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Private Standards and the WTO: Reclusive No More

 |  April 7, 2016

Posted by Social Science Research Network

Private Standards and the WTO: Reclusive No More

Petros C. Mavroidis (Columbia University) & Robert Wolfe (Queen’s University)

Abstract:      Private standards are increasing in number, and they affect trade, but their status in the WTO remains problematic. Standards-takers are typically countries with little bargaining power, who cannot affect their terms of trade and thus, even if they possess domestic antitrust laws, will find it hard to persuade standard-setters to take account of their interests. Our concern is to bring more of these standards within the normative framework of the trade regime — that is, we worry that these private forms of social order can conflict with the fundamental norms of transparency and non-discrimination. The WTO membership has consumed itself in endless discussions regarding mundane, legalistic issues, and has not moved at all towards addressing the real concerns of developing countries. We discuss one aspect of the problem: How reclusive should the WTO allow product standards to be? We argue that the WTO should adopt a “Reference Paper” that would encourage its members to apply WTO rules for adopting those standards that already come under the aegis of the WTO to private standards. In the absence of centralized enforcement, utopia in the WTO legal paradigm, transparency disciplines imposed on standard-setters is the best the WTO could offer to those who are negatively affected by private standards.