Accepted paper:

The receding horizon of informality in WTO negotiations


Nicolas Lamp (World Trade Organization)

Paper short abstract:

Attempts to formalize WTO negotiations have given rise to ever new forms of informality. The paper argues that the relationship between form and power is diffuse. Gradations of formality/informality offer WTO members different avenues of expression and intervention.

Paper long abstract:

The paper starts from the observation that attempts to formalize negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) - through the adoption of agendas for meetings, the opening up of meetings to all interested WTO Members, and the systematisation of the WTO's unofficial "job" document series - have consistently spawned new forms of informality, such as the holding of meetings as "chairperson's consultations" or "informal informals" which do not require the adoption of an agenda, or the emergence of new types of "non-documents", such as "room documents" and "non-papers". The paper sketches the resulting layers of formality/informality and attempts to account for the survival of informality in WTO negotiations. The paper argues that commentators who criticise this survival as undermining attempts to increase the transparency and inclusiveness of WTO negotiations presume a "hierarchy of forms", whereby the more informal settings allow the most powerful WTO members to shape negotiating outcomes and to pre-determine what happens in the more formal meetings. The paper suggests that the relationship between formality/informality and power is much more diffuse. Gradations of informality need to be taken seriously as offering avenues for WTO members to talk to each other in different ways, and informality can provide avenues for interventions, alliances, and performances that are precluded in more formal settings.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge