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Options for a parliamentary dimension of the WTO

Discussion paper presented by Mr. Kobsak Chutikul, MP (Thailand). The objective of the present paper is to stimulate and advance the debate on an inter-parliamentary process for the WTO by taking stock of events and arguments and providing an overview of available options. This exercise seems to be all the more necessary in view of preparations for the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO to be held in Geneva in February 2003.

Kobsak Chutikul, Januar 2003

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Summary :

From a historical perspective, parliaments have often played a pioneering role in launching international debate on questions of war and peace, economic and social development, democracy and human rights. More recently, they have come to focus their attention on issues relating to international trade and, more particularly, on the role that parliaments should play with regard to the multilateral trading system.

The need for prompt action was accentuated with the establishment of the World Trade Organization at the end of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations carried out under the auspices of GATT from 1986 to 1994. The creation of the WTO with its binding rule-making and adjudication powers, and its consolidation and expansion in subsequent years, has not only placed the multilateral trading system at the heart of global governance, but also encroached on some of the traditional prerogatives of legislators as the primary lawmakers in a democratic state.

Soon after the wheels of WTO began turning, an intensive debate ensued inside the parliamentary

community and subsequently far beyond it as to whether such an important global policy-making organisation as WTO should have a parliamentary structure associated with it, and if so what the latter’s role, functions and structure could be. The debate - and the underlying process of reflection by parliaments and governments alike - has greatly evolved since the early days of enthusiastic but not always workable proposals. As everyone’s understanding of the complexity of the issues progressed, so did willingness to seek realistic solutions.

The objective of the present paper is to stimulate and advance this process by taking stock of events and arguments and providing an overview of available options. This exercise seems to be all the more necessary in view of preparations for the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO to be held in Geneva in February 2003, as well as plans for holding a parliamentary meeting on the occasion of the fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancun in September 2003.