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NGOs: Representing civil society at the WTO?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The legal framework for participation.
    1. Vagueness of Article V 2 of the Marrakech Agreement.
    2. The guidelines for WTO-NGO interaction created two years later.
  3. Active participation of NGOs in WTO activities: Is it not enough.
    1. A call to democratize the World Trade Organization.
    2. NGO's participation in WTO activities: What has been achieved.
  4. The World Trade Organization's inability to open itself to the active and frequent input of all international actors.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

In 1994, the Marrakech Agreement established the World Trade Organization (WTO), one of many suprastate institutions that were created all along the 20th century. The purpose of this organization is to regulate all trade activities between its Member states, by providing ?the common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations? and the legal instruments that adjust to their needs. The activities led by the WTO have shaped it into a one-of-a-kind international structure that has been adapting itself to global political and economical shifts since it was created. Because Member states of the WTO have been negotiating and discussing about many important issues, there has been a ?substantial growth in both the range and the authority of global trade law? . What followed was an awakening of considerable interest in its activities, especially from civil society and groups that represent it. Amongst these, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been one of the most important nonstate actor that has sought ?direct contact with the WTO, bypassing government authorities in order to interrogate and lobby the multilateral institution? itself. However, in an international organization in which only states participate in its activities and make decisions, is there any space for NGOs to represent civil society? And if there is, which is their main role and how should Members states of the WTO work with them in order to pursue common interests?

[...] SCHOLTE, Jan Aart; O'BRIEN, Robert; WILLIAMS, Marc. P Marrakesh Agreement. Article V:2. Decision WT/L/162. Guidelines for arrangements on relations with Non- Governmental Organizations July 1996. Article II. Ibid. Article IV. Ibid. Ibid. Article V. Ibid. Article VI. Op. Cit. SCHOLTE, Jan Aart; O'BRIEN, Robert; WILLIAMS, Marc. P KRUT, Riva. Globalisation and Civil Society, NGO influence in international decision-making. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development P Ibid. Dossiers sur L'OMC: Une grande absente: la Société Civile. In: http://www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/dossiers/omc/soccivile.shtml. Original [...]


[...] So, which is the role of civil society in the WTO? For WILSON, ?involvement of civil society means that there will be challenges to the system, and questioning of power relations?[20]. Southern governments need civil society to be involved so that it can ?provide capacity that they are lacking?[21], and ?through access to people who are living in poor conditions, NGOs and community-based organizations are well placed to monitor the impacts of trade liberalization?[22] all around the world. Riva KRUT (UNRISD, United Nations), the International Federation of Human Rights, and Jessica WILSON (ICTSD) have three similar points of view. [...]


[...] This means that NGOs, and other forms of civil society organizations, can't take a part in the process in which the crucial decisions are made. Many people disagree with this norm. They think that civil society should be included in the process of negotiation, not as an observer but as a participant, and therefore play an active role in creating what would become a trade treaty. Jan Aart SCHOLTE affirms that there are three types of civic organizations that approach the WTO[12]: the ?conformers', who accept what's been established and endorse the existing WTO regime; the ?reformers', who accept the need of a global trade organization but seek to change certain theories, policies and/or operating procedures; and the ?radicals', who would like to see the World Trade Organization's powers reduced or even abolish the institution. [...]

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