What reform agenda is needed for the future direction of the World Trade Organization?

What reform agenda is needed for the future direction of the World Trade Organization?

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In November, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will decide whether Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria) or Yoo Myung-hee (South Korea) will replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo as the Director-General of the institution. Twenty-five years after its creation (as a successor to the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade], 1947-1995), and following many years of paralysis, the stakes for reform are high. This is particularly evident during the post Covid-19 recovery period, as the pandemic exposes the structural vulnerabilities of globalised economies.

Existential crisis

The WTO is undergoing a deep and entrenched crisis. The round of trade rule reforms launched at Doha in 2001 is proving impossible to complete, despite twenty years of negotiations. The only agreement signed since 1994 is a facilitation agreement (2017), which is more technical than substantial. A number of negotiations have been attempted to try and overcome the failure of this programme, but so far they have had little success.
Roberto Azevêdo has been unable to rekindle the appetite for negotiations among countries that have since committed themselves to bilateral agreements that are better able to protect their specific interests. However, such deals are also becoming increasingly difficult to conclude and then ratify due to increasing scrutiny from the public on texts that are deemed too sensitive to pressures from interest groups. “The world has changed, the WTO has not”, stated the European Commission. Indeed, the future WTO Director-General must address at least three areas of organisational reform.


Read the full blog here.

This blog first appeared on the IDDRI site. 

Author: Tancrède Voituriez and Yann Laurans, IDDRI. 

Image courtesy of via World Bank Photo Collection Flickr.

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.

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