A New Trade Democracy.In the Making

Article excerpt

A new trade democracy? Perhaps not yet, but signs of change are there.

A short time ago, people saw trade policy as a matter for economists outlining trade scenarios, government officials negotiating behind closed doors or business lobbies in Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other cities.

No longer. Seattle's trade meeting shattered this stereotype, as thousands of protesters marched against globalization. Doha's response was a declaration to make trade work for all. Cancún, in backlash, registered the disappointment of developing countries; but for the first time, because of the promise of Doha, those voices took centre stage. Hong Kong kept the doors to discussion open. But the range of voices in the discussion has changed.

So today's picture is different, with a new ensemble of voices. A challenge ahead will be to balance this wider range of voices to achieve broader consensus. World Trade Organization (WTO) members now stand at 149. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) registered in Hong Kong numbered over 1,000. Registered journalists, too, have jumped from a decade, or even five years ago. Developing country delegations are bigger, with more business - and even NGO - representatives. Parallel events at Hong Kong numbered in the hundreds. The mix is changing; the exchange of views is broader.

More people take part in the trade debate, and benefit from open trade, but there is justified cause for concern. The picture is fragile. It could shatter into pieces. Analysts and journalists, when reporting global trade talks, use words such as social justice, retraining workers, exporting jobs, keeping local culture alive, colliding forces of nationalism and globalization, afflictions of global capitalism, nationalist resurgence, protectionist backlash and so on.

"Trade democracy" and wider advocacy do not answer questions of whether open trade and market forces are good or bad. …