Volume 52 (2018) / Issue 1
Due to the persistent stalemate in the WTO ’ s Doha Round negotiations, various smaller-scale options have drawn attention in recent years, including the negotiation of plurilateral agreements (PAs) among interested governments. There are essentially two types of such agreements, an exclusive and an open variant. While the former apply among the signatories only, the latter are implemented on a Most-favoured-Nation (MFN) basis. To preclude ‘ free riding ’ , the entry into force of such open PAs is usually conditioned on the participation of a ‘ critical mass ’ of countries, representing market shares of some 80% or more – quite a challenging benchmark. To promote more frequent use of PAs, given the plethora of pressing policy concerns, whether investment-, competition- or labour-related, the negotiation of exclusive agreements is being (re-)considered in current discussions. However, the entry into force of any non-MFN-based agreement would need to be accepted by consensus among all 160-odd WTO Members, and this may prove virtually impossible to achieve. This article thus proposes, based on past experience, to further explore the potential for open PAs among interested Members in the form of co-ordinated improvements of current commitments or, if not covered by the existing WTO framework, by way of ‘ WTOextra ’ understandings.
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