WTO top executive visits Berkeley law school

October 29, 2008 6:28:38 PM PDT
As the financial crisis goes global, the World Trade Organization is pressing its case for countries to lower barriers and allow more trade, but the campaign has its critics.

The World Trade Organization's top executive is giving a speech at U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law to promote free trade. This is also why there have been protests outside the law school. Some economists say boosting exports can help a troubled economy, but that means being open for imported goods as well and that could threaten jobs.

Not everyone wants to see a barrier-free world where goods can be imported and exported with no or low tariffs. Labor and community groups say free trade leads to job losses. That is something they don't want to see as a looming national recession has already led to massive layoffs and rising unemployment.

"They're going to go to countries where labor is cheaper, where there are no standards for them to adhere to for workers. So that's definitely going to lower our wages, take our jobs," said Imelda Abarca, with the California Fair Trade Coalition.

So they're against efforts by Pascal Lamy and the World Trade Organization, he heads up, to lower barriers. Lamy is promoting his cause at U.C. Berkeley's law school.

"One segment of the economy has been growing, it's exports. This growing reliance on trade is the continuation of a trend towards a more trade-oriented economy," said Lamy, the World Trade Organization Director General.

The non-partisan economic policy institute says 2.3 million American jobs have been lost as a result of low-cost imports from China over the past six years, including 366,000 jobs just last year.

The hue and cry has been loudest among farmers around the world. There were protests at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong three years ago. The farmers and fishermen from Asia say they're threatened if barriers are lowered for California grown fruit, nuts and rice.

"For the waitress who's not in a trading industry and who has a low income, that person is much better off with free trade because they get cheaper textiles, cheaper cars, cheaper food, and for people in industries that are trading, admittedly those people can suffer some dislocation if trade is open, but the flip side is true if trade is closed. If trade is closed, then other people lose their jobs," said Andrew Guzman Ph.D., an International law professor and economist.

The World Trade Organization's Pascal Lamy goes from Berkeley to Washington on Thursday where he's meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the head of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U.S. trade representative. Everyone is searching for a way to get the global economy back on track.


Load Comments