World Trade in 2020: The show must go on!

April 29, 2020

Buzz words such as ‘decoupling’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘autarky’ quickly returned to the global stage. Meanwhile the World Trade Organization (WTO) is facing an existential crisis due to a deadlock in negotiations, blockage of institutional reforms and paralysis of the dispute settlement mechanism (DSM). However, this policy paper argues that there might be hope, with countries experiencing the effects of disrupted trade and understanding: The show must go on!

There is no alternative to WTO reform, given that the economic balance in the world has changed – while the WTO has not. Besides institutional reforms, the WTO and its members now have the chance to update its rulebook and to advance future trade policy on services, digital trade/e-commerce, and sustainability, as well as to restore a functional enforcement and dispute settlement mechanism. The EU can act as an ‘honest broker’ between the USA and China. Establishing an interim appeal arbitration mechanism in early 2020, the EU and Canada have taken the first steps. Onwards, the EU should take the lead to form a like-minded coalition of progress and to become a global standard-setter of its own. Now more than ever, the WTO needs to adapt to internal and external shocks.