Developing States and the WTO: What's Wrong with Inactivity?
WTO Law and Developing Countries, p. 186, 2007
10 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2008 Last revised: 4 Nov 2008
How can developing states' participation at the WTO be accurately measured? What are the benefits and drawbacks of activity? Is inactivity by developing states a rational strategy?
This short essay questions conventional wisdom regarding the level of developing state participation at the WTO and the implicit assumption that more activity is desirable. It does so by exploring some of the methodological and normative questions that arise out of the study of developing state participation at the WTO. As a methodological matter, scholars have developed various quantitative measures of developing state participation, including participation in dispute settlement, staffing of Geneva trade missions, and number of submissions to various WTO bodies. However, these qualitative measurements, along with formal regression analyses, are of limited utility unless one assumes that formal participation rates are a proxy for meaningful influence. I argue that such an assumption is flawed, and describe several areas where developing states have had significant influence on WTO negotiations even in contexts where quantitative analyses suggest a lack of developing state participation.
However, even if developing states are not active participants in WTO processes, this may be entirely rational behavior. Low participation rates can reflect resource constraints, or small stakes in trade issues. Although some development economists argue that openness to the world economy is an important determinant of development, others argue that growth depends more on domestic institutions and policies than on integration into the global economy. From this perspective, developing states might rationally devote their limited material and human resources to domestic policy rather than participation in WTO meetings.
Keywords: International trade, WTO, GATT, developing countries
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