The Journal of Politics


Who Files? Developing Country Participation in GATT/WTO Adjudication

Christina L. Davisa1 and Sarah Blodgett Bermeoa2

a1 Princeton University

a2 Duke University


The potential for international law to reduce power asymmetries depends on weaker countries learning to navigate the legal system. This paper examines the use of courts by developing countries to defend their trade interests. Power relations and low capacity may prevent these countries from fully participating in the international trade system. Yet some developing countries have been among the most active participants in GATT/WTO adjudication. We argue that high startup costs for using trade litigation are a barrier to developing country use of the dispute settlement process. Analysis of dispute initiation from 1975 to 2003 shows that past experience in trade adjudication, as either a complainant or a defendant, increases the likelihood that a developing country will initiate disputes. As weaker countries overcome these initial capacity constraints they will increasingly benefit from the international legal structures they have joined.

(Received January 21 2008)

(Accepted November 22 2008)


Christina Davis is associate professor, Department of Politics, Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544.

Sarah Blodgett Bermeo is assistant professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708.