Reading 15: Robert Howse

Howse, Robert. (2002). "From Politics to Technocracy - and Back Again: The Fate of the Multilateral Trading Regime."  American Journal of International Law 96: 94-117.


Robert Howse argues that the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was conceived as ‘embedded liberalism’, reflecting the ‘progressive, interventionist welfare state’. But the organization was increasingly controlled by a ‘specialized policy elite’, the insiders. They preferred economics as ideology, i.e. the ideology of free trade. The new agenda was the basis for establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO), ‘the greatest threat so far to the sustainability of embedded liberalism’. The trade regime was also threatened by the economic Right, the Washington consensus. The insiders tried to recast WTO as ‘constitutional’ in nature, which is not convincing. They also resorted to legal positivism. But the original goal of the Bretton Woods system is widely shared. The WTO should apply ‘global subsidiarity’ and inclusiveness at the national and international level.


Questions for discussion

  1. Is it convincing to portray WTO as reflecting the interventionist welfare state?
  2. Should the WTO dispute settlement system be distinguished from the WTO as a whole?
  3. Is it convincing to distinguish between insiders and outsiders?
  4. Is the critique against the constitutional character of WTO convincing? What is meant by ‘constitutional’? Could other definitions be used?
  5. What is meant by global subsidiarity and inclusiveness, and to what extent should these goals be pursued?
Published June 30, 2016 11:53 AM - Last modified June 30, 2016 11:54 AM