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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Sidney Weintraub
Título: Technical Cooperation Needs for Hemispheric trade Negotiations

IV. Overall Negotiating Needs

In its meeting in Georgetown, Guyana, February 13-14, 1997, the Working Group on Smaller Economies (WGSE) identified the needs for technical assistance in the FTAA process as then seen. The document is useful in that it sets forth these needs on a country-by-country basis. Several overall TC objectives (as distinct from specific negotiating requirements) show up repeatedly in country wish lists. These include training officials to carry out the following tasks:
  • Reform the customs service;
  • Revise the tariff structure;
  • Strengthen export promotion and simplify export procedures;
  • Develop or improve computerized information systems.
The foregoing are basic needs both for trade negotiation and ongoing implementation. They are not necessarily easy to carry out because entrenched interests in the existing customs services are reluctant to change old habits. A reorganized tariff structure is not just an administrative task, but a significant policy action. A less scattered structure of tariff rates or a drastic tariff reduction in the context of a trade negotiation may adversely affect many powerful interests even as it benefits others.

These requests reflect the realization in smaller economies that their most urgent TC requirements often deal with institution building. The customs services are not the only institutions that may need reform; in fact, customs operations can be contracted out to private companies, which many smaller countries do. Personnel from trade ministries, which generally carry out the trade negotiations and then keep track of the resulting outcomes, need training. So, too, do officials from other agencies involved in activities that are part of modern trade negotiations which cover such areas as investment, anti-monopoly measures, complex sectors such as telecommunications and information technology, dispute settlement, the drafting of regulations, government procurement, and so on.

This listing makes it evident that the TC institutional need may be most crucial in facilitating coordination across the many government agencies that must be involved in trade negotiation and then in carrying out obligations entered into. In conversations in preparation for this report, those interviewed stated repeatedly that this cross-agency coordination was perhaps the biggest weakness in many countries when engaged in trade negotiations. This shortcoming can affect countries with large economies as well as those with small economies.

In addition to the institutional requirements, it is clear from the documentation examined for this report, coupled with the interviews carried out, that a host of pre-negotiation requirements cannot be met satisfactorily in many hemispheric countries without TC. Some of the specific needs which stand out are the following:
  • Countries must establish their negotiating priorities based on their national endowments and export opportunities.
  • Small economies have limited human resources and little overall negotiating leverage and therefore must decide the issues on which they will concentrate and others to which they need not give much attention because the outcomes will have little effect on their economies.
  • Negotiators must know in some detail the obligations they already have undertaken in prior negotiations, whether bilaterally, sub-regionally, or in the WTO.
  • They must determine, based on the foregoing examination, whether they are complying with existing obligations before they take on new ones.
Meeting this brief list of pre-negotiation requirements involves considerable introspection in countries because they entail confronting internal political, economic, and legal issues. This imperative will come out more clearly when looking at specific negotiating areas: who benefits from the priorities selected; what internal monopolies may exist that impede carrying out past obligations or taking on new ones; what laws and regulations may have to be altered and how likely is it that these changes can be made; who are the losers as border protection declines.

The existing supply of TC for trade negotiation and determining trade policy is being pulled together by a separate consultant to the OAS, but a preliminary examination for this paper shows that opportunities exist to meet many of the training demands discussed here. What is less clear is whether the depth of most current training is adequate or that all the opportunities are well advertised or coordinated. Setting policy and determining the internal political limits that exist are matters about which countries themselves must decide, but assistance is possible to devise techniques to make such determinations more professional. The WTO has a range of seminars, workshops, technical missions, briefings, legal assistance, and TC in specific areas and policy generally. To a large extent, financing for this TC also exists.

UNCTAD offers TC to officials in developing countries to analyze policy options and formulate and implement trade-policy decisions. It provides information on the trade policies of the industrial countries and how these affect developing countries. UNCTAD is prepared to provide assistance on adapting national trade laws and institutions to meet international obligations. Here, too, financing is generally available.

The OAS Trade Unit, jointly with the Technical Cooperation and Training Division of the WTO and Georgetown University’s Center for Latin American Studies, offers a two-week advanced training program for government officials in both Spanish and English. The next programs will take place in June and July, 1999. The sessions cover principles and current issues in global trade negotiations in the WTO and in the hemisphere and then devote specific attention to the issues involved in the separate negotiating areas in the FTAA process. The courses are open to persons from all member states of the OAS who are either officials of governments or regional institutions with trade responsibilities, although preference is given to candidates from smaller economies in the Americas. This training program is a combination of the second and third items in the framework presented above; it covers some overall negotiating needs, but by no mean all of them, and specific negotiating topics.

These three institutional TC providers are cited, but there are many more. Many industrial countries provide this kind of pre-negotiation assistance. In the interviews before preparing this report, instances were cited when officials from developing countries were unaware of TC opportunities and how to access the financing being offered. These problems should be reduced as the supply inventory is completed and kept up to date.

The pre-negotiation TC need most often mentioned by officials from countries with small economies who have had limited trade-negotiation experience is training in negotiation itself. This is particularly true for officials with limited hands-on practice in a negotiation as wide ranging as the FTAA. Negotiators can be trained to some extent, and such training can and should be offered, but experience is surely the best teacher. As mentioned earlier, many officials from the region who had limited trade-negotiation background before the FTAA process started have learned much from the very process itself. Much of the TC will have to be in specific aspects of the FTAA negotiating groups and this may best be provided to experts or technicians who advise the negotiators.

What is most needed in the current stage of the FTAA is to identify these technical needs. They will not be the same for all participants, depending on how each country defines its own priorities. Much of this learning will be self-taught, but there is need for TC as well. For example, inexperienced negotiators and their technical counterparts can get a reasonable idea of what they must know from looking at patterns in existing sub-regional agreements, such as NAFTA and MERCOSUR. The FTAA will not be a carbon copy of these agreements, but they are good models of what is involved in the negotiations.