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    Case from an LDC: Business Advocacy in Practice


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2002

    Business advocacy on trade - supported by a broadly-based network of business sectors - can raise the level of ambition and achievement in the world trading system.

    It's April 2002. In a large conference room in the capital city, about 20 business leaders, academics and industry association executives are meeting with senior officials from the Commerce Ministry. The Director General of Commerce, seated at the centre of the table, has just finished delivering a short talk on the Doha Ministerial meeting of WTO that has surprised the business people.

    In response to a question, he admits that he does not know the background to some of the decisions in the Doha Declaration. He explains that the official delegation at Doha had not been able to attend all of the negotiating meetings because it did not have the resources to attend more than one or two simultaneous meetings. That had frequently meant missing four or five other meetings, sometimes on important topics. "It's very regrettable," he acknowledges quietly.

    Some of the business people shake their heads. This is very worrying, they say. There are big market issues at stake in the WTO trade negotiations. They mention the textile quotas, antidumping action on steel, the pressure to license foreign insurance companies. Can't the officials organize these things better?

    "Well, perhaps they can," the Director General agrees. He pauses a moment to emphasize the next point. "But just having more people at the meetings, even if we could afford it, would not necessarily solve the problem." He looks around the room and picks out the President of the Chamber of Industry. "We are constantly trying to find the resources to train more people. But even if, by some miracle, we had the additional people to attend all the meetings we would still not have been as well prepared as I would like." His gaze shifts across the room to the Chair of the National Council of Manufacturers and then to the Director of the Textile Industries' Association.

    "For weeks before the Ministerial meeting we were asking for your help and advice. We heard almost nothing. A few days before I left, my office received three pages or so of notes from the Chamber of Industry and a letter from the National Council of Manufacturers which - as I'm sure you're aware - contained contrary recommendations. Although I was on the phone to some of you, there was hardly time to work out a national position as we left for the meeting. Fortunately, the Textile Industries' Association was represented on the official delegation, or I am afraid we might have had no input at all from them."

    Some of the business leaders shift uncomfortably in their chairs. "It's all very well to criticize the Ministry, but you must play your part too," the Director General said.

    Challenges to participating in WTO negotiations

    This is not an imaginary scene... and it could have taken place in many capitals earlier this year.

    Many countries find it a major challenge to manage participation in the WTO negotiations. The resource requirements are large, governments have to assess many different policy options and consult with different parts of the business community, government and civil society.

    Most governments rely, to an increasing extent, on the business community to contribute to a national effort to maximize trade opportunities including through participation in the WTO negotiations.

    "Business advocacy" on trade issues can, of course, mean old-fashioned lobbying for business advantage, most of it based on some form of trade protection. But there is a remarkable fact about business advocacy: its nature changes dramatically when businesses from many different sectors from across a whole country come together with officials and academic institutions to discuss trade opportunities and challenges.

    Decisions that offer protection to one sector frequently mean higher costs or fewer opportunities for another. So when representatives from many different business sectors meet to discuss trade opportunities and challenges, they tend to develop support for more open markets and more active national participation in WTO forums, because these are the opportu-nities that are likely to be most helpful to the largest number.

    In fact, business advocacy on trade - particularly where the advocacy is supported by a broadly-based network of business sectors - can help to raise the level of ambition and achievement in the world trading system. Business can add a commercial perspective to negotiations, ensuring that the intergovernmental negotiations deliver regulatory reforms that have real market benefits for importers and exporters.

    Businesses need help, however, to come to grips with the increasingly complex international trading system. They need specific information that is relevant to their concerns about markets and about the impact of trade regulations. This is where ITC's World Tr@de Net programme offers unique support for business "capacity building" and, indirectly, for countrywide business advocacy on trade.

    A network with a difference

    The World Tr@de Net helps businesses to improve their understanding of the world trading system based mostly on their own efforts. The programme has two purposes. First, businesses that understand the system of trade rules are better placed to identify trade opportunities and challenges: they'll be able to plan their own growth better. As these businesses grow they contribute, of course, to national economic growth and development. Second, businesses and business organizations that understand the trading system can contribute to national trade strategies, including national approaches to the WTO negotiations.

    The World Tr@de Net country networks are a highly efficient, "leveraged" approach to disseminating information. ITC provides facilitation and support for the country networks, helping them to "kick-off", grow and expand their activities. The support comprises some funding and information - particularly publications and some access to expert advice. But the network members contribute most of the effort of communicating, learning and expanding the activities and membership of the network. Several networks have grown from just a few dozen participants at the "kick-off" meeting to hundreds of business people and association executives.

    Peter Gallagher, a former Australian trade negotiator, is a consultant for ITC's World Tr@de Net programme. The observations in this article are based on his experience during World Tr@de Net activities. He can be reached at peter@inquit.com