International trade experts supporting the World Trade
Organization participated in a panel discussion last night to
address criticism directed toward the organization. Such
international criticism erupted in violence at a previous WTO
conference in Seattle, Wash., in 1999 and remains prevalent after
the most recent conference in Cancun, Mexico, ended early when
negotiations fell apart.
The forum, titled “What Can the World Trade Organization
Do to Help Poor Countries?” drew a large crowd to Hale
Auditorium, but opposition to the often-divisive WTO went largely
Instead, the forum, sponsored by the William Davidson Institute,
focused on the positive aspects of the WTO for developing
countries, including the international reduction of tariffs and the
impartial facilitation of trade disputes between countries. The
panel also argued that the multilateral regulations set up by the
WTO help avoid the discriminatory conditions established by some
regional and bilateral agreements.
“Some people think that it would be more effective if we
have the multilateral agreements because it brings all the tariffs
down by the same percentages internationally,” panel
moderator and Public Policy Prof. Katherine Terrell said.
Panel members included economics and Public Policy Prof. Alan
Deardorff and Alejandro Jara, Chilean ambassador to the WTO, who
said the organization still needs to incorporate many reforms, but
will eventually lead to fair trade among all countries.
“We have to think of new ways with much more flexible
rules that will allow (every country) to participate,” Jara
said, in reference to the dominance of U.S. and European countries
in determining the course of the organization. “The way we do
it now reflects the way the world was 20 years ago and it
doesn’t work now.”
The only unequivocal challenges to WTO policies came during the
question and answer session following the panel discussion.
One audience member, a representative of a fair trade advocacy
organization in Colorado, complained about the lack of public
access to WTO trade dispute proceedings and suggested the
organization allow public viewing in a manner similar to the U.S.
The man’s suggestions were met with chuckles from the
audience and were quickly disputed by Jara, who cited
confidentiality issues and the fact that the WTO is not a lawmaking
entity as reasons why the public should not be allowed to view
Still, some students in attendance were not convinced that
global trade agreements were in the best interest of poor
countries, but were not as vocally critical of the WTO.
Rackham student Neravan Rojchaichaninthorn expressed doubt that
economically empowered countries such as the United States would
take the interests of developing nations into consideration when
deciding trade disputes and establishing policies.
“I don’t think it can be done in a multilateral
forum easily,” Rojchaichaninthorn said. “Bilateral and
regional agreements will be important for developing countries
until the WTO can produce a priority for all developing countries,
particularly for countries in Asia and Latin America.”