New Delhi 16 April 2004

“There are differences within developing countries on trade and trade policy matters and this needs to be recognised fully while forming coalitions at the international levels in order to take forward their interests in a cogent manner.” This was one of the key recommendations that emerged out of the Afro-Asian Civil Society Seminar on Trade, which was held in New Delhi. The three-day seminar concluded yesterday. Other than the plenary sessions, a number of case studies highlighting the impact of international trade on domestic economies and sectors were presented.

More than 100 participants from different countries discussed and debated key issues emerging in the international trading system. They debated the draft Afro-Asian Civil Society Statement on Trade, which will be adopted. The recommendations will be taken forward to advocate at different fora, especially to the 11th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in June this year.

Two major strands emerged from the seminar. While many participants challenged the existing development model and called to put primacy to social and human considerations over economic considerations. Another set of participants argued that it is the system, which needs to be reformed and profound structural changes are required to operate the system in a more acceptable way.

The forum recommended a research agenda for the civil society organisations to take forward. The domestic dimensions of the issues and their linkages with the international trading system should be recognised and researched properly. Another issue is whether the civil society organizations are in a position to facilitate the building of international coalitions. If yes, the question is how they would reconcile the international civil society perspectives with the national perspectives. There should also be joint advocacy strategies around common issues.

The role of civil society organisations in helping developing countries in trade negotiations was another issue, which was debated. The challenge is to recognise the complex relationship between the governments and the civil society organisations, particularly when the non-state actors challenge the existing paradigm of governance and related issues. The civil society also needs to understand its relationship with other stakeholders, like business and media.

Another outcome of the meeting was the formation of an Afro-Asian Civil Society Network on Trade, which will work together to implement the research agenda and do advocacy at different levels.