Jaipur, 18 March 2005. “We still have a huge amount to learn about the complex links between trade, development and poverty and involving grassroots civil society in a dialogue on the way trade affects their livelihoods is vital to efforts aimed at deepening our understanding of these linkages and therefore developing pro-poor trade policies.” These comments were expressed by the participants at a meeting organised by CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment (CUTS-CITEE).
The meeting was organised by CUTS-CITEE to launch its project entitled “Linkages between Trade, Development and Poverty Reduction,” which is supported by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands and will be implemented over the next four years. This project, which will be implemented in 16 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe aims to discover more about how trade policies affect the poor through consulting with them about its impact. In addition it aims to use these findings to advocate for pro-poor trade policies in these regions and at the international level.
Bipul Chaterjee the Director of CUTS-CITEE presented it as an opportunity to widen the debate on trade to include the voice of economically and politically marginalised groups. He stated that the media has an important role to play in widening this debate by providing greater coverage to grassroots concerns in relation to trade. He stated further that dialogues directed towards increasing the sensitivity of the media to grassroots trade concerns are one the activities that will be included in this project.
Initiating a discussion on the theoretical linkages between trade, development and poverty, Veena Jha from UNCTAD India Programme highlighted the need for trade liberalisation policies to be implemented together with a wide range of complementary policies that offer the poor an opportunity to gain access to the assets and resources required to benefit from the market opportunities that liberalisation can offer. She stated that “assets such as land and farming implements and access to secure electricity supplies, reliable infrastructure, credit and education are vital to the ability of the poor to gain significantly from a freer trading environment.”
Further discussions focused on the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the benefits of trade liberalisation are spread as widely as possible and work to support poverty reduction strategies.
Tamsyn Barton from DFID expressed her hopes that this project will help bring the developing economic debate on the linkages between trade, development and poverty further into the political realm so that the trade policies of governments reflect the complexities and sensitivities inherent in these linkages. She called on civil society to “spearhead these efforts and to bridge the gap between impoverished stakeholders at the grassroots level and policy-makers at the governmental level.”
Peter Metcalfe from the Foundation for the Development of Africa, based in South Africa, suggested that the poor need to be empowered, in order for them to be able to actively express their concerns related to trade policy. He stated that one way in which this can be done is to talk about development in terms of wealth creation rather than in terms of poverty alleviation, a term, which he believes disempowers the poor by defining them by their socio-economic status.
A common theme expressed in the sessions was that we are constantly learning more about the linkages between trade, development and poverty and that we have long way to go to understand the mystery that still characterise these linkages. Sheila Page from the London based think-tank Overseas Development Institute, stated the importance of this fact by warning policy-makers against taking dogmatic and simplified policy positions on trade. She said that this would ensure that “a dynamic and nuanced debate on the linkages between trade, development and poverty can continue, which will be for the benefit of the numerous people across the world who are still to experience significant benefits from trade liberalisation.”