Institutional change in the international governance of agriculture: a revised account
The place of agriculture in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) prior to 1986 is usually described in terms of either exclusion or exemption from general trading rules. This paper reevaluates the ‘exemption’ argument and its corollary that the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) represented a punctuated equilibrium in the governance of agriculture. Instead it traces the dynamics of institutional change through the history of the GATT/WTO, distinguishing between multilateral trading rounds and the framework of trade rules as separate but linked contexts for addressing agricultural trade matters; and further disaggregating the latter into broad principles and specific rules. It is argued that the broad principles lacked detail but, paradoxically, initially this facilitated an approach to dispute settlement based on conciliation. Subsequent trade tensions exposed an inability to make definitive legal decisions on the compatibility of specific national rules with broad GATT principles. The AoA is rooted in these institutional antecedents, but claims of the legalization of the trade regime are belied by a continued reliance on political flexibility and bargaining.
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