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The Global Trade System Could Break Down

Because the World Trade Organization tends to operate beneath the surface of the global rules-based trading system, it is easy for people to forget the indispensable role that it plays. But now that the Trump administration is waging a quiet war on the institution, the international community must stop taking it for granted.

WASHINGTON, DC – Ten years after the failure of Lehman Brothers, we know that multilateral action was crucial in preventing the so-called Great Recession from becoming even worse than it was. Back then, it was the global financial system that was tottering. Today, it is the global trade system that is in jeopardy.

Over the past 70 years, multilateralism has served the world well. Much to its credit, the United States eschewed retribution and reparations after World War II. Instead, it led the way in establishing the three major economic institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (formerly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT) – that form the basis of the international economic order that is still in place today.

Each of these institutions has made a significant contribution to global economic growth, but none more so than the WTO. Owing to the expansion of an open multilateral trading system under the GATT/WTO, trade since WWII has grown 1.5 times faster than global GDP.

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