The collapse of the WTO talks at the end of July 2008 was not a surprise according to civil society organisations in the Netherlands.
So, what needs to happen now? To continue negotiating in the WTO in the same way, or focussing instead on bilateral or regional trade agreements whose aim is to increase market access, is the wrong answer. The collapsed WTO talks and the visible change in power relations now allows for another approach. The WTO rules, which are now enforceable through sanctions, and submit national and international policy to free trade ideology and market mechanisms, must be replaced by flexible rules that support development goals and production, trade and consumption that is sustainable (i.e. equitable, oriented towards poverty eradication, and environmentally friendly). The new international trade architecture needs to give priority to human rights and labour standards, equitable commodity and food prices, rules against market and corporate abuse, saving the environment and the climate. This should be achieved through cooperation and enforcement at international level through existing UN organisations, which are mandated to impose sanctions if cooperation does not work. This should be the framework to achieve sustainability and poverty eradication, within which the rules of an international trade organisation are defined and real abuse in trading (e.g. dumping) is being tackled. Political courage will be needed in each country if we are to achieve another trade system that, at the very least, does not prioritise corporate interests. Or should we wait for another crisis?