Sustained high growth in many developing countries (‘the rise of the rest’) combined with long‐standing World Trade Organization (WTO) working practices hamper the ability of the WTO to perform its routine functions and paralyze efforts to adapt to new circumstances. For want of an alternative, preferential trade agreements have taken up some of the slack in addressing differences in domestic regulation of product safety, environmental and social conditions, but these are exclusionary and inefficient from a global perspective. In this article, we argue that a new type of agreement based on open plurilateral cooperation offers better prospects for groups of countries to explore and develop their potential common interests on regulatory matters, while safeguarding core aspects of their national regulatory sovereignty and increasing the possibility of regenerating the WTO from within.
- A new instrument – the open plurilateral agreement (OPA) – should be created within the WTO to encourage issue or domain specific regulatory cooperation outside of trade agreements.
- Open plurilateral cooperation allows groups of countries to explore and develop their potential common interests on regulatory matters.
- Open plurilateral agreements offer a mechanism to reduce the trade costs created by international differences in regulation while ensuring national democratic control and accountability.
- The determination of regulatory equivalence for purposes of membership of open plurilateral agreements should be linked to provision of capacity building services.