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Bolivia's Participation in International Trade Negotiations

Working papers

Bolivia forms part of several trade agreements and thus civil
servants responsible for international trade are overloaded with negotiating responsibiliies. Until recently most foreign trade negotiations were conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Relations (MFR) with the support of some divisions in other Ministries. Currently, the recently created MCEI has specialised in foreign trade and is helping the MFR to formulate national policy. It also collects market information and supplies it to exporters. Nevertheless, key negotiations are in the hands of the MFR.

One of the main constraints is that in most negotiations Bolivia is represented by small and understaffed delegations with budget restrictions. These delegations are rarely composed of experienced and skilled negotiators, partly because of high personnel rotation in the public sector and partly because of low wages in the public sector. This restricts the possibility of “attracting the best men or women for the job”. Bolivia lacks both a trade negotiation tradition and the aggressive policies found in other countries in Latin America, (e.g. Colombia, Chile). In many cases it also lacks sound strategies which can lead to an improved performance of its exports. As mentioned, Bolivia, in the last two years, has reduced its export value and very few new markets have been opened and expanded. In other words Bolivia has a limited trade negotiating capacity and because of that has not been very successful in expanding its export earnings, and maintains a chronic deficit in its balance of trade. This in turn has led to an underdeveloped manufacturing sector.

When participating in International Trade Fora, Bolivia tends to support group positions (for example GRULAC, G-77, Cairns), which are in line with its free trade policy, but rarely presents new proposals or displays strong leadership. Among its main negotiating techniques and methods of getting a better bargaining position we can mention: (a) to look for partners with common interests, (b) to claim credit for autonomously liberalised trade policy in order to complain about developed countries’ non-tariff barriers, (c) to stress that poverty can not be alleviated if the trade barriers to Bolivian products are not removed, and (d) to be present at all possible events in spite of the small number of trade negotiators.

Alan Bojanic H.