Research Paper Number



Michael Fakhri

Document Type


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World Trade Organization - Reform; International trade


This paper explicates competing conceptions of the WTO by examining the relationship between the perceived legitimacy crisis of the WTO and the emergence of development onto the global trade agenda. The general argument is that the WTO legitimacy debate in trade law literature can be understood as a proxy for a development debate. By reconstruing the legitimacy debate as a development debate, this paper shows how implicit within legitimacy arguments are competing conceptions of the WTO's function and purpose and that these conceptions are embedded within a broader development framework. The unfortunate effect of the contestations and justifications of the WTO's legitimacy has been the obscuring of normative assumptions underpinning conceptions of the WTO. One suspects that the more the discourse continues in this tug-of-war of legitimacy, the more entangled our understanding of the WTO will be. Gaining a better sense of what conceptions of the WTO are dominating legal thought allows for a more substantive and detailed debate as to what the function and purpose of the WTO should be.