Global trade negotiations are moribund, with the World Trade Organization’s agenda stalled and the neoliberal ideology it serves confronted by a rising chorus of criticism. The trading system, built on the premise that promoting commercial interests necessarily advances the general interest, instead has fed a multifaceted planetary crisis. At this juncture, trade policy must find a new way forward. The key to this change lies in reversing the priority that in the past made free trade an end in itself, thereby consigning the larger goal of sustainable development to an afterthought. From now on, economic, social, and environmental sustainability goals should set the criteria for designing and applying multilateral trade rules. We suggest concrete steps to help transform the WTO from an agent of privilege and profit into a force for an equitable, peaceful, and resilient world.
Mark Halle explores the assumptions underlying the architecture of the multilateral trade regime and how it has both delivered and failed to deliver on the various promises of trade theory. He argues that sustainable development can be achieved by a more rigorous enforcement of and commitment to—rather than abandonment of—the espoused principles. He concludes by analyzing how trade would function in the three archetypal regions imagined in the Great Transition.