The Role of the International Trade Regime in Global Governance

50 Pages Posted: 2 May 2011

Date Written: April 17, 2011


Trade agreements originated as narrow bargains for mutual tariff reductions between countries. Over the years, however, their scope has expanded considerably. First, rules to address domestic laws that discriminated, both overtly and covertly, against foreign products were added, in order to ensure that tariff concessions were not circumvented. More recently, governments have negotiated trade agreement rules in a wide range of new areas, such as intellectual property protection, many of which have only a tenuous connection to "trade." On the basis of this expansion, combined with the development of strong and effective enforcement mechanisms, the modern international trade regime now functions as a limited form of "global governance." Partly as a result, the trade regime is in a precarious state today, with multilateral trade negotiations stalled and mass protests greeting many bilateral and multilateral negotiations. In this paper, I propose a framework for strengthening the regime, involving a more open and honest debate about the appropriate scope of the regime and re-focusing the trade regime on the core purpose of non-discrimination. As a corollary to this proposal, I argue that many of the issues that have been incorporated into trade agreements over the years should be addressed as part of a distributed and cooperative approach to global governance that involves other international organizations and softens the binding nature of the current trade rules in these areas.

Keywords: international trade, global governance

Suggested Citation

Lester, Simon, The Role of the International Trade Regime in Global Governance (April 17, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Simon Lester (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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