Assistant Professor of Law
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
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
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
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.