25 Apr 2012
Low-income developing countries and WTO litigation: Why wake up the sleeping dog?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is one of the most judicialized dispute settlement systems in international politics. While a general appreciation has developed that the system has worked quite well, research has not paid sufficient attention to the weakest actors in the system. This paper addresses the puzzle of missing cases of least-developed countries initiating WTO dispute settlement procedures. It challenges the existing literature on developing countries in WTO dispute settlement which predominantly focuses on legal capacity and economic interests. The paper provides an argument that the small universe of ‘actionable cases’, the option of free riding and the assessment of the perceived opportunity costs related to other foreign policy priorities better explain the absence of cases. In addition (and somewhat counterintuitively), we argue that the absence of cases is not necessarily bad news and shows how the weakest actors can use the dispute settlement system in a ‘lighter version’ or in indirect ways. The argument is empirically assessed by conducting a case study on four West African cotton-producing countries (C4) and their involvement in dispute settlement.