We recently spoke to James Bacchus, Chair of the Global Practice Group at Greenberg Traurig and Member and Chair, Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (1995-2003) to hear his thoughts on the WTO and the direction of travel for trade agreements. These are his personal views and should not be attributed to Greenberg Traurig, the International Chamber of Commerce or Chatham House.

Do you see the current slowdown in global trade continuing on this trajectory or as cyclical?

Economists are divided on whether the global trade slowdown is cyclical or not.  The best response would be a global deal lowering tariffs and other trade barriers worldwide – the equivalent of a growth-boosting tax cut for the whole world.

What do you see as the role of the WTO going forward?

By far the best way to maximize the gains from trade is to lower the barriers to trade globally.  So the WTO trading system must remain at the center of world trade policymaking.  Bilateral and regional trade deals should be made with the ultimate aim of extending the benefits of such deals worldwide.

What is your view on the outlook for TTIP and TPP?

The fate of the TPP depends on securing a favorable vote in the US Congress.  The best chance for such a vote will be in the “lame-duck” session of the current Congress following the election in November and before the convening of the new Congress in January.  The fate of the TTIP depends on the fate of the TPP.  Without passage of the TPP in the United States, the likelihood of a TTIP will be significantly diminished.

Do you think the direction of travel for trade agreements is towards the mega-regional, such as TTIP and TPP. What would it mean for those inside and outside such agreements if it were?

Whatever the fate of the TPP and the TTIP, one emerging trend may be toward sectoral and other less than fully multilateral deals within the WTO.  If the TPP and the TTIP succeed, then the more than 100 WTO Member countries that are not parties to those deals will have added incentive to find new ways to do deals within the non-discriminatory framework of the WTO.  If the TPP and the TTIP fail, then the obvious option for all WTO Members would be to focus anew on ensuring the success of the WTO as a forum for concluding international trade agreements. 

Could you tell us about your current area of focus?

A current area of my focus is that of freeing trade and investment alike in ways that work both economically and environmentally.  I think it vital to move both trade and investment forward in ways that ensure that the gains from trade are widely shared, and that help counter climate change and advance global sustainable development.