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WTO Think-In

The WTO is different from GATT, as it has more legal teeth as a global regulator and governor, with the much-predicted effect that it is being called upon to do many more things than regulate trade in the narrow sense. If it is asked to do too much, i.e., regulate trade and the environment and labor practices, then?while these may be interconnected issues?the WTO will be crushed by the weight. And, the more it does, the less we may achieve transparency.

WTO raises the question: how does one build a global regulatory system that can both be sensitive to related other issues and remain sufficiently specialized to regulate in complex areas? This is not new?even the much-maligned International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long struggled to stick to its own competence and not interfere in domestic issues. (When the IMF calls for budget cuts, should it say where those cuts should fall, e.g., on education or on defense?).

My personal bias is to be very disciplined about what we ask the WTO to do, and not to expect it to be a political and social regulator?a standard setter as well as a largely economic arbiter. One of the features of globalization is that social standards are clashing. It is useful to have a forum where we confront those differences. But is the WTO the right forum?