New Delhi 14 April 2004

“Are international organisations adapting to the issues that developing countries advocate for holistic development?” This question was posed by N. K. Singh, Member of the Planning Commission of India. He also added that the definition of sovereignty will undergo a significant change in the near future and countries need to reposition themselves in this new era of globalisation.

He was delivering the inaugural address of the Afro-Asian Civil Society Seminar, being held in New Delhi. The event is organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), an international non-governmental organisation, having its headquarters in Jaipur. The Seminar will continue till 15 April. More than 150 representatives from over 40 countries are participating at the event.

According to Magda Shahin, Egypt’s Ambassador to Greece: “Increased awareness of NGOs on issues confronting the international trading system is indeed helping developing countries in manifesting their concerns of development in a better way”. She added that Cancun was a new beginning as far as developing countries´ participation in the international trading system is concerned. In this context, she highlighted the importance of the various groups of the developing countries that have shown readiness to work together.

K. A. Azad Rana, Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organisation stressed on the need for developing the capacity of developing and least developed countries while engaging in trade negotiations and explained the various programmes that the WTO is organising. He also emphasised on supply-side constraints that many of these countries are facing and argued that unless these problems are addressed, poor countries will not be able to enjoy market access opportunities to the fullest extent possible, even if they are available.

Lakshmi Puri, Director of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development outlined the role that UNCTAD is playing in highlighting the poor countries’ concerns on trade. She iterated that the UNCTAD will continue to develop the capacity of developing and least developed countries on both trade policy and trade promotion. In this context, she mentioned that at the 11th Session of UNCTAD, which will be held in June this year, the organisation would launch a new programme of partnership between the governments, business organisations and the civil society organisations.

While chairing the session, Arjun Sengupta, a leading economist of India, argued that the civil society has a much larger role to play today than before, especially in the light of changes which are taking place in the international trading system. He took this opportunity to laud the efforts made by CUTS and many other NGOs to do both research and advocacy to place the developing countries´ views at different forum in a better way.

According to S. N. Menon, Special Secretary of Department of Commerce, Government of India: “There should not be any hurry for making trade rules, as that can have adverse impact on the interests of developing countries.” Trade is welfare enhancing, but trade liberalisation may create some losers and the redeployment of those people into the economic process is very important,” he argued.

The title of the first plenary was “Assuring Development Gains From the International Trading System and Trade Negotiations”. While delivering the keynote address, Anwar Ul Hoda, Professor of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations deliberated on the issue that trade is not the end all and be all of development. “The bedrock of any development process is social and political stability and sound macro economic management,” he emphasised.

Maxine Olson, the Resident Representative of the India Office of United Nations Development Programme chaired the plenary and emphasised that trade is the means and not an end. She expressed that in future, NGOs will be playing a much bigger role in shaping the agenda for the international trading system, and both the governments and the inter-governmental agencies need to devise new mechanisms to entering into partnerships with the civil society.