Great Power Management of the World Trading System: A Transatlantic Strategy for Liberal Multilateralism

By Steinberg, Richard H. | Law and Policy in International Business, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Great Power Management of the World Trading System: A Transatlantic Strategy for Liberal Multilateralism


Steinberg, Richard H., Law and Policy in International Business


I. INTRODUCTION: RECONCILING TRANSATLANTICISM WITH MULTILATERALISM

In 1995, geostrategic demands and trade interests converged to refocus attention on transatlantic trade policy. With the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II and imminent plans for expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), geostrategists searched for trade policy initiatives that would reinforce the U.S. commitment to Europe.(1) With the Uruguay Round agreements finally implemented and entered into force, fresh memories of ultimately successful European Union (EU)-U.S. cooperation in closing the Round, and a sense that transatlantic trade differences and rows had almost sunk the Round, trade policy strategists sought new ways to improve transatlantic relations.(2) That renewed interest in transatlanticism has generated new trade initiatives(3) and agreements(4) between the European Union and the United States, statements of support for extensive transatlantic trade liberalization,(5) a formal dialogue between business leaders in the United States and Europe intended to generate new government-to-government trade agreements,(6) and several new books(7) on transatlantic trade relations.

This revived attention to transatlanticism has also necessitated discussion about how to reconcile transatlantic trade liberalization with two other policy goals--the advancement of liberal multilateralism and the pursuit of common trade policy interests in third countries. Various perspectives on the relationships among liberal multilateralism, transatlantic trade liberalization, and third-country trade liberalization have been offered in discussions between representatives of the European Commission and the United States, in the business-led dialogues, and at policy institutes in the United States and Europe.(8) Among mainstream trade policymakers in both the European Union and the United States, there remains a consensus favoring the pursuit of all three policy goals. But there is disagreement, debate, and a lack of confidence over how to simultaneously pursue these goals in a strategically consistent manner.

The debate has made clear that the principle of "liberal multilateralism"-a doctrine that has anchored U.S. trade policy since the end of World War II--is now a contested term in both Europe and the United States. No consensus is to be found in either jurisdiction when transatlantic trade policy and trade theory discussions turn to the issues of how to pursue liberal multilateralism, whether regional agreements (or transregional agreements) will eventually result in lower trade barriers on a multilateral basis, or how transregional understandings might be used to pursue common trade policy interests in third countries.

This Article focuses on the logic of one approach to answering these questions: the "great power management approach" to the pursuit of liberal multilateralism. This approach, when applied to the contemporary world political-economy, stresses the importance of EU-U.S. cooperation in using the bargaining power inherent in their combined market size to yield multilateral liberalization.

Part II of this Article briefly compares and contrasts three approaches to the pursuit of liberal multilateralism: traditional multilateralism, competitive liberalization, and the great power management approach. Each of these approaches has implications for the feasibility and propriety of attempts at transatlantic liberalization and cooperation on third-country trade issues.

Part III of this Article uses realist international relations theory to elaborate the assumptions and logic of a great power management approach to advancing liberal multilateralism. A traditional realist framework is applied to the contemporary political-economy to suggest that among the world's great economic powers, the European Union and the United States uniquely share a common interest in both furthering multilateral liberalization on a Western model and buttressing the world trading system in the face of its strains and fractures. …

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