The World Trade Organisation - Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater?

Author/s (editor/s):

P.A. Gordon

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 1995/5 (PDF, 5.13MB)

P. A. Gordon, 'The World Trade Organisation - Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water', IR Working Paper 1995/5, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, August 1995.

The Uruguay Round was lauded as a victory for proponents of multilateralism and rules based relations between states. The inclusion of new areas of trade regulation under the GATT/WTO umbrella, the creation of an institutionalised framework for trade negotiation and the increased definition and stringency of agreements has produced a blueprint for unprecedented levels of international trade regulation. This paper argues that institutionalisation and increased regulation of the international trading system fail to take adequate account of the fundamental strength underpinning the GATT system between 1947 and 1986. This strength was its ability to balance legalism and pragmatism, enabling contracting parties to marry domestic pressures with international economic obligations. The tendency to favour legalistic, rather than pragmatic, rule creation and implementation, inherent in the Uruguay Round Agreement, reflects a privileging of rules over power based relations between states as supported by Regime Theory. It is a tendency that threatens the flexibility of the GATT system and thus the ability of member states to work within it. The non-participation of WTO members would challenge the continued existence of the multilateral system, in turn undermining the principles supported by that system, predominantly that of trade liberalisation.

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