Think Piece

A Grand Bargain to Save the WTO from Declining Relevance

December 2013
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The WTO is losing its relevance as the world economy continues to change while its diverse Members have been unable to agree on any major new rules since 1999. The powerful and others are going elsewhere for trade agreements, establishing preferential institutions among themselves. New ideas circulated of late offer an ambitious yet possibly feasible way out of the impasse that would put the WTO back on the map. The proposal, a grand bargain of sorts, would break the Doha impasse by expanding the agenda, simultaneously launching a set of new plurilateral negotiations under WTO discipline that could be multilateralised over the medium and long terms. Approving this grand bargain would harvest gains on “old issues” including agricultural subsidies and peak industrial tariffs that developing countries have long demanded. Continued impasse would drive the WTO farther off the stage. A final Doha deal limited to small pieces will probably be too small commercially and politically to accomplish this important institutional goal. The questions during the next decade then will be whether the stature and role of the WTO will decline further, and what that world will be like. It would be best if WTO ministers were to adopt the bolder package, a deal that could be described as one with something for everyone, and one that goes further than what any government has proposed.

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