Giving Voice to the "Silent Majority"

Article excerpt

Report of "Business for Development" meeting, Hong Kong, China

The challenge to building business advocacy is to develop business-government dialogue, but also to bring in small firms, the informal sector and other parts of society.

Government trade officials, business representatives and researchers at a "Business for Development" forum in December 2005 stressed the need for business to make its views known to government before the latter enacts domestic law on trade or establishes national positions in international trade negotiations. But they highlighted the difficulty of adopting this proactive approach in the developing world, where economic actors are often small and medium-sized firms with low bargaining power, traditional agricultural producers with little access to decision-makers and a large informal sector. Collectively, they form a vast and voiceless "silent majority".

The forum exposed other problems facing business advocacy in developing countries, among them the weakness of business organizations and the dominant position within the WTO system of the business community from developed countries, little concerned with development issues.

Tips to boost advocacy

On the plus side, it also presented a number of case studies from both developed and developing countries, including several highly sophisticated campaigns, highlighting recent progress in trade policy-related advocacy. It also proposed several approaches to creating effective and more proactive business advocacy in developing countries:

* Create guidelines for business organizations in developing countries to help them communicate better with their members and, crucially, with government. In the words of ITC Executive Director, J. Denis Belisle, "Business and government need to get down to basics, make their views known to each other and achieve common goals in trade negotiations." The guidelines would draw from best-practice advocacy approaches from developed and developing countries.

* Encourage North-South business dialogue to identify common interests, viewpoints and goals, build coalitions to advocate policy on issues of mutual concern, and devise joint approaches to managing issues. …