Between “Member-Driven Governance” and “Judicialization”: Constitutional and Judicial Dilemmas in the World Trading System

  • Ernst-Ulrich PetersmannEmail author


The power-oriented GATT/WTO traditions of member-driven governance risk undermining the dispute settlement system of the WTO, its judicial administration of justice and rule of law. US trade policies, the “Brexit”, and non-democratic rulers challenge multilateral treaties and judicial systems by populist protectionism prioritizing “bilateral deals”. This contribution uses the example of the illegal US blockage of the WTO Appellate Body system for explaining why the “republican imperative” of protecting public goods (res publica) requires respect for democratic governance, rule of law and judicial remedies (Part 1 of this chapter). WTO law limits power politics by judicial remedies and by administrative majority decisions for filling vacancies in WTO institutions (like the Appellate Body) if consensus is arbitrarily vetoed (Part 2 of this chapter). Such administrative decisions and judicial clarifications of WTO rules preventing illegal de facto amendments of WTO institutions legitimize member-driven governance by protecting rule of law as approved by parliaments when they authorized ratification of the WTO Agreement and delegated limited powers for implementing, clarifying and reforming—rather than destroying—WTO rules for the benefit of citizens, their equal rights and social welfare (Part 3 of this chapter). The hegemonic abuses of trade policy powers indicate the political limits of “judicialization” of international economic law and the need for systemic, “ordo-liberal” reforms of the WTO in order to avoid disintegration of the world trading system (Part 4 of this chapter).


Appellate Body China Constitutionalism Judicialization Treaty interpretation Voting in WTO 


  1. Anderson S et al (2017) Using arbitration under Article 25 of the DSU to ensure the availability of appeals. The Graduate Inst Geneva. Accessed 22 Mar 2019
  2. Bacchus J (2018a) Might unmakes right. The American Assault on the Rule of Law in World Trade, Centre for International Governance Innovation CIGI Papers No. 173Google Scholar
  3. Bacchus J (2018b) How to solve the WTO judicial crisis. Cato Institute. Accessed 22 Mar 2019
  4. Besson S, Marti JL (eds) (2009) Legal republicanism: national and international perspectives. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  5. Cho S, Kurtz J (2018) Convergence and divergence in international economic law and politics. EJIL 29:169–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cook G (2015) A digest of WTO jurisprudence on public international law concepts and principles. CUPGoogle Scholar
  7. de Baere G, Wolters J (eds) (2015) The contribution of international and supranational courts to the rule of law. Elgar, USAGoogle Scholar
  8. Dunoff JL, Pollack MA (2017) The judicial trilemma. Am J Int Law 111:225–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gao H (2018) Dictum on dicta: obiter dicta in WTO disputes. World Trade Rev 17:509–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hillman J (2018) Three approaches to fixing the WTO’s Appellate Body: the good, the bad and the ugly? Institute of International Economic Law, Georgetown Univ Law CenterGoogle Scholar
  11. Kuijper PJ (2018) The US attack on the WTO Appellate Body. Leg Issues Econ Integr 45:1–11Google Scholar
  12. Luce E (2018) Donald Trump’s circus act is a sinister distraction. Financial Times. Accessed 22 Mar 2019
  13. Petersmann EU (1997) The GATT/WTO dispute settlement system. International Law, International Organizations and Dispute Settlement. Kluwer, USAGoogle Scholar
  14. Petersmann EU (2012) International economic law in the 21st century. Constitutional Pluralism and Multilevel Governance of Interdependent Public Goods. Hart, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. Petersmann EU (2015) The establishment of a GATT office of legal affairs and the limits of “public reason” in the GATT/WTO dispute settlement system. In: Marceau G (ed) A history of law and lawyers in the GATT/WTO. CUPGoogle Scholar
  16. Petersmann EU (2017) Multilevel constitutionalism for multilevel governance of public goods—methodology problems in international law. Hart, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Petersmann EU (2018a) International economic law without human and constitutional rights? Legal methodology questions for my Chinese critics. J Int Econ Law 21(1):213–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Petersmann EU (2018b) The 2018 trade wars as a threat to the world trading system and constitutional democracies. Trade Law Dev 10(2):179Google Scholar
  19. Petersmann EU (2018c) The Crown Jewel of the WTO has been stolen by US Trade diplomats—and they have no intention of giving it back. In: Prévost D et al (eds) Restoring trust in trade—Liber Amicorum for Peter Van den Bossche. Hart, London, pp 105–118Google Scholar
  20. Petersmann EU (2018d) A comment on Globalists: The end of empire and the birth of Neoliberalism. J Int Econ Law 21(4)Google Scholar
  21. Petersmann EU (2018e) How to Reconcile Human Rights, Trade Law, Intellectual Property, Investment and Health Law? WTO Dispute Settlement Panel Upholds Australia’s plain packaging Regulations of Tobacco Products. EUI Working Paper Law 2018/19Google Scholar
  22. Petersmann EU (2019) How WTO members should respond to their WTO governance crises. World Trade Rev 18:503–525Google Scholar
  23. Politi J (2018) Donald Trump’s China pivot. Financial Times. Accessed 22 Mar 2019
  24. Rawls J (1993) Political liberalism. Harvard UPGoogle Scholar
  25. Romano CPR (ed) (2009) The sword and the scales. In: The United States and international courts and tribunals. CUPGoogle Scholar
  26. Rosas A, Armati L (2018) EU constitutional law: an introduction. Bloomsbury, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Sacerdoti G (2018) A comment on Henry Gao “Dictum on Dicta: Obiter Dicta in WTO Disputes”. World Trade Rev 17:534–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Slobodian Q (2018b) Globalists: the end of empire and the birth of Neoliberalism. Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  29. Stoll PT (2018) International investment law and the rule of law. Goettingen J Int Law 9:267–292Google Scholar
  30. The President’s Trade Policy Agenda. US Trade Representative. Accessed 21 Mar 2019
  31. Trachtman JP (2017) Power to terminate US trade agreements: the presidential dormant commerce clause versus an historical gloss half empty. Tuft Univ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  32. Tushnet M (2018) Advanced introduction to comparative constitutional law. Elgar, USAGoogle Scholar
  33. Van den Bossche P (2015) The Appellate Body of the WTO. In: De Baere, Wouters (eds) The contribution of international and supranational courts to the rule of law. ElgarsGoogle Scholar
  34. Van den Bossche P, Zdouc W (2017) The law and policy of the WTO. CUPGoogle Scholar
  35. VanGrasstek C (2019) Trade and American leadership. In: The paradoxes of power and wealth: from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump. Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  36. WTO (2004) The handbook on the WTO dispute settlement system prepared by the WTO legal services. CUPGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations