Is There a Future for Multilateral Trade Agreements? (Chapter in The Handbook of Global Trade Policy)

This chapter examines the World Trade Organization (WTO), its history and its relevancy today to our understanding of trade agreements. It examines the central norms of the system and compares trade liberalisation under the multilateral WTO with the more exclusive regional and/or preferential trade agreements. The chapter first addresses the political consequences of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/WTO membership, focusing both on the rules and norms of the regime and on the explanation for why they have become less functional over time. It then looks at its legislative success and compares that with agreements that have existed simultaneously, but have limited membership. The chapter also looks at the effectiveness of the WTO as a forum for dispute settlement. It further presents some general thoughts on the impact of a rise in populism and other stumbling blocks the WTO faces.