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World Trade in 2019: the US and the WTO

Published Tuesday, June 4, 2019

What is happening in the World Trade Organization, and how does this relate to the current US administration's trade policy? This briefing paper explores these two issues, and considers what consequences they might have for a post-Brexit UK.

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The World Trade Organization has struggled for over a decade to complete its next round of trade negotiations and has become the subject of significant criticism as a consequence. Arguments have been made that regional trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) may be the only way forward for those countries wishing to liberalise trade further; and the Trump administration has been downright hostile towards the existing WTO acquis, obstructing the appointment of new ‘judges’ to the WTO’s Appellate Body, and thus precipitating an existential crisis for the institution that came into being in 1995.

This paper examines what is happening with the WTO trade negotiations at this time; what the effect of US trade policy has been on both the global trade environment and the WTO; and considers recent proposals that have been made to ‘remedy’ the WTO’s problems.

The context for this paper is the UK’s impending return to WTO membership as a non-EU Member State. Advocates for a ‘hard’ Brexit have argued that the WTO rules will form an adequate basis on which to operate a UK trade policy; however, reliance on WTO rules presupposes a functioning world trade system, and so a closer examination of the impact of post-2016 US protectionism and the failure to agree to new multilateral trade agreements under the WTO banner is warranted.


Commons Briefing papers CBP-8465

Author: Sylvia de Mars

Topics: Asia, EU external relations, International economic relations, International law, International trade, North America

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