In a paper titled "A 21st Century Work Program for the Multilateral Trading System", the National Foreign Trade Council recommended that the WTO pursue a fresh initiative to renew the multilateral trade negotiations in the context of the Doha impasse. The key initiatives suggested are:
- Conclude a trade facilitation agreement;
- Negotiate a services agreement;
- Take steps to discuss and address 21st Century global challenges, including optimizing the digital economy and movement of information across borders, improving global health outcomes and lowering obstacles to the development and adoption of clean technologies; and
- Consolidate trade liberalization under the WTO framework.
The paper also features a detailed "Analysis of WTO-consistent Approaches to Plurilateral and non-MFN Trade Agreements," which provides insights on what can be accomplished legally under WTO rules by a coalition of nations "through agreements that would either condition additional commitments on the participation of a ‘critical mass' of countries or which would not confer benefits of new commitments on countries which declined to participate in such agreements."
In this piece Jake Colvin, vice president, National Foreign Trade Council in the US advocated a fresh approach to "modernize" trade rules by concentrating on trade facilitation issues that are less divisive.
Commenting on the utility of the WTO he said,
"The WTO is a valuable institution. It generally functions well as a body to enforce existing rules and settle disputes, and has been rightly credited for helping to stave off large-scale protectionism during the economic crisis. Its utility as a forum for trade negotiations has taken a hit in recent years, however, and member countries need to more firmly establish its place as the premier forum for opening markets and modernizing trade rules. It is time for countries to pursue new ideas and pathways for advancing an ambitious multilateral agenda that will support broad-based economic growth, development and jobs."
With signs that major countries are contemplating "inward looking" policies and the domestic policy maker's dilemma to justify international trade and it's benefits to his/her local constituency in the context of unemployment and job loss, the above idea might just remain an idea unless backed by the political leadership across the spectrum.