Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saving the multilateral trade system

Opinion article by: Juan Gonzalo Perez* (
International Business students at Universidad EAFIT, Medellin, Colombia

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was created during the Uruguay rounds in 1986 and later in 1995 became the World Trade Organization (WTO) and ever since the multilateral trade system has pursued a number of deals aiming to increase liberalization of trade. Its main functions include, administering WTO trade agreements, acting as a forum for trade negotiations, handling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training to developing countries and cooperating with other international organizations.

Throughout its history the WTO has had many hitches getting all of the members to agree on the same issues. However, last week during the ninth ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, and after a tough week of negotiations they have finally come to a deal that will keep the WTO thriving. The agreement is a step forward towards trade facilitation and it is the first comprehensive agreement since the Doha Round in 2001. However, only a small set of limited measures have been agreed on. The most vital thing is that the WTO will still have a starring role in trade and the package managed to include the interest of least developed counties (LDCs), developing countries as well as developed countries.

The first issue in the agreement was trade facilitation. The agreement will allow member to trade goods more easily, reducing import and export bureaucracy and therefore allow countries to access more markets. It is estimated that the agreement will increase world trade in about 1 trillion dollars.

The second part of the deal reached was agricultural subsidies. This was the most complicated issue due to the fact that LDCs and developing countries stood up to defended their agricultural subsidies. India and the United States stalled in this issue because they were both trying to defend their own interest.

While the United States was concerned that subsidies will distort trade due to production surpluses, developing economies (Including India) were pushing for an ambitious trade facilitation agreement, including adequate safeguards to run their food security programs. LDCs had a four point agenda that included duty and quota free market access, operationalization of the waiver concerning preferential treatment to services and service suppliers of LDCs, preferential rules of origin and establishment of mechanism to monitor special and differential treatment.

Achieving such a deal was not easy and almost impossible due to the fact that in order for the agreement to pass it needed the consensus of the 159 members of the WTO. So when the negotiations were about to fail and with only few hours left to close the ministerial conference in Bali, both countries agreed to allow LDCs and developing countries to continue subsidizing their agricultural industries as long as they don't affect global trade.

In the short term, this agreement will bring the WTO back to play a role in global trade and it is a step forward towards trade liberalization. However, it is going to be long before the institution regains its authority, and if they want to stay relevant they need to do better in topics like investment, agriculture and services.

The chains of being useful

Opinion article by: David Ricardo Murcia Sánchez*
Political Sciences student at Universidad EAFIT, Colombia

It is common to think in international organizations such as UN or the WTO as mighty institutions that are powerful and wise to know the way out of the multiple problems that the society face on a daily basis. But, as they often fail to present satisfactory results for everyone, criticism grows, and it questions their usefulness. Yet, before any judgment, there is the need to evaluate if it is not an extra-limitation of the cult to technicians that Western Society has spread around the world.

Indeed, such was Max Weber’s deep worry, back in the 19th century (Weber, 2000). More recently, Carl Schmitt (Schmitt, 1998) has showed the clear perils of taking social issues as a matter of technical intervention. That fear, especially from the former, arose from the possible loss of equilibrium in the human (political) relations that are constantly changing. That is why, the fact that even if the technical system is perfected, its answers will always be late; the social changes never stop.

The previous expresses an internal contradiction of such institutions between the desires of the peoples who trust them and their capabilities to fulfill them. The problem may be in what is expected of institutions, because technical methods are been developed incessantly. Desires should be taken as follows: not hoping an everlasting correct answer or a heavenly mechanism to solve every problem. Institutions, and their technical mechanisms, in this course of ideas, are constrained by the need of being useful. Therefore, there could be a solution to break those chains: not to hope for an easy and immediate answer, but to hope for a slowly constructed suggestion that provides with the social actors an idea of how to confront the problems they have. In sum, the use of technique should be calming companions of the society’s natural struggles.

All these reasoning could be vain if it is not applied to calm down the frustration felt towards WTO Doha Round. The delay in a new agreement cannot be blamed on technical mistakes, because international institutions are constructed to help different parties to keep the discussions no matter if the level of the disagreement on the process, the expected answer, or even any answer, are actually reached. Guaranteeing the continuity a stable struggle when actors are not ready for a conclusion must be considered, as it is, an achievement.


Schmitt, Carl. (1998). La era de las neutralizaciones y despolitizaciones. En C. Schmitt, El concepto de lo político. Madrid: Alianza. pp. 107-122.

Weber, M. (2000). ¿Qué es la burocracia?. Ediciones el Disponible en la URL: [consultado el 12 de diciembre de 2013]