Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Brian Owens


This Note argues that the WTO's current dispute resolution system creates sovereignty tensions between member nations that are afforded a host of protections and their sub-national entities which do not have comparable protections. For example, states and other sub-national governments do not have standing before the WTO. They can neither bring a dispute before the WTO nor defend themselves against an attack on their domestic laws from WTO member nations.

This lose of state sovereignty to binding international agreements is exemplified by Massachusetts, which recently passed a law barring public agencies from doing business with any companies investing in Burma. The Massachusetts law was challenged before the WTO by the European Union and Japan, arguing that the Massachusetts law violated U.S. obligations under international trade rules. After analyzing the current WTO dispute resolution system, the author proposes granting standing to states to defend themselves before the WTO against member nations who seek to sanction a state for domestic policies that conflict with international law, or in the alternative, mandating the U.S. government to represent state interests before the WTO.