Sutherland report on the Future of WTO

WTO has published a report commissioned for its tenth anniversary from a group of ‘wise men’—chaired by former Director-General Peter Sutherland and including some of the usual suspects—on how to make the Organization more credible and more functional.

The 37 recommendations include some floggings for hobby horses (‘free trade agreements’); dubious faith in the ability of ‘summits’ to create greater political direction; a possible return to the use of agreements among a sub-set of WTO members; some agonizing over the difficulties of ‘consensus’ decision-making; a more prominent role for the Director General (Sutherland is a former D-G) and; of course; plans to spend more money.

Here, I paraphrase and cut the thirty-seven recommendations back to nine that stand out (not necessarily on the basis of merit):

  1. Undertake more critical appraisal of the benefits of Free Trade Agreements in Trade Policy Reviews. Developed countries to give ‘serious consderation’ to cutting their MFN tariffs to zero
  2. Develop better ‘coherence’ in the approaches of the WTO and the World Bank to trade liberalization and trade adjustment assistance.
  3. Create a ‘contractual right’ for the poorest countries to recieve ‘adequate and appropriate’ aid to implement their obligations under WTO
  4. Devote greater effort to dialog with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) including developing a set of objectives for the relationship with CSOs. Give special attention to helping CSOs in Africa that are ‘dealing with trade issues’ in conjunction with regional organizations and ‘think tanks’
  5. Expand on the ‘court-like’ processes of dispute settlement (remanding some reports from the Appellate level to primary Panels; public hearings by Panels). Members representatives in the Dispute Settlement Body should review selected decisions in depth ‘so as to provide a measured report of constructive criticism for the information of … the Appellate Body and Panels”.
  6. Insist that Members holding out against a ‘broad consensus’ certify that they do so only to protect a ‘vital national interest’
  7. Re-examine the ‘principle of plurilateral approaches’; that is, voluntary agreements among a sub-set of the membership like the Tokyo Round ‘codes’
  8. Set up five-yearly summit meetings, annual Ministerial meetins and quarterly meetings of high-level officials with a ‘broad agenda’.
  9. Define the role of the Director General, give him more prominence in negotiations among Member governments, and create a post of Chief Executive as his deputy as a contribution to a “strengthend management culture” in WTO.

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