Lamy visit and Trade Tripper

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy was here in Manila. Two days ago he gave a speech at the ADB and said that to meet the challenges of development and participation in the trading system then country vision, financing, and the role of the private sector should be focused on. With regard to national vision, he says:

First, the importance of national vision — backed by a comprehensive strategy for getting there. No one can tell a country how to trade or become more competitive. The only successful export-led growth strategy is one which countries want themselves — that they design and implement on their own — and that remains on course over the long-term.

Nothing to disagree about with there. I had the interesting privilege of talking to Mr. Lamy yesterday, with some of that discussion being included in today's front page article in BusinessWorld. One area I wanted to explore was the need, if any, for a revision of the present multilateral system and create in its stead a more holistic one, something like a "World Economic Organization." Mr. Lamy's answer was comprehensive and well thought of but only this portion (for reasons of space) was printed:

"BW: You mentioned before that the WTO is a medieval organization. Considering there’s been a lot of activities, is there a need to expand WTO to include finance or perhaps merge with another organization to encompass a more complete economic type of multilateral engagement?

LAMY: In my past life, I said the WTO is a medieval organization. That was some time ago in 1999.

We can improve WTO in terms of organization, institution but it’s not the present priority. The present priority is concluding the round and the reason why it’s not yet concluded has nothing to do with institutions and organization ... let’s finish the round first then we’ll have time to look at procedures that need to be improved in the organization.

Should WTO extend its limit to things covered by other international organizations? No I don’t think so, unless you totally reshuffle [the] international system which we inherited ... I don’t think members of this organization are always coherent but you know sovereignty could be monopoly of incoherence. That’s up to them but incoherence stems from incoherence of our members. If there are contradictions in what they do in trade, finance, environment, social, migration, it’s up to them to give necessary coherence within each of their organizations ...

That’s the way the system works for the moment. I don’t think enlarging the scope of WTO for the moment is the right thing to do, it would give the wrong impression that the trade dimension supersedes other dimensions of international life ...

My Trade Tripper column today in BusinessWorld is on International Law and Philippine Law. Excerpt:

"To say that international law is to be treated within our jurisdiction as superior to our local law and our Constitution is as misleading as to say that the US embassy grounds on Roxas Boulevard is US soil (it’s not: it’s Philippine territory). As I keep saying, the faster we grasp the concept of confidently asserting our national interests vis-à-vis international law, the better international citizens we’ll be."