The World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into existence in 1995, after seven years of negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The last round of GATT negotiations known as the Uruguay Round, that started in Punta del Este, Uruguay in the year 1986, was different from earlier rounds of negotiations. For example, negotiations were not confined to trade in merchandise only, but they included trade in services, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and trade-related investment measures. Trade in textiles and trade in agriculture were also incorporated into the GATT process.

As of date, the common man on the street is not only ignorant of issues, which can affect (both ways) their lives, but in many cases also misguided. Thus, there is a space for the civil society to make things better and this has to be nurtured, developed and utilised in a concerted manner.
The situation is no better for globalisation issues in general. The space for civil society’s participation and articulation on globalisation and the WTO and their relationship with economic development and governance is limited.

For almost a decade, CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment (CUTS-CITEE) has been making efforts to raise awareness on globalisation issues, in general, and WTO issues, in particular, in India (and outside the country) through its various programmes and by looking at issues dispassionately.

Thus, articulating and analysing issues of globalisation and the WTO will be entry points for this project whose context lies in the fact that the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda provides various opportunities for the civil society to make meaningful interventions on trade issues under the overall rubric of globalisation.

After the failure at Seattle and before the Doha Ministerial Conference, there were discussions on including Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in the process of WTO negotiations along with opposition by many countries (particularly developing countries like India, Egypt).

Thus, Paragraph 10 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration states: “Recognising the challenges posed by an expanding WTO membership, we confirm our collective responsibility to ensure internal transparency and the effective participation of all Members. While emphasising the inter-governmental character of the organisation, we are committed to making the WTO’s operation more transparent, including through more effective and prompt dissemination of information, and to improve dialogue with the public. We shall, therefore, at the national and multilateral levels continue to promote a better public understanding of the WTO and to communicate the benefits of a liberal, rules-based multilateral trading system.”

However, the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference held at Cancún, Mexico in 2003 could not make any progress due to some contentious and divergent views (particularly on agriculture) between some developed and developing countries.

The above-stated efforts call for the role that the civil society should play in raising better awareness and knowledge on globalisation and the WTO, thus articulating people’s concerns and views at different fora.

There are two reasons for that:

  • The civil society is in a better position to conduct dialogue with the public and promote a better understanding on globalisation and the WTO and their relationship with economic development and governance.
  • Civil society inputs are essential for mainstreaming trade into national plans for economic development and governance.

Thus, both the governments and the civil society need to work together as per the letter and spirit of Paragraph 10 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. Various governments have started taking steps in this direction. For example, the Government of India has constituted an Advisory Committee on International Trade, headed by the Minister for Commerce & Industry. CUTS is a member of this Committee and regularly provides inputs to the Trade Policy Division of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry.

NGOs play a key role in creating an informed civil society through mobilising resources, undertaking public education and advocacy on behalf of the people, etc. The proposed project intends to take forward these activities by adopting a partnership and networking approach, i.e. by involving civil society groups, state governments and local media in the process of implementation. CUTS-CITEE’s role would be that of a “National Coordinating Unit” (NCU). It will transfer skills and knowledge to the members of the network and others and provide critical inputs and direction for implementing the activities. This approach will help in sustaining efforts beyond the project’s life.

In this era of globalisation and the WTO, most state governments have created a WTO Cell in order to analyse the impact of WTO agreements (opportunities and challenges) in their respective states. However, in most of the states such cells are at a nascent stage. Though the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India is periodically consulting the state governments on India’s negotiating stand on WTO issues, they are not in a position to proactively provide inputs during negotiations and also at the implementation stage. The project will empower the state governments in playing a more proactive role on globalisation and WTO issues.

The overall goal of the project is to establish upward and downward linkages between the grassroots and the policy-makers (both at the state and the national level) so as to integrate people’s views and concerns on issues of globalisation and the WTO into the policy-making process. The intention is to create a space for the Indian civil society to objectively intervene in the process of economic development and governance.