News – Minister Taeho Bark’s commentary on development through trade liberalization

In case you have noticed, I am generally a slow writer with no exception in this blog. However, in the past couple days, there have been many new commentaries by Korea Trade Minister Taeho Bark, who is running in this year’s election for WTO Director General. I feel obliged to introduce it at the least.

Here is another flavour of Mr. Bark’s view:


What interests me is his view on WTO as an institution of more than just trade. Mr. Bark’s position appears to be that trade liberalization is a mean to a development (including redistribution), but not an end in itself. In this regard, his view delivers many of the developing countries’ concerns that WTO has to be about development.

More interestingly, however, is Mr. Bark’s position on how he tries to go about achieving “development”. His policy emphasizes WTO’s relationship with other Bretton Woods institutions, and he advocates for more aligned and coordinated approach to the aid-for-trade. At the same time, Mr. Bark appears to insist that even the least developed countries must liberalize trade.

In the end, his policy views on what WTO should deliver entertains both the developed and developing countries – for developed countries, the need for world-wide open borders; for the developing countries, the need for more aid and shift of WTO paradigm from trade liberalization simpliciter to development more generally.

Obviously Mr. Bark is far more knowledgable and experienced than myself. That said, I do have a doubt at a very fundamental level, whether WTO is indeed about anything but trade liberalization. Although I recognize the flowery language in the preamble of the Marrakesh Agreement, they are so broad that they can be said to mean almost anything (http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/04-wto_e.htm). Moreover, the preamble merely “recognizes” development (among numerous other ideals “recognized” in the Marrakesh Agreement, such as “optimal use of.. resources”, protection and preservation of environment and raising standard of living), whereas parties “agree” to the substantive provisions for trade liberalization.

In these considerations, it is hard for me to see why WTO, as it is now, should go beyond its narrow scope of trade liberalization. Not that I oppose development – not at all. What concerns me is that WTO may be incapable of development agenda and many other ideals “recognized” in the preamble. For instance, why do we suppose that trade ministers, Panelists and Appellate Body members in Geneva are competent to make decisions regarding environment, raising living standards or development? Even if they are, how do you justify WTO decision on agenda that are outside the topic of trade liberalization without damaging the legitimacy and integrity of institution?

Just another reason why the world needs to see the Doha “Development” Round and proper overhaul of the institution to embrace today’s concern.

Categories: 2013

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