A reflection on accessions as the WTO turns twenty

As the WTO celebrates its twentieth year, it is appropriate to ask what WTO accessions have contributed to the rules-based multilateral trading system. What demands have been made by the original and incumbent WTO members on acceding governments? How have the acceding governments fared? This chapter finds that WTO accessions have expanded the reach of the trading system, not only geographically but conceptually, by clarifying disciplines and pointing the way to their further strengthening in future negotiations. Members who have acceded under Article XII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade now account for 20 per wto_cent of total membership of the WTO. Meanwhile, with globalisation, the increased prevalence, complexity and capillarity of international exchange has greatly increased the need for a universal system of trade rules. Crucially, accession negotiations have been used by governments as an instrument for wide-ranging domestic reforms, including by means of far-reaching new legislation that has effectively changed the business landscape. In several instances, the WTO accession negotiating platform has been used for the much broader purpose of facilitating new, closer, geopolitical relationships. As the negotiating arm of the WTO continuously adapts, the success of accession negotiations also points to the opportunities inherent in variable negotiating configurations, such as plurilaterals around specific issues. There is also considerable scope for improving the process of accession negotiations to ensure greater transparency, streamlining and fairness.

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