Development, equity, and the WTO


in Economics, Politics

My opinion of the World Trade Organization has probably shifted more than that for any other international institution, during the course of university study. The conception of the WTO as some sort of monolithic and powerful body, forcing countries to do things against their will does not seem like an accurate one. Where such pressures do exist, they are more parallel to the WTO (caused and driven by the preferences of member states) than self-arising from within. The inability of the WTO to enforce its rulings on trade – save through the highly problematic vehicle of allowing the country sinned against to raise its own tariffs – seems to underscore how weak the organization really is.

Naturally, all of the above assumes that free trade is generally a good thing. While there are undeniably problems – some of which can be well expressed using an economic framework of analysis – there are myriad advantages to global economic integration. Globalization needs to be modified so as to operate better as a process that aids in poverty reduction; likewise, it needs to become more environmentally balanced. With the Doha Round utterly stalled it isn’t clear how the WTO could contribute to either aim, a reasonable case can be made that it is at least not worsening either. A rules-based system like the WTO seems to hold out at least the possibility of a more just relationship between rich and powerful states and those that are poor. While the system is highly imperfect in practice, it does seem to have a small net positive effect.

All that said, since I need to argue that the WTO is a bad thing for developing countries this Thursday, I should start looking at the most eloquent and well defended expressions of the the position.

People interested in economic issues should have a look at Trade Diversion: a blog run by Jonathan Dingel, an M.Phil student in economics.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan November 12, 2006 at 11:28 am

This article looks interesting, but it’s more useful for the pro-WTO side. In the academic world, they definitely have the tougher position to argue.

Mike Kushnir November 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm

why must you argue for a certain side?


Milan November 12, 2006 at 9:03 pm


It is an assigned, in class debate.

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