Trade has been a human imperative for millennia. The association between trade, peace,
and war have long been acknowledged, even if their salience had waxed and waned over
the years (Irwin 2008). Given trade’s importance, norms governing its conduct can be
traced back 3,800 years to the Code of the Babylonian King Hammurabi.1
Yet, in the midst of profound contemporary shifts and shocks facing humankind, a
quarter of a century after its creation, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is evidently
not where pressing trade problems are being solved.2 All too often, the mindset and
rhetoric are shackled to the past.
As the standing of WTO has diminished in the highest circles of government, accepted
international norms for trade relations have given way more and more to the law of the
jungle. Faltering US commitment to multilateralism descended in recent years to brazen
unilateralism in the conduct of trade policy (Blustein, 2019, Davis and Wei 2020, Irwin
2017, van Grasstek 2019, Zeollick 2020). The sense of disarray and the lack of trust are
palpable.

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