The Receding Horizon of Informality in WTO Meetings

16 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2015 Last revised: 26 Nov 2018

See all articles by Nicolas Lamp

Nicolas Lamp

Queen's University - Faculty of Law

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

Suggested Citation

Lamp, Nicolas, The Receding Horizon of Informality in WTO Meetings (September 22, 2015). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23(1), 2017, 63-79, Available at SSRN: or

Nicolas Lamp (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6 K7L3N6

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