Protectionism and Multilateral Accountability During the Great Recession: Drawing Inferences from Dogs Not Barking


Economic stress is often thought to be a source of protectionism, which motivated Leaders of the new G-20 to promise repeatedly that they would refrain from trade restrictions in response to the global financial crisis that became apparent in 2008. They also promised to hold themselves accountable for this commitment using a novel transparency mechanism based in the World Trade Organization.

At the same time a civil society organization, the Global Trade Alert, set itself up as an alternative accountability mechanism. The WTO and the GTA reached different conclusions both about how loudly the protectionist dog barked, and about whether G-20 governments kept their promises.

The author concludes from a detailed comparison of GTA and WTO data and interpretations using the notion of an “accountability regime” that the protectionist dog did not bark, allowing inferences to be drawn from this curious incident about how transparency can help to close the gap between commitment and action, thereby contributing to accountable global governance.

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Wolfe, Robert
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Journal of World Trade 46:4 (August 2012), 777-814.
Updated: 2013-03-13