Academic journal article Global Governance

Aid for Trade and the "Missing Middle" of the World Trade Organization

Academic journal article Global Governance

Aid for Trade and the "Missing Middle" of the World Trade Organization

Article excerpt

  As part of the Doha Development Agenda, many members of the World   Trade Organization and, in particular, its director-general have   actively promoted the so-called Aid for Trade initiative. Rather than   offer a comprehensive account of this initiative, the purpose here is   to consider its implications for proposals to fill in the WTO's   "missing middle," that is, for suggestions to develop the WTO's non-   negotiating, nonjuridical, deliberative functions. KEYWORDS: Aid for   Trade, World Trade Organization, deliberation.    We need to think more about the monitoring and surveillance functions   of the institution--a good part of this task would be aimed at   encouraging constructive discussion and engagement on common   interests. At present, we lack much information, both policy-related   and statistical, in part because governments have not been as   diligent as they might in meeting their notification obligations. As   an institution we legislate and litigate, and I believe we do this   reasonably well. But is there something of a "missing middle" where   we should be engaged more in fostering dialogue that can bolster   cooperation?   --Pascal Lamy, Foreword, World Trade Report 2007 (1)    My final observation is this. I think last year was successful in   large part because we got the strategy right. By raising awareness   about Aid for Trade--and shining a spotlight on the challenges--we   created incentives for the key actors to start talking, planning,   cooperating and mobilizing--without trying to prescribe solutions   from the top down. I believe that we should stick to this bottom up   strategy, and that the WTO should remain an advocate, a catalyst and   a facilitator, but not a leader. That is a job for donors, for   development agencies, regional development banks, and above all for   the countries themselves.   --Pascal Lamy, speech at WTO's Committee on Trade and Development   (2) 

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) has traditionally been associated with two functions: the negotiation of binding accords and the settlement of disputes between its members. But does such a characterization overlook the role that the WTO could play in promoting purposeful deliberation and consultation between its members on matters of common interest? Indeed, as the first quotation above makes clear, some feel that this middle function of the WTO could be developed further and, naturally, the question arises as to whether this is a desirable evolution in the WTO's modi operandi. Put differently, is there a case for developing the deliberative function of the WTO, independent of the contribution that deliberation may play in supporting the negotiation and juridical functions of this international organization?

The Aid for Trade (A4T) initiative offers a useful prism through which to reflect on these questions, not least because it involves considerable consultation within and outside of the WTO (as the second quotation above makes clear), but also because WTO members have decided to pursue this initiative independent of the outcome of the current multilateral trade negotiations. The purpose of this article is to examine what can be learned about the merits of redressing the "missing middle" of the WTO from the experience to date with the A4T initiative. The goal, then, is not to offer a comprehensive assessment of the A4T initiative. (3) However, given that this is a topic that the WTO membership is supposed to have deliberated on, some commentary on the logic and assumptions that apparently underlie this initiative is inevitable.

Reflecting on the potential merits of addressing the missing middle of the WTO takes on greater significance at a time when nation-states appear unable to conclude multilateral trade negotiations that would further liberalize their economies. Moreover, concerns have been expressed that the WTO cannot fly indefinitely on one engine; namely, dispute settlement and its associated legalism. …

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