Think Piece

Will the WTO have Functional Value in the Mega-regional World of FTAs?

December 2013
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If all mega-regional trade and economic integration projects under negotiations are successfully completed, it would see the most important international goods, services, and investment transactions of the participants comprehensively covered by preferential free trade agreements. Even more significantly, all the agreements are focused on dealing with the behind-the-border regulatory and other issues that are of greater concern to business in the 21st century. Most of these behind-the-border questions would be addressed through so-called “WTO-plus” commitments, meaning that they either deal with issues beyond the scope of today’s WTO coverage or take a WTO-covered subject and employ a different approach that produces a superior result in a regional agreement. The central question explored in this paper is whether the WTO could be expected to retain a meaningful functional value for its members in the soon-to-be-realised world of WTO-plus mega-RTAs. There is no possibility of stopping the mega-regional juggernaut at this point in time, so developments on that front must be taken as a given, as well as assumptions for the future. This means that the change has to take place in the WTO if the institution is to survive. That said, the WTO of the future will almost certainly be a different WTO than we see today.

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