Negotiating from the margins: how the UN shapes the rules of the WTO

Matias E Margulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on agriculture are among the most contentious issues in the international political economy due to agriculture’s importance in the production of tradable commodities as well as economic development and food security in developing countries. In this article, I analyse a surprising and unexpected actor playing an important role in shaping WTO rules on agriculture – the United Nations (UN). While UN actors do not have a seat at the bargaining table, I argue that they invoke their delegated and moral authority and initiate actions to shape global trade rule-making. I demonstrate that UN actors have influenced the discourse, agenda and outcomes of trade negotiations by analysing three cases: 1) the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) orchestrating a Uruguay Round agreement in favour of food insecure developing countries; 2) the World Food Programme’s (WFP) blocking of trade rules on international food aid during the Doha Round negotiations; and 3) a proposal by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food for a legal waiver to protect public food stockholding that was taken up by WTO member states in 2013.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-391
Number of pages28
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number3
Early online date20 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • United Nations (UN)
  • agriculture
  • food security
  • trade negotiations
  • international law
  • right to food
  • international organizations (IOs)
  • non-state actors
  • authority


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