Daniel Altman confuses me

Daniel Altman explains global economic governance by grouping together the IMF-WB-WTO trio and extending the “chairs and shares” IMF story to apply to the WTO in an IHT article. The result is nonsense:

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization – the United States manages to dominate all three groups and more, thanks to its economic might, or at least the economic might it had when those organizations were conceived. But how much of that power will it have to cede to China when that country outweighs U.S. productive capacity?…

In September, China was granted a quarter more votes in the IMF as an acknowledgment of its growing economic importance…

The World Trade Organization is an even tougher nut to crack, since it works on a consensus system; each member has a veto. Still, the United States has found other ways to dominate its operation, for example by initiating more trade disputes (and being the respondent in more trade disputes) than any other member. And only the United States and the European Union participated in the backroom negotiations at both the Uruguay round of trade talks in the 1990s and the Doha round that is currently under way.

Being the respondent in WTO dispute cases is a sign of dominance?!? Hats off to the US for ruling the globe by losing cases to Antigua and Brazil. I suppose China ought to welcome a flurry of cases against it.

Similarly, Altman’s characterization of trade negotiations is misleading. First, the green room meetings of the 1990s often included 25-30 participants, not merely the US and EU. Second, the US failure to enter into productive dialogue with important trading nations is a sign of its incompetence and inability to complete the Doha round, not dominance. Third, the EU and US have sought to increase Chinese participation in the Doha round of negotiations, but China has been satisfied to rest on the laurels of its 2001 accession.

Altman is a solid journalist and very smart guy, but I think he has mischaracterized the American and Chinese roles in the WTO.