The Role of the World Trade Organization in Global Governance

The Role of the World Trade Organization in Global Governance

The Role of the World Trade Organization in Global Governance

The Role of the World Trade Organization in Global Governance


Since its creation in January 1995, the World Trade Organization has expanded the reach of trade rules deep into the regulatory structure of almost 140 sovereign states. As a result, it has found itself at the centre of controversy in areas that are well outside the domain of traditional trade policy. Although there are demands for reform the architects of the WTO are proud of having created what they consider to be a major achievement in institutionalised global economic co-operation. The central question is how to respond to the pressures now falling on the WTO system while ensuring the preservation of a trading system that has led to unprecedented growth in the world economy. This question is addressed in this book. A number of prominent personalities representing a broad spectrum of interests in the field of international policy-making, and with a strong interest in a well-functioning trading system, offer their views on the role of the WTO in Global Governance.


There are many views as to the sources and characteristics of globalization and the actors responsible for the shape it takes. Differing views over its merits and de-merits have led to many passionate debates in recent years. However, one common element permeates these debates: it is agreed that the process of globalization is characterized by a greater degree of interdependence between nations. Equally well accepted is that international trade is an important feature of this interdependence. As trade in goods and services has been progressively liberalized over the past half-century, international trade has increased dramatically and so has the interdependence of nations and the process of globalization. The rules that govern trade, and therefore the role of the World Trade Organization in global governance, have proliferated accordingly.

The world spotlight was on the WTO at its third meeting of trade ministers in Seattle in December 1999. Many had hoped a new round of multilateral trade negotiations—the Millennium Round— would be launched at this meeting. Not only were the new negotiations not launched, but the meeting ended in disarray, with the WTO facing criticism from many quarters.

Conducting world trade according to multilaterally agreed rules has been a major contributor not only to the enormous expansion of the world economy over the half-century, but also to the avoidance of international conflict. Thus, if there is to be reform of the current trading system, it should be done with care in order to preserve the many strengths of the system while responding to legitimate concerns. Carefully guiding the process of globalization-with-ahuman-face is a challenging task. This, indeed, is one of the most important challenges facing policy makers at the international level today.

In the aftermath of Seattle, it became increasingly apparent that many varying views were held by prominent personalities regarding the current and future role of the WTO in international affairs. A number of these personalities represent bodies of the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, government min-

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