Abstract: This article sets out to identify a constructionist framework for a new and expanded “embedded liberalism” and WTO reforms in the global trading system. Globalization and populism led the Trump administration to attack the WTO system by introducing unilateral protectionist measures and undermining its rules and norms. US populist trade policies have persisted under President Biden. Necessary steps to restore the WTO system include (a) domestic reforms by WTO members to improve economic adjustment, labor mobility, and social safety nets; (b) WTO reforms to allow for additional domestic policy space, new negotiated rules to address contentious issues, and a relaxation of the consensus rule; and (c) US restoration of its commitment to multilateral trade rules. Renewed global leadership will be required to pursue these steps. If the current WTO agreement proves to be incapable of resolving these issues, countries will turn increasingly to the alternative of regional trade agreements, which may be able to re-create the conditions for a return to a rules-based global trading system. Yet populism, anti-globalization pressures, and geopolitical tensions present the danger of a continued unwillingness to cooperate among major countries.
Keywords: embedded liberalism; global institutions; globalization; populism; trade policy; WTO