Reclaiming Development in the World Trading System

Reclaiming Development in the World Trading System

by Yong-Shik Lee

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781107491571
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 06/14/2018
Series: Cambridge International Trade and Economic Law Series , #26
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 517
Product dimensions: 5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x (d)

About the Author

Yong-Shik Lee is a scholar in international trade law and economic development. He is currently Director of the Law and Development Institute and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Emory University School of Law. He graduated in economics with academic distinction from the University of California, Berkeley and received law degrees from the University of Cambridge (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.). He has over seventy academic publications in the areas of international economic law, law and development, and comparative law. He has taught international economic law at leading universities in the US, UK, Australia, and South Korea.

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Reclaiming Development in the World Trading System
Cambridge University Press
052185296X - Reclaiming Development in the World Trading System - by Yong-Shik Lee


Poverty, Economic Development, and International Trade

1.1 The Question of Poverty1

In today's world of unprecedented technological and economic advances, the majority of the world population has not been able to share in this prosperity.2 Persistent poverty still remains in many parts of the world, and this human tragedy is one of the most pressing problems in our time. Nevertheless, despite some efforts by international organizations,3 poverty does not seem to receive priority consideration from leading nations that could provide key political and economic support toward resolving this problem.4 Consider this issue from another perspective: not only is the relief of persistent poverty our moral obligation5 but it is also consistent with our long-term security interest because societies with adequate economic resources are less likely to foster violence and terrorism that has torn our world apart throughout history.6

How can this problem of poverty be resolved? Poor countries cannot indefinitely depend on donations from outside, even if such donations could be provided; the only lasting solution would be to create an economy in these countries through economic development7 that would provide inhabitants with adequate resources and sustain their living standard beyond subsistence. How can poor nations build such an economy? It has been suggested that poverty is not simply a result of bad economic policy; various political, social, and even cultural problems have also been cited as causes of poverty.8 Because these causes are rather various and complex, many believe that no simple solution to poverty is universally applicable.9 In each individual case, political, social, economic, and cultural practices and institutions that hamper economic development should first be identified; then specific remedies for each of these problems would have to be applied.10 In many cases, these problems are simply too difficult and complex to solve, therefore poverty remains.

Certain developing11 economies have combated these problems successfully and have achieved impressive economic development in the past decades.12 For these economies, international trade has been an important vehicle for successful economic development. The legal framework for international trade controls which development policies can be implemented in conjunction with international trade and the way in which they are implemented. Therefore, trade disciplines are quite relevant to poverty and development. The specific regulatory requirements of trade disciplines affect the ability of developing countries to adopt effective development policies. I discuss throughout this book why this is the case and what changes should be made in the current trade disciplines to better facilitate development.

Yet I do not presume that neither a development-friendly international trading system nor any other international support alone will facilitate development and relieve poverty. Economic development efforts by developing countries should proceed, and the following factors would also be essentially important for development: a stable and efficient government, a working institutional arrangement between the public and private sectors,13 a consistent economic policy, social peace, an educated population, access to capital, entrepreneurship, and a cultural environment that fosters working ethics and can accommodate changes associated with development. It is true that these conditions are not present in many developing nations.14 Despite various proposals for development strategies, policies, and international initiatives for decades,15 the majority of countries that were underdeveloped fifty years ago still remain poor. For many underdeveloped nations, the situation has worsened over the past ten years.16

Although a development-friendly trading system alone may not be sufficient to facilitate economic development, it is nevertheless essential. The success story of the East Asian economies, including South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, introduced in the next section, shows why. One argument is that a change of the current trading system would not bring about the economic development of developing countries because most of them do not even meet other necessary conditions for development.17 In particular, there is a prevalent sentiment that governments of developing countries cannot be trusted with the implementation of state-led development policies for lack of efficient administrative capacity and corruption. It is maintained, therefore, that changing the international trading system will not result in economic development for these developing countries, will cause inefficiency in the system, and therefore, is not necessary.

This is a logical fallacy, even if claims about the problems with developing countries were to be true. Certainly, it is not difficult to find cases of prevalent corruption and lack of competence on the part of the governments of developing countries. Nonetheless, if we believe that the relief of poverty through economic development is a priority, the trading system should facilitate, rather than hamper, the economic development of those developing countries that are ready to implement development policies, just as the East Asian countries have done in the past decades. Their successful economic development would not have been possible had some of the current requirements of the international trading system been in place because these requirements would not have allowed them to adopt key development policies, particularly those based on trade-related subsidies.18

1.2 International Trade and Development

While many developing countries failed to improve their economic conditions in any significant way,19 some East Asian economies, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, have achieved remarkable economic success during the past four decades.20 What distinguishes these countries from other developing countries that have failed to achieve economic development? Can development strategies that have a degree of general applicability be drawn from this Asian experience? To answer these queries, the development process of these East Asian countries needs to be examined. I introduce the development case of South Korea to show the success of "outward development strategy."21 The other East Asian newly industrializing countries (NICs) also implemented this strategy, although the details of each country's policy were different.22

South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world four decades ago, lacking both natural and technological resources.23 To overcome poverty and develop its economy, South Korea adopted a set of aggressive export strategies. The resources acquired through international trade, as well as the capital influx from abroad, which was encouraged by its success in exports, have enabled South Korea to modernize its industries and achieve rapid economic growth.24 This economic development, fueled by the continued success in exports, established South Korea as one of the leading industrial nations with higher living standards.25 This economic success is also attributed to factors other than the success in export and export industries.26 Nevertheless, few would dispute that the successful exports have been an engine for Korea's economic achievement.27 In fact, this export-driven development has become a well-known model and has been studied widely.28

If international trade can help poor nations to develop their economies and bring them out of poverty, as it did for South Korea and for the other East Asian countries, what are the necessary conditions for export-driven economic development? In this outward development model, export becomes the engine for development by creating demands for domestically produced products otherwise not consumed in their small domestic markets. Export revenues can be reinvested to expand export industries further, and therefore, the output of the economy improves over time with the expansion of the share of manufacturing sectors in the economy.29 This is the common element observed in the development process of the NICs. In those East Asian countries, a series of economic factors preferable for industrial expansion, such as lower labor costs and a high rate of savings, helped export industries, but governments also played an important role by promoting those industries with various subsidies and tariff protection.30

1.3 Kicking Away the Ladder?

I have initially posed two questions about the successful development of the East Asian countries, that is, (i) what distinguishes them from other developing countries that have failed in economic development? and (ii) what effective development strategy can be drawn from their experience? They all have achieved rapid economic growth through expansion of their exports, and this outward development strategy is an effective development model that can be adopted by other developing countries, assuming that the necessary political, social, and economic conditions are present.31 The success of this development strategy would depend largely on the government's ability to promote exports.32 Yet governments of developing countries would not be able to adopt some of the trade-related development policies of the NICs because the current regulatory framework for international trade, represented by the World Trade Organization (WTO), does not allow them to do so.33

In his recent book, Kicking Away the Ladder, Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang notes that almost every developed country today, including those strongly advocating liberal market economies and open trade, employed state-led industrial promotion policies during their own development process, which often included trade protection. Yet after achieving economic development, they have been "kicking away the ladder" and preventing developing countries from adopting effective development policies by imposing regulations of international trade and policy recommendations against these development policies. If correct, his argument raises moral questions and concerns for all of us genuinely interested in relieving poverty through successful economic development.

My premise is that the economic development of developing countries should be considered one of the important priorities of our time. It is possible that some who are not persuaded that this is our moral quest may question why the economic development of developing countries should be a priority. It is worth repeating that supporting the economic development of developing countries not only addresses our moral concern about the economic tragedy of poor nations34 but also serves our security interest in this closely interconnected world. In addition, there is an economic reason for supporting the development of developing countries: the successful economic development of developing countries today would also provide the industries of developed countries with new affluent markets and therefore new sources for their own future wealth. Newly developed countries such as South Korea have become important export markets for many developed countries.35 Therefore, assisting development would create a win-win situation for everyone.

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

Part I. International Trade Law: From the Perspective of Economic Development: 1. Introduction: trade, trade rules, and economic development; 2. Principles of international trade law; 3. Tariffs and subsidies; 4. Trade remedies: anti-dumping and safeguards; 5. 'Expansion' of trade disciplines and development; 6. Regional trade liberalization; 7. Rules of origin, government procurement, non-tariff barriers, and exceptions; 8. WTO dispute settlement mechanism; 9. Reforming the world trading system; Part II. Regional Trade and Development Cases: 10. Trade and development in Asia; 11. Trade and development in Africa; 12. Trade and development in Latin America; 13. Trade and development for LDCs: microtrade; 14. Conclusion: putting back the ladder.

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