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Toward an Inclusive and a Little Bit Ethical World Trading System: Listening to the Voices of the People in LDCs

Discussion Papers


December 2013


Many specialists in international trade have started saying that the era of a mega FTA is approaching. If the three poles of the global economy, namely East Asia, EU and the United States, form mega FTAs, most of the volume of global trade will be covered. That may be fine, but there will be many countries left out of the mega FTA, most of which will be the least developed countries (LDCs).

Since the inception of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations in 2001, the WTO and its member countries have tried to include LDCs in the world trading system through various means, including DFQF and AfT. Although these means have some positive impact on the economic development of LDCs, most of the LDCs will never feel comfortable with the current world trading system. To overcome the stalemate in the DDA and to create an inclusive world trading system, we need more commitment from both LDCs and non-LDCs.

To surmount the prolonged stalemate in the DDA, we should understand how ordinary people in LDCs feel and think about the current world trading system. Those voices have seldom been listened to, even by the decision makers of their own countries. So as to understand the situation of the people in LDCs, IDE-JETRO carried out several research projects using macro, meso and micro approaches.

For the micro level, we collected and analyzed statements from ordinary people concerning their opinions about the world trading system. The interviewees are ordinary people such as street vendors, farmers and factory workers. We asked about where they buy and sell daily necessities, their perception of imported goods, export promotion and free trade at large, etc. These ‘voices of the people’ surveys were conducted in Madagascar and Cambodia during 2013.

Based on this research, and especially the findings from the ‘voices of the people’ surveys, we propose a ‘DDA-MDGs hybrid’ strategy to conclude DDA negotiations and develop a more inclusive and a little bit more ethical world trading system. Our proposal may be summarized in the following three points.

(1) Aid for Trade (AfT) ver. 2
Currently AfT is mainly focused on coordinating several aid projects related to LDCs’ capacity building. However, this is inadequate; for the proposed ‘DDA-MDGs hybrid’, a super AfT is needed. The WTO, other development agencies and LDC governments will not only coordinate but also plan together aid projects for trade capacity building.

AfT ver. 2 includes infrastructure projects either gran aid, ODA loans and private investment. This is in accordance with the post-MDGs argument which emphasizes the role of the private sector.

(2) Ethical Attitude
Reciprocity is a principle of multilateral agreement, and it has been a core promise since GATT. However, for designing an inclusive system, special and differential treatment (S&D) is still needed for disadvantaged members. To compromise full reciprocity and less than full reciprocity, an ethical attitude on the part of every member is needed in which every member refrains from insisting on the full rights and demands of its own country. As used herein, the term ‘ethical’ implies more consideration for LDCs, and it is almost identical to S&D but with a more positive attitude from developed countries (super S&D).

(3) Collect Voices of the People
In order to grasp the real situation of the people, the voices of the people on free trade will continue to be collected in other LDCs, and the findings and leanings will be fed back to the WTO negotiation space.

Keywords: Special and differential treatment, WTO, trade policy, development
JEL classification: F13, K33, O19

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Please note that discussion papers are works in various stages of progress and most have not been edited and proofread and may contain errors of fact or judgment. Revised versions of these papers may subsequently appear in more formal publication series. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). The IDE does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included and accepts no responsibility for any consequences arising from its use.