IFIs Pt. 1: 60th Anniversary of the GATT/WTO

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/06/2008 12:55:00 AM
[NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series I am posting today on the world's most (in)famous international financial institutions (IFIs): the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank.]

It may be a sign of the times just how much the non-completion of the Doha Development Round has sunk the WTO from general consciousness, but this anniversary went largely unnoticed--even by me! Well, here is my attempt to make amends. The WTO is every bit as loathed as the World Bank and IMF by alter-globalization activists; there even is a "50 Years in Enough" movement that aims to get those Washington, DC-based institutions disbanded. In contrast, nary a comment went by as the sixtieth anniversary of the GATT/WTO came and went last year, even from the "globalization is the work of Satan" crowd. Unheralded despite the anniversary by both its friends and foes, the WTO has gone into purgatory.

Anyway, on 4 December 2007, the WTO released its World Trade Report 2007 cataloging the changes in world trade since the turn of the 20th century. It's all an interesting read, from protectionism helping lead to the outbreak of the Second World War to the struggle of LDCs to gain voice in the WTO. Here is the blurb:

On 1 January 2008, the multilateral trading system will celebrate its 60th anniversary. This year's World Trade Report celebrates this landmark anniversary with an in-depth look at the GATT and its successor the World Trade Organization — their origins, achievements, the challenges they have faced, and what the future holds. The story is one of remarkable change and adaptation, of a system that has contributed significantly to post-war prosperity, but which has not delivered all it could and which still faces formidable challenges.

“The global trading system has been a source of prosperity, stability and predictability for six decades. It has underpinned an unprecedented period of economic growth and has provided an environment in which many countries have been able to raise development levels and reduce poverty,” said Director-General Pascal Lamy. “But the GATT and the WTO have not done all they could, particularly for developing countries. “In the coming months we have the chance to deliver more for our member governments and the citizens they represent. By striking an ambitious and development-oriented agreement in the Doha round we can greatly strengthen a system which has done much to make the world a better place.”

The report looks at the circumstances in which the GATT was born and goes on to explain why governments believe it is in their interests to cooperate on trade matters. This is followed by a discussion of how the GATT/WTO as an institution can foster greater international cooperation. Finally, the Report reviews what the multilateral trading system has achieved in six decades and what remains to be done.

All in all, the comprehensive report (WARNING: this is a 436-page download) is a good read if you are interested in economic history, trade, and world politics. Interestingly enough, the WTO report also looks at trade from International Relations (IR) perspectives in addition to economic and legal ones. IR being my discipline, it's interesting to see what they had to say (see pp. 64-79). While I do not always agree with the WTO's characterizations, it does present a novel application of IR theories. Have a gander at this chart below and see what you make of it. On the y-axis are various explanations for the WTO's existence (as well as other IFIs), while on the x-axis are the various levels of analysis deemed important. Being at an English university, I am of course partial to the English School approach, but more on that later...