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Civil Society and Trade Policy: The Latin American Experience

Project Overview

There now exists a great deal of academic, advocacy and policy work on the ways in which and the consequences of civil society engagement with global economic actors including international public institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO, as well as with increasingly important private economic actors such as multinational companies. What appears to be lacking, however, is in-depth, systematic and comparative South-South analysis of the experience of civil society engagement with different regimes of regional governance which increasingly impact upon the lives of the poor in the regions in which they are set up.

This project seeks to address that gap through a comparative and action oriented research project on lesson learning and strategy building based on the experience of different movements (labour, environment and development, and women's) in Latin America with regard the key trade agreements in the region, namely NAFTA, Mercosur and FTAA.

The project brings together a small team of researchers from the region with close connections to research and advocacy organisations active in this area to address questions of:

(i) representativeness of groups engaging in these processes and in particular their ability to represent poorer groups

(ii) the effectiveness of institutionalised mechanisms of participation

(iii) the mobilisation and non-mobilisation of groups within civil society and the implications of this for democratising trade policy in Latin America

The work will be conducted by working closely with civil society organisations engaging with, as well as remaining outside, the invited spaces of participation in regional trade agreements. Not only do we expect to produce new and insightful research, but to enable reflection and learning among practitioners through workshops and training based on the work being conducted. Towards this end, the expected outputs would be:

  • Seminars and meetings with trade officials from government
  • Workshops with civil society groups to share experiences of addressing issues of (i) the own representativeness, (ii) how to improve their use of existing mechanisms of participation, and (iii) how to communicate and work together more effectively
  • A special issue of a journal based on papers produced during the course of this work
  • Policy briefings in Spanish, Portuguese and English

The first of these meetings with trade activists in the region was held last December in Cochabamba Bolivia at the Summit of South American Nations. At least two further meetings are planned for later this year.

For more information contact Peter Newell in the first instance (