Good Governance Opens New Doors to Advocacy

Article excerpt

Christopher Simpson interviews Michel Kostecki, Professor at the University of Neuchâtel

For a model of good governance in trade policy, "make it open, make it fair. And make it inclusive", says Michel Kostecki.

A question levelled at WTO Director-General, Pascal Laniy, during a 90-minute online "chat" in late February 2006 was: "In your view, what should be the role of the business community in order to bring the Doha round to a successful conclusion?" He responded: "If the business community is uninterested in the Doha negotiations, it will be a struggle to close them successfully. So the business community should assess where its interests lie and make its position known to the governments concerned."

That is fair enough. But it depends on the business community being able to establish a common position in the face of conflicts of interest, and then on reliable channels through which to advocate this position to government. Is there a blueprint for business advocacy? Michel Kostecki, consultant on business advocacy to ITC, thinks not, due to the wide variety of political systems, social and economic development factors, and traditions.

"It is really a question of coming up with some common basic principles, implemented in a country-specific manner," Professor Kostecki points out, "and provided the system in place grants access to major players, including non-governmental organizations."

Good governance in trade policy, he says, provides legitimate channels of access to decision-makers, not only for business, but also for other groups - women, consumers, environmental protection activists and so on. The type of government does not matter to successful advocacy. A centralized state can be business friendly and an elected government entirely uninterested in the concerns of its business community.

With good governance comes advocacy, but devised in a certain way. "By advocacy," says Prof. Kostecki, "we don't mean advocacy with no rules. It should follow three easy precepts - transparent, legitimate and inclusive. There will always be important private interests. Advocacy can be a bad thing if it hijacks governments."

According to him, there are cases in some countries where special interests are so powerful that it is unclear to outsiders whether they are negotiating with governments or with industrial lobbies. But balanced advocacy models for both developed and developing countries do exist. Canada has a decentralized power structure, founded upon a large diversity of interests and upon integrating social issues and human rights. In South Africa the principles of the King Report on corporate governance - based on a case where sportsmen were accused of receiving bribes to ensure pre-arranged results in a 1990s series of cricket matches between India and South Africa - have a wider application to good governance in trade policy-making.

Forging a community of interests

To be transparent and inclusive, the process has to include open debate to resolve inevitable conflicts of interest, lay down common positions and establish what Prof. Kostecki calls the "community of interests".

"As discussions between groups move from the specific to the general, they begin to identify common ground for devising positions they can communicate to government negotiators," he says. "For example, business communities in most countries would generally support open markets in products of interest to them. To work towards a common goal of open markets, they set up coalitions."

He notes examples of the power of community of interest within the WTO itself, for example in the groupings of countries adopting similar negotiating positions to achieve general goals despite individual differences. "Sometimes it is hard to see the logic when you look at the different countries involved, then you delve deeper and understand," says Prof. Kostecki.

Yet if countries, with their huge differences, can attain these common goals, communities of interest working within countries should also be able to achieve them. …