Today, new challenges face both strategy-makers and business as we put new demands on trade to serve broader objectives than just to increase commerce. However, new networks are springing up that aim to help both sides in the dialogue -- government and civil society -- and to bring business effectively into the broader discussion.
Traditionally, trade policy has been an arena with relatively straightforward objectives revolving around opening and protecting markets. Trade facilitation has focused on making the exchanges between traders and markets more efficient. But increasingly, trade is seen as serving multiple objectives. As a result, it requires different strategies, capacities and supportive policies.
The movement toward "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) is the most familiar reflection of business efforts to retool to meet broader objectives. The concept of "transgovernmentalism" has gained currency among policy-makers whose resources have diminished as their jobs have become more complex. Both of these concepts incorporate elements of networking and outreach to achieve strategic policy and business objectives. Strong advocates against these concepts also exist. They argue that business and government must do what they do best and let others step in to fill the gaps. In this environment, extended networks have the potential to help business, policy-makers and civil society address the challenges faced by all groups.
Business network shortcomings
Remarkably, business has changed its approach to trade policy influence very little in response to the changing environment. By default, it has largely ceded its position in the debate about public welfare and trade policy. This represents a great shortcoming in most businesses' trade networks and a great opportunity for those who can mobilize activity in this area.
However, the challenges are great. They require organizations to think outside traditional boundaries and to develop new capacities for analysis and communication. Such engagement is not purely political. As technical understanding of trade and economic transformation has deepened among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), business and governments, all participants will be forced to support their preferred policies with better reasoning and to communicate this to broader publics.
Facilitating the network
In this milieu, several organizations have been created or retooled to address the new challenges of making the extended trade network work and to be more responsive to the broader range of objectives demanded of trade policy. One of these organizations is the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). Shortly after the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established, ICTSD was created in 1996 by a group of NGOs representing diverse interests on sustainable development and trade.
ICTSD's work focuses on the trade policy-making process, with a non-partisan emphasis on enabling and facilitating participation by those who up to now have been only marginally involved in such processes. This includes NGOs from both the North and the South, and a broad range of groups from the South including governments, business and academia. It also includes intergovernmental organizations that do not necessarily have mandates on trade, but whose work intersects with trade in some way. ICTSD's network has grown from a few hundred organizations in 1996 to more than 9,000 in virtually all of the countries of the world. The network is comprised 40% of policy-makers and 60% of civil society organizations.
Publications as facilitators
When it started, ICTSD's network was highly fragmented and diverse. Today, as a result of its publications, it is perhaps even more diverse but less fragmented. Early on, the organization recognized that effective facilitation of exchanges between such dramatically different groups had to begin with enabling participants to understand each other. …