Mega-Regionals are Not a Systemic Threat to the WTO

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Emily Jones examines next steps in UK Free Trade Agreements

GEG's Director, Emily Jones, presented at the World Trade Organization’s Advanced Trade Policy Course on 8 July 2016 to senior trade officials from 28 countries on Mega-Regionals and the Future of the WTO. She spoke alongside Ambassador Neple (Norway) who chairs the WTO’s General Council and Ambassador Shah (Pakistan) who chairs the WTO’s negotiations on trade and the environment.

Dr. Jones suggested that mega-regionals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) should be understood as a series of competitive moves by their proponents to decide who writes the rules of the twenty-first century global economy. They provide relatively little trade liberalization for their members but provide new rules in areas that go beyond the WTO, including the digital economy and state owned enterprises.

Yet they are not an unstoppable juggernaut and they will not irrevocably undermine the World Trade Organization, as some have feared. We should not forget the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which never took off. While TPP and TTIP are ambitious in scope they face very substantial domestic opposition in Europe and the United States, which may prove fatal, while the China-led RCEP is much less ambitious. As the limits of the mega-regional strategy is revealed, Dr. Jones suggested that in the medium term, the WTO will regain its centrality as the focal point for trade negotiations.

 

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