The global trade regime is ironically dominated by Western neo-colonizers imposing their policies to weak, if not powerless, states which comprise much of the globe in terms of population and geographical size – the Global South. For decades, but particularly since 1945, developing countries continue to hurdle the brunt of sugar-coated WTO policies catering to the interests of the rich West-dominated clubs (sans Japan). With the exception of a few exemplary states (like Singapore and South Korea which emerged from developing to industrializing status by protecting their economy), many of their old fellows in the Global South still carry the burden of playing on an unleveled field. As such has been the case, many of these lagging states form coalitions in order to express their concerns and take deliberate actions to resolve their predicaments insofar as WTO policies towards their states are concerned.
Lee et al emphasized that while it is true that small states are usually set aside in the workings of the WTO, this has gradually changed. The active participation in trade negotiations enhances developing countries’ international standing, assisting their slow transition from an object of trade negotiations – a passive victim or receiver of the decisions of economic diplomacy – towards a subject of international trade negotiations – enjoying equal, participant status in the deliberations – [albeit in a limited way][i]. More important to note is that in order for them to effectively and efficiently voice out their agenda, coalitions in the form of regional organizations are seen essential. Some are across regions depending on their common cause and agenda. For instance, the G-20 plays a significant role in facilitating dialogue and cooperation with other groups of developing states by coordinating on common proposals for development, and strategizing on specific plans of action particularly by building interaction and forming blocs which allow more coordinated action towards the realization of their platforms. Narlikar, Tussie, Prieur, Serrano, Patel, and Odell, in their respective articles, elaborated and discussed the various issues, challenges, and barriers to effective pursuit of the varied agenda of developing states. Such issues include representation in the WTO (as mentioned, small states usually appear to be powerless unless consolidated in the form of coalitions and blocs), dominance of industrialized states (in that they only use the WTO, IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions to protect their interests at the expense of smaller member-states), lack of transparency among members, and the challenge of making collective bargaining less complex and enhancing active participation on vital issues on agriculture and tariffs. The various cases of these developing states are reflected on the Philippine case.[ii]
As for the case of the Philippines in the WTO, very little has been done both by the WTO and the Philippine government to achieve the maximum benefits it could have acquired ever since it became a member in 1995. Roque and Bello are firm on this position. The optimism that advocates of the Philippine’s membership into the WTO was valid primarily because of the prospects of surge of investments, increase of job opportunities, and other benefits of free trade. However, in time, as Bello argued, the Philippines seemed not to be able to utilize its membership as a tool for improving its various sectors, trade balance, and begin with industrialization. Even agriculture, apparently an important sector of the Philippine economy, was put in danger by being subject to WTO’s unfair policies.[iii] Bernabe, Quinsaat, and Montemayor enumerated the various agricultural issues that continue to yoke farmers and small workers: land ownership, liberalization of food imports, costs of liberalization, and incursion of cheap imported agricultural crops, and high costs of protection, as the WTO requires member-states to gradually reduce trade barriers, at the expense of less-developed states. Although a some benefits have been acquired, there are indeed more disadvantages for the Philippines in having joined the WTO primarily because the government lacks strong power and will to protect the welfare of its people, and seemingly abide by the rude dictates of international trade institutions.[iv]
As such are the challenges, pertinent actions should be accomplished. The Philippine government should be firm on its stand on matters pertaining to the promotion of national welfare though a.) economic development free from external manipulation (the Philippine Constitution of 1987 prohibits national treatment); b.) development of human (skills-training, transfer of technology, and assurance of work benefits) and natural resources (tapping of indigenous fruits, managed exploitation of minerals) in order to achieve economic sustainability and stability, social equality, justice, and equitability; c.) and resolute and deliberate institutionalization of reforms (with civil-society partnership) especially in the agricultural sector (links to source of food, raw material supply, and support to farmers by providing them with fertilizers and other necessary tools). I do not adhere to the notion that Philippine membership in the WTO is a complete burden. As mentioned earlier, optimism in the early 90s on the Philippines’ entry to the WTO must be with valid basis. Trade liberalization (privatization if necessary, tariff agreements when beneficial, and genuine collective policy implementation by the WTO) combined with government support for human and natural resources development can result in a more ideal Philippine involvement in the WTO, not as a consistent loser but a constant contributor to people development.
[i] Lee, Donna, Michelle Pace & Nicola Smith. 2006. Size? Power? Competence? The WTO is what small states make of it. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, San Diego, March 22-25.
[ii] Prieur, Jerome and Omar Serrano. Undated. Coalitions of Debeloping Countries in the WTO: Why Regionalism Matters.
[iii] The Philippines. Trade Policy Review. 2005
Bello, Walden. Multilateral Punishment and the WTO. 2009
[iv] Bernabe, Ma. Dolores & Sharon Quinsaat. Philippine agriculture under the World Trade Organization (1995-2005): Gains, losses, and prospects. Revised. 2007.