The Multilateralist

Down with the WTO!

In the new Newsweek, Daniel Altman calls for the death of the World Trade Organization: Representatives of 153 nations and regions will meet in Geneva this week to try and salvage one of the longest and most laborious trade negotiations in modern times. For almost a decade, the World Trade Organization has been trying to ...

In the new Newsweek, Daniel Altman calls for the death of the World Trade Organization:

Representatives of 153 nations and regions will meet in Geneva this week to try and salvage one of the longest and most laborious trade negotiations in modern times. For almost a decade, the World Trade Organization has been trying to lower trade barriers for thousands of goods and services, and now a self-imposed deadline is looming at the end of this year. But whether the WTO succeeds or not will make little difference to most people; indeed, trade negotiations would actually go much further if the WTO simply closed down its talks altogether.

Altman’s basic argument is that regional trade pacts are more productive–and certainly more achievable–than WTO-wide ones. Fair enough. There’s a rich debate about this in the literature, and his position is certainly defensible. Where I lose Altman is on his insistence that the WTO shut down. Why not simply let its process run while countries simultaneously pursue regional pacts? As Altman acknowledges, "countries have been signing free-trade agreements, both in pairs and at the regional level, more rapidly than ever before." Precisely. The WTO isn’t getting in the way of the trade regionalism that Altman lauds. Why then is he so intent on sinking the organization?

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