13 January 2022
L. Alan Winters is Professor of Economics and Founding Director of UK Trade Policy Observatory and Bernard Hoekman is Professor of Global Economics, European University Institute and Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory
It is widely accepted that international economic relations depend upon a smoothly functioning multilateral trading system. That trading system, institutionally underpinned by the World Trade Organization (WTO), can both stimulate economic activity and help to promote international cooperation in spheres such as climate change and migration. However, the WTO is becoming less relevant to a world in which services account for a growing share of trade, interest in environmental regulation (notably on CO2 emissions) is growing, and digital technology is reshaping our lives.
These issues impinge directly on international trade and thus fall within the broad remit of international rulemaking in the WTO. However, decision making in the WTO typically requires consensus from all the Members, which is difficult to achieve when Members have different ideas about what the appropriate rules for dealing with such challenges are. Thus, not only has it become difficult for countries to agree on how to move forward, but these differences are creating new tensions in the global trading system.
One solution that would help to overcome the impasse is to facilitate those within the WTO who want to change particular rules to proceed among themselves by signing so-called ‘plurilateral’ agreements. The WTO foresees two types of plurilateral agreements, depending on whether what is agreed applies on a discriminatory or non-discriminatory basis. (more…)
Charlotte Humma January 13th, 2022