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Helping small states negotiate in the global environment

17 April 2012
International trade experts from around the Commonwealth are working on a ‘first-of-its-kind’ publication, designed to give practical advice to negotiators from small states.

The guide will provide a deeper understanding of how small states, whose economies rely heavily on international trade, can negotiate better in a global environment to achieve sustainable growth and development.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has been working with the Global Economic Governance Programme (GEG) of the University of Oxford, UK, to prepare the guide.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has for several years now been working with the Global Economic Governance Programme to understand better how small states can be more successful in achieving their objectives via trade negotiations.

The Director of the Secretariat’s Economic Affairs Division, Dr Cyrus Rustomjee, said: “We hope that the guidebook for small states will help them better understand trade negotiations, how to prepare themselves psychologically and institutionally and select and pursue those tactics that are most likely to yield success.”

The GEG and Secretariat reviewed the publication at a workshop on 12-13 April 2012 at the Royal Over-Seas League headquarters in London, UK. They were joined by representatives from: the General Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States; small states; Negotiation Lab; University of the West Indies; Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge, UK; and the Overseas Development Institute.

Emily Jones, Project Associate for the GEG, explained the challenges that small states face in international trade negotiations: “Trade forms a large part of a small state’s economy, compared to their larger counterparts. However due to their small market size, many small developing countries have little to offer their negotiating partners.”

Small states also face human and financial resource constraints resulting in few trade negotiators and limited budgets, and they may feel under pressure from more powerful states to comply with their interests.

However, Ms Jones added: “The research that the GEG and the Secretariat has done previously shows that even with those constraints, small states can still ‘manoeuvre at the margins’ in trade negotiations by being more imaginative in their negotiations, and the strategies and tactics they can use.”

The publication, which includes case studies, will cover among others: preparing for negotiations, tactics in and outside the negotiating room, knowing your own interests and your counterparts, influencing the set-up, cross-cultural negotiations, psychology, creating a high calibre negotiating team, consulting with the private sector and working in coalitions.

Assad Bhuglah, Director of Trade Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mauritius, said: “There is a lack of materials that can assist negotiators from small developing countries to participate effectively in negotiations - what we have available are books about the theories of negotiations.

“This publication is bringing the key elements to the knowledge of potential negotiators. It’s for the coming generation, especially students, who are following courses about international trade.”

The guide draws on previous research by the GEG in the Secretariat publication ‘Manoeuvring at the Margins’, which identified the particular constraints small states face in international trade negotiations, and includes extensive consultations with trade negotiators and policy-makers from small states.