Trade: U.S. is "World's Biggest Loser"

Editor's note: The following originally appeared on Public Citizen's blog, Eyes on Trade

Manufacturing News today (sorry, not linkable) says that the U.S. is the "world's biggest loser - by far" in terms of the WTO dispute resolution system.
The World Trade Organization has ruled against the United States in 40 of 47 cases... That number is "astounding," according to Robert Lighthizer, a partner in charge the international trade group at the law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. The United States "has suffered disproportionately from the problems with the WTO dispute settlement system, having been named as a defendant in far more cases than any other WTO members."
(Note that Public Citizen's dispute database shows that the United States has lost 43 of 50 cases. Since Manufacturing News doesn't elaborate further on its statistics, we're not sure where the discrepancy arises.) Lighthizer goes on to say,
"As a result of this judicial activism, our trading partners have been able to achieve through litigation what they could never achieve through negotiation... The consequent loss of sovereignty for the United States in its ability to enact and enforce laws for the benefit of the American people has been staggering. The WTO has increasingly seen fit to sit in judgment of sovereign acts running the gamut from U.S. tax policy to environmental measures to public morals."
All this is true, but it's not just the United States that loses at the WTO. Pretty much all defendants lose WTO disputes. According to Public Citizen's WTO disputes database, while the United States has lost 86 percent of its cases as a defendant under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), out of all DSU cases, the defendant loses 88.7 percent of the time. So the United States is roughly in line with the rest of the world in terms of having its domestic laws overridden by the WTO.

So claiming the United States loses at the WTO is accurate, but also misses the bigger picture a bit. As Dani Rodrik says as quoted in my earlier post, what's really needed is to rethink the whole system.

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