Chronic underinvestment in the multilateral trading system in the WTO era by its largest members has led to a world in which much of the action in creating rules for international trade has shifted away from multilateral arrangements. The leading edge in trade negotiations has not been in Geneva but in agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). China’s and Chinese Taipei’s applications to join TPP elevate the potential for that agreement becoming a forum in which key trade issues are decided that affect an increasing part of global trade. The application of the United Kingdom to join CPTPP makes that agreement no longer regional but proto-global. That is one possibility. Another, quite different outcome, is that rather than strengthening CPTPP, inclusion of additional diverse parties will dilute its substance.
One important key to the future shape of the world trading system is America’s trade policy. What can be discerned of it for the Biden Administration?