okonjoiweala14_FABRICE COFFRINIAFP via Getty Images_worldtradeorganization Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Reviving the WTO

The World Trade Organization has an irreplaceable role to play in transforming countries’ economic prospects and the lives of people around the world. Although the COVID-19 crisis has brought the organization’s deteriorating health into sharp focus, its further decline is not inevitable.

WASHINGTON, DC – The World Trade Organization is in the news mostly for the wrong reasons nowadays. Many people regard it as an ineffective policeman of an outdated rulebook that is unsuited for the challenges of the twenty-first-century global economy. And WTO members generally agree that the organization urgently needs reforming in order to remain relevant.

Recent months have brought further challenges. The WTO’s appellate body, which adjudicates trade disputes among member countries, effectively ceased functioning last December amid disagreements regarding the appointment of new judges to the panel. And in May 2020, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo announced that he would step down at the end of August, a year before his current term was due to end.

Whoever Azevêdo’s successor is will face a major challenge. Since its establishment in 1995, the WTO has failed to conclude a single trade-negotiation round of global trade talks, thus missing an opportunity to deliver mutual benefits for its members. The Doha Development Round, which began in November 2001, was supposed to be concluded by January 2005.

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