New Delhi 15 April 2004

“International trading system is still evolving and trade policy-making is a specialised subject. Therefore, trade policy capacity building should be demand driven,” was the view expressed by experts while speaking at the Afro-Asian Civil Society Seminar being organised by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) in New Delhi. More than 100 participants from 40 different countries are participating in the event. They represent governments, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, business organisations, research institutions, academia, media persons, etc.

Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International, argued that capacity building is defined in different ways, both by the donors and the recipients. However, the word ‘building’ in “capacity building” has acquired a distorted meaning, implying that something from scratch has to be initiated. On the other hand, the capacity that has already been created has not been used effectively. This should depend on local context, for critical reflection, learning, documentation and dissemination and should be a continuous process.

According to David Luke, Trade, Debt and Globalisation Advisor to the United Nation Development Programme, there is the need for coherence between rich countries trade and development assistance policies. Aid for trade capacity support is concentrated on a very few developing countries. Secondly, leadership in exercising ownership and direction over the policy process is required from national policy-makers. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, the experience shows that there has been too little trade capacity development content in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, thus mainstreaming trade in these plans is proving to be an elusive objective to realise.

Veena Jha, UNCTAD’s Coordinator in India, outlined the imperative of developing local institutions in building trade policy capacity, which can also act as regulatory and enforcing bodies. At present, there is no built-in mechanism to estimate the costs of adjustments to new trade policies and their implementation, she said. Referring to the WTO’s dispute settlement process, she argued that the cost of defending is very high, which calls for the creation of indigenous capacity. She also shared the experience of the implementation of UNCTAD’s India’s Trade and Globalisation programme, which is aimed for building the capacity of different stakeholders.
Rosalca Hamilton, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Law and Economics, Jamaica, shared the Caribbean experience of trade policy-making, especially that of Jamaica. She argued that first there should be a need to clarify to build capacity for what, for whom and how. Building capacity should also focus on enabling developing countries to produce high value products, which will be helpful for getting better market access.

While chairing the session, Suman Bery, Director General of National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, said that the imperative is to have regular and better interaction between the trade policy officials and the civil society, so that both can learn from each others’ experiences and apply them in their respective fields.