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Reforming the WTO: Proposals from an insider

Published 05 July 2022

The WTO and the multilateral trading system are essential public goods that politicians and much of the public now take for granted. The problems facing the World Trade Organization and the multilateral trading system are manifold and deeply complex. But failure to act and act soon could have grave consequences for the institution and the global economy.

The stunningly positive results that emerged from the WTO Ministerial Conference, concluded in June, underscore the organization’s importance and value. While the meeting did not deliver everything, WTO members tackled important problems and reached agreements that will improve people’s lives. At a time of acute global tensions, serious efforts are urgently needed to strengthen this crucially important diplomatic tool.

This essay by Keith Rockwell, former Spokesperson of the WTO, reminds us how the organization has provided a forum for tackling politically charged issues of global importance. From friction over intellectual property rights and fisheries subsidies, to disputes over the dispute settlement mechanism and the consensus principle, Rockwell outlines the areas of the organization that are in dire need of reforms and the potential path forward. Absent this global system, the world would be less efficient, less certain, and less stable – and the WTO should not be appreciated only after it has vanished.

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Keith M. Rockwell is a Senior Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation. Prior to his retirement in June 2022, Keith served as a Director at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and spokesperson for the organization for more than 25 years. He also is Global Fellow at the Wilson Center.

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