Plurilateral agreements in the WTO: What are they and how do they work?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international organization that ensures the smooth functioning of international trade. It provides a platform for member countries to negotiate and set rules for trade. One of the ways the WTO does this is by facilitating the negotiation of trade agreements between its member countries. These agreements are called plurilateral agreements.
What are plurilateral agreements?
A plurilateral agreement is a trade agreement negotiated between a subset of member countries in the WTO. Unlike multilateral agreements, which involve all WTO members, plurilateral agreements are negotiated by a smaller group of countries that agree to be bound by the rules of the agreement. These agreements are voluntary, and countries can choose whether or not to participate.
Plurilateral agreements cover specific areas of trade, such as services, intellectual property, or investment. They aim to address issues that are not covered by existing multilateral agreements, or where progress in the WTO negotiations has been slow.
How do plurilateral agreements work?
Plurilateral agreements work by bringing together a group of countries that are interested in negotiating rules for a specific area of trade. The negotiations are conducted among the participating countries, and the resulting agreement applies only to those countries that have signed it.
Once an agreement has been negotiated, it is subject to the same rules of the WTO as multilateral agreements. This means that it must be reviewed by the WTO’s committees and is subject to dispute settlement procedures. However, only the countries that are party to the agreement are subject to its provisions.
Plurilateral agreements are seen as a way to move forward on trade issues that are important to some countries but may not have the support of all WTO members. For example, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is a plurilateral agreement that aims to liberalize trade in services among a group of WTO members that account for over 70% of world trade in services.
What are the benefits of plurilateral agreements?
Plurilateral agreements offer several benefits. They allow countries to negotiate trade rules in specific areas where progress in multilateral negotiations has been slow. They also provide a way for countries to achieve deeper integration in areas of mutual interest, which can foster economic growth and job creation.
Plurilateral agreements can also be a stepping stone towards broader multilateral agreements. For example, the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is a plurilateral agreement that eliminated tariffs on a range of information technology products. This agreement paved the way for negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda, which aimed to reduce trade barriers in a broader range of products and services.
In conclusion, plurilateral agreements are an important tool for advancing international trade. They allow countries to negotiate rules in specific areas of trade and can serve as a stepping stone towards broader multilateral agreements. As the WTO continues to evolve, plurilateral agreements are likely to play an increasingly important role in shaping the rules of international trade.