U.S. – China Litigation in the WTO — What Does the Record Show for Obama and Bush?

 U.S.-China trade relations have become a leading foreign policy and trade issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, as demonstrated by the candidates’ statements throughout the presidential debates.
What does the WTO data show?
President Obama’s administration has filed more cases against China in four years than the Bush administration did in its eight years. Obama has already filed 8; Bush filed a total of 7.
Interestingly, the Obama administration has focused on aggressively targeting China through WTO litigation.
President Obama filed 8 cases against China, out of a total of 11 WTO cases filed by his administration. President Bush’s administration filed 7 cases, out of a total of 24 WTO cases filed by his administration.
However, it is noteworthy that the Obama administration has filed fewer total WTO cases than either the Bush administration or the Clinton administration. (Obama filed 11; Bush filed 24; Clinton filed 68.) The Obama administration’s data covers only four years, not the eight years by President Clinton or President Bush. The Clinton administration’s data, in addition, only covered six years of actual WTO membership; the WTO didn’t exist until 1995.
Any conclusions?
It is clear that the Obama administration has focused forcefully on WTO litigation against China. However, its total litigations against other countries have significantly decreased. Throughout the history of the WTO, from 1995-2011, the most litigation occurred in 1997 (50 cases), and the least occurred last year, in 2011 (8 cases).
Are countries violating the global trade rules less frequently? Perhaps the decrease in filed WTO cases demonstrates a greater acceptance and better understanding of the WTO global trade rules.
Filing cases in the WTO and litigating them in that global forum is more beneficial than taking aggressive unilateral actions. It is much more likely to be effective and viewed as legitimate under the umbrella of  international law as  determined by an international panel.
The WTO data discloses significant trends and comparisons for serious policy discussions for the remainder of this presidential campaign and beyond.
Malawer, “U.S. – China WTO Cases — Bush & Obama Administrations Compared.” (Sept. 20,  2012).

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About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (School of Public Policy).
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