Greater involvement of the civil society in trade negotiations is a must, says S N Menon

August 21, 2008, Jaipur
“If I had this experience I could have negotiated differently. Negotiations require a balance between experience and technical skills. Exposure to programmes like this is important for our future negotiators. The civil society’s involvement in the process of negotiations has helped India a lot in formulating and taking forward its negotiating positions on the Doha Round of trade negotiations. It is a must and therefore, the Government should engage more with the Indian civil society organisations to reach out to diverse stakeholders, particularly labour unions, consumer groups and environmental organisations in other countries,” said S N Menon, former Commerce Secretary of India while speaking at the closing session of a four day training programme for government officials and business executives on enhancement of skills and knowledge in commercial and economic diplomacy. The programme was organised by CUTS, a Jaipur based non-governmental think tank on trade and regulatory issues. It was supported by the Department of Commerce, Government of India.

“We are learning to internalise ideas and knowledge through the development of specific skills on negotations. The most difficult part of this process is the internalisation of knowledge and skills,” said Kishan Rana, former Indian Ambassador to Germany while evaluating this programme.

According to B K Zutshi, former Indian Ambassador to the GATT (the General Agreeemnt on Tariffs and Trade – the predecessor of the World Trade Organisation): “I have found that in day-to-day work we do things without much thought on why we are doing them. A conceptual basis for actions is most important. I found this programme stimulating.”

“Compared to many other programmes I think this one had a very good combination of faculty and participants. The important issue is how to improve what we are doing versus what could be done differently,” said Raymond Saner of University of Basle, Switzerland and an expert on trade and investment negotiations.

According to a participant, R K Mitra, Director at the Department of Commerce, Government of India: “I dicovered new areas of learning through these sessions; knowledge never goes waste. A broad review of India’s current international relations with various countries would be relevant for similar initiatives in the future.” Another participant from the Department of Commerce said that the idea of engaging a civil society organisation to train government officials was a novel one, as that helped in provding a much broader exposure to and perspective on various issues. According to a representative from the Confederation of Indian Industries, “CUTS should organise such tailormade programmes for industries. They will be of great help to business delegations dealing with trade and investment issues.”

In this programme, the participants were inculcated with knowledge and skills in commercial diplomacy in general and trade and investment negotiations in particular through case studies, simulation exercises, etc. Suggestions like imparting more practical lessons through case studies were received for future programmes. There is a specific demand to do a case study on how the G-20 coalition was formed just before the Cancun Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

Bipul Chatterjee, Deputy Executive Diretor of CUTS concluded the programme by saying that in future CUTS will organise issue specific training programmes on trade and investment negotiations catering to the Department of Commerce and other line ministries. Such programmes will in turn help to achieve better inter-ministerial coordination while developing India’s negotiating positions on specific issues.
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