Academic journal article Global Governance

Interest Groups at Transnational Negotiation Conferences: Goals, Strategies, Interactions, and Influence

Academic journal article Global Governance

Interest Groups at Transnational Negotiation Conferences: Goals, Strategies, Interactions, and Influence

Article excerpt

Interest groups partake in transnational negotiation conferences en masse. This is surprising given that the chances for influencing policymaking at these venues appear to be slim while the costs of participation are high. This amounts to an interesting question: why do so many interest groups attend transnational conferences? This article aims to answer this question by offering the first systematic study of the activities of interest groups at transnational conferences. It analyzes the goals, strategies, interactions, and influence of various types of interest groups at two transnational conferences; namely, the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference (2011) and the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2012). The data was collected through 349 interviews with interest group representatives and 129 interviews with government delegates who participated in these conferences. Keywords: nonstate actors, transnational negotiations, global advocacy, climate change, trade governance.

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There is little doubt that more interest groups (1) are active at the transnational level than ever before. (2) When entering the transnational political arena, interest groups are confronted with a wide variety of political venues. (3) For instance, interest groups can interact with other interest groups in so-called advocacy networks, (4) they can lobby international organizations directly, (5) and they can lobby foreign governments. (6) While these types of activities have been studied quite extensively in recent decades, much less is known about the activities of interest groups at transnational conferences (TCs); that is, conferences at which negotiations between countries are held under the flag of international organizations. This is surprising because interest groups themselves seem to value these conferences highly. For instance, since 1995, almost 2,000 different interest groups have attended at least one of the eight World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conferences (MCs), its highest decisionmaking body. (7) For the Conferences of the Parties (COPs), the principal negotiation forum of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the numbers are even more striking. Since 1997, more than 6,500 organizations have attended at least one of the COPs that have been held. (8)

These numbers are even more intriguing when one considers that, at first glance, it does not appear particularly productive for interest groups to attend transnational conferences. To start, the chance of having an impact on transnational decisionmaking is probably limited. International negotiations are conducted first and foremost by states, which makes lobbying at the national level seem far more productive. (9) While the chance to effectively influence international decisionmaking seems to be rather slim, the costs of transnational advocacy are certainly high. That is, to lobby at this level, groups need to network with policymakers and advocacy groups from all over the world; they need to rally constituents in a multitude of countries, they need to attend TCs that are held in every corner of the globe; and, given that transnational decisionmaking is slow, they need to maintain these activities over long periods of time. These activities are a significant drain on organizational resources in the long run. (10) These observations amount to an interesting question; why do so many interest groups attend TCs and, consequently, what do they exactly do when they are there?

In this article, I address these questions by analyzing the goals and activities of the interest groups that attended two important transnational conferences: the WTO MC in Geneva (2011) and the UNFCCC COP in Doha (2012). The WTO MCs are meetings of the highest decisionmaking body in global trade negotiations, and the UN COPs are meetings of the highest decisionmaking body on climate change. At these conferences, 348 interest group representatives and 129 government delegates were interviewed about four main issues. …

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