Thursday, 17 September 2009

Trade disputes and trade negotiations: which one is harder?

For the past two weeks, I have been training developing country
officials in two different programs: the first is a week-long course
and simulation on dispute settlement in Singapore, the second is
another week-long course in Bangkok on trade negotiation simulation as
part of an APEC-sponsored project. Comparing the two, I found that the
performance is better in the dispute settlement simulation. This is
not because the first group is better qualified than the second group.
Indeed, the background and knowledge of the two groups are quite
comparable. Instead, the difference would be mainly due to the
different nature of the two activities: with dispute settlement, the
participants are only asked to apply pre-existing rules; while with
negotiations, they have to design new rules that reflect their
national interests. While the dispute settlement capacities of many
developing countries have seen considerable improvement over the
years, most of them still lags behind in rule-making activities. I
think one important lesson developing countries have to keep in mind
is that WTO rules are not carved in stone, they are only the way they
are because the countries agreed that way. Any country, including
developing countries, can always change the rule if they can muster
sufficient support.

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