Editor’s Note: This post responds to Bernard Hoekman and Petros Mavroidis’ article in the current issue of EJIL Vol. 26 (2015), No. 2, titled “WTO ‘à la carte’ or ‘menu du jour’? Assessing the case for more Plurilateral Agreements”. For a post by the authors of the article, introducing their piece, see here. For other comments see here and here . For the authors’ concluding response, see here.
Professors Bernard Hoekman and Petros Mavroidis’ EJIL article WTO ‘a la carte’ or ‘menu du jour’? Assessing the Case for More Plurilateral Agreements provokes much thought on opportunities for achieving better flexibility and neutralizing gridlocks at the WTO. The article was published soon after WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo lamented the organization’s failure to reach a work programme under the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) under its 31 July 2015 deadline, which could conceivably impede trade negotiations at the next WTO Ministerial Conference at Nairobi in December 2015. Professors Hoekman and Mavroidis provide a brilliant exposition of the factors to be considered in using the plurilateral agreement (PA) route while attempting to build multilateral agreement on more frontiers of world trade.
While I completely agree with Professors Hoekman and Mavroidis that more ‘variable geometry’ is needed now to breathe life into the trade negotiations mandate of the WTO, I do wonder whether devoting organizational resources at this stage to develop a PA ‘code of conduct’ with transparent terms on the mode of negotiating issue-specific PAs, is something that the WTO can politically afford at this stage of institutional stagnation and negotiations inertia over the DDA. A PA duly approved by the WTO membership under Art. X.9 of the WTO Agreement could indeed be a viable path to achieve harmonization and discipline over non-tariff measures, but how could this be harnessed to incentivize reaching a multilateral agreement among WTO members? If the two remaining PAs to date – on civil aircraft and government procurement – have not been universally ratified or widely opted into by WTO members to date, how can this be done under a strategically-crafted PA (as Hoekman and Mavroidis appear to suggest in proposing more usage of this route under an upfront code of conduct addressing the scope of coverage, e.g. an issue for WTO Plus, or a WTO Minus X issue on regulatory policy cooperation)?