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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