The Future of the WTO and the International Trading System

Thursday,  4 November 2010

Keith Rockwell, Director of the Information and Media Relations Division at the WTO, discussed the state of the international trading system and the WTO’s role within it. Professor Merit E. Janow moderated the lecture. According to Mr. Rockwell, the multilateral trading system has worked; governments haven’t resorted to protectionism, even in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Stimulus packages adopted in response to the crisis prevented world trade from contracting by an estimated 12%, and by the time the 2010 figures come in, trade is expected to have increased by 11% from 2009. However, the Doha Round of trade negotiations has stalled, and was being replaced by ever-increasing amounts of bilateral trade agreements. 

Professor Janow added that protectionist pressures were indeed increasing, and that advocates of free trade should not be too optimistic yet.  Rockwell agreed, saying it is necessary to be vigilant about free trade policies, especially within our own government; we should avoid the temptation to just blame protectionist pressures on other governments. In the following question and answer period, a student asked about the effect of bilateral agreements on international trade.  Rockwell said they shouldn’t be regarded as much of a threat at this point, and could sometimes in fact be beneficial to the process; for instance, introducing bilaterals in Africa has allowed people to get accustomed to the exchange of ideas and goods.  Rockwell closed by noting that the WTO power structure has shifted toward developing countries in recent years.  They have very skilled negotiators who make good use of the dispute settlement system to their benefit.

This event was co-sponsored by the International Finance and Economic Program (IFEP) at SIPA.