Document Type



The World Trade Organization’s Legitimacy Crisis, World Trade Review, vol. 1, no. 1 (2002)


Despite the successful launch of a new round of multilateral trade negotiations at Doha, the World Trade Organization faces a legitimacy crisis. Protests continue to rock major international economic meetings, and the WTO's role in globalization is being questioned by many observers. This paper examines the contours of this crisis and explores the possibility that the WTO's indirect ties to popular sovereignty ± through national governments ± provide an insufficient foundation for the trade regime's authority and central role in the emerging structure of global governance. Arguing that the WTO needs to re-establish its legitimacy based on wider links to the public around the world in whose name freer trade is pursued, the paper suggests that the WTO must also re-build its reputation for efficacy in a context where success is no longer measured exclusively in narrow economic terms. To be seen as serving the interests of the world community broadly, the trade regime needs to pursue its economic goals in a fashion that shows sensitivity to other important goals and values, such as poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and the promotion of public health. Long-term success further depends on the trade regime becoming embedded within a broader structure of global governance that provides `checks and balances' and reinforces the legitimacy of international trade policy making.

Date of Authorship for this Version