Editor’s Note: This will be Kimberly Ann Elliott’s final weekly column for World Politics Review. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kim for all of her insights into economic policy over the past two and a half years, in which she has made sense of tumultuous trade news and offered readers a sharp, lively guide to Donald Trump’s trade wars.
The World Trade Organization had plenty of problems before the United States elected an isolationist president determined to put “America first” and go it alone in 2016. Four years ago, the WTO could point to only a few relatively minor agreements on specific economic issues and no major multilateral trade agreements like the one that launched it in 1995. Its major accomplishment had been a dispute settlement system that enforced, if only somewhat effectively, the international trade rules set in the Uruguay Round of trade talks that led to the WTO’s establishment. But well before Trump moved into the White House, even that crown jewel of the WTO was facing challenges from American policymakers who thought dispute settlement panelists were overreaching.
Trump’s antipathy to the WTO, however, and to multilateralism in general, is well beyond that of any of his recent predecessors. Replacing him with a president who believes multilateral cooperation and international institutions serve American interests will certainly be helpful. But even with help from the rest of the world, can President-elect Joe Biden really revive the WTO? Or, given the WTO’s long-standing problems, has Trump merely accelerated the inevitable?