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October 2003

Sungjoon Cho
Assistant Professor of Law

Professor Sungjoon ChoWith the recent breakdown of negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, critics of the World Trade Organization are voicing doubt about the organization's future. Chicago-Kent Professor Sungjoon Cho, who negotiated in the WTO in its early days, has a more optimistic outlook on the organization and its contribution to the global community.

Professor Sungjoon Cho brings to Chicago-Kent an insider's view of globalization. As a South Korean, he represented his government in negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), traveling to Geneva and Paris for the better part of two years to hammer out the finer points of his government's positions.

"From these experiences, I found that international economic law is not just treaty-based, but that there is also some sort of common-law set of rules by which governments should conduct business," he says. "The basic philosophy of such common law is fairness, and I think that's a core value of any international trade organization."

Putting core values into action can be a challenge. "The trouble comes with the ‘devil in the details,'" says Professor Cho. "How do you materialize or distill the spirit of fairness into a palpable or graspable set of rules?"

That's the question that has plagued the WTO since its inception, and with recent breakdowns at WTO meetings -- Seattle ‘99 and Cancun ‘03 most notably-- many have begun to doubt whether poor, developing nations can ever get a fair deal when negotiating with economic powers like the U.S. or European Union.

"The North-versus-South tension is inevitable because rich countries such as the United States and those in the EU have not faithfully implemented promises made at Doha," he says, referring to the 2001 meeting in Doha, Qatar, where developed countries promised to cut agricultural subsidies that make it difficult for developing nations to compete in the global agriculture market.

"But countries still benefit from free trade through the WTO," says Professor Cho. "We have to ask ourselves: What if the WTO didn't exist? International trade remains one of the best prescriptions or solutions for many of the agonies experienced by the collection of human beings in the world."

Professor Cho believes that more law students should know the intricacies of international economic law. "The U.S. is so interdependent with the rest of the world that one cannot understand any kind of meaningful economic phenomenon, even domestically, without some knowledge of international economic law," he says. "Many products, from what you wear to what you drive and eat, are affordable because of international trade."

Following his work with the WTO and OECD for the South Korean government, Professor Cho was granted entrance into a government-funded study abroad program. "I took a chance and came to America," he recalls. "It was supposed to be for two years, but I guess I over-adapted myself and decided I wanted to expand on my experiences here."

He went on to earn an LL.M. in international economic law from the University of Michigan and an S.J.D. from Harvard University where, as a law fellow, he created and taught a bi-monthly workshop entitled "Toward the Jus Gentium of International Trade: Reconstructing International Trade Law."

In fall 2003, he joined the faculty at Chicago-Kent, where he currently teaches international trade law.

Professor Cho received his primary education, his M.P.A. and his LL.B. in South Korea, where his classes were taught mostly in a lecture style. It wasn't until he came to the United States that Professor Cho experienced a real Socratic classroom, and for a student in a new country and culture, unfamiliar with the concept of student participation, it took some getting used to.

"I tried my best to enjoy the new environment -- I had no choice," he says. "It was painful at first, but after five or six years, I adapted." He adapted so well that he now employs the Socratic method in his own classroom.

"My philosophy is that class should be a sort of communal enterprise, not a unilateral lecture or one-way street," he says. "Student participation and cooperation is essential for the success of a class. Most of the good points are revealed through conversation."

While Professor Cho does employ Western classroom techniques, he doesn't ignore the Eastern model he learned from, pointing out that "the teacher does know more than the students."

"The side effect to the U.S. system is perhaps too much talk and no substantive discussion," he says. "The ideal is a focused lecture with student participation along the way. You don't want to lose students. Sometimes they miss the class even though they're physically there."

Professor Cho's book, Free Markets and Social Regulation: A Reform Agenda on the Global Trading System, was recently published by Kluwer Law International.

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