Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2016

Center/Program

European Legal Studies Center

Abstract

This Article seeks to explain when an international legal framework like the WTO can facilitate international cooperation and when it fails to do so. Using an empirical inquiry into different agreements that the WTO has attempted to facilitate — specifically, intellectual property and antitrust regulation — it reveals more general principles about why the WTO can facilitate agreement in some situations and not in others. Comparing the successful conclusion of the TRIPS Agreement and the failed attempts to negotiate a WTO antitrust agreement indicates that international cooperation is likely to emerge when the interests of powerful states align and when concentrated interest groups within those states actively support cooperation. The comparison further suggests that the WTO provides an optimal forum for cooperation when states need to rely on cross-issue linkages to overcome existing distributional conflicts, when the underlying issue calls for an enforcement mechanism, or when both the net benefits of the agreement and the opportunity costs of nonagreement are high. Contrasting the key differences between IP and antitrust cooperation, this Article disputes the widely held view that the strategic situations underlying IP and antitrust cooperation are similar and that the conclusion of the TRIPS Agreement is a relevant precedent predicting a successful WTO negotiation of antitrust or a host of other new regulatory issues. Given the ongoing changes in the economic and political landscape, cooperation in the WTO is even more challenging today. It is possible that — absent institutional reforms — the WTO’s recent expansion may well have met its limits.

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