China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2001 was heralded by the international community as a victory for free trade and economic liberalization. During its arduous, 15-year accession process, China made extensive commitments to reform domestically and reduce trade barriers. Since joining the WTO, China has been one of the organization’s most active members and its economy has become an integral link in global supply chains. Yet, Beijing has not instituted deep, systematic reforms and its mixed compliance with WTO dispute rulings has at times challenged the WTO’s underlying norms.
The WTO serves three main functions: facilitating trade negotiations, monitoring compliance, and arbitrating trade disputes. The dispute settlement system (DSS) is the WTO’s legal mechanism for resolving trade conflicts between members. Members may be involved in the DSS in one of three ways. They can bring a dispute against another member as a complainant, or be the subject of a complaint as a respondent. Countries with “substantial trade interests” in a dispute may also join as a third party. All final rulings of the DSS are binding and mandatory.
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