The answer is NO, according to our own Simon Lester. In his posting on the Huffington Post today, Simon presented an excellent case for multilateralism. In particular, Simon underscored various multilateral disciplines unique to the WTO, such as those governing customs administration and trade remedies (antidumping and subsidies). In this highly interconnected global business sphere, these kinds of disciplines seem to make sense only in the multilateral setting. Indeed, none but the WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has recently made a similar observation.
“[I]t simply makes no sense to adopt regulations to streamline customs bilaterally — if do it for one country, you do it for everybody. (…) Other examples include farming subsidies or fisheries subsides — they cannot be tackled in bilateral deals. Another example is disciplines on trade remedies like anti-dumping or countervailing duties — you cannot negotiate them bilaterally. The simple fact is that the major global challenges for trade can only be addressed globally; can only be addressed multilaterally.”
So, the TPP cannot, and should not, supplant the WTO, even though the former can still supplement the latter. After all, that’s the spirit of GATT Article XXIV and other related disciplines on trade regionalism: regional trading agreements should be “building,” not stumbling, blocks for the WTO.