The rules-based multilateral trading system has proven essential in restraining protectionist tendencies and in helping to expand international trade and maintain world peace. The challenges it faces, related to weakening global governance structures, geopolitical tensions and changing global realities, should not be allowed to break such a robust system. They should rather be seized as opportunities for reviving the WTO. If appropriately grasped, they would contribute to the modernisation and multilateralisation of trade disciplines, to enhanced benefits in terms of economic performance, non-trade objectives, transparency and predictability, as well as to the limitation of any protectionist policies currently on the rise. In this respect, the EU, based on its extensive experience with trade and cooperation, has a global leadership role to play.
The WTO reform process should start with the improvement of the WTO dispute settlement system and integration of a plurilateral negotiating approach. This would open the window to opportunities offered by modernising WTO substantive disciplines, i.e. their alignment with the changing nature of trade (global value chains, foreign direct investments, services and e-commerce) and sustainability objectives, and limitation of trade-distortive practices linked to state involvement in the economy. These actions should furthermore be accompanied by the WTO’s institutional reinforcement regarding transparency, regulatory cooperation and negotiations.
With its postponement, the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference can possibly lead to more mature results in accomplishing its crucial mission, which is crystallising the negotiating efforts by WTO members – the pursuance of which is highly recommended – and providing a roadmap for achieving an ambitious and realistic WTO agenda. A positive outlook is supported by its coinciding, in 2022, with the 75th anniversary of the GATT 1947, at the origin and foundation of everything.