The Receding Horizon of Informality in WTO Meetings
16 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2015 Last revised: 26 Nov 2018
Date Written: September 22, 2015
The paper starts from the observation that attempts to formalize negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) have consistently spawned new forms of informality, such as the holding of meetings as “chairperson’s consultations” which do not require the adoption of an agenda, or the emergence of new types of “unofficial” documents. The paper sketches the resulting layers of formality/informality and attempts to account for the survival of informality in the WTO. The most commonly offered explanation for the persistence of informality in WTO negotiations is that informality simply serves to facilitate and disguise the exercise of power. The paper argues instead that formal and informal meetings serve essentially different functions. Gradations of formality/informality need to be taken seriously not only as offering different avenues for WTO members to talk to each other and to their domestic and international audiences. Informality can also provide opportunities for productive interventions, alliances, and performances that are precluded in more formal settings.
Keywords: World Trade Organization, meetings, documents, formality, informality
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