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Civil society organisations and participation in trade policy processes

Time (GMT +01) 11:30 13:30


Francisco Perez, COPLA Nicaragua Programme Coordinator, Nitlapán

Norma Correa, COPLA Peru Programme Coordinator, Consorcio de Investigación Económica y Social (CIES)

Roberto Tellería, COPLA Bolivia Programme Coordinator, Grupo Nacional de Trabajo para la Participación (GNTP)


Maryse Robert, Director, Trade and Competetiveness Department, Organisation of American States (OAS)

Julia D’Agostino, COPLA Regional, Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento (CIPPEC)


Nicola Jones, Programme Manager, COPLA, ODI

Civil society organisations and participation in trade policy processes
Watch video: Taking Ceviche Global

Norma Correa
COPLA Peru Programme Coordinator,
Consorcio de Investigación Económica y Social

1. Perú suffers from what is described as a ‘middle income paradox’. It has had high and sustained levels of growth. Yet while the Peruvian coastal areas are the most developed, the rural Andes and Amazonian regions have high incidences of poverty. There is also a link between poverty and ethnicity.

2. High levels of inequality and poor access to services in rural areas including transport and health are a serious concern.

3. Since the 1990s there has been a process of intense trade liberalisation. The implementation of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with the US and Canada, and ongoing negotiations with Asia and EU are top priorities. There are high expectations of the role of FTAs for development and for reducing inequality.

4. There is a strong focus on growth in the media. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are looking for more inclusion and how to make FTAs work for the poor.

5. The relationship between trade policy and economic growth is not clear. The link between trade and development is neither direct nor one-dimensional. Research so far suggests that the FTAs may result in growth but will not necessarily reduce inequality.

6. CSO engagement in trade policy processes has adapted. Before signing the FTA with the US, there was low demand for wider participation. There was also low media attention and little public interest. During the negotiations a combination of issue based campaigns and high media attention led to heightened public awareness resulting in social conflict.

7. Since the FTA with the US was signed, fragmentation of civil society networks and some narrow intra-civil society dialogues has occurred. Raising invisible topics in the negotiations, including social exclusion and gender/ youth issues, has been vital.

8. Now that the government needs to implement the FTA with the US, new spaces for dialogue with CSOs have opened.

9. CIES is focusing on the most sensitive areas e.g. small rural producers (e.g. potato producers) which, unlike agro-industries and exporters, were excluded and/or poorly represented during FTA negotiation. They are focusing on the shifting terms of the policy debate and the key role of renewed social protection.

10. Lessons learnt include the importance of building on existing networks of trust are essential when approaching policy makers. Constructive engagement is possible in highly politicised contexts if people positions are understood. Importance of proactively fostering and supporting the media’s role as knowledge brokers in topics such as trade.

Roberto Tellería
COPLA Bolivia Programme Coordinator,
Grupo Nacional de Trabajo para la Participación (GNTP)

1. Bolivian trade agreements are relatively old: Andean Community (1969); World Trade Organisation member (1995) and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA) (2006).

2. Bolivian president, Evo Morales, is changing the economic and political model. Before 2006, the majority of CSOs used to have links to government. Post 2006, there is polarization between CSOs and their links with government. Natural gas makes up half of Bolivian exports. Morales nationalized gas in 2006 resulting in increased social tensions between different factions.

3. There is a geographical difference between the centre of government (La Paz) and the richer lowlands. Links are still there but CSOs from the highlands talk to government to a greater extent, whereas lowland CSOs talk more to the private sector. Bolivia has experienced a polarisation of CSOs and their trade policy related demands. Lowland CSOs are pro-FTA with US, demand radical decentralisation, seek the continuation of Andean Pact Trade and Drug Enforcement Agreement (APTDEA) with the US and have strong support for local government. Highland CSOs are against the APTDEA (with conditions) and FTA.

4. A vicious cycle exists where highland CSOs support the nationalisation of gas and the use of profits for social policies. The government in turn demands support from these CSOs resulting in policies that damage economic, social and political systems – by exacerbating racial and economic tensions between CSOs.

5. COPLA Bolivia seeks to reduce the level of polarisation among CSOs by building inter-institutional platforms, training programmes, promoting dialogue to policy makers and designing joint trade policies. Other Bolivian organizations working on trade include IBCE, CEDLA, and CAINCO.

Francisco Perez
COPLA Nicaragua Programme Coordinator

1. In Nicaragua, from 1990-1993, the economic model underwent a transformation from a state controlled economy to market driven. From 1994, the economy grew at approximately 5% a year and trade policies were put in place within the context of regional integration in Central America. FTAs were signed with Mexico (1998); Dominican Republic (2001); Chile (2002) and Taiwan (2007).

2. Poverty in Nicaragua is increasing even though economic growth has been occurring. The top 10% of the population have access to 40% of total income.

3. Evidence of social and market marginalisation relate to trade liberalisation in agriculture and food markets. Global players tend to concentrate and govern food value chains including multi-nationals such as Wal-Mart and Cargill. Subsistence families tend to be excluded from value chains. There are structural barriers preventing the poor from accessing markets.

4. In Nicaragua, there are over 2,000 NGOs creating a complex mix of development NGOs, knowledge producers, advocacy NGOs and entrepreneurial organisations.

5. Customs Unions and FTAs were negotiated among governments with limited input from top firms.

6. The Dominican Republic and Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) with the US was the first FTA in which CSOs participated in so-called side room negotiations where they played a key role.

7. There has been limited CSOs involvement since the ratification of the FTA due to a variety of reasons such as a lack of consensus between CSOs and also competing perspectives between governments and other stakeholders.

8. New CSOs created in the post-CAFTA era are calling for reforms to the financial legal framework and minimum wage.

9. COPLA Nicaragua is identifying ways in which the poor can have a more advantageous position in value chains through rural tourism and other small and medium sized enterprises.

Maryse Robert
Director, Trade and Competitiveness Department
Organisation of American States (OAS)

1. Since 1995, the OAS has helped member states implement FTAs. Agreements need to be implemented and parallel policies such as enhancing markets access. Governments are constrained by social and political and economic barriers.

2. In Colombia, before the negotiations for the FTA with the US, CSOs from a broad range of sectors were consulted. During negotiations, the CSOs were participants in side room negotiations. These agreements have led to more dialogue with CSOs. Need to ensure that agreements work for everybody. This is the most important issue. Need a complementary agenda. OAS is working on developing this complementary agenda. Trade is very technical.

3. Market access does not necessarily mean market presence. Small producers are particularly affected.

4. OAS is aiming to strengthen institutions at the local level, empower groups by creating a channel of knowledge to inform affected peoples about policies affecting them and build capacity and job creation.

5. Trade agreements cannot solve development problems. They are a tool not a panacea.

Julia D’Agostino
COPLA Regional,
Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento (CIPPEC)

1. There is a broad range of FTAs across Latin America. The ‘power cube’ approach by John Gaventa is a useful framework in which to analyse the different power relations between actors and FTAs.

2. Analysis of the different FTAs across Latin America demonstrates the variety of power manifestations found in these types of agreements. These power manifestations can be invisible, hidden or visible, exposing the barriers affecting the participation of stakeholders. The ‘power cube’ approach is valuable for promoting knowledge of critical power relationships.

3. The challenge is therefore to build networks and partnerships which overcome, transcend and undermine these inequitable power imbalances.

Questions and Discussion

• The assumption that benefits are inevitable once FTAs have been signed is misplaced. In Peru, there is a consensus that trade cannot achieve poverty alleviation alone.

• Establishing ‘tool kits’ for CSOs involved in trade agreements is a priority to help speed up capacity building and knowledge of best practices.

• Increased involvement of CSOs in FTAs is partially the result of USAID, which emphasized the importance of their participation.

• The side room approach is currently the best option available for the inclusion of CSOs in trade negotiations.

• The media needs to increase its capacity and understanding of trade issues. To date, it has not provided the qualified exposure needed to generate interest outside specialised circles to create a proper debate on trade.

• A question remains over whether it is sensible for all CSOs to become involved in trade negotiations if they are not directly involved. There is concern that CSOs may end up competing for space, undermining their overall presence. Panellists suggested CSOs can provide supporting roles by increasing capacity through training.

• Consideration of events and debates at the international level is very important given the failure in July 2008 to secure a new global trade deal in Geneva.


At this ODI/Comercio y Pobreza en Latinoamérica / Trade and Poverty in Latin America (COPLA) event, COPLA researchers from Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, will present the findings of initial research on the roles of civil society organisations (CSOs) in trade policy processes in Latin America. The findings cover the opportunities and challenges for CSO engagement in trade policy debate, and an analysis of which groups are participating, who they represent, and what impact they have had to date.

This is an opportunity to find out what other actors - governments, multi-laterals, donors and researchers - can do to strengthen their participation and the democratic nature of policy decision making processes, and to learn from the experience of the COPLA programme in working with these key policy actors.

The research looks at the next steps for CSOs working in this area, given the signing of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) by so many countries and what other actors, such as the mass media, are doing in relation to FTAs and overall trade policy. It also examines the role of CSOs in countries that have not signed FTAs.