Redesigning the Negotiation Process at the WTO

Posted: 26 Apr 2010 Last revised: 20 Apr 2012

See all articles by Sonia E. Rolland

Sonia E. Rolland

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2011


The negotiation structure at the World Trade Organization (WTO) primarily relies on the single undertaking, an all or nothing approach that typically precludes separate agreements among some of the parties or on some of the agenda items. This article argues for a re-examination of the value of the single undertaking, particularly with reference to developing country Members. With respect to the substantive negotiations, ‘linkage’ (the inter-dependent regulation of trade and other fields that are deemed to have an impact on trade) has been a powerful principle for the expansion of WTO regulation and the single undertaking has, so far, served as the vector to implement linkage. As a counterpoint, this article argues that linkage can-and should be-decoupled from negotiation design, particularly from the unquestioned and systematic recourse to the single undertaking. The article offers avenues for redesigning negotiations beyond the old dichotomy of the single undertaking versus ‘à-la-carte’ approaches. It proposes alternative negotiation structures that take into account the practical realities of many WTO Members with limited institutional capacity as well as the desirability for some Members to liberalize trade at a faster pace.

Keywords: WTO, development, developing countries, least developed countries, LDC, negotiation, participation, single undertaking, World Trade Organization, linkage

Suggested Citation

Rolland, Sonia Elise, Redesigning the Negotiation Process at the WTO (December 1, 2011). Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 65-110, 2010; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 60-2011. Available at SSRN: or

Sonia Elise Rolland (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

400 Huntington Ave.
Boston, 02115
United States
+1 617.37.7331 (Phone)
+1 617.373.5056 (Fax)


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