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Reform at the Top: What’s Next for the WTO? A Second Life? A Socio-Political Analysis

20 Pages Posted: 18 May 2011 Last revised: 18 Jun 2011

Daniel Drache

York University

Date Written: May 5, 2011


A fundamental change is taking place in the global economy, and the standoff in the Doha Round has raised many questions about the World Trade Organization’s troubled architecture (Khor, 2009). So far, the quest for renewed policy coherence in the rules-based multilateral system has produced stalemate rather than reform. The analysis that follows explores the proposition that, without the metaphoric ‘knife at its throat’ to shock it to its senses, the WTO will continue in the short term to be trapped by its existing architecture. There is no coherent reform-minded movement supported by a critical number of states to instigate a change in the way the WTO does business. The paper looks at the following idea: with many states pursuing new policy frames to enhance their strategic interests, the second life of the WTO will be dramatically different from the present configuration. A lengthy trade pause is a certainty. Four options of what the WTO will become are examined. The conclusion is that as a governance body the WTO faces gradual and likely irreversible decline. It will have a smaller remit, be prone to mini-multilateralism and have to learn to live with a proliferation of regional trade agreements.

Keywords: Globalization, WTO, Doha Round negotiations, trade multilateralism, regional trade agreements, Washington consensus, neoliberalism, structural change, global South, world trade system, trade law, institutional change, global governance, best practice and alternative development strategies

Suggested Citation

Drache, Daniel, Reform at the Top: What’s Next for the WTO? A Second Life? A Socio-Political Analysis (May 5, 2011). Oñati Socio-Legal Series, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Daniel Drache (Contact Author)

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies
Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3
416.736.5415 (Phone)
416.736.5739 (Fax)


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