A Wto For Everyone

The participants at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, were not exposed to the same kind of violent and intense protests against globalization that had marred the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle two months earlier. Yet it became increasingly clear in Davos that the protesters had struck a chord. Labor unions and environmental groups were saying that globalization was unfair, in part, because they had no way of affecting the process. Meanwhile, developing countries--led by India, Brazil, and Mexico--were making much the same complaint, arguing that the process of global trade rule-making was dominated by the large industrial countries. Even to American eyes, the dispute resolution process, the most controversial and perhaps the most important part of the WTO, is being run under operating guidelines that are far more opaque than the standard would be in the U.S.

One way to start rebuilding the consensus on globalization would be to open up the WTO process. First, to the degree possible, testimony and arguments before the dispute resolution judge should be open to the public, like virtually all jury trials in the U.S. Along the same lines, all documents related to disputes should be put on the Internet as soon as possible, rather than being kept secret. Right now the dispute resolution panel typically meets behind closed doors, leaving the public in the dark about critical decisions affecting the global economy.

Second, labor unions, environmental groups, and other countries should be allowed to file supporting briefs. Under the current rules, such amicus briefs are not allowed, denying the judges a critical input into their decision-making. Finally, poor countries should be provided some financial support if they need to make or defend a trade claim at the WTO's Geneva headquarters.

The process of globalization is a difficult one, with everyone forced to make compromises. There's no need to make it harder by clinging to outmoded notions of secrecy. In a world full of real trade disputes, opening up the WTO should be a top priority.

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