Leaving the WTO Behind

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goods and people around the world can be disruptive to settled ways of operating, especially in poorer countries with poorly developed financial and service sectors and cozy political relationships. In the early stages, opening to·foreign investment can mean sweatshops. Protecting locals from global competition, however, tends to keep countries in poverty and “protect” consumers from lower prices.

The anti-globalization protesters at the WTO meetings in Hong Kong late last year were fewer, less disruptive, and less influential than in years past – and a few in the media noticed they were mostly South Korean farmers who don’t want to give up their privileged position in a highly subsidized sector. But the minimal agreement the WTO managed to squeeze out will have little effect on trade.

Fortunately globalization operates more through company-to-company deals than through governmental negotiations, and it increased nicely over the year. High-tech workers in India and farmers in Brazil have become world- competitive and are setting an example for others. The World Bank notes that two-thirds of recent tariff reductions in poorer countries have come unilaterally rather than as “concessions.” Reducing more barriers worldwide would be helpful, but trade happens anyway.

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