Policy brief

Is the post-war trading system ending?

This policy contribution assesses how the trading system has changed over the last five years

Publishing date
21 February 2022
Uri Dadush

The world trading system is reeling from the trade war between China and the United States, the disabling of the World Trade Organisation Dispute Settlement Understanding and repeated rule-breaking by WTO members. This does not mean the end of the post-war system, but it is being transformed into a more complex, politicised and contentious set of trade relationships. The new framework is likely to evolve around a WTO in maintenance mode with weak and largely unenforceable rules, and three blocs built by regional hegemons. Trade within the blocs will be relatively free and predictable, but the blocs are far from cohesive, contributing to the politicisation of the system. Trade relations between the blocs, especially among the regional hegemons, will be tense and potentially unstable.

Countries across the world need to rethink their trade and foreign policies to reflect the new reality. They need to continue to lend support to the WTO but also to accelerate work on regional and bilateral deals, while entering plurilateral agreements on specific issues – within the WTO if possible, or outside it if not. Beyond these general prescriptions, the priorities of different economies vary greatly. The trade hegemons of China, the European Union and the US face vastly different challenges. Middle powers on the periphery of the regional blocs, or outside them, such as Brazil, India and the United Kingdom, face an especially arduous struggle to adjust to a less predictable system. Small nations will be forced into asymmetrical deals with the hegemons or will play them off against each other, adding to the politicisation of trade relations.

The author is grateful to Bruegel colleagues, especially Marek Dabrowski, André Sapir and Guntram Wolff, for useful comments.

About the authors

  • Uri Dadush

    Uri Dadush is a Non-Resident Fellow at Bruegel, based in Washington, DC and a Research Professor at the University of Maryland. He is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Policy Center for the New South in Rabat, Morocco and Principal of Economic Policy International, LLC, providing consulting services to international organizations and corporations. He was a co-chair of the Trade, Investment and Globalization Task-Force of the T20 and Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Trade and Investment at the World Economic Forum. His books include “WTO Accessions and Trade Multilateralism” (with Chiedu Osakwe, co-editor), “Juggernaut: How Emerging Markets Are Transforming Globalization” (with William Shaw), “Inequality in America” (with Kemal Dervis and others), “Currency Wars” (with Vera Eidelman, co-editor) and “Paradigm Lost: The Euro in Crisis”.

    Dadush was previously Director of the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Director of International Trade, as well as Director of Economic Policy, and Director of the Development Prospects Group at the World Bank. Based previously in London, Brussels, and Milan, he spent 15 years in the private sector, where he was President of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Group Vice President of Data Resources, Inc., and a consultant with Mc Kinsey and Co. His columns have appeared in the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Il Sole 24 Ore, and L’Espresso. He has a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in Business Economics from Harvard University.

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