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Legalization, Trade Liberalization, and Domestic Politics: A Cautionary Note


If the purpose of legalization is to enhance international cooperation, more may not always be better. Achieving the optimal level of legalization requires finding a balance between reducing the risks of opportunism and reducing the potential negative effects of legalization on domestic political processes. The global trade regime, which aims to liberalize trade, has become increasingly legalized over time. Increased legalization has changed the information environment and the nature of government obligations, which in turn have affected the pattern of mobilization of domestic interest groups on trade. From the perspective of encouraging the future expansion of liberal trade, we suggest some possible negative consequences of legalization, arguing that these consequences must be weighed against the positive effects of legalization on increasing national compliance. Since the weakly legalized GATT institution proved sufficient to sustain widespread liberalization, the case for further legalization must be strong to justify far-reaching change in the global trade regime.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
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