Transparency and Participation in
Trade Policy Process

By Dr.Manzoor Ahmad, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the WTO

20 April 2005

I would like to address this issue from two perspectives.

First, from my experience of working as a trade policy maker with my administration in the years 2000 to 2002. I would like to relate my personal experience as to how increased transparency and participation in the trade policy process enhances trust and confidence in the process. In turn, how it makes the implementation of trade policy decisions easier.

Secondly, transparency and participative approach at domestic level has beneficiary effect at our negotiating capacity here at the WTO.

For years, budget making exercise which included taxation policies and thus trade policy was a rather sensitive process in Pakistan. We involved trade and industry to the extent that they could submit their proposals. This process was even considered sensitively from other government departments as well. In 2001, we decided to make it open. We asked the relevant association to draw up budgetary or trade policy measures that they wanted to see. We expected lots of infighting and irrational demands. Contrary to our expectations on almost 80-90% of the issues there was consensus. When we reviewed those proposals, we found that they were mostly doable. This experience was repeated subsequently as well. The best thing that happened was that we were able to bring about drastic changes in our trade policy by restructuring tariffs and there were hardly any complaints from industry or trade.

Another positive aspect was that we were able to cover for more areas. Additionally, more openness resulted in increasing our ability to detect those areas that were rent seeking.

When I first joined the Pakistan Mission to the WTO, I found that while we were in contact with the Ministry of Trade, neither that Ministry nor we hardly had any contact with other important stake-holders such as the Ministry of Agriculture or those dealing with services such as Telecom, Financial Services, etc. Also there was no contact with our Parliamentarians or NGOs.

Once these stake-holders started getting involved, they started asking more crossed questions. For example, what do we get out of these negotiations? How are our defensive interests being cared for? What are other countries doing?

Seeing our more serious involvement, Pakistan started receiving invitations to attend the Mini-Ministerial and Senior Officials Meetings. The importance of these meetings is evident when taking into account their exclusivity and therefore we highly value the opportunity to participate.

I am not sure if in the past we were ever aware of our 'bread and butter' interests. As a result we did not participate in any serious way in negotiations. Our exports at present are subjected to an average of 10% duty in developed countries. For most other countries, their exporters pay less than 2%. In agriculture, our overall domestic support was in negative but our farmers were given the wrong impression that it is due to the WTO negotiations. Therefore, they opposed the elimination of subsidies.

However, it is not easy to involve many of the stake-holders if we are unable to:

(i)Clearly identify our objectives

(ii)Identify the relevant stake-holders

(iii)Create trust

To sum up, transparency and participation allow tapping new resources, getting more information, building trust and enhancing capability and credibility of policy making. This directly feeds into the WTO negotiating capability and increases gains.