The new package of trade accords that was concluded at the World Trade Organisation’s Bali Ministerial Meeting late last year was a fresh start for the battered international trade body. Yet defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory. A small number of countries refuses to agree on a protocol for the Bali deal on trade facilitation – and the entire agreement is now endangered.
In this policy brief, Stuart Harbinson asks if the many countries which support implementation of the agreement on trade facilitation should now find an alternative way forward. There are good reasons to go ahead without the support of the entire membership – frequently referred to as a “plurilateral” approach. The economic benefits of trade facilitation are undisputed and well documented. But are there feasible options that sit comfortably with core WTO principles and rules?
Harbinson surveys different routes for a plurilateral agreement on trade facilitation and argues that it may be possible to use a hybrid form of non-discriminatory plurilateralism, based on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and the way that some obligations under the Basic Telecommunication Agreement was scheduled in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This technique could also be applied to some other WTO negotiations. However, discriminatory plurilateral agreements should not become the norm of the WTO.