In order to pursue its mandate and objectives, the members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should launch a work programme to foster a better understanding of the factors that have enabled institutional innovation in some policy areas but not in others, and to reflect on the role of established working practices in constraining the ability of the organisation to achieve its mandate.
This is the key message of the progress report Bolstering Global Trade Governance – A Work Program for the WTO prepared by Bernard Hoekman, Professor, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence and the chairperson of the ‘High-Level Board of Experts on the Future of Global Trade Governance’ established by the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
The report highlights three key challenges confronting the WTO today: ensuring that it remains a place for multilateral rule-making; that development concerns are addressed more effectively; and that multilateral agreements are implemented and disputes are resolved effectively.
It suggests some practical actions including launching a process of self-reflection by technical WTO Committees on their goals and what is needed to pursue these more effectively; greater engagement with other international organisations, the private sector and civil society so as to inform deliberations by WTO bodies; considering the salience of more regular interaction between WTO bodies to identify policy gaps and exploit synergies; identifying good policy practices that will support the realisation of sustainable development objectives; and establishing mechanisms for members to engage in candid discussion of issues arising with the implementation of WTO agreements.
“The WTO provides the foundation of the rules-based global trading system that has played a critical role in supporting growth in global GDP during recent decades”, said Professor Hoekman, commenting on the release of the progress report. “Preserving the salience of the WTO is vital to manage the pressures from globalisation and new policy challenges posed by the digital economy. Re-vitalising such cooperation does not require major changes in the organisation. What is needed is willingness to engage in candid, substantive deliberation on prevailing working practices and discussion of perceived problems and possible solutions.”