The Making of International Trade Policy
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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).
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Chapter 2: NGOs, States and the WTO: Towards a Governance-centred Perspective

Hannah Murphy


INTRODUCTION There is not a great deal written about NGOs in regard to the governance of international trade. This is surprising given the proliferation of studies on NGOs within the international relations literature, combined with ongoing debates surrounding international trade liberalization. Most of the contributions on this topic (from both scholars and NGO practitioners) limit their focus to the formal relations between NGOs and the WTO. The key thread within such discussions is prescriptive, revolving around the deficiencies of existing arrangements for NGOs at the organization and the supposed benefits of bolstering their status to allow NGOs to participate in WTO decision-making alongside nation-states. Proponents of increasing the level of formal NGO input at the WTO, such as Steve Charnovitz (2000; 2002; 2004), Daniel C. Esty (1998; 2002), and Payne and Samhat (2004), have primarily understood NGOs as democratizing agents that possess the capacity to rectify the WTO’s ‘democratic deficits’. This viewpoint reflects that found in the norms-based literature in international relations more generally: as Kathryn Sikkink claims for instance, ‘NGOs and networks are informal, asymmetrical, and ad hoc antidotes to domestic and international representational imperfections’ (2002: 316). This study instead adopts a broader view of the role of NGOs in the international trade regime that focuses on their activities external to the decision-making arena of the WTO and their relations with member states. This is because even a brief investigation of NGO activity related to the WTO reveals that limits on their formal participation have not deterred NGOs from...

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