'WTO a Success...Advancing Rich Nation Interests'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/13/2011 12:02:00 AM
And now for a characteristically pessimistic assessment of the WTO from trade commentator Rorden Wilkinson of Manchester University. As with many other international organizations, the WTO was undoubtedly structured to advance the interests of its creators. Read: the United States when Americans used to dream about the future (does anyone remember that bygone era?) Seen in this light, Professor Wilkinson says that the WTO has, actually, been quite a success in facilitating the interests of wealthy countries instead of the usual metrics of advancement such as completing trade rounds and so forth. What he now writes is that, historically speaking, successive WTO rounds demonstrate how the deck has been stacked--including some things in negotiations (manufactures in which developed countries have a comparative advantage) but not others (agriculture in which developing countries do), while strong-arming LDCs with quotas and suchlike if it suited (textiles). At the current time, you can certainly think of American unwillingness to even put temporary migration provisions of GATS into effect. Some fair trade regime; same old, same old.

What follows are the abstract and some policy implications on how this lopsided situation can begin to be remedied, while the rest can be read at the link provided. Given that rich country cheerleaders for trade liberalization aren't getting their way, perhaps it's time to look at wider-ranging changes to WTO governance to make a more decisive break with the past:


This article offers an alternative account of the performance of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – an institution whose performance is usually assessed in terms of its capacity to function as a forum for the exchange of mutually beneficial trade concessions, its ability to act as an arena in which trade rules can be negotiated and its capacity to serve as a forum for settling trade disputes. The article argues that when understood in these ways, the performance of the WTO inevitably appears lacklustre. However, the fact that member states remain committed suggests that the criteria on which an assessment of the institution’s performance ought to be based are different and the way in which we conceive of the institution is flawed. The article argues that if WTO performance is measured as the institution’s capacity to act as a strategic device to maintain and exacerbate the advantages of a group of industrial states over their less powerful and developing counterparts (an aim that is much closer to the institution’s intended purpose), then it has actually been quite successful, albeit undesirably so.

Policy Implications
  • An alternative assessment of the performance of the WTO suggests that it has been far from lacklustre, as is commonly held to be the case, and has actually been quite successful in satisfying the interests of the leading industrial states.
  • However, such an assessment also shows how developing countries as a group have consistently been net losers in the multilateral trading system.
  • This situation is no longer tenable. There is a pressing need to reform the institution fundamentally to rebalance the economic opportunities afforded to developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as to think seriously and differently about the design of the institution and the interests it serves.
  • Meaningful reform of the WTO cannot, however, come from minor adjustments to its operating procedures. What is needed instead is a much more wide-ranging discussion about its purpose, form and function, as well as the value of trade liberalisation (currently constructed or otherwise) as a vehicle for development and poverty reduction.