Monday, June 15, 2009

Trade Wars

The World Trade Organization is up with a map of trade disputes among its members:

Blue lines represent complaints about other countries, red lines represent complaints from other countries; green countries aren't involved in any disputes. You can click on countries to get numbers of disputes and details on individual cases - quite handy.

Back around the time that various liberals, indigenous peoples, anarchists, labor unions, and environmentalists were staging massive and unprecedented protests against this obscure group of bureacrats known as the WTO back in 1999 and 2000 in places like Seattle, I became interested in the organization, the issue of trade liberalization, and the motives of the people who were running the WTO. To make a very, very long story short, it seemed as if the WTO existed mainly to enforce the prerogatives of multinational corporations around the world, particularly in developing countries, by exerting dangerously powerful mandate through extremely opaque mechanisms. Transparency, as much as anything, is the cornerstone of democracy, and it was sorely lacking in the WTO at the time.

Of course like most nefarious schemes, the WTO probably wasn't so much a cabal of greedy evil-doers as a collection of individuals, swayed by the power of money to some degree that they didn't understand themselves, but not with generally bad intentions - indeed, with a likely sincere faith in the ability of free markets to raise the standards of living for people around the world. Which is not to say that the structure of the WTO wasn't essentially anti-democratic, nor that it sufficiently accommodated the interests of people who would be negatively affected by some of its decisions; those were problems for the organization, and as far as I know they continue to be, though I haven't really kept up with the issue in recent years (and the specter of a sort of corporatist black-helicopter supra-national hobgoblin of the left seems to have waned since the failure of the Doha round of trade talks). At any rate, this map certainly represents a more transparent WTO than existed back at the turn of the century, and hopefully it's been evolving in that direction.

Also, one thing you'll note about the map is that the vast majority of trade disputes involve the major rich trading powers, especially the US and EU. Most countries in Africa, for instance, aren't involved in any trade disputes at all.

Via Resource Shelf.


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