How does the agenda management process influence the effectiveness of multilateral trade talks in the World Trade Organization (WTO)? How can the all-important agenda be shaped so as to enhance the prospects of an agreement being reached? How the agenda is managed directly affects the negotiation process which follows and the eventual outcome. Yet researchers have paid little attention to the particular dynamics and challenges of agenda management in large-scale multilateral negotiations, and actual practice points to several weaknesses. This article proposes that the complexity of the agenda in multilateral talks needs to be managed and reduced in procedurally just ways if a successful outcome (agreement) is to result. It develops an analytical framework of agenda management in multilateral negotiations and conducts a structured focused comparison to explain the differences in outcomes of two rounds of WTO negotiations: the failure of the 2003 Cancún Ministerial Conference and the success of the 2004 Geneva negotiations in reaching an agreement. The findings support the proposition that a successful outcome depends in part on reducing agenda complexity and that this needs to be achieved in procedurally acceptable (if not just) ways.
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