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  The Global Economic Governance Blog | 17 de marzo de 2009

Global Trade Governance and the G-20: Opportunities for Developing Countries


Guest blogger Félix Peña presents his views on global trade governance, the G20 and the opportunities for developing countries.

Félix Peña is Director of the Institute of International Trade of the Standard Bank Foundation and of the Jean Monnet Module and Interdisciplinary Center of International Studies at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). He is also an Evian Group Brains Trust member.

This article is part of a forthcoming compilation on a trade agenda for G20 leaders edited jointly by Dr. Carolyn Deere Birkbeck (Global Economic Governance Programme) and Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz (International Centre on Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD)). The compilation will be published in mid-March 2009.


The London G20 Summit is an opportunity to tackle urgent issues related to the impact of the global crisis on international trade and the multilateral trade system. On the trade front, the Summit should show that G20 countries are prepared to avoid protectionist measures and practices, and that they will continue working together to strengthen the WTO system. But at the same time, it is important for G20 participants at the Summit to recognize that effective cooperation on trade-related issues can only be achieved through the collective capacity and mobilization of as many countries as possible. As is true for the EU members of the G20, it should be assumed that other participating emerging countries are, at least to some degree, expressing points of view that stem from consultations with non-participating developing countries from the same region. This would contribute to the international legitimacy of the G20 and strengthen its capacity to impact global realities.

What then are developing countries’ views on how global governance goals support their development interests? Likewise, what are the most critical challenges related to their participation in the multilateral trade system? From a developing country perspective, some of the more urgent challenges are:

  • To improve access to reliable and up-to-date diagnoses on the evolution of the global economic competition and its impact on actual or potential competitive advantages;

  • To mobilize the energies and capacities of developing country societies to compete at the global level and to attract productive investments from as many national and foreign sources as possible;

  • To establish national strategies based on particular local conditions that help developing countries to harness and benefit from the opportunities presented by global markets and the multilateral trading system;

  • To promote at the regional and sub-regional level, flexible, sustainable, and WTO-consistent economic integration processes. In this regard, developing countries need to contribute by promoting productive investments, enabling better access to technical progress, increasing their capacity to negotiate at the international level, and strengthening their influence on the definition of global governance goals and mechanisms.

Reforming the governance of global trade and the multilateral trading system will be a long term and non-lineal process. It will depend largely on the future power distribution among nations and it will take some time to stabilize. In the best scenario, the London G20 Summit could be a step forward in achieving a more development-friendly multilateral trading system. Four immediate steps of particular interest to developing countries are:

  • To obtain concrete and certain compromises regarding new market access to developed nations;

  • To reduce the negative impact of economic and trade policies (i.e. agriculture subsidies) that distort global trade;

  • To promote greater flexibility in WTO disciplines to allow developing countries with long term national development strategies to temporarily adopt limited emergency trade measures (along the lines of the opt-out schemes suggested by Dani Rodrik in his 2008 book “One Economics - Many Recipes”); and

  • To promote an Aid for Trade strategy-wherein aid is understood as a systemic upgrade of developing countries’ ability to compete at the global level-with significant financial resources, which could be managed through a consortium with the participation of the main development oriented agencies (i.e. the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Trade Centre (ITC), and multilateral development organizations) under the leadership of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Emerging countries participating at the London G20 Summit have an important opportunity. They should aim to obtain a strong political commitment to strengthening the WTO as a development-sensitive and rules-oriented multilateral global trading system. Top priorities should include

  • To establish a concrete deadline for concluding the Doha Round (i.e. December 2009) and simultaneously launching a process that will enable member countries to engage in a new action plan and roadmap to advance a development-oriented global trade expansion;

  • To convene a WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva in December 2009, with the intent of launching a new process for the negotiation of multilateral trade agreements - not necessarily a new Round - with a strong development orientation, including necessary institutional reforms of the global trading system. This Ministerial Conference should be prepared through regional meetings and parallel multi stakeholder seminars, with strong participation from civil society representatives. This would also provide an opportunity for potential WTO reforms, including innovative negotiating methodologies (critical mass, variable geometry, multiple-speed formulas, among others) can be explored and discussed previous to the Ministerial Conference; and

  • To stimulate and support the monitoring capacity of the WTO Secretariat regarding those trade policies, measures, and practices that could produce negative effects on the expansion of global trade (i.e. through protectionism). Eventually this capacity could be strengthened through a non-governmental online database, which could be freely created and edited with the active participation of all interested parties (a kind of Wiki-trade surveillance facility).

Some specific institutional reforms could contribute to strengthening the multilateral trading system and the WTO. Both the G20 Summits and the 2009 WTO Ministerial Conference could function as a space to launch a debate that could later lead to concrete action toward those reforms. Such reforms could include:

  • To strengthen the WTO’s capacity to evaluate a wide-range of trade preferential agreements as well as protectionist and trade-distorting measures and practices (including those originated at the business sector). The creation of a body composed of high level independent experts, along the lines of the approach taken for the WTO’s dispute settlement system, could be explored. A kind of global trade and development ombudsman within the WTO structure could also be considered. The ombudsman could be an independent official charged with the investigation of complaints by citizens of Member countries that eventually could lead to non-binding recommendations.

  • To promote the capacity of the WTO Secretarit to undertake evaluations and make proposals regarding the evolution of global trade and its relation to development goals (one option, for instance could be the publication of joint reports with other relevant development international institutions and agencies);

  • To develop mechanisms - jointly with other relevant international development institutions and agencies - that enhance the capacity of interested least developed countries (LDCs) to take full advantage of all the instruments provided by the multilateral global trading system, particularly of its dispute settlement system. Such mechanisms could, for example, include trilateral cooperation programs with the participation of emerging economies in the same region as the beneficiary country.

Félix Peña es Director del Instituto de Comercio Internacional de la Fundación ICBC; Director de la Maestría en Relaciones Comerciales Internacionales de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (UNTREF); Miembro del Comité Ejecutivo del Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales (CARI). Miembro del Brains Trust del Evian Group. Ampliar trayectoria. |

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