The Making of International Trade Policy

The Making of International Trade Policy

NGOs, Agenda-Setting and the WTO

Hannah Murphy

This book investigates the contributions of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to policymaking at the WTO, challenging the idea that NGOs can be narrowly understood as potential ‘democratic antidotes’ to the imperfections of Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs).

Chapter 7: Understanding the Agenda-setting Roles of NGOs at the WTO

Hannah Murphy

Subjects: economics and finance, international economics, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy, public policy


INTRODUCTION Each of the preceding case studies – the campaign for WTO labour standards, the access to medicines campaign, and the campaign against a WTO investment agreement – suggest that NGOs play a number of important roles in the agenda-setting phase of the international trade policy process. This chapter draws together these threads in a way that permits NGO campaigns to be assessed in the context of governance-based neoliberal approaches to conceptualizing the role of NGOs in international trade politics. In doing so I explain that the campaign activities of reformer NGOs on international trade issues more often facilitated, rather than impeded, international trade governance. Through their campaigns, NGOs promote issues often neglected by WTO member states; boost the resources of LDCs; publicize normative dimensions of trade issues; and lend moral support to the negotiating positions of member states. The chapter shows that despite their exclusion from the decisionmaking floor of the WTO, NGOs are nonetheless important actors in the international trade regime. The first part of the chapter contends that NGOs publicize issues overlooked (sometimes deliberately) by WTO member states. NGOs instigate debates about the potential consequences of WTO agreements; identify aspects of WTO agreements that require review and refinement; pinpoint implementation problems at the national level; and even identify new policy areas that might be better dealt with by WTO rules. In demonstrating this I focus on the ways in which each set of NGO campaigners used political opportunities to instigate international debate. Opportunities included policy crises; the self-serving activities...

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