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The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Influencing Trade Policy Making: Strategic Planning and Brainstorming Meeting

Source: Arab NGO Network for Development

The involvement of civil society organizations in trade policy processes has become perhaps the central issue in the lively and often acrimonious debate on the "democratic deficit" held by many to exist in the functioning of the multilateral trade system . The more trade interferes in social trends, domestic affairs, norms of life, national traditions, and social institutions that touch on people’s rights and standards of living, the more civil society organizations see a necessity for interference. Civil society organizations want "in" to trade policy – and not merely to be listened to and politely shown the door when the time comes for serious decision making. What they are clearly seeking is to rebalance, not simply to be heard .

Approaches to addressing trade and development policies and advocacy tools used for lobbying in this area vary among organizations and among agreements and regions. Civil society has taken on different roles and types of mobilizations in this area. Different kinds of intelligence, analysis, and advocacy on trade policy, including that in think tanks, universities, the legal community, grassroots organizations, research and advocacy groups, policy NGOs, and social movements bring their perspectives and propositions forward in quest of influencing the current trade system. Protests and mass mobilization is the most visible strategy, especially when the street protests in Seattle and other cities contributed to the collapse of the multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In this context, three broad functional categories of civil society organization coalitions or networks are identified: "mobilization networks," whose chief objective is to rally support for a specific set of activities; "technical networks," which are designed to provide information to civil society organizations to facilitate their participation in the policy process; and networks dedicated to servicing developing countries, which are dubbed a "virtual secretariat" for the latter.

Given the limitation of resources, capacities, and previous experience in the area of trade policy advocacy, and discrepancies in capacities among regions, the exchange of experiences among regions and groups becomes of significant added value.

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