As a successful conclusion of the Doha Round is highly improbable to materialize in the near future, preferential trade agreements increasingly fill the vacuum which the currently dysfunctional multilateral system leaves behind. Fuelled by various nations’ craving for deeper integration, this most recent wave of preferential trade agreements has been gathering force over the course of the 21st century. Including bilateral, plurilateral and cross-regional initiatives as well as countries at different levels of economic development, this movement has additionally been engendered by supplementary motives such as the unprecedented economic growth in Asia, a race for market access and the emergence of global production chains. Moreover, I will provide some evidence whether preferential trade agreements represent “stepping stones” or “stumbling blocks” in the construction of the multilateral trade order. Anyway, the WTO is in desperate need of fundamental reform in order to retain its raison d'être and play a meaningful role in the long term. I am strongly convinced that a softening of the single undertaking approach must be at the heart of this reform.
multilateralism, trade liberalization, preferential trade agreements, WTO, Doha Round
F15, F12, F13