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Thursday, 12 July 2012 00:00

The Way Forward for the WTO: Reforming the Decision-Making Process

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SAIIA Occasional Paper No 118, July 2012

Download the Occasional Paper from the SAIIA website [English - pdf].


The World Trade Organization is in a state of flux. This stems largely from the Doha Round impasse and the failure of the main protagonists to reach agreement. However, it is also the effect of a changing global political economy.

With the rise of the emerging economies, decisions reached before at the World Trade Organization are not so easy to make anymore. Following the global economic crisis, the US finds itself in a sustained economic slump and, amid domestic crises, unable to lead the multilateral trading system as it has always done.

With no credible successor in sight, the Doha Round remains in limbo and, with it, the multilateral trading system. The new world order, however imprecise, renders the current decision-making system obsolete. The number of protagonists has increased and the issues have become more complicated. It has grown increasingly difficult to reach decisions at the World Trade Organization, particularly with respect to the negotiating rounds. Even the Uruguay Round took nearly a decade to complete, which suggests a stagnant and outdated decision-making system in serious need of a revamp.

The increasing popularity of regional and bilateral trading agreements, and with these the continued erosion of the rules underpinning the multilateral trading system, is indicative of the World Trade Organization members' frustrations with the latter. Nonetheless, through its functions the World Trade Organization makes a significant contribution to global peace, security and development – and failure of the system is not desirable.

Changes cannot be implemented in the midst of a negotiating round, albeit at an impasse. However, post-Doha, a review of the decision-making system should be prioritised in order to ensure an efficient and, hopefully, a more transparent and inclusive decision-making mechanism.

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