But slow stagnation does not automatically mean crisis. The current state of calamity in trade comes from the new approaches taken by the largest players in the system. This is not a post to discuss the diagnosis of the problem. It is, instead, to discuss the difficulties in treating the patient. What has been especially striking over the past few weeks has been the inability of many trade policy experts to conceptualize treatment options that go beyond simple remedies. If, indeed, the patient is on life-support or headed for the ICU, it may be necessary to think of unusual options. Yet different forums that ought to be perfectly positioned to do so seem to be caught. Perhaps they do not want to acknowledge the severity of the illness, do not want to admit that the diagnosis goes beyond conventional treatments, do not want to handle the intervention of others in handling the patient treatment, or do not want to think about more depressing trade news.
Having agreements that may not apply to all members also makes using the final agreements trickier for companies. The main reason for negotiating trade rules in the first place is to create common practices for businesses to help reduce risk and uncertainty in the trade environment. However, as the WTO has gotten bigger and as some members have grown bolder in their obsession with using the consensus principle as a means for blocking all actions, the institution has clearly gotten bogged down. One way to move forward is to allow smaller groupings to proceed with issues that matter to them. This process is now, apparently, going to begin again at the WTO. First on the agenda is the start of a possible work program on electronic commerce, supported by about 70 members.