• home

    Bringing in NGOs


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2006 

    © G. Byrde 

    If we advocate for trade as a force for development, can we afford to ignore non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?

    The NGO protests at WTO meetings that everyone has seen on television are the tip of something bigger. NGOs are more involved in trade than they used to be. While their most visible image in trade is that of televised confrontation, in practice their role is more nuanced.

    Grass-roots NGOs build business skills, provide microcredit and target export markets. They've done this for years, but now that the impact of trade reaches everywhere, NGOs are becoming more conscious of their links to export markets. From environment and health to tourism and more, ITC has found itself partnering with NGOs in several of its field projects.

    Business NGOs are also part of the equation. Many economic cooperation councils, industry associations and chambers of commerce have non-governmental, non-profit status. The International Chamber of Commerce declares its NGO status on its web site. Business NGOs, especially in developing countries, have a changing role and will be called upon to make a bigger push in bringing business and government together.

    What's newest is the shift among NGOs in advocacy for trade. A Trade Forum review of major NGO web sites shows that those traditionally branded as humanitarian NGOs, and even some environment NGOs, now dedicate part of their work to trade.

    Their work touches nearly every aspect of trade development: from policy and advocacy, finance and programme design to training and implementation. Though international NGOs are most visible for their advocacy and policy work, many NGOs at all levels carry out operational work, funded by government donors, international agencies or direct fund-raising with the public.

    For the moment, the focus is on trade policy. This is most easily captured by journalists and is the easiest to spot in university curricula. But there are calls for attention at another level to help poor countries increase the amount and quality of exports.

    This focus is finding its way into NGO research and policy papers, which argue that trade capacity building should be reoriented towards marginalized groups and the poor. What remains is for international agencies, NGOs and governments to make the most of these signs of change.

    We look forward to your reactions. We encourage you to post them online at http://www.tradeforum.org, with our new comments feature for each article.

    Learning to listen

    "Before I came to ITC, I headed the trade promotion organization, JAMPRO, in Jamaica. When living in the informal atmosphere of the Caribbean, it is a way of life to hear about a problem from a variety of stakeholders. Everyone has an opinion. Some have even more than one. Whether you agree with them or not is not the issue. The important thing is learning to listen because there is validity in their very concern. At ITC we recognize that trade issues can be very emotive, but we feel passionately that we can contribute to that debate by providing the needed technical assistance in trade to achieve sustainable development."

    Patricia Francis, Executive Director, ITC


    Natalie Domeisen directed the research for this Trade Forum issue on NGOs in trade development. Brian Towe, a Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies MA candidate, who served as an ITC intern in summer 2005, conducted a desk study on NGOs in trade, interviewed staff in ITC and other organizations and prepared a background paper and bibliography.

    Prema de Sousa contributed to the strategic direction of the topics covered in this issue as well as the background study.

    Peter Hulm carried out supplementary research and interviews with ITC staff about the changing role of NGOs in their projects. He also interviewed NGO trade experts.

    Marija Stefanovic provided research assistance, complementing the work of Brian Towe.

    Thanks are due to Hans-Peter Werner of WTO and Tony Hill of the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service for their insights on NGOs in trade.

    Natalie Domeisen