NGOs in WTO Talks: Patterns of Performance and What They Mean

In: International Negotiation
Gunnar Sjöstedt Swedish Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) Box 27035, SE-102 51 Stockholm Sweden

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have remained outside all the GATT rounds since the 1950s. In contrast, hundreds of NGOs have taken part in the current WTO round. This article maps the formal participation of NGOs in five ministerial conferences during the Doha round. It also analyzes various forms of NGO involvement in the WTO trade talks, such as lobbying and capacity-building of developing countries. An assessment of the current and potential capacities of NGOs in the Doha round requires that their performance be seen from an explicit negotiation perspective. Both NGO participation and involvement, as well the interaction between these two forms of NGO performance need to be considered. An assessment of how NGOs may have an impact on negotiation effectiveness and efficiency in WTO rounds should be approached from a long-term perspective and should consider other kinds of outcomes than formal final agreements. NGO performance in WTO may increase the complexity of negotiations or the significance of non-trade issues. NGO activities outside the WTO may disturb multilateral trade negotiations in the short term, such as during ongoing Ministerial Conferences. On the other hand, NGOs may also help to pave the way for constructive long-term changes in the WTO regime, which, in turn, may have a favorable impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall WTO negotiation system.

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