“The failure of the Doha Round and the hopefully temporary setback in implementing the Bali Trade Facilitation Agreement has once again raised questions about the World Trade Organization’s viability. Once we get past blaming India (correctly) for the most recent disaster, attention will inevitably turn to the question of whether the WTO is up to the task of reaching agreements on complex trade issues and, if not, how to ‘fix’ it.
“Focusing on institutional reform is an attractive road to go down politically. It allows governments to postpone, if not ignore, the real trade issues that divide them, and it allows them to place blame on the organization itself or, at worst, their predecessors who created it, rather than on themselves. Tempting though that is, however, it is ultimately self-defeating because it only postpones the day of reckoning when difficult trade issues will have to be dealt with. It is also a dead end.
“… So what is the alternative? If the institution truly has become unwieldy, then one or both of two things is likely to happen. One is that those who are making it unwieldy will over time learn how to work within the system more diplomatically – in effect, learn how to behave – and the problem will gradually go away as the system adjusts. The second is that work-arounds emerge.”
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