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Globalizing Free Trade: The Ascent of Regionalism | Foreign Affairs

Simultaneous developments in the WTO system and under regional integration initiatives are dramatically changing the trading environment for developing countries. The interface between these processes brings new and enormous challenges for those countries, with profound implications for their development prospects. Hence, it is these positive effects that current reform proposals seek to enhance, while also reducing their negative side effects, particularly for developing countries. Amongst the proposals that most frequently come up in discussions, let us mention a possible application of the principle of subsidiarity, borrowed from the European experiment.

This would amount to delegating a certain amount of authority to the WTO. This would be achieved by linking large regional groups to one another through multiple treaties, regrouping bilateral agreements and turning them into plurilateral ones, and extending the preferential terms of the new agreements to other WTO countries. These proposals, and others yet, while certainly not devoid of interest, come up against a deep resistance to change, notably in that the WTO is an organisation guided and conducted by its members, who, on the whole, remain attached to the notion of consensus.

The other part of the problem comes from the fact that current mega-negotiations are using new channels, bringing up the litigious issue of regulatory cooperation, which in turn raises democratic problems. Furthermore, it is far from clear whether the WTO is really the best forum to discuss this issue.

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Indeed, is it not towards the OECD that developed countries have turned, an organisation more skilled in the practice of convergence and regulatory equivalency than WTO? Today, most states are members of the WTO and the organisation still acts as a watchdog for international trade, fully playing its role as a mediator in conflict resolution and as a catalyst for negotiations between its members. Far from being marginalised, the WTO today is a widely recognised organisation with great legitimacy.


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The organisation is far from perfect, much to the contrary, however its weakest link remains the issue of trade agreements. Some would say that there are simply too many members and that interests are too divergent for the organisation to function effectively, and for multilateral negotiations to move forward quickly while the consensus rule is used as its decision-making principle. Indeed, it would be hard to affirm the contrary. Still, the question remains as to whether the growing popularity of trade agreements is caused by this stalemate in multilateral negotiations, or conversely, whether the interest that states find in trade agreements blocks any serious progress on the multilateral front.

While no one has ever truly contested the relevance and usefulness of regionalism, opinion has always been divided as to the place it should occupy within any international system or regime of global scope.

Explaining Economic Integration

Friends or foes, complementary or competitive: how should the dilemma between regionalism and multilateralism or, to state things differently, between the particular and the universal, be resolved? Though this question obviously remains open, it also appears simplistic in light of the problems with which the WTO is currently faced. Indeed, is it not illusory to think of this problem merely in terms of a coherence to be regained between two levels of commercial cooperation?

Trade agreements have now moved outside the scope of the WTO and their ambition, henceforth, is to rewrite the trade rules of the 21st century, trade rules for an interconnected and globalised world, not only for an interdependent world. That is the point: the world has changed, regionalism has changed, but what about the WTO?

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Advancing regionalism and a social policy agenda for positive change: From rhetoric to action

The new regionalism : a country perspective English Abstract Regional integration is on the rise again, despite its apparent failure among developing countries in the past. WPS Trade policy Version Type Final. The new regionalism : a country perspective English.


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