Monday, 21 April 2008

Training trade negotiators for developing countries

For the whole week last week, I was teaching the Trade Negotiation
Simulation Exercise (TNSE) at the Regional Trade Policy Course (RPTC)
for about 30 Asian Pacific developing countries. The RTPC was first
created as a joint venture between the WTO Secretariat and the
University of Hong Kong, and I was in charge of the course as the
Academic Coordinator while I was in Hong Kong. As the WTO has a rule
which requires the course to be moved to another place after a maximum
three years, the course came to Singapore in 2007 after three
successful years in Hong Kong. Currently the local host of the course
is the law school of National University of Singapore, which actually
occupies the previous campus of SMU.

The TNSE was first designed by Prof. Gilbert Winham. It contains
simulated negotiations on both tariff matters and non-tariff matter
(subsidies and countervailing measures) between four fictional
countries, two developed, the other two developing. While the world
has changed a lot since the exercise was first designed, it is still a
very useful tool for developing country officials to hone their
negotiation skills. Indeed, it has been so useful that some even blame
it for at least being partly responsible for the impasse of the
current Doha Round (the developing countries are too good to negotiate

In my view, while it is important to have enhanced negotiating
capacity for developing countries, another challenge facing many
developing countries is how to translate the needs of the domestic
groups into substantive negotiating positions. Even in countries as
big and powerful as China, there is a big gap between the interests of
the industry and the trade policy of the country. In the US and
Europe, there are various mechanisms for the domestic industries to
voice their concerns to the government. In China and many other
developing countries, the channel is still slowly being established.
I'm currently doing a research project on the foreign trade barrier
investigation mechanism of China, and would welcome any comments and
suggestions on this interesting topic.

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