Trade Talks: Getting Business on Board

Article excerpt

CHALLENGES

Businesses in developing countries can't afford to ignore global trade talks.

International trade agreements are reshaping national laws on where and how companies can trade. Whether we speak of agriculture, services, textiles and clothing, intellectual property or other topics, WTO agreements dominate the international trade arena. WTO member states - 148 so far - are even now refining a set of global trade rules. What's more, bilateral and regional agreements add layers of complexity to the environment in which business has to make decisions.

Businesses in developing countries have not made their voice heard enough in the trade negotiations that lead to these rules. And often they are not satisfied with the results. Governments have sometimes agreed to trade rules that hinder their firms' ability to do business. Their most important exports don't reach enough foreign markets, while their local markets are open to competition for which they were not prepared.

Negotiators need the views of business. They have many policy options to assess and their teams are often small. It's not easy to analyse the business implications of market access barriers, influence international standards or evaluate the impact of different trade proposals on exporters. Nor is it possible if business and government do not work together.

There has been little tradition of "business advocacy" in the South. As global trade talks continue to shape the business environment, exporters and governments in the developing world must learn to work with one another to improve market access and obtain special conditions for their firms.

SOLUTIONS

* Public-private teams, when a government's vision and the private sector's drive come together, it can be extremely effective. Countries need to go to global talks in business-government teams if they want results that benefit their economies.

Successful negotiation strategies depend, to a large degree, on the quality of collaboration between national trade negotiators and business leaders.

* Industry groupings. …

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