The Fragmentation of International Trade Law: Is Now the Time for Variable Geometry?
The Journal of World Investment and Trade, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 145-195, 2011
52 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2011 Last revised: 4 Jun 2011
Date Written: March 22, 2011
This article deals with international trade law at various levels of governance. Multilateralism has dominated international relations in the various fields of international economic law such as international trade law and international monetary law after World War II - thereby giving birth to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/Word Trade Organization (WTO) and to the International Monetary Fund, respectively.
At first, international trade agreements were bilateral. Then came the GATT 1947, which multilateralized bilateral trade agreements. Years later, international trade law saw the collapse of multilateralism in 1979, which broke down during the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations. A series of new plurilateral (or selectively multilateral) agreements were adopted during the Tokyo Round, which caused a fragmentation of the multilateral trading system. In 1994, international trade law was again multilateralized with the WTO Agreement.
This article suggests variable geometry (that is, the idea that only a few WTO Members will benefit from plurilateral agreements on several topics on the agenda) and sectoral agreements as the way forward to unblock the multilateral trading system. The variable-geometry approach has the advantage of removing the current frustration at the WTO negotiating table - and sometimes violent protests organized by civil society - with its slow negotiating pace.
Keywords: fragmentation, international trade law, multilateralism, plurilateralism, regionalism, bilateralism, unilateralism, variable geometry, sectoral agreements
JEL Classification: F1, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation