This article reflects on the role crises play in enabling existing systems of global
economic governance to evolve and endure while also preserving underlying
power dynamics. The article uses global trade governance as its case-study. Its
aim is to explore the impact of the negotiating crises that beset the World Trade
Organization’s (WTO) Doha round of trade negotiations. The article traces how,
over the course of the Doha round, periodic crises resulting from divergent
pressures for opposing outcomes combined to preclude one set of institutional
developments from resulting (those on which the Doha round had been launched
and the basis upon which developing countries negotiated) while enabling others
(those advanced by the leading industrial states). The result has been to usher in
changes that have returned global trade governance to a form of system management
more familiar to observers of the multilateral trading system of the 1970s.
This ‘retro’ form of trade governance signals a departure from the more inclusive
system that had emerged from the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and evolved during the WTO’s early years, replacing it
with a lither system of mini-lateralism more fit for industrial country purposes.