Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WTO Isn't Keeping Up with the World

So once again global trade talks have hit a stone wall. Once again the Washington Post sheds tears over the latest collapse in negotiations. A July 30 Post editorial finds it “particularly dismaying” that the People’s Republic of China cast a veto on the World Trade Organization’s latest proposal to save the so-called Doha Round.

Those ungrateful Chinese! After all, “U.S. supporters of Chinese inclusion in the WTO [including the Post] argued that drawing China into a system of multilateral give-and-take would mute its nationalistic tendencies. Evidently, the Chinese see the matter differently. They, and the world, will be poorer because of it.”

Well, the Chinese are not the only ones who see matters differently from the Post.

“Don’t cry for Doha,” says the title of economist Dani Rodrik’s July 30 Weblog. He writes: “There was not a whole lot at stake to begin with for poor nations as a whole…Panicky statements about dire consequences and protectionist spirals will be more damaging than the actual effects of the collapse of the trade talks.”

Be assured: robust world trade will continue, regardless. Robert Wade, professor at the London School of Economics, explains why. In a letter published in the July 26 Economist weekly, he writes:

“There is almost no chance that the global economy would become less integrated as a result of ‘failure’ [of the Doha talks]. The producers of most goods and services in the major economies are much more integrated into complex cross-border systems than between 1914 and the 1930s, when the world economy did become less integrated.”

The WTO suffers from a much bigger failure than the current one in Geneva. The overall failure is this: the world trading system has simply not kept up with the world. That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact.

One example: today's global system, as patched together in the 20th century, ignores the radical changes in information technology since then and therefore does not outlaw the trade barriers erected by China (and other repressive countries) against the free flow of information.

I've written an account of how this particular failure troubles me personally. My article is published in the August 4 issue of America under the title “Buyer’s Remorse: Spatulas, Yahoo, and the conscience of a consumer.” Click here. It is part of my collection of evidence that the WTO has not kept up with the world as transformed by globalization.

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