Set development priorities first for trade liberalisation to be effective

November 28, 2005, Jaipur
“In order for trade liberalisation and other trade reforms to become a more effective tool for development and poverty reduction in developing countries there needs to be a greater focus on accompanying reforms such as governance, institutional strengthening and infrastructure development, In addition it is vital that these reforms are domestically owned so that they respond to the specific needs of the countries involved. If governments and international policy-makers can translate these messages into the Doha Round of trade talks then maybe we can move the process forward”.

These sentiments found common expression at an International Symposium entitled “Exploring Linkages between Trade, Development and Poverty Reduction” which took place in Geneva on 24th November in the shadow of the struggling Doha Round of trade talks. This Symposium was organised by CUTS International, a non-governmental research, advocacy and networking organisation, with its headquarters in Jaipur, India, as part of a project (with the same title, and hereon referred to as the TDP project) supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINBUZA).

Participants included representatives from a number of European development ministries, developing country WTO missions, UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank, and a wide range of academic and civil society organisations from across Africa, Asia and Europe, where the project is being implemented.

Opening the conference, Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International gave an overview of the project’s objectives, which include gathering new insights into the linkages between trade, development poverty reduction and communicating these to national and international policy-makers so that trade policy responds more to the needs of the poor. He illustrated the importance of this project by quoting from a recent dialogue in China where a participant stated that “we understand the linkages between trade, development and poverty in our country better than they (international policy-makers) do”.

Joining Pradeep Mehta in opening the conference was Lakshmi Puri, the Director of UNCTAD’s Division on International Trade in Goods, Services and Commodities. She welcomed the TDP project and said that initiatives like it were “vital to giving marginalised groups in developing countries a voice to advocate for the type of wide ranging reforms that will empower them to develop more secure livelihoods”. Anders Ahnlid, Director General of International Trade in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke on the importance of ‘development’ in taking forward the Doha round of trade talks.

In the first thematic session in which discussions focused on the ways in which the TDP project can develop synergies with other relevant initiatives taking place in the project countries, Margaret Chemengich from the Kenyan Ministry of Trade highlighted some of the challenges Kenya faces in diversifying its economy and moving away from dependence on trading a narrow range of primary commodities. She said, “Although improvements have been made in developing electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, access to this is still prohibitively expensive to many of the poor in Kenya”. “The project will make an important contribution if it can communicate these needs to national and international policy-makers in order to mobilise greater political will to deliver these investments so that the poor can gain greater access,” she added.

In the same session, Alexander Werth a consultant based in Uganda and representing International Lawyers and Economists Against Poverty, said that a recent study he undertook through the TDP project “found that a wide range of trade related technical assistance (TRTA) projects supported by international donors lack domestic ownership and are directed by a donor led-agenda that is all-too-often unresponsive to the priorities of the developing countries receiving the support”. He added that “more needs to be done to engage civil society organisations effectively in the debate surrounding the design of TRTA interventions so that they respond to the needs of people at the grass-roots level and that the TDP project can play an important role in this”.

In the following session in which discussions focused on the challenge of policy coherence relating to TDP initiatives, Carlos Braga, Senior Advisor to the International Trade Department of the World Bank, expressed his concern that international donors are failing to coordinate their TRTA activities with each other and with those being undertaken by developing countries themselves. He emphasised the need for these reforms to be coordinated with national development strategies so as to ensure domestic ownership and that involving CSOs in the dialogue was vital to achieving this goal.

In the same session, Dr Abid Suleri Assistant Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Pakistan emphasised the need for countries supplying aid to support trade expansion, to respond more coherently to these challenges. He said that in order to demonstrate their sincerity in supporting the expansion of trade capacity in developing countries “they need to deal with the high tariffs they apply to the exports of developing countries and the astonishing volume of subsidies they provide to their farmers that prevent poor farmers in developing countries from competing more effectively”.

In a session looking at the way in which the TDP project could contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Meg Jones, Deputy Director of the Evian Group, emphasised the importance of engaging women’s groups effectively in the project activities. Echoing recent comments by the UN Secretary-General on this topic she said that “with so many of the MDGs dependent on the empowerment of women there needs to be greater involvement of women in the design of policies that aim to promote the expansion commercial activity in developing countries so that the specific needs of women are met”.

Speaking at the concluding session, Margriet Kuster, Senior Trade Advisor at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “For international trade to help countries to achieve more development, first it is necessary to bring together conflicting interests, like those in setting standards. Secondly, technical assistance to developing countries should help in increasing both negotiating capacity and supply capacity. Governance and policy failures need to be understood properly in order to address supply-side constraints.”

The TDP project will continue with background research in the project countries, which will provide guidance to the organisation of a number of national, regional and international dialogues to explore TDP linkages further, and the design of a wide range of advocacy activities aiming to incorporate these insights into the policy-making process. This will take place between now and December 2008 when the project will end.
For more information, please contact:
Bipul Chatterjee,
Gideon Rabinowitz,