A Glass Quite Empty: Issue Groups' Influence in the Global Trade Regime

A Glass Quite Empty: Issue Groups' Influence in the Global Trade Regime

Nongovernmental actors with a focus on environmental, social and development concerns have been credited with influence over the global trade regime. Referring to such issue groups as ‘social movements’ or ‘global civil society’, some have considered the influence of civil-society organizations (CSOs) over outcomes to be a glass half full. A more sober assessment is that inclusion and self-proclaimed success should not be confused with increased influence. Issue groups have had little to no influence on the day-to-day grind of trade policy in the WTO and in bilateral agreements. Moreover, activism against any WTO agreement has foreclosed a multilateral disarmament agreement on agricultural subsidies, causing these to continue to undercut producer power in developing countries. Rather than organizing flash fires at global negotiations, issue groups would exert more influence if they redirected their expertise and advice to their parliamentary representatives, facilitating these actors' control and sway over trade policy making.

Policy Implications

  • Compared to producers, CSOs have limited influence over trade policy outcomes.
  • The slogans ‘Stop subsidies’ and ‘No agriculture in the WTO’ are contradictory.
  • NGOs would gain more influence by providing their expertise and advice to parliamentarians in democratic WTO members.
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