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 School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland where he teaches courses on trade policy and on macroeconomic analysis and policy. 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. 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.

    He was previously Director of the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Prior to that he was Director of International Trade, 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 McKinsey and Co.

    His books include: Trade Preferences, Foreign Aid and Self-Interest; Trade Policy in Morocco: Taking Stock and Looking Forward (with Pierre Sauve' , co-editor); 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. His new book, 'Geopolitics, Trade Blocks and the Fragmentation of World Commerce' will be published by Lexington Books in September 2024.

    His columns have appeared in the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Il Sole 24 Ore, Le Monde, Liberation, L’Espresso and El Pais

    He has a BA and MA in Economics from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a PhD in Business Economics from Harvard University.

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