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, which started in Punta del Este, Uruguay in 1986, was different from earlier rounds of negotiations as it was not confined to trade in merchandise only, but also 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 now, the space for civil society’s participation and articulation on globalisation issues and their effects on economic development and governance is limited. For almost a decade, CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment (CUTS-CITEE) has been making efforts through its various programmes to raise awareness on globalisation issues in general and WTO issues in particular, both in India and abroad.

After the failure of negotiations in Seattle and before the Doha Ministerial Conference, there were discussions to include Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in the process of WTO negotiations. Thus, Paragraph 10 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration states: “Recognizing 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 emphasizing 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.”

The above-stated efforts call for the role civil society should play in raising awareness and promoting knowledge on globalisation and the WTO, thus articulating people’s concerns and views for the following reasons:

  • The civil society is in a better position to conduct a dialogue with the public and promote a better understanding on the WTO and globalisation issues and their effects on 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 spirit of Paragraph 10 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. Various governments have started taking steps in this direction. 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.

In the era of globalisation, most state governments have created a WTO Cell in order to analyze the impact of WTO agreements on their respective states. However, such cells are mostly 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 for the negotiation and implementation stages. Thus, the project will empower the state governments to play a more proactive role on globalisation and WTO issues.