The Origins of Plurilateralism in International Trade Law

In: The Journal of World Investment & Trade
Meredith Kolsky Lewis University at Buffalo School of Law, The State University of New York United States

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This article examines the historical experience with and understanding of plurilateral trade agreements throughout the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and World Trade Organization (WTO) to better contextualise assessments of the continued viability of the single undertaking and the recent resurgence of plurilateralism in international trade law. Plurilateral agreements have been playing a significant role in international trade relations for the past fifty years. As such, the current wave of plurilateral agreements does not represent a sea change in approach to trade liberalisation, but rather a continuation of a process that originated many decades ago. Further, while the WTO agreements are multilateral in that they apply to all members, they can also be seen as plurilateral in that not all WTO members have identical responsibilities under such agreements. The article concludes that plurilateralism and multilateralism have much in common, and hence may be mutually supportive rather than binary choices.

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