The Annual Public Forum of the World Trade Organization (WTO) brings some 9,000 members of governmental and non-governmental entities to Geneva to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sputtering body.
The issue of whether the global trade regulator and multilateral regulation are still relevant in an era of regional and bilateral trade deals lurks beneath the surface of the forum theme, Trade Works.
The effort to regulate global trade is longstanding. First there was the International Trade Organization in 1948, which failed and was replaced in the same year by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The GATT spawned a succession of named negotiating rounds, and the WTO in 1995. The GATT still exists as the WTO's umbrella treaty for trade in goods.
The question of relevance can only be answered by looking at the WTO - and GATT - balance sheet of individual successes and failures. The WTO appears to have turned a corner in 2015, with several breakthroughs. A deal between the United States and India in Nov 2014 on food security represented a rescue for the Trade Facilitation Agreement that was forged at the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali in 2013. Other timely breakthroughs include a US-China pact to cut tariffs on internet technology products and a US deal with China on carbon emissions. If the breakthroughs continue, after years of near-death experiences the WTO might live beyond its 20th birthday.
Date written/update: 2015-03-25