Monday, January 24, 2005

WTO Watch

I rashly promised to blog more about the WTO's recent report by a panel of "wise men" recommending reforms for the trade organization before I realized just how long blogging that whole report would take. Let me instead point you to this typically incisive summary ($) by The Economist and this op-ed by one of the "wise men", superstar economist Jagdish Bhagwati. The WTO panel's main institutional reform proposal is to loosen the "consensus" norm that hampers the organization's decisionmaking. Right now, each country can effectively veto new WTO decisions and with 148 members. It's amazing they get anything done.

Moreover, for an international organization that many see as too powerful, it is run on a fairly shoestring budget. According to Bhagwati, the WTO's annual budget of $100 million means the organization cannot even fund its own studies of the effect of its trade rules. (As a crude point of comparison, the UN's budget for 2004-2005 will exceed $3 billion).

As the WTO considers how to reform itself, the race is on to be the new WTO director general, who will be chosen sometime in the next four months. According to some news reports, Pascal Lamy of France, until very recently the European Union's trade commissioner, is the leading candidate to replace current WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand. Other candidates who will apparently appear before a special session of the WTO's general council include Luiz-Felipe de Seixas Correa of Brazil, Jayen Cuttaree of Mauritius and Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay. Something to keep an eye in coming months.

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