The end of the Multilateral System, that was never multilareal

The World Trade Organization is not an institution that was created at the Bretton Woods Conference, in 1944. But it is possible to say that it is the result of this process, insofar as it is a direct result of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (called GATT), from the so-called Uruguay Round.

This is important to consider because, together with the entire United Nations System, the WTO is one of the great symbols of the multilateral system. Since the end of World War II, States have been pursuing the path of multilateralism as their main strategy for international interaction..

The peak of this path occurred in the 1990, marked by important international conferences (como Eco-92; Vienna Conference on Human Rights; Cairo conference on population and development…). Although not global, of equal importance is the emergence of the European Union, through the Maastricht Treaty (1992).

When looking at the past from the present what we can see is that the system was not as multilateral as it seemed. Looking specifically at the case of the GATT / WTO system, if we focus on the evolution of official participants (member states) and the agendas dealt with, we can see that this is an effort to organize the world based on very localized premises and interests.

Important players international system were not part of most of the . Russia requested its entry into 1995 but only became a member in 2012. China only becomes a member in 2016. Although China has a greater economic weight, it cannot be ignored that Russia has political relevance and that the WTO cannot be reduced to the question of trade alone. It is a structuring organization of the international system, including the dimension of influence.

The truth is that the multilateral system so well represented by the UN and the WTO served to consolidate the interests of the countries that led, he was promoted as the most suitable and that should be observed by all.

From the decade of 2000 the scenario started to change. Perhaps the biggest change occurred as other powers began to play within multilateral rules, but forcing the result to your side. Now, what we are seeing is a movement to question this system due to the non-fulfillment of previous interests.

The Trump administration's questioning of various United Nations organizations (with special emphasis on the World Health Organization) and the WTO should not be interpreted as isolated from the President of the United States. This questioning is profound and is related to the view that we have about the “utility” of these organizations.

The vision of US deputies Peter Defazio and Frank Pallone (reproduced below), who proposed legislation for the withdrawal of the United States from the WTO, makes explicit the view that the WTO “exported jobs”.

For a while it seems that we forgot that the multilateral system was not an end in itself, but a means used by some countries to concentrate and project power. We believe that the multilateral system was better for everyone, but we didn’t really ask ourselves how that would happen.

I am aware that the costs of negotiation and insertion in a bilateralized international system are high. But we also must not be so innocent as to miss what is actually at stake at this moment.

Chair Peter Defazio and Frank Pallone, Jr introduce legislation to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization

May 12, 2020 Press Release

Chair Peter DeFazio (OR-04) and Chair Frank Pallone (NJ-06) today introduced legislation to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization (IN THAT).

“The WTO has been a disaster for the United States. With millions of jobs exported, ballooning trade deficits, and the erosion of U.S. sovereignty, the WTO has a 25-year track record of putting the profits of multinational corporations above the interests of American workers,” said Chair DeFazio. “COVID-19 has exposed how the hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, to China and other countries has significantly undermined our ability to respond to the global pandemic. The United States needs to withdraw from the WTO to strengthen and protect our manufacturing base, public health and safety, industry and jobs, U.S. sovereignty, and the environment.”

“After 25 years of participation in the World Trade Organization (IN THAT), our workers have seen little to no benefits for their families and have instead watched as the WTO gives countries like China protections to use tariffs and other unfair trade practices to its advantage,” said Chair Pallone. “It is time for the United States to withdraw from this institution and start prioritizing American workers over international corporations. This resolution is an important first step in the withdrawal process and I hope my colleagues will join Chairman DeFazio and myself with their support.”

The Uruguay Round Agreements Act (P.L. 103-465), the statutory basis for U.S. WTO membership, specifies that Congress’s approval of the WTO agreement shall cease to be effective if Congress enacts a joint resolution calling for withdrawal. Congress may vote every five years on withdrawal, with the next possible consideration in 2020.

The House most recently voted to withdraw from the WTO in 2005, with both DeFazio and Pallone voting in support of that resolution. The Senate has never voted on WTO withdrawal.

A 2018 Economic Policy Institute report found that China’s entry into the WTO has caused the U.S. to shed 3.4 million jobs since 2001, with nearly 75 percent of jobs lost in the manufacturing sector.

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Post-Doctorate in Territorial Competitiveness and Creative Industries, by Dinâmia - Center for the Study of Socioeconomic Change, of the Higher Institute of Labor and Enterprise Sciences (ISCTE, Lisboa, Portugal). PhD in International Relations from the University of Brasília (2007), Master in Political Science from the University of São Paulo (2001) and Bachelor of International Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (1998). He is currently the Head of International Office of ESPM.