In its Final Declaration,
at the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in
February 2003, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) stated, it was determined to
push for an inter-parliamentary process with the WTO which would evolve around
regular parliamentary meetings held on the occasion of WTO Ministerial
Conferences. It proposed these events be called Parliamentary Conferences on
the WTO and their objective would be to oversee and promote the effectiveness
of WTO activities; maintain dialogue with governmental negotiators and civil
society; and facilitate information exchange, sharing of experiences and
capacity-building for national parliaments in matters of international trade.
This article looks at the role parliamentarians can play in international trade
discussions and agreements.
The Final Declaration of the Parliamentary Conference on
the WTO1 set out a structure for continuing
work that has been taking place over the past few years amongst IPU members.
It is an important undertaking for each of us elected to represent our
constituents and our nations. If the World Trade Organization is going to
achieve all it intends to, in terms of bringing order to trade relationships
and offering opportunities for less developed nations, we must ensure that the
voices of the citizens of the world are represented.
With 145 members and more than
27 countries waiting accession, the World Trade Organization is truly a global
forum for international trade issues. WTO agreements bind nations to
common objectives. Enforcement of the rules is done through a binding
dispute settlement mechanism. These decisions made by the WTO can and do have a
huge impact on domestic economies and policies.
The negotiators of the WTO
agreements receive instructions from the executive branch of our governments.
Some nations have negotiators who are in touch with legislators,
government and opposition, and with non-governmental organization
representatives. Others are not so fortunate.
International trade policy is
increasingly intersecting with domestic social and economic policy. While
individual nations used to have complete sovereignty over policies related to
intellectual property, services and telecommunications, for example,
international agreements are setting new boundaries for those nations that sign
trade agreements. Legislators and voters are frequently frustrated when
options for solutions to domestic challenges are met with lawsuits based on
these international agreements. This is especially so in cases where they
feel they have had little input or choice in developing the international
The success of WTO agreements depends on governments working to implement the
agreements with the support of their citizens. It seems obvious,
therefore, that voters need to understand the process of the negotiations and
agree with the substance of the agreements. This can only take place if
the process is open, if information is made available to the public and if
elected representatives have input into the agreements.
Globalization has an impact on
all our constituents. For this reason, parliamentarians have a
responsibility and an opportunity to become more involved in the international
Created in 1889, the
Inter-Parliamentary Union is the oldest and largest organization of sovereign
states. It is a centre for dialogue and parliamentary diplomacy.
The IPU offers parliamentarians a unique platform from which to observe
political trends and opinions, and a forum for interaction on issues of global
significance. The IPU recognizes the challenges presented by
globalization and the increasing influence and scope of the WTO specifically,
and has sought ways in which parliamentarians can become more actively involved
with international trade negotiations and arrangements.
At its September 2000 meeting,
a call to action was voiced to “ensure that our parliaments contribute more substantively
to international cooperation by making the voice of the peoples heard, thereby
introducing a more manifestly democratic dimension into international
decision-making and cooperation.”2
Since then, much work has been
done to create a network of parliamentarians and a process for input. As
a parliamentarian who believes in an orderly trading system, I think that this
relationship between the IPU and the WTO will ensure WTO agreements will be
better written with input from the peoples’ representatives.
Furthermore, at a time when
some people question whether Members of Parliament are able to reflect the
aspirations of their citizens and increasingly we see people supporting NGOs to
achieve their goals, this dialogue is needed. I support a healthy role
for NGOs and work closely with several, but I believe the parliamentary process
is absolutely imperative. We have seen success on banning landmines, for
instance, when NGOs and parliamentarians worked closely with bureaucrats and
government ministers to achieve an agreement to eradicate the use of landmines.
Success resulted from the close working relationship, each actor playing
her part, to lobby, to negotiate, to legislate and to implement. These
trade agreements present similar opportunities.
Members of Parliament have a
constitutional obligation to represent the interest of our citizens: we give
voice to the interests, concerns and aspirations of our electors. We pass
laws that govern our nation and we will be called upon to adopt legislation implementing
Members of Parliament are also
overseers of our governments. We have an obligation to ensure that the laws and
international agreements our nations enter into are fair, equitable and in the best
interest of our citizens and the global community.
Parliamentary involvement in
the WTO process is necessary to ensure the best agreements are achieved,
especially as these agreements enter into areas traditionally sovereign and
subject only to domestic policy. Negotiators must be given the right
guidelines and voters must support the negotiated agreements if they are to be
At the WTO Ministerial Meeting
in Cancun in September, there will be two days of discussion hosted by the
Inter-Parliamentary Union. It will be an important forum for Members of
Parliament to discuss objectives of the WTO and to ensure negotiators
understand our citizens’ goals. Members of Parliament will also have an
opportunity to familiarize themselves with the process of the debate and the
resolution of disputes, ensuring they have a realistic understanding of their
opportunities for influence.
Many people disagree with the
concept of the WTO. For me, the most important thing is to ensure that
since we are going to have a WTO, we must have agreements that are the best
agreements and that reflect Canadians’ needs and desires. The IPU-WTO
process is critical.
I look forward to working with
my international colleagues within the IPU, and with the Minister of International
Trade and our negotiators. I also look forward to discussing ideas with
the NGO’s that will attend the meeting. Dialogue fosters understanding
and identifies opportunities for creative solutions.
1. Final Declaration – Parliamentary Conference
on the WTO, Geneva, February 17-18, 2003.
2. The parliamentary vision for international
cooperation at the dawn of the third millennium – Declaration by consensus –
Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments, August 30 –