Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2015

Abstract

TRANSPARENCY OBLIGATIONS HAVE UNDERGONE SUBSTANTIAL transformations since the inception of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 117 1947. From an obligation to publish general laws affecting trade, the system now includes peer review by governments (in the form of monitoring and surveillance) and efforts to inform the public. These accomplishments are remarkable, but much remains to be done. Originally designed for a handful of developed countries, the global trading system now must provide an expanded knowledge base that benefits 160 member states, millions of economic actors, and hundreds of millions of citizens with inadequate resources to acquire information on their own. But that knowledge base remains incomplete.

The role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is often thought to be twofold-conducting formal rounds of negotiations and resorting to the dispute settlement system-but the third dimension of its work, which can be broadly grouped as transparency and accountability mechanisms, may be the most important. Transparency is part of the WTO's DNA, and can be traced at least through the 1947 GATT back to a 1923 treaty on customs cooperation. This essential element of WTO institutional design illuminates trade policy practices to the benefit of both governments and traders. The WTO's twentieth anniversary is an appropriate moment to describe the impressive evolution of its transparency mechanisms, assess the effectiveness of these mechanisms, and reflect on what more must be done if the WTO is to fulfill its potential as the central institution for governing the global trading system.

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