Abstract: What drives dispute resolution in the World Trade Organization (WTO)? We examine how conflict framing and multilateral leadership may influence trade dispute settlement in the WTO. Building on the international relations literature, we hypothesize that framing the nature of alleged violations and members’ engagement in general global governance affects WTO members’ propensity to join disputes as third parties. We introduce several new measures for estimating and quantifying conflict framing and leadership within the WTO. Using 308 product-related trade disputes among WTO members during 1995-2011, we find significant effects for conflict framing and multilateral leadership on the likelihood that a trading partner joins a dispute. Our post hoc analyses suggest that framing and leadership also have economically significant effects on dispute outcomes in terms of the chances of reaching a negotiated or litigated settlement. We discuss the policy implications of our empirical findings on dispute resolution in global multilateral organizations.
Keywords: World Trade Organization (WTO), multilateral negotiation, trade dispute, governance