Plurilateral Agreements: A Viable Alternative to the World Trade Organization?

Michitaka Nakatomi
JEL codes: 
ADBI Working Paper Series

Looking back at the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO), major accords that have been reached under the multilateral framework to date are in substance issue-based “plurilateral” agreements. This paper looks at some specific examples of issue-based plurilateral agreements—such as the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), the Financial Services and Basic Telecommunication Services Agreements, and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)—with the aim of pointing to the crucial role they can play in resolving the stalemate at the WTO and the Doha Round and the accelerating proliferation of free trade agreements (FTAs). Through analysis of their characteristics compared with the WTO and FTAs, the paper attempts to identify the potentials as well as legal and substantive constraints of issue-based plurilateral agreements. It also suggests possible areas where new plurilateral agreements—whether single or multiple issue-based—can be developed. The paper also highlights the importance of plurilateral agreements as a mechanism complementary to the WTO and FTAs in enhancing the governance of the global trade system, and outlines conditions that need to be fulfilled to address the needs of developing countries.