The WTO ten years on: Trade and Development
Development issues have long been a component of the multilateral trading system and it is widely recognised that there is a strong link between trade and development. The nature of the link, however, has not always been the subject of consensus. Over time the trade and development paradigm has shifted and this is reflected in changes in the debate in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and subsequently in the World Trade Organization (WTO). This debate has been of much importance in both organisations – so much so that a Committee on Trade and Development has been addressing these issues specifically for over forty years after its establishment in 1964. This paper looks at trade and development with a specific focus on the first ten years of the WTO.
Through greater participation in the global economy, the value of developing country exports has increased over time. However, the developing countries’ share of world trade was at its highest just after the establishment of the GATT. There is also a growing divergence between developing countries with trade dominated by only a few. This has resulted in the marginalisation of many others, including most African countries. The benefits of trade have therefore not been equally shared among the countries of the world. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2005) claims that the ‘rules of the game’ are at the heart of this problem and contends that ‘hypocrisy and double standards are not strong foundations for a rules-based multilateral system geared towards human development’.
It is in this context that this paper seeks to explore the trade and development debate in the WTO over the past ten years – discussing the issues that have been on the agenda as well as some of the key events from a development perspective. Coalitions and groupings among developing countries are considered with a particular focus on the role of the African members of the WTO. With development placed at the centre of the Doha Round, specific consideration is given to the prospects of these negotiations making progress for developing countries. The paper concludes with consideration of the future of trade and development issues in the WTO following the Hong Kong Ministerial.
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