WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo presides over the meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
After years of stalled negotiations, the World Trade Organization concluded its first trade deal in more than a decade last week. The agreement, signed in Bali, Indonesia, could increase the value of global trade by $1 trillion and create as many as 20 million jobs, according to a report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Bali package would harmonize border standards, making international trade less cumbersome—a process known as “trade facilitation.” It also includes provisions permitting developing countries to expand subsidies to their agricultural sector and provides support for developing countries to implement the trade facilitation provisions. But the agreement has widely been critiqued by development experts, who observe that the key provisions of the Doha Development Agenda—liberalization of agricultural trade, access to essential medicines, and other pro-development trade policies—were not included in the current agreement.
Bali was widely seen as a “make-or-break” moment for the World Trade Organization, which has been stalled since the Doha Round was launched 12 years ago. In the meantime, bilateral trade negotiations have proliferated, threatening to make the WTO less relevant. The agreement is seen as an important boost for the WTO, helping to repair its image in international trade circles. But parties remain very far apart in addressing the most important questions in the Doha Round, and it remains unclear whether or not the WTO will be able to translate the progress it made in the Bali Agreement into a broader consensus on the more complicated—and politically challenging—questions it still must address, including farm subsidies, tariffs on industrial goods, and liberalization of trade in services.
What do you think? Does the conclusion of the Bali Agreement signal a shift towards a more multilateral approach to trade liberalization? Or does the agreement represent the limits of the WTO and reinforce the trend towards bilateral negotiations?
Nelson Mandela in 2008
Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away today. Most well-known for his role in helping South Africa transition to a multi-racial democracy after having been imprisoned by the apartheid government for 27 years, Mandela was a human rights icon. His ability to work peacefully with the apartheid government after such a long period of imprisonment—and his ability to reach out to white South Africans in order to begin a long process of reconciliation in the country—made him an important leader to many South Africans. And at the international level, Mandela lent his voice to several causes, particularly in combating the HIV/AIDS crisis and prompting rural development and the expansion of education in the global south.
A short video by the New York Times outlines Mandela’s achievements, particularly as the first black President of South Africa.
Mandela’s passing provides an important moment to remember his legacy and to reflect on the role of individual actors in global politics.
A Meeting of the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case centering on the extraordinary rendition and alleged torture of two men currently held at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. The case was brought by lawyers for Abu Zubaudah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both al Qaeda members, against the government of Poland. In it, lawyers for Zabaudah and al-Nashiri allege that they were seized and flown to secret US-administered “black sites” in Poland, where they were subject to waterboarding, mock executions, and other ill treatment. Lawyers allege that all of this took place with the knowledge and consent of the Polish government. Lawyers for the Polish government do not contest the accusations but assert that the Polish government should be allowed to undertake its own investigation before the case is brought to the European Court. A similar suit filed by lawyers for Khaled al-Masri against the government of Macedonia in 2012 was successful, resulting in an order by the European Court that the Macedonian government compensate al-Masri.
The use of the European Court of Human Rights is an interesting twist in the protection of human rights of alleged terrorists. One of the key features of the extraordinary rendition program was that it took place outside the United States, and thus beyond the reach of US courts. Do you think that the European Courts will be able to effectively protect the rights of suspected terror suspects held incognito by the United States in Europe? Why?
The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!
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China’s Declared Air Defense Zone.
The Obama Administration today issued new guidelines urging US air carriers to comply with China’s demand that it be informed of any flights through its new “maritime air defense zone.” The Chinese government announced the new zone on November 23, and has sent military flights to intercept and monitor several aircraft operating in the area. Close US allies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have rejected China’s call, stating they will not honor the new zone and declaring that China’s unilateral declaration unnecessarily raises tensions in the region.
There are several theories as to what’s driving China’s move. One is that it’s the result of growing tensions between Japan and China, which to date have centered on the status of the uninhabited Senkaky/Diaoyu islands which lie inside the region. Another asserts it results from China’s fear of being “hemmed in” by US regional allies and by China’s desire (much like that of Russia during the Cold War) to maintain access to oceans and support for its blue water navy. A funny (and perhaps a bit scary) video made by Taiwanese civilians highlights the tensions.
The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!
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The establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995 marked the high point in multilateral negotiations to liberalize international trade. While it was originally envisioned that the WTO would continue to liberalize trade through a successive series of rounds of talks, the ability of the WTO Member States to reach consensus—and growing public opposition to the WTO—left the organization stalled. Instead, states have generally opted to pursue bilateral talks directly with one another.
The United States and the European Union were last week engaged in just such a negotiation, with the aim of establishing a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to officials, a new EU-US trade agreement could be worth more than 2bn euros (approximately $2.7 billion) per day, with as much as 80 percent of these gains realized from harmonizing regulatory policy.
But this is the stick. Whose regulatory policy should reign supreme? Each of the two trade partners maintains extensive regulations governing public safety and protecting human health and the environment. But the regulations often focus on different areas, and agreement on the most controversial aspects of regulatory policy (such as genetically modified organisms) remains elusive. Critics of the WTO and other free trade agreements warn of the “downward harmonization” of standards, meaning that regulations could tend to favor the lowest level of protections, weakening environmental and health standards.
What do you think? Would a new trade agreement between the United States and the European Union provide beneficial economic growth for the two trade partners? Would the new agreement undermine existing environmental, health, and safety standards? Or can the US and the EU reach agreement that would liberalize trade while maintaining strong regulatory standards?