Global Trade Governance in a Multipolar World

International trade has immense potential to promote sustainable development. Against this background, this project examined the evolving nature of global trade governance and the provision of global public goods in its context, focusing on the following themes: the future of the World Trade Organization, linkages between trade and climate policies, public and private standards and their impact on international trade and developing countries, regional integration and norms for global trade governance in a multipolar world.

Project Lead:
Clara Brandi

German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Time frame:
2012 - 2016 / completed

Project description

The project examined the evolving nature of global economic governance. More particularly, the project centred on the following themes:

The Future of the World Trade Organisation

The first aim of the project was to analyse the difficulties of the ongoing Doha-Round and to investigate possibilities for WTO reform. The successful conclusion of the Doha-Round would provide urgently needed impulses for strengthening international trade rules, but after 10 years of negotiations there is still no consensus on a number of central issues. Especially the divergent bargaining positions of the traditional and emergent powers prevent the conclusion of the Doha-Round and underline the global governance challenges in today’s multipolar world. Against this background, the project investigated possibilities to reform the multilateral trading system in light of current and future global governance challenges with a view to sustainable development.

Linkages between Trade and Climate Policies – Challenges for Global Governance Global Governance

The second aim of the project was to analyse important dimensions of the relation between trade and climate policies in a multipolar world. The project focused on the following questions: To what extend are instruments of trade policy useful to combat climate change? How can global trade and global climate governance be better coordinated? What is the role of multilevel governance in this context? The research project also assessed the possibilities and limitations of combining state and non-state governance approaches with a view to sustainable development. For example, the project analysed the effects of public and private standards for international trade with a special focus on standards that aim to combat climate change and that take live cycle analyses of green house gas emissions into account.

Rising Powers, Trade Governance and Environmental and Social Standards

Against the backdrop of the risk of failure of traditional modes of global governance, such as international treaties and intergovernmental organisations, to adequately regulate the global economy in a multipolar world, a novel type of regulatory system is emerging that is becoming ever more important: Non-governmental organisations, business and other private actors, individually and together in newly combined arrangements, are giving rise to innovative institutions to apply transnational norms and standards to business. Key questions included: Do rising powers and their firms, often supported by their governments, drive down international sustainability standards that affect producers and consumers across the world or are they are more likely to strengthen them in light of their interest in being ‘leaders’ in a viable global economy? Can bottom-up processes driven by civil society and business adequately complement the often imperfect processes of more traditional governance arrangements?

Comparative Regionalism – Diffusing Regional Integration Approaches?

The Arab League, ASEAN, ECOWAS and MERCOSUR aspire to deepen both trade and monetary integration, for instance by seeking to turn their free trade area into a customs union or a common market and harmonising their monetary policies. This project seeked to examine the EU’s influence on regional cooperation by drawing on concepts from the new generation of diffusion approaches, based on the assumption that regional organisations have developed some interesting similarities and that this can, at least partially, be explained on the basis of diffusion processes of institutions and policies primarily from the EU to other regional organisations. The project made use of diffusion approaches to test their power to explain similarities (and differences) of monetary cooperation and integration among regional organisations. The central question addressed was: Under what conditions and in what ways does the EU affect the trajectory regional monetary cooperation elsewhere?

Norms for Global Trade Governance in a Multipolar World

This part of the project focused on global norm-building processes and the relationship between norms and global and regional trade governance with a focus on changes in global economic governance due to the rise of emerging economies and resulting power shifts. The focus was on the following questions: Which types of norm-building can we observe in the context of global and regional trade governance? What kind of normative principles should be satisfied in the context of global and regional trade governance so that the trading system fulfils relevant demands of fairness and justice in a multipolar world and how can the fulfillment of these principles be improved?


Project Coordination

Julia Brandt


Special: Transatlantische Handels- und Investitionspartnerschaft (TTIP)

Highlight: Trade and climate change: environmental, economic and ethical perspectives on carbon border adjustments