Jagdish Bhagwati is a Professor at Columbia University and Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been Economic Policy Adviser to Arthur Dunkel, Director General of GATT (1991-93), Special Adviser to the UN on Globalization, and External Adviser to the WTO. He has served on the Expert Group appointed by the Director General of the WTO on the Future of the WTO and the Advisory Committee to Secretary General Kofi Annan on the NEPAD process in Africa, and was also a member of the Eminent Persons Group under the chairmanship of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on the future of UNCTAD.

CIGI ’09 attendees were treated last night - Friday - to a sparkling presentation from Jagdish Bhagwati following the conference's first dinner.   Bhagwati is a leading expert on trade.  He is an advocate for multilateral trade and the World Trade Organization.  Bhagwati provided a wide-ranging overview of trade and the WTO institution.  He points to the key stress in the global economy today - the volatility of jobs – and wages - and specifically the volatility of jobs and wages for the unskilled. It is this dimension that has raised pressures for trade protection notably in the US. Bhagwati quietly but persistently suggests the timid response to trade protection and to the timid encouragement of trade liberalization by the current Obama Administration.

Bhagwati calls for at least a national response to help unskilled labor – though exactly the content of this response needs to be spelled out.  Without this governments will continue to have domestic pressure to raise barriers and to reject trade liberalization.

Bhagwati advocates continued trade liberalization – for him this means in part – continued efforts to successfully conclude the Doha Development Round.  This requires continued negotiation in the current round and to address new issues in a separate initiative.

Bhagwati also strongly urges that member countries not ‘slide backwards.’ Protectionism must be challenged.  Bhagwati makes it clear that while protectionism may be WTO legal, it should not be accepted.  Thus, if the US and other G20 countries adopt WTO legal protection, then countries must retaliate.  For Bhagwati it is important that the US Administration be reminded about the negative consequences of WTO legal protectionism.  As Bhagwati suggests, such WTO legal action is needed currently to clear the Obama Administration’s mind on trade liberalization.

Bhagwati concludes: “Don’t throw the trade baby out with the financial bath water.”

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.