Mark Halle

At an international conference in Paris in July 2007, former Mexican trade minister Luis Ernesto Derbez remarked that the environment would determine the future of the multilateral trading system. This was a surprising assertion from someone once known as a mainstream supporter of free trade and the international system of rules that govern it. One interpretation of his remark is that humanity is facing a series of grave challenges—including climate change, loss of biological diversity, threats to water sources— that go well beyond the partisan interests of individual states. Addressing these challenges will call on all the institutional ingenuity that society can muster and will require harnessing these institutions to the broader task that these challenges represent. This includes the institutions of international trade—just when, more than ever, they are under scrutiny and attack from many quarters.1

This chapter will explore how in the last decade the debate on trade and the trading system has moved from a narrow focus on trade policy and mechanisms to a broader focus on how the system might best contribute to the search for sustainable development. It focuses on the governance of trade and explores what might be done to this governance to bring about the shift that the Mexican minister suggested is needed.

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