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Seeking mutual understanding: a discourse-theoretical analysis of the WTO Dispute Settlement System


The WTO Dispute Settlement System (DSS) has been the object of many studies in politics, law, and economics focusing on institutional design problems. This paper contributes to such studies by accounting for the argumentative nature and sophisticated features of the DSS through a philosophical analysis of the procedures through which it is articulated. Jürgen Habermas's discourse theory is used as a hermeneutic device to disentangle the types of ‘orientations’ (compromise, consensus, and mutual understanding) pertaining to DSS procedures. We show that these latter are oriented primarily to put the parties in a position to reach mutual understanding. Such an orientation is no mere idiosyncrasy of the DSS but is the only one consistently conducive to the WTO's general aims, in response to the various types of disputes that may arise between its Members. Before closing, we bring our procedural considerations to bear on the reform proposals of the DSS.

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World Trade Review
  • ISSN: 1474-7456
  • EISSN: 1475-3138
  • URL: /core/journals/world-trade-review
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