Feb 27, 2024

🎧 LISTEN: Bhala: WTO meeting may not do much, though much is needed

Posted Feb 27, 2024 3:43 PM
Raj Bhala is the Brenneisen Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law. Photo Courtesy University of Kansas.
Raj Bhala is the Brenneisen Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law. Photo Courtesy University of Kansas.

Hutch Post

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Reuters reported on Monday that the World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference began without much hope for big moves in world trade. The conference, which meets every two years, is the supreme governing body of the WTO. 

Raj Bhala, Brenneisen Distinguished Professor at KU Law, is hopeful but dubious about whether the meeting will come up with substantive change.

"The real challenge for the WTO is can it resurrect itself, can it achieve a rejuvenated spirit, get back the attention of the world and move back to a freer, fairer trade mission in a very conflict ridden world," Bhala said. "We need a lot more freer, fairer trade."

The U.S. and Chinese trade representatives met while in Abu Dhabi and their points of contention in that policy area outline what is already a nascent proxy conflict between the two nations.

"We are competing for influence with Russia and China across much of the developing world," Bhala said. "This is true in sub-Saharan Africa, of course, across the Asia-Pacific, the Indo-Pacific region and in Latin America. How to attend to the long and short term economic and geopolitical interests is a big challenge."

Though smaller players still see value in the WTO, like new members Comoros and East Timor that are joining at this meeting to raise the numbers of countries in the group to 166, it is the economic drivers with the most mouths to feed and money to spend, like China, India, Russia and the U.S., that can if they choose bring strength back to the cooperation the WTO has been about for the last nearly three decades.

"There's no easy fix, other than to say, at the risk of sounding naive, we need much more good faith, honest transparent interest in these institutions by the great powers," Bhala said. "They are the ones who are going to make them work, first and foremost."

The conference continues through Feb. 29. Hutch Post's Nick Gosnell spoke to Bhala at length. A podcast of that conversation is below.

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