R.I.P., World Trade Organization?

Todd Tucker
Dec 9, 2019 · 3 min read

Are we at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of the WTO, arguably the most ambitious global economic governance experiment in world history? That’s the question I ask in two new pieces, including this one in The Nation. Thread 👇 (thenation.com/article/wto-tr…)

Unless there is a last minute deal, the Appellate Body (often called the crown jewel of the WTO) will cease to function Wednesday, after the terms of two of its adjudicators expire. Only one — China’s Hong Zhao- will be left, depriving the body of a quorum (wto.org/english/tratop…)

This has been the only body that makes final and authoritative rulings against rich & poor countries, North and South, US and otherwise, in cases ranging from traditional trade disputes to less traditional ones like dolphin safety and financial regulations (worldtradelaw.net/databases/abre…)

While many will cite this as yet another example of Trump destroying the “global liberal order,” the seeds of this dispute go way back. Bush and Obama had many of the same gripes as Trump, as do bipartisan groups of centrists in Congress. (kind.house.gov/media-center/p…) As international relations scholars like have long argued, total judicial independence at the international level is a risky proposition #BecauseSovereignty. Rule against (powerful) countries too much and you risk (consequential) backlash. See @ErikVoeten (papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf…)

In the case of the WTO, the matter is even more complicated, because it is the staff as much as the adjudicators that are encouraging the march toward US-dismissing judicialization. See @KrzPelc @JoostPauwelyn. (washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/…) So will we see major shifts in the structure of international economic rule-making towards the less commerce-centric, more socially embedded variety? In another new article with @padlerman, we explore one of the high-water marks of “alter globalization” (brill.com/view/journals/…)

Extending the populism framework of @bjmoffitt, we look at the campaign in the 1990s against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

We ask under what conditions left-wing transnational populism is likely to be successful in influencing the policy process. We find that: when movements 1) paper over their internal differences in objectives; 2) catch elites flatfooted, 3) exploit intra-elite differences, Have uncanny timing; and 5) come out of seemingly nowhere…. they can have a decisive impact.

But that’s a pretty restrictive set of circumstances, and we discuss some of why we see right-wing populism as ultimately more impactful. There are ways that progressives could catch up. But they’d have to find a focal point akin to what mobilized international lawyers that rallied around the WTO’s Appellate Body had with the idea of international rule of law, or what the right has with nationalism. It could come with the Green New Deal (rooseveltinstitute.org/the-green-new-…)

Or it could come with the reaction to growing inequality and declining labor power (rooseveltinstitute.org/seven-strategi…)

But with these mounting frictions in global governance that elites themselves haven’t been able to solve, there’s an opening (however partial) for progressives. It’s time to get in the game.

(Taken from this thread.)

Todd Tucker

I write about democracy, political economy, and trade. Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Roosevelt Forward.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade