The Omicron scare provided a face-saving way to cancel the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, scheduled to open Nov. 30 in Geneva. The session was headed for minimal results, joining this year’s Group of 20 summit and the Glasgow Conference on climate change in failing to achieve their goals. The WTO’s inefficiency, China’s growing influence, and the lack of economic-policy consensus within and among national democracies are the principal causes of its endemic gridlock. The WTO’s weakness exemplifies in many ways the end of the post-World War II liberal international order.
The liberal trade order that took shape after the war had three primary missions: help revitalize the moribund economies of Europe and prevent the advance of the Soviet communist economic model; build an international system to prevent authoritarian revival in Germany, Japan and elsewhere; and reduce North-South tension by helping raise living standards in the developing world. With strong U.S. support, in many cases to its own economic disadvantage, the system succeeded in the first two goals.