From the BBC comes word that US and EU officials at yesterday’s understated and low key summit agreed to explore the possibility of a bilateral trade agreement. Since the US and the EU together account for about half of the world’s GDP, this could be a big deal.Put this deal together with US proposals to create a new, BRIC-free Asian trade bloc, and the beginnings of a new world order in trade can dimly be seen. The news can’t be welcome at the World Trade Organization; the WTO, where negotiations on the so-called Doha Round of free trade talks have been stalled for years, looks increasingly irrelevant if these talks go ahead.For those who have trumpeted the emergence of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and major new power players, this news comes as a bit of a surprise. The new trade deals seem very much aimed at reducing their power in world trade negotiations. Under WTO negotiating rules, Brazil, China and India have a lot of power to block global trade liberalization. (Russia will soon share in that power as it joins the WTO.) But if the US is negotiating directly with the EU and Japan, the Brazilians, Indians, Russians and Chinese are on the outside looking in.What the new framework looks like is an effort for the world’s developed countries to proceed to a much deeper level of economic integration among themselves, leaving others free, one supposes, to join an existing system once the rules have been drawn up.For the Obama administration, the new approach has two advantages. On the one hand, deals with high wage, tight regulation economies like the EU nations and Japan do not anger American unions the way negotiations with low wage countries do. At the same time, opening trade talks in which the most obstreperous and obstructive voices aren’t present will allow the administration to make progress on issues ranging from agriculture to intellectual property rights that are currently deadlocked in Doha. This makes economic sense both in terms of the national interest and in terms of the administration’s interest in raising a billion dollars or more for the 2012 elections.Free trade purists and advocates for the poor will not like the new pattern. Via Meadia shares these concerns, but believes that the advantages of deeper liberalization among economies that account for roughly two thirds of world trade (the US, EU, Japan plus other Asia-Pacific countries involved) are great enough to go ahead.The WTO has turned out to be a good place to lodge existing trade deals, but a poor forum for negotiating new ones. Finding a way to make end runs around obstructionism makes sense; one hopes that countries like India and Brazil, alarmed at losing influence over the further evolution of the trading order, will reconsider their bargaining stands in the WTO and reduce the need for important negotiations to step outside its framework.Once again, a United States perceived by the world’s chattering classes to be in terminal decline is reshaping the world. In the last month the US has turned the tables on China in Asia and shifted the center of gravity in world trade talks to Bric-free forums. Via Meadia does not know how long it will take before fashionable intellectuals in the US and elsewhere actually notice how the world works, but we await that awakening with interest.