Christian Häberli discusses trade cooperation: Trade Promotion is like Playing a Grand Piano


Christian Häberli (PhD, Law) discusses trade cooperation and investment:

”Multilateral cooperation is in lockdown mode, while unilateralism and bilateral mini-deals abound” 

Dr. Häberli is a fellow of the World Trade Institute (Bern University) and Consultant for scientific research and outreach activities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and in the Americas . Over 60 publications on trade and investment issues and disputes, related to agriculture, food security and food safety, climate change, obesity and malnutrition, water, employment and labour, multilateral, regional and preferential trade, and equitable trade.


  1. Having extensive experience in the areas of trade cooperation and investment, especially as a trade negotiator for Switzerland in the GATT and the WTO, how do you see the future of the multilateral trading system?

Multilateral cooperation is in lockdown mode, while unilateralism and bilateral mini-deals abound. WTO is in an existential crisis and cannot even help in the ongoing trade war, nor supply trade answers to the pandemic. And the EU will not and cannot show the way out. The question is what small states can do without a network of trade agreements securing all their trade in goods and services, and their investments. It feels like a having to play the Grand Piano with less than half the keys.

  1. The Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, stepped down a year earlier than planned from this position. How will this impact the global trading system? What qualities should the next DG possess?

Mr. Azevedo resigned today: at the wrong moment but for the right reasons. Yet, even the best DG cannot save the WTO. She or he will have to start playing on the housekeeping piano. IF Members agree on an agenda – which they have not this year – she then can lay the ground for a number of topics requiring decisions at the next Ministerial Conference (mid- or end of 2021). A miracle CV? Let’s not hope for more than a manager with perhaps extended ministerial negotiating experience and networking skills.

  1. The USMCA has entered into force in July, 2020 and you have been named as one of 30 people who will act as panelists in case settlements between parties. What kind of dispute settlement mechanisms does this agreement contain?

The “New NAFTA”, like its predecessor, is a complete set of trade and investment rules for North America. Based on these rules, my job could be to try to settle trade disputes between two or three states with rulings and/or advice. Using some of the presently malfunctioning piano keys – in concert with the parties!

4. What is the focus of your current research work at the World Trade Institute in Bern?

I am a generalist with an active interest in all so-called “trade and” issues. The titles of my last two research topics are “Sustainable Agriculture and Trade” and “Can Panels Save the WTO?” Looking for the sound of my Piano? Read me!

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