This Report examines how the multilateral trade regime can better serve the global community. It does so by asking if the sustained and uneven transformation of the global economy, with the associated rise of new powers, heightened aspirations, and considerable pockets of societal discontent, require a reconsideration of the principles and practices that currently guide the multilateral trade regime, the core of which is the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Having considered this question, the Warwick Commission sees five challenges facing the multilateral trade regime – challenges that can be addressed more effectively than at present if the steps proposed here are taken. Our approach is guided as much by the practical realities of the contemporary trading regime as it is informed by analyses of long-term trends and national and regional circumstances.
We recognise – and indeed owe a debt to – prior reports on the multilateral trade regime.The Warwick Commission Report is entirely independent and its only institutional link is with the University of Warwick. We believe our Report offers fresh perspectives on the future trajectory of a critical element of global governance – the management of global trade relations. We do not claim originality for all our recommendations. Where we have not been original it is because we are convinced that some old ideas are badly in need of resurrection in the face of current challenges confronting the multilateral trade regime. Moreover, not all our recommendations carry equal weight in terms of their impact on the system, were they to be adopted.
Five challenges must be met if the multilateral trade regime is to succeed in the early 21st century. These challenges are distinct yet often related, and we do not seek to prioritise them. Taken together, they arise from several sources: national political dynamics, global economic developments and inter-state diplomacy. The five core challenges we identify are as follows:
The first challenge is to counter growing opposition to further multilateral trade liberalisation in industrialised countries. This tendency threatens to render further reciprocal opening of markets unduly limited and to weaken a valuable instrument of international economic cooperation.
That the bipolar global trade regime dominated primarily by the United States and Western Europe has given way to a multipolar alternative is now an established fact. The second challenge is to ensure that this evolving configuration does not lapse into longer term stalemate or worse, disengagement.
In this changing environment, the third challenge is to forge a broad-based agreement among the membership about the WTO’s objectives and functions, which in turn will effectively define the “boundaries” of the WTO.
The fourth challenge is to ensure that the WTO’s many agreements and procedures result in benefits for its weakest Members. This requires that the membership addresses the relationships between current trade rules and fairness, justice, and development.
The fifth challenge relates to the proliferation of preferential trading agreements and what steps can be taken to ensure that the considerable momentum behind these initiatives can be eventually channelled to advance the long-standing principles of non-discrimination and transparency in international commerce.
An integrated, comprehensive and systemic response is called for; key elements of which are discussed in the Report. A recurring theme in a number of our recommendations is the need for stakeholders in the trading system to permit themselves the time and space to take a step back from negotiating, litigating and running the daily business of trade policy in order to reflect on how they would like to see the trade regime evolve over the next few years. An inter-governmental ‘reflection exercise’ of this nature would seek to identify diverse needs and common interests, and to inject greater legitimacy, order and dynamism into the multilateral trade regime. Reflection and dynamism are not contradictory terms. An inter-governmental reflection exercise, we believe, would be best instigated sooner rather than later.
University of Warwick, England , 2007. , 74 p.
The Final Report of the Warwick Commission of Inquiry into
the Future of the Global Trade Regime, presented at the
World Trade Organization on 6 December 2007.
By R. Higgott (Director), C. Albin, A. Capling, A. Cooper, P. Defraigne, B. Desker, H. Dieter, J. Dunoff, S. Evenett, J.-P. Lehmann, P. Low, P. Mehta, A. Narlikar, P. Sauvé, M. Soko, D. Tussie, and B. Young (Commissioners).
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