Comic book critics

I am amazed by how little the economic press understands the WTO.  It’s by no means an obscure organization; nor is it unimporant[⇒ related story]. But typical assessments of the collapse of the Cancún talks are naive (to use a gentle word). Robert Kutner asks”>”>asks in American Prospect why the ‘poor countries apparently shot themselves in the foot’ in pulling the plug on negotiations at Cancún

(link to collectors site)”:
” The answer is that the system is rigged against poor and vulnerable countries, and these nations have had a bellyful. “

This is overblown puff. The system is not ‘rigged against poor and vulnerable’ countries at all; only someone whose knowledge of WTO is gained from—oh, I don’t know; maybe ‘Classics’ comic books’—could advance such a silly theory. Ask yourself whether such claims even pass a plausibility test. If the system were ‘rigged against poor and vulnerable’ countries, how is it that these countries have crashed the system twice in four years (Seattle and Cancún)? In the real world, where grown-ups try to deal with the complex task of managing a cooperative venture between 148 national governments that is the global system of trade rules, it’s difficult to reach an agreement that meets broad acceptance—normally signalled by a consensus decision.  Bullying and blatant hypocrisy, such as Mr Kutner alledges, don’t buy consensus in WTO any more than they do elsewhere. They are, in practice, rather rare and unsustainable. In a flight of indignation, Kutner doesn’t manage to get his facts straight. He supposes, wrongly[⇒ related story], that the breaking point at Cancún was agriculture or perhaps the NAMA(‘Non Agricultural Market Access&#8217)negotiations. bq. The countries that revolted at Cancun are all too aware that with an election coming up, George Bush is not likely to cut subsidies on farmers in midwestern swing states; that Bush is also on the spot for lost U.S. manufacturing jobs. Any grand bargain that appealed to the Third World would only increase U.S. imports of farm products and manufactured goods. The developing nations preferred to scrap these negotiations and start over, rather than lend legitimacy to a mostly one-sided deal and the illusion of progress. (Of course, it wasn’t a ‘revolt’ either. You can’t ‘revolt’ against a club in which you have the same decision-making rights as every other member.) And his solution? Well it’s a mixture of ‘spin’ words and urban myth (about the “evil IMF(link to the best all-round rebuttal of this theory by Ken Rogoff)”: bq. The administration and its allies in the IMF and WTO need to abandon their conceit that one recipe fits all. They’d need to allow poor countries some of the same public-private development strategies that the United States and Europe have used to good effect and cut them more slack during financial crises. Kutner apparently doesn’t know that # there is no attempt to make ‘one recipe fit all’. If he’d bothered to read any of the proposed decisions he’d find that they twist into fantastic knots in order to differentiate between appropriate policies in developed and developing countries
# the developing countries are among the strongest proponents of a basically uniform system of e.g. disputes enforcement because they are (reasonably) concerned that the USA and the EU will defect from a system that allows too many ‘cop outs’

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