G-Zero World and Trade: A Return to Bilateralism and Self-Interest


G-Zero World and Trade: A Return to Bilateralism and Self-Interest

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Law 106
185 Pelham Street


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The era of multilateral cooperation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has effectively ended, but so has the more recent trend towards larger and more comprehensive bilateral and regional trade agreements (BRTAs). A G-Zero World - one without the guidance of a hegemon - affects trade relations in that the leadership once expected (and desired) of the US, EU and a select few others has collapsed and the void has not been filled by leading developing countries such as China, Brazil and India. This is unfortunate, as the multilateral system facilitated and added security and predictability to the widespread and complex networks of trading relationships– stimulating growth and increasing wealth (and health) across the globe. At the same time, while perhaps not the economically most efficient tool to stimulate trade and growth, BRTAs allowed countries to add depth and breadth to their liberalisation commitments with one or more like-minded partner countries in ways not possible in the multilateral system.

The G-zero world threatens both, and with a confluence of political factors around the globe, trade negotiations in the near to mid-term will not seek to increase liberalisation but more so to claw back and add protections to domestic industry and economy via smaller and more niche agreements. The world economy, and the people, will suffer as a consequence. The question then becomes what middle powers caught in the middle can do to secure their own economic prospects as well as to re-shape the future direction of trade relations.


  • Professor Bryan Mercurio
    Professor Bryan Mercurio, Chinese University of Hong Kong