“The imbalance in the reach of CSOs in developing and developed countries raises an important issue regarding the credibility of the NSA (Non-state Actor) consultative processes on WTO issues” said Ujal Singh Bhatia, former Indian Ambassador to the WTO. He was speaking at yesterday’s CUTS session entitled ‘Role of Non State Actors in the WTO’, at the WTO Public Forum 2010. The overall theme of this year’s WTO Public Forum is ‘The Forces Shaping World Trade’.
Earlier in his introductory remarks, Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International pointed out that NSAs have become important players in the public policy making process, thereby also playing a crucial role in shaping trade policy at national, regional and global levels.
Eminent panellists, representing various interests, participating in this session were Pascal Kerneis, Managing Director, European Services Forum (ESF); Ricardo Melendez-Ortiz, Chief Executive, ICTSD; Michael Hindley, former MEP; and Prof. Abul Barkat, Professor and Chair, Economics Department, University of Dhaka Bangladesh.
Pascal Kerneis, representing the business interests, mentioned that lack of convergence at the global level, especially the impasse in the Doha Development Agenda, has illustrated that business interests are yet not properly served by the WTO and has only led to an increase in Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). Ricardo Melendez- Ortiz, representing the interests of the CSOs, remarked that the dynamic role played by non-state actors in creating a better informed society on relevant issues cannot be denied though their legitimacy to represent varied interests is debatable.
Michael Hindley opined that while trade policy making is an executive power/function it is the parliamentarian who is accountable for representing the interests of voters. He called for bridging of the communication gap between the parliamentarians and the voter to fill in the existing democratic deficit in policy making.
The session was also looked at from an academic perspective by Prof. Abul Barkat, who provided the theoretical and analytical basis for the role of NSAs in the WTO process. He opined that NSAs are capable of reshaping patterns as well as outcomes of global governance, given a rapidly changing world and the broadening of the development agenda with inclusion of new actors.
More than 60 participants from different country missions to the WTO, inter-governmental organisation, NGOs, and other institutions took part in the deliberations. The session provided an array of topics for discussion but mainly revolved around the issue of legitimacy of the role of NSAs in the WTO. In conclusion, it was noted while this role is crucial, the acceptance and effectiveness of NSAs, especially in the developing world, is debatable and needs to be analysed and improved for them to serve as the society’s voice on a variety of socio-economic-environmental issues.