This paper examines global governance through the lens of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the international organization at the centre of the trade regime. Whether the current Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations succeeds or fails, when it is over many governments and observers will ask whether the round’s difficulties indicate a need for reforming the WTO, or putting it out of its misery. This paper will begin from a governance standpoint: does the world need the WTO? If the answer is yes, does the WTO we have, work? Is the WTO in its continuing operations relevant, or legitimate? Is the current organization the best way to structure future multilateral trade negotiations? This paper will not comment directly on whether the political economy of the trading system favours protectionism or further liberalization. Instead it asks whether the institutional design of the WTO is suitable for the tasks Members are likely to assign it. In the context of the “new multilateralism” addressed in other papers, it will evaluate the need and prospect for governance reform, starting with a critique of the Sutherland Report. Taking the Doha Round as a reference point, what do we learn about a) economic institutions in their own terms; and b) the changing role of old and new great powers within them? The focus is trade, but investment is considered in the context of the difficulties, which may have institutional design roots, of adding new issues to the WTO agenda. While centred on the WTO, the paper will consider the impact of the proliferation of regional and bilateral negotiations on trade governance.

Written by Robert Wolfe

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