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Beyond the Clash of Civilizations
A Practical Guide to Design and Implementation
Series: De Gruyter STEM

The question addressed in this article is how the fairness of the global trading system as embodied in the GATT/WTO is to be assessed. Opinions about what constitutes fairness differ widely, and there is surely no incontrovertible yardstick. But it should be possible to be clearer about the criteria that are appropriate and what they mean in more operational terms. Why fairness is a condition of the agreements among governments that form the global trading system is first discussed. It is then suggested that fairness can best be considered within the framework of two concepts: equality of opportunity and distributive equity. It is argued that the criterion of maximum economic efficiency is not a primary yardstick of fairness, and though it is relevant in choosing among alternative ways of realizing fairness, it is not without its own limitations. There is a discussion of what equality of opportunity and distributive equity mean when applied to the commitments that governments make in the global trading system. For this purpose, these commitments are divided into four categories: those relating directly to market access; those concerning supporting rules designed to prevent cheating in market access commitments or to facilitate trade flows; those relating to procedures for the settlement of disputes or the use of trade remedy measures; and those relating to governance of the system. Finally, some comments are offered about fairness in the Doha Development Round, focusing in particular on the central issue of market access.Andrew G. Brown was formerly Director in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations. He was responsible for analysis of international economic and social issues, and for staff support of UN committees and expert groups. He served earlier as chief economist or economic advisor in governments of developing countries. He is the author of History of Multilateral Trade Cooperation since 1850 and co-author of papers on the global trading system.Robert M. Stern is Professor of Economics and Public Policy (Emeritus) in the Department of Economics and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.