The WTO and the Business Community
It has become a cliché to say that the WTO is at a crossroads.2 After twelve years of negotiations on the so-called Doha Development Agenda (DDA), it appeared there was no end in sight by 2013. Policy-makers in industrialized nations seemed to be both distracted by the lingering effects of the financial crisis and more intrigued by preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and plurilaterals (e.g. the Trade in Services Agreement, TISA) than by the multilateral approach. The large emerging economies continued to adopt a wait-and-see attitude; they are ready to fight for their agenda but unwilling (or unable) to exert positive leadership to advance the DDA. The private sector, in turn, had been observing the WTO system with an increasing sense of frustration.3 This reflects not only the poor performance of the system in delivering results in a timely fashion, but also the perception that the WTO “business model,” with its emphasis on market access (via tariff cuts and bindings) plus its “silo” approach to trade negotiations, is outdated.
The limited deals reached in the context of the Bali Ministerial – in particular, the agreement on Trade Facilitation – have given new hope to those who believe that the private sector will rally around a multilateral deal when the “landing zone” for the DDA becomes clear.4 This is, however, a dangerous belief in that it can cause the failure of the DDA to become a self- fulfilling prophecy. Without sustained engagement from the private sector in support of a deal, negotiations are likely to continue to languish and the focus of private companies will be increasingly diverted to PTAs and plurilateral deals. One step that could begin to address this gulf between private sector perceptions and the realities of WTO operations would be to establish a business advisory council or a platform for focused discussions on priority trade issues. Such an innovation could be part of a broader agenda on WTO reform.
In this paper, we review how different international organizations and networks have organized themselves by offering a platform for the business community to provide advice on their operations. The focus is on a limited group of organizations that engage in trade- negotiations related activities. The paper does not claim to provide a comprehensive review of existing platforms for business interaction with international organizations nor an evaluation of their effectiveness; it intends to serve as a reference for the debate in question. It follows upon the recommendations of the “WTO Blueskying Report: Ideas for the New DG” that The Evian Group@IMD co-sponsored with partner organizations.5 In the next sections we briefly review the BIAC (OECD), the ABAC (APEC), the ASEAN BAC and the B20 (G20). The paper concludes with specific recommendations on how best to advance this agenda.
1- Comments and suggestions from S. Bertasi, C. Boonekamp, J. Freymond, S. Harbinson, S. Jackson, A. Karami-Ruiz, K. Lallerstedt, A. Hoe Lim, D. Lippoldt, X. Lu, M. Oshikawa, M. Perez-Esteve, V. do Prado, W. Reinsch, P. Robinson, and A. Spear who are gratefully acknowledged. Errors and omissions are ours.
2- For a review of the main challenges currently faced by the WTO see: C.A. Primo Braga. “WTO: The fight for relevance.” IMD, Tomorrow’s Challenges, 2013. <http://www.imd.org/research/challenges/TC045-13-wto-the- fight-for-relevance-carlos-primo-braga.cfm>.
3- For analyses of the causes of frustration among private sector representatives vis-à-vis the WTO see: “WTO Director-General candidates’ debate at IMD.” http://www.imd.org/news/WTO-Director-General-candidates- debate-at-IMD.cfm; and J. Eckhardt. “The decreasing interest of business in the WTO: Why should we care and how can we solve it?” E15 Expert Group on the Functioning of the WTO, ICTSD/WTI, 2013.
4- For an evaluation of the Bali package see: C.A. Primo Braga. “The Bali Package: The DDA is [still] alive.” IMD, Tomorrow’s Challenges, December 2013. http://www.imd.org/research/challenges/TC095-13-wto-bali-package- carlos-braga.cfm.
5- For details about the report in question and related background papers see: T. Abu-Ghazaleh, C.A. Primo Braga, and S. Marchi. “WTO Blueskying; Ideas for the new DG.” Geneva: WTO, 28 June 2013 http://www.imd.org/uupload/IMD.WebSite/EvianGroup/Web/963/WTO%20Bluesking%20Roundtable%20Final%2 0Summary%20Report.pdf.