Pascal Lamy's last address to the General Council of the WTO before he will demit office summarised his views on where the WTO is headed and the challenges before it. His point on multilateralism versus regionalism with all the regional trade agreements gaining steam is worth quoting:
"I often hear that the way forward is to abandon the WTO and simply move to plurilateral or regional arrangements. But we have all seen the fate of a number of these plurilateral deals such as the ACTA or the Global System of Trade Preferences among developing countries. We also know that behind the headlines of the launching of mega regionals, as some refer to them, lie tremendous difficulties and sometimes even no final deal at all, as was the case of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not against trade opening outside the WTO. I believe that plurilaterals, mega regionals, regionals, bilaterals and unilateral arrangements CAN contribute to trade opening and hence to the levelling of the global trade playing field, which must ultimately remain our collective goal. Because this is what fairness is about. But I do think we would do well to recognise that the issue is not trade opening IN the WTO as opposed to trade opening OUTSIDE the WTO. The issue today is with the difficulties involved in trade opening. Domestic trade politics have become more difficult and trade deals have become more complex because the nature of obstacles to trade has evolved. We are no longer negotiating just the reduction of tariffs, but also of non-tariff barriers, which have gained enormous importance."
So the bottomline is whether it is multilateralism or regionalism, trade obstacles are becoming more complex with high tariffs being replaced by non-tariff barriers. How one addresses these non-tariff barriers would determine the fate of the global economic landscape.