements. European Journal of International Relations, 16(4), 711–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rosendorff, B.P. (1996). Voluntary export restraints, antidumping procedure and domestic politics. American Economic Review, 86(3), 544–561.Google Scholar
  42. Rosendorff, B.P. (2005). Stability and rigidity: politics and the design of the WTO’s dispute resolution procedure. The American Political Science Review, 99(3), 389–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rosendorff, B.P. (2015). Domestic politics and international trade disputes. In Martin, L. L. (Ed.) Oxford handbook of the politics of international trade. Oxford University Press chapter 8.Google Scholar
  44. Rosendorff, B.P., & Milner, H.V. (2001). The optimal design of international trade institutions: uncertainty and escape. International Organization, 55(4), 829–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sattler, T., & Bernauer, T. (2011). Gravitation or discrimination? Determinants of litigation in the World Trade Organisation. European Journal of Political Research, 50(2), 143–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Simmons, B.A., & Guzman, A. (2005). Power plays & capacity constraints: the selection of defendants in WTO disputes. Journal of Legal Studies, 34, 557–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tomz, M., King, G., Zeng, L. (2003). Relogit: rare events logistic regression. Journal of Statistical Software, 8(2), 1–27.Google Scholar
  48. Tsebelis, G. (2002). Veto players: how political institutions work. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wolford, S. (2012). Incumbents, successors, and crisis bargaining Leadership turnover as a commitment problem. Journal of Peace Research, 49(4), 517–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. World Bank. (2010). World development indicators on CD-ROM. Washington DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  51. Yildirim, A.B., Chatagnier, J.T., Poletti, A., De Bièvre, D. (2017). The internationalization of production and the politics of compliance in WTO disputes. The Review of International Organizations.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations