Nations want WTO aid

Lee Kyung-hae, a 54-year-old firefighter from South Korea, stabbed himself to death after climbing a high-security fence outside a Cancun, Mexico, resort, site of the latest round of talks by the World Trade Organization.

Kyung-hae did so to protest the WTO’s failure to deliver on a promise to cut $300 billion in agricultural subsidies to aid developing countries.

The backdrop of such high emotion was just one of the challenges facing trade ministers from 146 nations who met in Mexico last week in an effort to increase global commerce without cutting millions of people out of a job.

At the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Friday, a panel of four U professors analyzed the effects the WTO has on globalization and humanity.

Economics professors Matias Vernengo and Ken Jameson joined professors Hakan Yavuz and Edward Epstein from the department of political science in Friday’s talk.

Though the WTO was established in 1995 as a replacement for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, its principles and trading system were in place since 1948, when the agreement began.

But, Jameson said, the actions and policies of the WTO are different in at least one way from its predecessor.

“In one sense you see the multilateral component of globalization come to dominate the bilateral component,” he said.

One of the most volatile aspects of the WTO protests in Mexico is the economic and sociopolitical clash between developed and developing nations, and the role that plays in reaching any sort of agreement, Yavuz said.

“Globalization creates winners and losers…What we are seeing today is a degree of anti-Americanism in developing countries as nation-states get weakened,” he said.

One of the most prominent-and controversial-topics of discussion for trade officials was the question of removing barriers of agricultural trade in an effort to boost the economies of developing nations, something that developed nations and their less-developed counterparts don’t see eye to eye on.

“Right now, you’d be better off being a cow in Europe than a person in Africa,” he said.

Vernengo said that while developed nations are trying to address agricultural concerns, countries suffering from trade barriers are more interested in industrialization.

“We may be overstating the agricultural problem…There’s an asymmetry in the way these issues are enforced,” Vernengo said.

Epstein said that the lack of representation for small farmers and workers in rural areas of smaller countries is a problem that trade officials need to be aware of.

“There’s a feeling that if you don’t have money, you don’t get to speak…Citizens are increasingly questioning the quality of their governments’ performance, which is leading to political destabilization,” he said.

Though a clear solution to the restructuring of trade barriers may not be on the horizon, the panelists agreed that something needs to happen soon.

“I am somewhat pessimistic because free trade is not necessarily free…nation-state based social movements aren’t that successful because they’re undermined by global networks,” Yavuz said.

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