Since its formation, with a few notable exceptions, WTO members have not been able to negotiate new rules on policies that generate negative international spillovers. The Doha Development Agenda negotiations, launched in 2001, became deadlocked in 2008. Problems extend beyond negotiations – other functions of the WTO are also not performing well. The dispute settlement mechanism, long perceived as the crown jewel of the organization, no longer is operational because of US refusal to appoint new WTO Appellate Body members. Calls for WTO reform have been mounting. This article provides an overview of the WTO reform agenda, drawing on the findings of recent multidisciplinary research to provide context for the papers included in this special issue on trade conflicts, multilateral cooperation and WTO reform.
- The WTO faces two interconnected challenges: reestablishing an effective dispute settlement mechanism and reviving the negotiation function. Doing one and not the other will not suffice to revitalize multilateral trade cooperation.
- Overcoming the legislative crisis calls for direct engagement among China, the EU and the US on new rules for subsidies, state‐owned enterprises and technology transfer. Agreement to address associated policy spillovers is needed to permit reestablishment of an Appellate Body.
- Negotiations on open plurilateral agreements among groups of WTO members are a way to address the WTO consensus working practice constraint and to complement traditional trade agreements with issue‐specific cooperation among like‐minded economies.
- Reforms should build on innovations adopted in several WTO bodies to open and encourage greater participation by stakeholders in committee meetings, including business, regulators, and other international organizations.
- The WTO reform agenda should include a focus on improving the ability of the Secretariat to provide information and analysis, link the WTO to epistemic communities in regulatory policy areas that are salient for trade, and ensure that adjudicators at the panel and appellate level fully control the WTO dispute settlement system.