Time to rethink the global rules

Laotian textile factory workers at work on the outskirts of Vientiane. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Philippa Dee, ANU

Prospects for trade in the Asian century appear good. After all, Asia has risen to its current position on the strength of its trade. Why shouldn’t this trend continue? Some immediate macroeconomic threats are obvious. Read more…

What can the G20 do about the WTO?

G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors pose for a photo during their meeting in Moscow, Russia on 16 February 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Philippa Dee, ANU

The G20’s role in trade reform is to deal with systemic issues that are not well handled by the WTO under a ‘business as usual’ approach. So the forum must deal with the current danger: if the WTO is allowed to muddle through, the existing trade rules that have underpinned globalisation and growth for decades could unravel. Read more…

World trade policy in crisis

Protesters shout slogans during an anti-WTO protest in front of the trade ministry in Jakarta. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Philippa Dee, ANU and Shiro Armstrong, ANU, Columbia University

The Doha Development Round of World Trade Organisation trade negotiations is in deep trouble and could become the first Round to fail.

What will happen if Doha fails? Read more…

Can the global financial crisis actually deliver Doha?

G8 leaders Italy 09 small

Author: Philippa Dee

Everyone is calling for a Doha conclusion by 2010. The G5 and the G8 are doing it. The APEC Member countries are doing it.

But Jagdish Bhagwati warns ‘Everybody’s talking a good game, but the question is whether they can play a good game … You have to distinguish between containing protectionism and actually liberalising further. I can’t think of any example of liberalisation when the macroeconomic stress is this enormous.’

‘This is just a ritual assertion,’ Bhagwati adds, referring to the G8+G5 statement. ‘When it comes to actually liberalising trade, they have to face their parliaments and their publics.’

But let’s think about this.

Read more…

Principles for reforming higher education in Australia: is Bradley brave enough?


Author: Philippa Dee

The largely self-serving statements from the universities in the lead-up to the Bradley review would have one believe that this is all about how much government money will be spent on higher education, and how it will be divvied up among institutions. Principles of good regulatory design are easily lost in the process. In order to evaluate what comes out of the review, let’s think about what we are trying to achieve.

Even the staunchest small-l liberal would not want to leave the Australian tertiary sector entirely to market forces. At minimum, there needs to be some accountability for the large amounts of taxpayers’ money involved. But to think about how those accountability mechanisms should be designed, it is useful to think about how our tertiary institutions, as (mostly) non-profit organizations, behave.

By definition, non-profit organizations are not primarily about making profits. Their goal is to achieve some non-profit objective – let’s call it a ‘charter’. This is not to say that they don’t care about the bottom line. Read more…

US continues to talk big and act small

Author: Philippa Dee

The United States has agreed to join Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in a free trade agreement which could set the pace for a broader Asia-Pacific free trade area, officials have said (The Straits Times, 22/09/2008). This is consistent with the US idea of ‘competitive liberalisation’ – the idea that if it signs up preferential trade agreements with some trading partners, others will want to join.

The trouble is, the partners that the US has snared have by and large been tiddlers – small countries with an inferiority complex who, in their perceived position of vulnerablility, are susceptible to this trade policy equivalent of emotional blackmail. And I am allowed to say this because I was born in New Zealand.

Read more…

Good news and bad news on the APEC front

Author: Philippa Dee

The good news is that the APEC ship is slowly turning around. Rather than keeping its prime focus on trade and investment liberalisation, with the fixation on foreign discrimination that this brings, APEC Ministers are embracing the importance of behind-the-border reforms. The change in focus is vital because the barriers that are doing the biggest damage are the ones that are holding back domestic players. The gains from reforming the non-discriminatory barriers — those that affect domestic and foreign players equally — are an order of magnitude greater than those typically delivered by trade agreements.

In Melbourne yesterday, APEC Ministers announced a joint commitment to structural economic reform, and agreed to voluntary reviews of national regulatory frameworks.

APEC nay-sayers may scoff at the voluntary nature of the commitment, but in the area of behind-the-border reforms, nothing else will work. The political economy of structural reform is primarily domestic — typically an incumbent versus a group comprising new entrants, upstream and downstream using industries and consumers. The political battle needs to be fought domestically, and regional input cannot afford to be intrusive. Read more…