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Internal Organizations and Democratization: Testing the Effect of GATT/WTO Membership

Working Paper

Published By

Shorenstein APARC, page(s): 40

April 2003

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Does the World Trade Organization promote democracy? A large part of the heated and pro-tracted debate over China?s application for WTO membership revolved around this question. Prior to China?s WTO accession in December 2001, this debate had dragged on for nearly fifteen years. While one side argued that WTO membership would promote democratization in China, others argued that the wealth generated through economic integration would provide the resources to maintain authoritarian rule. Only time will tell whether WTO accession will contribute to pressures for democratization in China. In the meantime, however, this paper examines the empirical basis for these competing claims about the effects of GATT/WTO memberships on domestic political systems. Based on statistical analysis of a global data set, this paper concludes that members of the international trade regime are more likely than nonmembers to be democracies. However, there is little evidence that WTO membership in itself can promote democratic transition. Instead, it appears to be the case that democratic countries are more likely to seek to join the WTO.

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