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Fairness in International Trade

By Junji Nakagawa |

Formally, trade negotiations under the WTO are conducted in a fairly symmetric manner. Decisions of the Ministerial Conference and the General Council shall be taken by a majority of the votes cast. However, the decisions are in practice made by consensus since the GATT era, and few decisions have ever been taken by a majority vote.

Decision-making by consensus may be democratic in itself, as it presupposes respect of minority opinions. However, many developing-country Members feel marginalized within the WTO decision-making process. Until recently, the so-called ‘green room’ meetings were convened, where the major trading powers, the so-called quad (US, EC, Canada and Japan) and a select group of developing-country Members, totaling no more than twenty, tried to work out acceptable proposals for decision-making by consensus.

The green room mechanism was much criticized at the Seattle Ministerial Conference of 1999 as non-democratic by African and Latin American Members. Except a small number of active and influential Members such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, India, South Africa and the ASEAN Members, many other developing-country Members lack the staff and expertise to participate effectively the many, highly specialized meetings and discussions within the WTO. Instead, they are frequently confronted with ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ decisions agreed upon during the ‘green room’ meetings.

In sum, the first premise rests on the assumption that the current trade negotiations under the WTO does not secure effective participation of its developing members, and it mainly comes from their limited capacity to attend the negotiations and work out their own negotiating positions in an effective and timely manner (Malhotra et al. 2003: 86-9).

By Junji Nakagawa

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Read More: Ethics, Globalization, Trade

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