Trade rules need to be updated to reflect changes in global economic power and technological developments. “Plurilateral” agreements can help overcome the backlog of negotiations. However, joint adherence to wto plurilateral agreements, which are devoted to individual issues, provides a viable platform for the United States, the European Union and China to deepen their trade and investment relations without making political headlines. In addition, through plurilateral agreements, the three economic giants can strengthen their relations with WTO members with whom they do not have bilateral or regional agreements. The United States, the European Union and China should jointly conduct negotiations in which they participate, such as. B talks on e-commerce and environmental goods, and seek a swift conclusion and ratification. Within the framework of the WTO, agreements are the result of multilateral negotiations. However, many governments have begun to consider plurilateral approaches as global agreements prove more difficult to achieve. Do these plurilateral agreements strengthen or weaken the multilateral trading system? Frederick Agah, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the WTO, and Stuart Harbinson, former Permanent Representative of Hong Kong, China, to the WTO, discuss this issue with Keith Rockwell, WTO Spokesperson. The US and the EU have continued to disseminate these agreements outside the WTO, although they have both played a key role in promoting multilateral trade liberalisation in the past. Multilateral trade negotiations are very complex and take years. One reason for this is that the WTO operates on the “one-society” principle (that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed) and because decisions are taken by consensus.58 Although it can be difficult to reach agreements in this way, the main advantage is that decisions are more acceptable to all members, the one-society principle may provide greater flexibility for compromise between the Parties on various issues.
Seen in this light, the failure to conclude the Doha Round could indicate that the WTO is a victim of its own success. The legal arguments in support of the Indo-South African objections are erroneous. Their objections are more than narrow-minded. They jeopardize the future of the WTO as a negotiating forum for all plurilateral talks. These talks must continue in order to revive the much-maligned WTO as an institution, for the benefit of all WTO members – but especially those without close trade ties with the major economic powers. In addition, these negotiations can provide important platforms for cooperation on other issues at the frontier of technological change in the global trading system. Secondly, a theory of plurilaterals is that their diffusion creates the need to sew them together in a truly multilateral agreement. We are far from that right now, but it is a fascinating thought, in part because the obvious place for it is in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which would help the organization return to its fundamental goal of trade liberalization. In this scenario, the world gets a robust WTO through the back door rather than the front door, but it always gets one. Due to the failure of global multilateral negotiations, plurilateral negotiations – involving subgroups of WTO Members and often focusing on a specific sector – have become popular.
But this approach is not new. Two of the plurilateral agreements currently in force date back to the early 1980s (see Box 1). The United States currently has 14 trade agreements with 20 countries.61 Most of these agreements, which build on WTO agreements, were concluded in the 1990s and early 2000s. One exception is the recent agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada (USMCA), which entered into force in 2020 and replaced the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) is a “plurilateral” agreement, meaning that it applies to a number of WTO Members, but not to all Members. The International Milk Agreement and the International Beef Agreement were abolished at the end of 1997. The signatory countries of the agreements have decided that the sectors should be better treated under the agreements on agriculture, plant health and protection. Some aspects of their work had been hampered by the small number of signatories. For example, as some major exporters of dairy products did not sign the milk agreement, the attempt at cooperation at minimum prices was suspended in 1995.
Problems also arise from the relationship between participants and non-participants, depending on the design of a particular plurilateral agreement. There are two ways to negotiate plurilateral agreements among WTO members. .