The WTO as an institutional backstop against protectionism

What’s keeping protectionism in check? Chris Giles and Alan Beattie in the FT:

Leaders of the Group of 20 nations will on Thursday pledge to promote trade as a crucial driver of economic growth, to avoid protectionist measures and to strive for a rapid completion of the Doha round of trade negotiations.

But behind these fine intentions lies the debris of similarly grand past promises and a record of creeping protectionism since the start of the year…

the WTO itself, along with independent trade experts, says that the rise in protectionist actions over the past few months has not been particularly dramatic, largely involving the reversal of cuts in tariffs taken during the commodity price boom of 2007-8.

But it appears to be the existence of binding legal agreements, either under the WTO or bilateral or regional pacts, that have constrained governments, rather than the G20 pledge…

In an attempt to hold governments to their no protectionism pledge, the WTO has begun publishing a document, previously compiled for internal use, which lists actions taken both to loosen and tighten restrictions on trade.

The publication has been controversial within the WTO. Korea and Ecuador both asked for changes to be made after the first version was circulated in January, saying it did not accurately reflect their trade policy.

“I will go further in the direction of name and shame, but I have to go carefully,” Mr Lamy says. “We have to raise the temperature bit by bit.”