An audience diverse in ages and interests faced a panel diverse in backgrounds and nationalities Tuesday at a Davenport College and Yale World Fellows Program discussion titled “The Legacy of Seattle: Why is free trade so scary for so many?”
Four World Fellows — Carmen Dominguez, a top Chilean trade expert; Emilia Beblava, president of Transparency International Slovakia; Angela Orozco-Gomez, former Colombian Minister of Foreign Trade; and Brian Kagoro, a leading constitutional lawyer and political organizer in Zimbabwe — shared different perspectives on free trade. About 40 people attended the discussion.
Dominguez explained the origin of the panel discussion’s title: Seattle was the sight of a controversial World Trade Organization meeting that turned violent. As a member of Chile’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization, she admitted that her sector of the WTO may be the “scariest to many.”
Beblava discussed her role in battling institutional corruption by raising public awareness and lobbying for legislative reform. She said that although the expansion of free trade has had many positive impacts, corruption is a negative force that exists on both the supply and demand side.
“Many countries have experienced a trade-off between economic goals and morality, abusing public power for private gain,” she said.
Orozco-Gomez, one of Colombia’s top economic development experts, was a victim of an attack at the Seattle WTO meeting. She stressed the idea that free trade itself is only one element of development — a country also needs competitiveness and productivity in order to succeed. She said that although she believes being part of a trade organization is beneficial, the lack of accountability in global governance presents risks.
“You have to realize where people’s interests lie and know who is working for who,” she said.
Kagoro offered an alternate perspective as another person who was present at the Seattle meeting as an observer. He said the “tragedy of trade policy” is that there will always be both winners and losers, and people must look beyond the outcome of economic models to the human condition to fully grasp the meaning of the Seattle talks.
“The determination of what ought to be done is a far broader issue than economic efficiency,” Kagoro said. “We must address the expectations of the losers in free trade.”
Dominguez, who monitored the panel, ended the discussion by summarizing each speaker’s main points and concluding that although there are many valid fears regarding free trade, there are also many benefits to having a multilateral trading system, such as a certainty of the rules.
“The more certain and clearer rules we have, the better off we will be in the long run,” she said.
Yoonseok Lee ’05, the undergraduate coordinator for the World Fellows program, said he presented the fellows with the topic because of its timeliness and student interest in the topic.
“These fellows have made significant contributions to their fields in their countries and are addressing the important question of when a country that hasn’t been trading starts trading, what will it look like?” Lee said.
The audience included a few professors, a concentration of graduate students in environmental studies and international relations, and a number of undergraduates interested in learning more about the current world situation.
Curtis Perry ’07 said although he has never taken a class in international relations or economics, he could still follow the discussion. But he said he would have liked to know more about the reasons for problems with free trade.
“The panelists seemed to have already developed a sense of each other’s personalities and established relationships, so it was interesting how their discussions bounced off each other,” he said.