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Home arrow Research Projects arrow IP3 - Regionalism/SDT arrow Project Description
Project Description Print
There is wide divergence between the 147+ Member States of the WTO in terms of their social and economic development, and an increasing number of regional or preferential agreements are leading to key constitutional problems of fragmentation within the world trading system. The existing doctrines and policies of SDT are largely ineffective. Likewise, the existing rules on regional integration in the WTO have a limited impact and fail to render the ever-increasing number of regional agreements compatible and coherent with WTO law. This project seeks to develop new regulatory approaches in both these areas. This task is of paramount importance, as it will have a significant impact on related NCCR projects. Likewise, it will be able to benefit from the results of research in other parts of the project, as they will all provide guidance on specific problems relating to the blurred distinction between industrialized, emerging, developing and least-developed countries.

Focus of individual researchers
Based upon an analysis of the existing rules and their economic implications, the project will explore the possibility of creating new rules on graduation and progressive regulation in the WTO. Taking into account economic data and factors, the application of rules should be made more dependent upon economic performance and levels of development. Instead of categorizing countries within ill-defined groups, graduation would be based upon single rules of varied application. This approach would render variable geometry in terms of differential adherence to agreements redundant.

The project will further explore the WTO framework and conditions for RTAs. In an effort to make the framework more effective, the study will undertake a detailed examination of the relationship of the WTO and regional agreements and develop new rules and procedures that would render regional and global law compatible and coherent.

The project seeks to undertake an in-depth economic and political economy analysis of the role and impact of SDT, variable geometry and to develop, based upon economic findings, new legal approaches and theories that help to define appropriate levels of commitment for developing countries within the world trading system. Furthermore, it aims to refine the economic and legal relationship between multilateralism and regionalism.

Special and Differential Treatment: Towards Graduation
In analysing how SDT has functioned in the multilateral trading system to date, IP3 seeks to lay the intellectual groundwork and theory of graduation for a new generation of legally binding international treaty rules, the application of which would differ as a function of each country’s level of economic development, or even as a function of the level of international competitiveness of a specific sector within a given country. The project also seeks to identify economic data that could potentially be used. A further aim of the analysis is to develop a legal theory regarding the manner in which this data is relevant to shaping rules and commitments. The basic idea of progressive liberalization should also apply to regulation, and appropriate tools will be defined with this end in mind. In summary, the aim of the project is to offer more functional, sophisticated and viable alternatives to the exceptions currently in place as a check on the one-size-fits-all approach inherent within the single undertaking.

Variable Geometry: Towards Graduation
Based upon the theory of graduation developed in the primary stages of this project, the IP proposes to assess the forms of variable geometry (defined in terms of differing membership to agreements within the WTO) that are advisable and those that should be avoided. We aim to integrate variable geometry into a doctrine of graduation and merge it with STD.

Regionalism: Towards a Hierarchy of Treaty Rules
Regionalism and the WTO is an issue that has been studied a great deal, but empirical work is still scarce so no ‘received wisdom’ has emerged on how preferential liberalization and regional trade institutions interact with the WTO. The project intends to clarify the relationship between the WTO multilateral system and regional and preferential agreements, in economic, political and legal terms. The ultimate goal is to propose amendments to the WTO and RTAs that will foster a harmonious development of the trade system and its rules. Although the stress will be on economic and political economy analysis, the findings of this sub-project should feed into the development of a broader legal framework which takes the world trade system from fragmentation to coherence. As regards regionalism, the project will work with other IPs in an attempt to develop a hierarchy of different treaty rules and refine the legal implications of non-compliance with conditions set forth by WTO law. It will aim to develop improved institutional safeguards and monitoring to allow the WTO to function as an umbrella over an increasingly complex and interactive treaty system.

Focus of individual researchers

  • Richard Baldwin
    Regionalism, overall guidance

  • Christophe Germann
    Variable geometry and SDT, particularly in relation to intellectual property rights and competition laws and policies; regionalism with a focus on trade aspects related to cultural industries and cultural linkages

  • Theresa Carpenter

  • Elisa Gamberoni

SNF - Swiss National Science Foundation The National Centres of Competence in Research are a research instrument of the Swiss National Science Foundation