Author: Naoise McDonagh, University of Adelaide
The World Trade Organizations (WTO) 2014 Trade Facilitation Agreement is the only significant multilateral agreement it has concluded since its inception in 1995. Against that success, significant failures stand out. The inability to complete the Doha Development Round launched in 2001 and the failure to curb fishing subsidies despite the decimation of global fish stocks indicates that multilateralism is floundering.
The growth in plurilateral agreements adds to that view and raises questions about the WTOs future. Plurilateralism refers to trade and investment negotiations between three or more countries, but fewer than all WTO members. Plurilaterals can occur inside the WTO, where non-signatories still receive the benefits through the most-favoured-nation requirement. The 1996 Information Technology Agreement is one early example. Issue-specific WTO plurilaterals, such as the e-commerce negotiations, are becoming a popular option. To reduce free-riding, these open WTO plurilaterals require a critical mass of members to have signed on before entering into force.
Plurilaterals can also occur outside the WTO to form between-country preferential trade agreements (PTAs) where benefits flow only to parties to the agreement. PTAs include free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the ChinaAustralia FTA, as well as regional and mega-regional trade agreements, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). To be legal under WTO rules, PTAs must liberalise substantially all trade.
Multilateral gridlock means trade progress is now happening at the plurilateral level. This creates opportunities and dangers for the WTO. Opportunities arise through the prospect for trade progress that is sorely needed; danger lies in the possibility of governance fragmentation from external PTAs. In 2000 there were 83 PTAs in force, and by 2020 there were 303. This trend risks the WTO becoming an institutional zombie struggling to manage a smorgasbord of inconsistent rules.
The success of the WTOs predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), is a key reason for multilateral difficulties today. The GATT began in 1948 with 23 members agreeing to reduce trade tariffs. Tariff reductions were the primary focus of negotiations through to the 1986 Uruguay Round, by which time there were 123 members. A reduction in tariffs from about 22 per cent of traded goods value in 1947 to 5 per cent after the Uruguay Round is indicative of the success of GATT negotiations.
When the WTO became operational in 1995, the GATT had largely completed negative economic integration. This required very little positive integration, the latter referring to rule convergence on national regulatory standards. The GATT also provided foundations for the current system, including non-discrimination rules, a dispute resolution forum and the norm of reciprocity between nations regarding tariff concessions.
The WTO was born into a role demanding greater regulatory convergence between nations on issues such as non-tariff measures, services standards, intellectual property, subsidies and an array of technical and legal standards. Further, with no provisions on e-commerce or digital trade and the incomplete General Agreement on Trade in Services, the WTO was outdated on arrival. The need for greater rule convergence to achieve further progress has significant ramifications for national regulatory sovereignty. It also demands national capacity for implementation and oversight that developing countries often struggle to meet.
The WTO sought such convergence with greater member heterogeneity compared to the GATT. The WTO now has 164 member nations, with divergences in development status, political systems and social preferences. Yet agreement on any WTO issue must be reached by consensus. Even between culturally and developmentally similar countries, differences in social preferences create major hurdles to securing a trade agreement when behind-the-border regulatory issues are at stake.
Two implications for PTAs are now evident. First, PTAs are a logical response to the difficulties of achieving consensus across WTO membership on issues that reduce domestic policy space. Second, the growth in PTAs indicates an ongoing desire by members to continue deepening trade integration. Neither implication suggests the WTO is becoming redundant. Rather, the WTO is a crucial foundation on which modern PTAs build. The United StatesMexicoCanada Agreement (USMCA), for example, uses significant amounts of WTO text and requires that basic disputes over technical barriers to trade be heard within the WTOs framework.
By building upon the existing multilateral system, USMCA parties could focus on issues that extend the current rules. RCEP was similarly negotiated to be WTO-consistent and its Chapter 12 on e-commerce is viewed as providing the most likely path forward for the WTOs e-commerce negotiations. Conversely, South Koreas separate FTAs with the European Union and the United States codified two sets of mutually inconsistent rules relating to international standards, generating rule fragmentation.
Still, like-minded countries continuing to negotiate deeper trade integration is positive news. With multilateral gridlock, plurilaterals are the most realistic vehicle for trade progress. The risk to the multilateral system arising from external plurilateral PTAs is one of differentiated integration and governance fragmentation. Current geopolitical tensions amplify that risk. While this risk cannot be completely avoided, it can be mitigated.
Fragmentation risk can be reduced if PTAs ensure they are as WTO-consistent as possible, like RCEP. As PTAs prove the value of deeper integration there should be opportunities to multilateralise PTA innovations, like RCEPs chapter on e-commerce. APECs ability to produce cooperative outcomes on transparency standards without formal negotiations provides another option for multilateral engagement. Yet it must not be forgotten that the WTO still serves crucial functions even as plurilaterals proliferate.
Naoise McDonagh is a Lecturer in Political Economy at the Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide.
- History will not be kind to Tokyo's 'zombie Olympics' - Nikkei Asia - April 5th, 2021
- Researchers discover "Zombie Genes" in the brain that come to life after death - CMU The Tartan Online - April 5th, 2021
- Geoengineering the climate: The zombie idea that just won't die - Resilience - April 5th, 2021
- Hilarie Burton Worried She'd Make a 'Bad Zombie' On The Walking Dead - TooFab - April 5th, 2021
- The Guitar Zombie Apocalypse Is Real - Premier Guitar - April 5th, 2021
- Call of Duty: Warzone's Zombies Move to a New Location - ComicBook.com - April 5th, 2021
- Corey Taylors Zombie Versus Ninja movie will commence shooting this year - Louder - April 5th, 2021
- Is Zombie Army 4 multiplayer? Heres all we know about the Rebellion Developments release - Republic TV - April 5th, 2021
- What are 'zombie mines'? What do they have to do with Malcolm Turnbull? - ABC News - April 5th, 2021
- The Best Zombie Movie According To Reddit Isn't What You'd Think - Looper - April 5th, 2021
- Zombie (The Cranberries song) - Wikipedia - March 9th, 2021
- How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, According to the CDC - Inside Edition - March 9th, 2021
- The CDC wants you to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. (Yes, you read that right.) - USA TODAY - March 9th, 2021
- Call of Duty's Zombie Easter Eggs Were Too Hard, So Cold War Season 2 Is Simplifying Things - Kotaku - March 9th, 2021
- Resident Evil 3 Did Army of the Dead's Zombie Vegas 14 Years Ago - Screen Rant - March 9th, 2021
- The perfect Call of Duty zombies mode is here, and it's not Outbreak - PC Gamer - March 9th, 2021
- CDC Offers Guide to Survive Zombie Apocalypse and Other Natural Disasters - Complex - March 9th, 2021
- Zombie Soil: The Harmful Result of Industrial Farming | Earth 911 - Earth911.com - March 9th, 2021
- Call of Duty Warzone Crossover With Zombies Teased on Twitter - Screen Rant - March 9th, 2021
- 'Zombie' cicadas could be on your doorstep this summer - Times-West Virginian - March 9th, 2021
- How to Find Flawless Aetherium Crystals in COD: Zombies Outbreak - Screen Rant - March 9th, 2021
- Resurrected The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohan tells Conan her best zombie kill nicknames - The A.V. Club - March 9th, 2021
- Warzone yellow access cards - how to survive the new shipwreck zombies event - Gamesradar - March 9th, 2021
- WTOPs Beer of the Week: 3 Floyds Zombie Dust Pale Ale - WTOP - March 9th, 2021
- Indias zombie home fund set to deliver thousands of apartments - The Real Deal - February 20th, 2021
- Zombie infection threat as country unlocks 50,000-year-old viruses - Yahoo News Australia - February 20th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie rises from his grave this March for PC via Steam - PC Invasion - February 20th, 2021
- Zombie Hit Train To Busan Is Getting A US Remake - GameSpot - February 20th, 2021
- Rob Zombie says the meat industrys future is unsustainable - NME.com - February 20th, 2021
- Stubbs The Zombie In Rebel Without A Pulse - Yahoo Entertainment - February 20th, 2021
- Batista Wanted To Play A Zombie On The Walking Dead, Rejected For Being "Too Big" - Fightful - February 20th, 2021
- Dave Bautista told he was too big to play zombie on The Walking Dead - NME - February 17th, 2021
- Dave Bautista Offered To Play A Zombie For Free On The Walking Dead - Screen Rant - February 17th, 2021
- REVIEW: Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, Vol. 1 is a Comedic Zombie Apocalypse - CBR - Comic Book Resources - February 17th, 2021
- Don't Eat Pete is a zombie survival game that's available now for Android in Early Access - Pocket Gamer - February 17th, 2021
- Call of Duty Warzone seems to be teasing Zombies - Gamesradar - February 17th, 2021
- James Gunn Weighs In On Whether Zombies Or Vampires Are More Dangerous - Looper - February 17th, 2021
- The Walking Dead back on the march - Stuff.co.nz - February 17th, 2021
- The Walking Dead Turned Dave Bautista Down for a Zombie Role - Superherohype.com - February 16th, 2021
- Army of the Dead Image Teases Zombie Heist Movie - /FILM - February 16th, 2021
- The Real Life Diet of Rob Zombie, Who Thinks Eating Vegan Is Metal - British GQ - February 16th, 2021
- Rob Zombie says veganism is about 'fighting the establishment' - Vegan Food and Living - February 16th, 2021
- The Next Generation of Marvel Zombies Is Already in the Marvel Universe - CBR - Comic Book Resources - February 16th, 2021
- It Looks Like Zombies Are Coming To Warzone Season 2 | TheGamer - TheGamer - February 16th, 2021
- ROB ZOMBIE Explains Why He Went Vegan "It Is Anti-Establishment" - Metal Injection - February 14th, 2021
- Zombie Baseballs and MLBs Home Run Problem - The Wall Street Journal - February 14th, 2021
- Rob Zombie Thinks Eating Vegan Is Metal - GQ - February 14th, 2021
- This is what the DoD has planned for a zombie apocalypse - We Are The Mighty - February 14th, 2021
- 3 Cookbooks and guides to teach you how to survive during the eventual zombie apocalypse - Undead Walking - February 14th, 2021
- Call Of Duty Zombies: All Zombies Crews, Ranked - TheGamer - February 14th, 2021
- Tesla : Which is the best EV to own to survive a zombie apocalypse? - marketscreener.com - February 14th, 2021
- Here's How You Can Watch Every Season Of iZombie - Looper - February 14th, 2021
- What's The 1st Thing You'd Grab If Zombies Invaded Twin Falls? - kezj.com - February 14th, 2021
- Kennedy: Banks, communities need to collaborate on zombie property upkeep - The Daily Gazette - February 10th, 2021
- Zombies Attack Bend! [With Video] - The Source Weekly - February 10th, 2021
- Ten Zombie Comedies That Won't Rot Your Braaaaaaaains - tor.com - February 10th, 2021
- These Bulletproof Vehicles Are Perfect For Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse - HotCars - February 10th, 2021
- How a Left 4 Dead Remaster Could Revive the Zombie Shooter Genre - CBR - Comic Book Resources - February 10th, 2021
- Rise of Barnegat Light's Zombie Whale; It Starts With Dead Bigfoots, the Devils - The SandPaper - February 10th, 2021
- The Senate should do everything it can to avoid a zombie impeachment trial - CNN - February 9th, 2021
- 8 Video Game Zombies That Break the Traditional Mold - Bloody Disgusting - February 9th, 2021
- Zombie Reddy Four Days Box Office Collection, Teja Sajja's Film Is Ruling The Box Office. - Sakshi Post - February 9th, 2021
- Colm O'Regan: The perfect Valentine's Day gift - a zombie plan for the one you love - Irish Examiner - February 9th, 2021
- Zombie Reddy Third Day Box Office Collection, Teja Sajja's Film Passes The Weekend On A Phenomenal Note - Sakshi Post - February 9th, 2021
- How to Play the Witch Role Mod in Among Us | Screen Rant - Screen Rant - February 9th, 2021
- Reanimation and Zombies: Discussion with author Frank Swain - WLNS - February 9th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie Is Returning In a Unique Re-release From Aspyr Media - Happy Gamer - February 9th, 2021
- Author discussion to explore reanimation, zombies - The Hillsdale Daily News - February 9th, 2021
- Not Ready to Die: These 5 'zombie' cars were sold alongside their replacements - Driving - February 5th, 2021
- Zombie Reddy movie review: When the zombies attack Seema - The Hindu - February 5th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie comes back from the dead in March, achievements revealed - TrueAchievements - February 5th, 2021
- Prasanth Varma: Zombie Reddy doesnt make a joke out of zombies - The Indian Express - February 5th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie Re-Release Launching in March | Game Rant - GameRant - February 5th, 2021
- Shang-Chi Finally Found the Cure for the Newest Kind of Marvel Zombie - CBR - Comic Book Resources - February 5th, 2021
- Free-Roam VR Unleashed - The Source Weekly - February 5th, 2021
- Releasing Today: Zombie Attack On Box Office.. - Greatandhra.com - February 5th, 2021
- ROB ZOMBIE's New Album Was Completed A Couple Years Ago - Metal Injection - February 5th, 2021
- Zombie nation: Third of adults walking around in concussion-like daze due to stress, lack of sleep - Study Finds - February 5th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie Achievements Listing Hints a Re-release in March - The Nerd Stash - February 5th, 2021
- Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse Re-Release Hinted - NoobFeed - February 5th, 2021
Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero