This past weekend's conference, "The 10th Anniversary of China's WTO Accession: China's Learning Curve," went off extremely well. I had the same worries as a restaurant owner -- the kitchen may be a little chaotic, but as long as the customers enjoy their meal (and don't look in the kitchen), then everything will be okay. I think the conference served up some nutritious food for thought.
Some highlights of Day 1:
- Long Yongtu, China's chief WTO negotiator, gave a subtley worded critique of current economic policies. When China joined the WTO, it made policies changes which were domestically seen as "progress" (进步), but are now criticized as "concessions" (让步). He said he is worried that China may be getting further and further away from the spirit of the WTO. His concerns were echoed, more directly, by Christian Murck, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, and Dirk Moens, the Secretary-General of the EU Chamber of Industry & Commerce.
- In his keynote address(Download Day 1 Robert Wang WTO Conference Remarks 10 29 2011), Robert Wang, American Deputy Chief of Mission, struck a balanced pose. He praised China for the distance it has travelled in economic development and reform the past 10 years, but he noted the concerns the US and others have about China's recent economic policies, including currency policy. He also stressed that China can't avoid taking on greater responsibility in the WTO just because it is a developing country. In perhaps the most memorable line of his speech, he said: "As our trade negotiators are fond of saying, no doubt to the annoyance of their Chinese colleagues – 'China is not Chad.' And the fact of China’s astounding success as an exporting power means that China carries considerably more responsibility than was the case ten years ago with regard to the liberalizing mission of the WTO."
- On the Doha Round, Huang Rengang, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Commerce's WTO Division, said China would obviously like to see the Doha Round reach a successful conclusion, but there need be no rush to a conclusion. He joked that trade ministers weren't tired of negotiations but rather were addicted to them. Ricardo Melendez-Ortiz, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Trade and Sustaintable Development in Geneva, outlined a wide range of initiatives the WTO can take even with a stalled Doha Round to promote liberalization and development. Rorden Wilkinson of the University of Manchester said that the WTO and its members need to go back to first principles and decide once again what the main goals of the organization should be; he argued that liberalization and other policies should more squarely be in service of development and poverty alleviation.
- Several speakers, including Tang Wenhong of MOFCOM's Law and Treaty Division, noted that China had moved rapidly up the learning curve in the dispute resolution process. China has been a respondent in 23 cases and a complainant in 8. Xiao Jin, a partner at the law firm King & Wood, noted that China has complied with negative rulings in at least 7 out of 8 cases it has lost. Philippe De Baere, a partner at the Belgium-based law firm Van Bael & Bellis, gave a run down of China's victory in the "metal fastners" (nuts and bolts) case, showing how the portion of the European Union's antidumping regulations related to non-market economy status were found wanting and had to be changed.
On Day-2, we turned our focus to analyzing 11 pieces of research conducted as part of the RCCPB's Initiative on China and Global Governance.The papers can be found on the center's Publications page.I was particularly impressed by how seemless the discussion went. Despite using Chinese and English, everyone was speaking the "same language." The biggest differences in approach and opinion were among scholars from the US and Europe. We were all using the same concepts and familiar with the same range of methods. If there was a difference it was that Western scholars are probably still a little more comfortable in making theoretical pronouncements based on their data and analyses, but the difference in approaches, at least in economics and political economy, are not what they used to be.
One particular highlight on Sunday was a visit paid by Madame Zhang Yuejiao, a current member of the WTO's Appellate Body. She was extremely impressive in her command of the WTO's dispute settlement process. It seemed to me that she had totally absorbed the norms and approach of the WTO, and likely, is not just a passive user, but also an active contributor to the norms and procedures in the system. It's highly unlikely the Chinese government uses her presence to their benefit -- she was a former MOFCOM official -- but Chinese can certainly be proud of her accomplishments on a very high-profile international stage.
Following Sunday's panels, we adjourned to Bellagio (鹿港小镇) for dinner, a Taiwanese-style restaurant owned by a couple from Guam. And then some stalwarts visited the 81st floor of Guomao Tower #3 (国贸三期) to look out over Beijing. Of course, our view was blocked by smog, which is still sitting over the city as I type. Just as with China's first 10 years in the WTO, much has changed for the better, but a lot of work still needs to be done.
I'm extremely grateful to the entire team that worked hard over several months to make the conference a success.