One of the key criticisms of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation headquarters in Geneva is the significant disparity in negotiating capacity between different countries. According to a WDM report in September 2001
some 30 WTO members countries cannot afford an office in Geneva, and few developing countries are able to attend the 40 to 50 important trade meetings held in an average week. Just as most democratic countries have over the centuries moved to paying their elected representatives in order to reduce corruption and provide equivalence of representation, it would seem sensible for the WTO to devise some method of pooling resources so as to level that particular playing field.
In investigating CAFTA, I ran across a series of documents on the US Trade Representative’s CAFTA website designed by that office and detailing programmes for each participating country to provide training, studies, and other measures ‘in support of the negotiations’. For example, in the Nicaragua document, the Subprogram for Financing for Attending the Negotiations has an objective to:
Endow MIFIC [the section of the Nicaraguan government responsible for these negotiations] from the necessary financial capacity to have the required representation and participation in trade negotiation rounds like FTA with U.S.
with associated activities being:
- Establish a specific financing fund to cover accommodations, food and travel expenses for the negotiators and technical officials in the FTA negotiations.
- Support MIFIC and MAGFOR‘s participation in competent International Agencies on sanitary and phytosanitary matters by attending relevant meetings, among other things
Good stuff, particularly were there some strictures requiring all parties to operate their delegations within that same budget.
The section that particularly intriged me was the Program For Raising Awareness In The Civil Society, Inter-Institutional and Private Sector Co-ordination. As anyone who has read this blog regularly will know, I’m a firm believer in the need for civil society (ie. general public, and interested non-governmental, non-corporate parties) involvement in these sorts of negotiations. It is good to see such measures receiving some attention. The objectives here are:
To develop and implement a program guided to strengthen and improve the consultation process with the private sector, the civil society, of the population in general, and specifically the key sectors that shape opinions on foreign trade and international trade negotiations. Activities will be aimed especially at the sectors representing defensive interests, whether political or commercial, and representatives of offensive interests (exporting sectors and consumer associations).
It is to be hoped that these studies don’t focus entirely on those interest or opinion-forming groups as they will not always represent a good cross-section of the general population, and informing the uninformed sectors of the populace needs to be a part of any consultation programme of this sort. It is also noteworthy that most of the specific activities within this programme are aimed at government and private sector stakeholders, but that 84% of the funding (some $2,000,000 out of $2,381,200) is for:
Retention of a public relations firm to design the strategy for disseminating the benefits, challenges, and opportunities implicit in free trade agreements and to contribute to generating favorable opinions on free trade.
As with much of the rest of the document, this sounds remarkably reasonable. Working through the rest of the forty page paper, it is clear that the sort of support that the US government is offering will be of significant use in enabling effective delegations from those entering into negotiations. The programs will ensure that they are well appraised of the status of the various trade agreements the US is currently a part of, helping them to place their negotiation into a context.
Where this becomes a matter of concern is where the curriculum for the training provided is entirely decided by one of the negotiating parties. The document doesn’t make clear what input the Nicaraguan government, or its civil society, will have into the choice of placements for internships, the selection of trainers or the form of the curriculum. In other words, it is not clear whether the context, and therefore the agenda, will be entirely of the making of a far from disinterested party.
The questions I would like to ask of the USTR are:
- What take-up was there of the opportunities for civil society input, how did the parties providing that input correspond with the demographics of the country, and how was that input taken on board?
- and how did those designing the curricula of the various training opportunities offered minimise the potential bias introduced into those programmes by the fact that they have been initiated by a party involved in the negotiations?
Noting a contact email address on the USTR website, I have sent the first of those questions their way. Hopefully they’ll respond!
Reading through this document put me in mind of this entry from Chris’ blog. It is readily apparent that little thought was put into the quality of the prose contained within, and certainly no proof-reading. In one case it was clear that at least two words had been simply left out. It’d be nice to think that government departments could do their readers the courtesy of at least one quick scan before publication?