Developing Countries and the Multilateral Trade Regime

Mohammed El Said (Lancashire Law School, University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), Preston, UK)

Journal of International Trade Law and Policy

ISSN: 1477-0024

Article publication date: 13 September 2011




El Said, M. (2011), "Developing Countries and the Multilateral Trade Regime", Journal of International Trade Law and Policy, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 308-309.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Developing Countries and the Multilateral Trade Regime provides valuable insights to the debate surrounding free trade, multilateralism and the challenges facing developing countries under the trading current structure. Alessandrini starts by eloquently quoting the WTO's Director General opening address at the launching of the ninth multilateral trading negotiation round, namely the “Doha Development Round” back in 2001. By setting the scene, the author sheds light on the goal and the targeted audience of the round; the fundamental issue of development and developing countries, respectively.

Completing its first decade on the run, the Doha Development Round is yet to be successfully concluded. Marred by a global financial crises, widening gap in the negotiation positions between developing and developed countries and inequalities intrinsically embedded within the structure of the global trading regime itself, its end seems more distant than ever. It is within such a background the value of this work arises. Alessandrini's work in this area assists in understanding the historical factors behind the current stalemate, and at the same time explains the developing countries' suspicious stand towards such a regime as a result of its colonial foundations and the failure of the current multilateral trading regime in addressing their needs, priorities, and levels of development.

More fundamentally, Alessandrini discusses the “double”‐sided approach perused by multilateral organisations and developed countries towards developing and least developing countries. Referring to various aspects of selectiveness and exposing some elements of modern day “capitalist imperialism”, the author alerts to an interesting angle which deeply shapes the strategies adopted by these organisations and states in their economic and political relations with other regions and countries. It is within this context, the author rightly highlights other – but often neglected – political and national considerations which often shape the referred to strategies.

One of the highlighted areas by the author which demonstrates such selectiveness is the area of intellectual property. This controversial issue was advocated and then subsequently exported by some influential interest groups based in developed counties with the backing of their governments to the multilateral arena through various unilateral, bilateral and multilateral approaches. The birth of the WTO in 1994 and its agreement on trade‐related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS Agreement) created for the first time in history minimum standards and levels of intellectual property protection which all member states must adhere to. In short, the outcome of such a project was articulated in favour of investors rights protection at the expense of member states regulatory autonomy. Despite this, developed countries continued the push for higher levels of intellectual property protection and enforcement going beyond those prescribed under the TRIPS Agreement through various bilateral free trade agreements and multilateral treaties hence creating a so‐called “TRIPS‐Plus” legal regimes. This one sided approach awards further benefits to technology exporters at the expense of developing countries and their citizens.

The book is divided into six parts, in addition to an introduction and conclusion. Part 1 provides some background about the genesis of the Bretton Woods Conference and the post‐war international trading regime and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); part 2 sheds light on the historical evolution of the development perspective and the GATT's development mission; part 3 focuses on the neo‐liberal transformation of development thinking under the multilateral trading regime and the developing counties re‐alignment under the international trading regime; part 4 contains a historical account of the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations and the ensuing world trading regime; part 5 focuses on the WTO's “package” with reference to some of the main principles and agreements concluded within the organization, while Part Six explains the failures and promises of the current Doha Development Round and the main contentious issues under discussion. Finally, the Conclusion provides some personal insights and the development mission of the WTO.

Perhaps one issue which ought to be discussed in more detail by the author is that related developing countries' technical expertise throughout negotiations. It would be of great interest to see how much developing countries actually knew – and how that subsequently affected their negotiation positions/strategies – about the agreements being negotiated multilaterally through the GATT and in particular during the Uruguay round. Of high relevance would be those agreements pertaining to the “new issue”, i.e. intellectual property and services. As been often observed, developing countries were at a disadvantaged stance during these negotiations since they knew little about the impact of such agreements due to the lack of technical expertise and accurate analysis. A more in‐depth study of such a claim would have been of high relevance to the work.

Alessandrini's work is well placed within the area of legal history and trade law. In conclusion, Developing Countries and the Multilateral Trade Regime is a worthy addition to the critical literature on free trade and multilateralism. Scholars, researchers and policy makers particularly those in developing countries would find some important insights and lessons to be learnt from the issues highlight in the book.

As a final thought, one may wonder at this stage if the global trading regime can sustain the current stalemate, or countries will resort – as history teaches us – to alternative forums in progressing their interests. Only time can tell!

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