Transformations in Trade Politics : West African Civil Society Participation in Economic Partnership Negotiations with the European Union
Contributor(s)Helsingin yliopisto, valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, politiikan ja talouden tutkimuksen laitos
Helsingfors universitet, statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, institutionen för politik och ekonomi
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economic and Political Studies, World Politics
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AbstractMy thesis addresses the evolution of participatory trade policy-making practices in West African trade negotiations with the European Union that incorporate critcis of the global trade agenda. I examine the lessons West African participatory politics provides for tackling the technocracy/democracy deadlock in current governance practice. I also ask what the West African example means for trade theory. In terms of organising my arguments, I proceed in two steps. First, I identify West African civil society involvement in EPA negotiations as a participatory policy-making practice, and expose the roots of current trade theory s inability to account for the evolution and continued application of the practice in West Africa. More specifically, I argue that current trade policy formation theories focus on a peculiar reading of the economic to the detriment of the social aspects of trading and therefore fail to account for trade political change that emerges from the political and social realms. In the second part of my thesis, I adopt a broader analytical framework for the political economy of trade in order to analyse the process through which trade politics became participatory in West Africa. The idea that the social dimensions of the trading activity need to be taken seriously in studies of the political economy of trade lies at the heart of my argument. More specifically, I analyse the context in which EU-West African trade negotiations unfolded and opened possibilities for West African civil society organisations to use and manipulate structural conditions in ways that, over time, facilitated their participation in the policy process. They achieved this goal through reacting to and creating political opportunity for participation on the basis of several elements, none of which can be incorporated in standard political economy approaches to trade. They are: asymmetries in negotiating capacity and power between the negotiating parties, existing legal rights and norms in EU-ACP relations, their own trade policy experience and expertise, framing debates in ways that were conducive to civil society participation, and relying on the historical experiences and social realities of the West African region to forge solidarity among West African negotiators against the EU. I conclude that debates on the relationship between trade and democracy need to be resituated in view of my analysis. I argue that trade and democracy do not warrant direct comparison between a human activity observed across all recorded human history and a principle of political organisation that historically emerges in human societies on the basis of a specific set of values. If we accept that democracy should be the guiding principle of social organisation, the pertinent questions are therefore: (1) is trade policy-making democratic? and, if the answer is negative as current observers concur, (2) can international trade be organised in ways that are more democratic? In relation to the second question, my analysis of the West African experience provides important empirical evidence and suggests avenues for learning.
International trade policy is typically depicted as requiring closed doors and market conformity for the promise of globalisation to be fulfilled. While global trade regulation affects policy areas such as health, labour, environment and global justice, international trade s contribution to growth is seen to be such that economic considerations cannot be sacrificed for diffuse social and political demands. ---- The ongoing trade negotiations between West African countries and the EU suggest that such concerns are overstated. A network of regional NGOs, trade unions and social movements joined West Africa s negotiating team alongside the private sector and public officials. This practice provoked the types of political conflicts that are typically confined to street politics. Nonetheless, trade officials argued that the mechanism assured inclusiveness, public support and a better negotiating outcome. Transformations in Trade Politics examines the lessons West African participatory politics provides for tackling the technocracy/democracy deadlock in current governance practice. The study also asks what the West African example means for trade theory. It argues that we need to strengthen analytical approaches that embrace the inseparability of the economic, political and social aspects of the human life experience in order to answer the key questions in global governance today: what does globalisation promise? And how can its liberating potential for the world be unleashed?