Friday, March 29, 2013

Developing countries and strategizing at the WTO

I have often written about developing countries participation at the WTO both in terms of negotiations and dispute settlement. An example that is often heralded as a beacon of hope for the developing and Least Developed Countries in multilateral trade participation is Brazil. Brazil's successful participation and strategy at the WTO has been a subject of extensive research over the years.

Came across this interesting paper by Gregory Shaffer, Michelle Ratton Sanchez and Barbara Rosenberg that summarizes the strategy that Brazil has adopted in engaging successfully with the multilateral trading system. It summarizes the strategy thus:
First, we argue that international trade law and judicialization have mattered in Brazil, unleashing a competition for expertise and helping to transform the government’s relations with business and civil society regarding trade policy. 
Second, and related to this point, we contend that being a defendant in WTO cases can help catalyze these changes, giving rise to mechanisms of public-private coordination to defend a country’s interests at the international level.  
Third, we find that these developments have not represented a weakening of the state, but rather the strengthening of the state’s ability to engage at the international level through a diffusion of international trade law and policy expertise. 
 Fourth, we observe that these processes reflect a growth of pluralism for trade policymaking within Brazil, as the government has been pressed to become more transparent and open to dialogue. 
Fifth, we maintain that these processes are not automatic, but are a function of domestic as well as international factors. We highlight the roles of Brazil’s professional, merit-based Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the development of Brazilian career paths in the international trade field, Brazil’s private sector that has been able to overcome collective action problems to engage with the government, and a general shift in orientation in Brazil’s development strategies.
 Sixth, we find that although the example of Brazil offers some hope to other developing countries, these countries generally face greater challenges and will need to develop their own strategies in light of their own contexts.  
Seventh, we conclude regarding the need to take into account the reciprocal interaction of the domestic and international spheres to understand the operation of international legal orders."
Are there lessons for other developing countries to develop internal institutional capacities to engage with the multilateral trading system? Another more recent study on the participation of Latin American countries participation in the WTO highlighted the importance of private sector involvement and the need for creative solutions to engage with the rule based system. 

Developing countries must engage proactively in the system be it through negotiation, dispute settlement, participation in the  proceedings of various Committees at the WTO or private sector engagement. The strategy should be to actively engage withthe rules rather tan shy away from it. However each country would have to develop its own creative, need based strategy depending on its own requirements. Though there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, lessons learnt in Brazil's engagement would surely help other developing countries. A BRICS strategy perhaps?


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