It is almost always easier to see more clearly in retrospect. Some develop- ments, viewed from the vantage point of history, look more inevitable than they seemed when they began. This brief essay examines the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) twenty years after its creation, explores the contributions it has made in its first two decades, and assesses how well it has met the expectations of those who established it. Since the end of the Second World War, trade has served as one of the engines pulling the global economy along the path of prosperity. Trade not only allows nations to benefit by focusing on producing goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage, but it also stimulates innovation and facili- tates the efficiencies of the global supply chains associated with multinational corporations, helping lift millions in developing countries out of poverty.
Roger B. Porter is the IBM Professor of Business and Government at Harvard University. He served for more than 11 years in senior economic policy positions in the Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush administrations.