THE WTO AT A CROSSROADS
Since World War II, the multilateral trading system established through the 1947 General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and then later through the World Trade Organization (WTO) has contributed to international stability, economic development, and peace. The goal in establishing the WTO was to boost global prosperity by reducing tariffs and other barriers to trade, and by providing an enforceable rule-based multilateral trading system. However, the changing patterns of trade, technology, and innovation all challenge the current WTO system in various respects including the consensus-based negotiation process for new WTO agreements, trade dispute settlement, and the current rules governing international trade. At the 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, countries expressed their concerns that reviving global economic growth is becoming more difficult due to the rise of trade protectionism.
This article explores the challenges that face the multilateral trading system, reform proposals, and the future of the WTO. Owing to the dynamism and even controversy of the subject, it should be noted that proposals and actions to reform and modernize WTO rules and the institution itself are fluid and ongoing. This article provides a summary of the underlying issues and challenges that the WTO multilateral trading system faces, and introduces the initial proposals and efforts to reform and modernize the WTO. It is very likely that there will be additional proposals and developments over the coming months leading up to the next WTO Ministerial Meeting in 2020.