Trade-related technical assistance for developing countries for WTO negotiations is aimed at helping developing countries build their capacity to better understand WTO agreements and decisions, assist them to adjust to WTO rules and disciplines, implement their obligations and exercise their rights of membership, participate more effectively both in multilateral trade negotiations and in global trade, and facilitate their integration into the multilateral trading system. This study reviews exiting such support, and provides recommendation of enhancing its effectiveness.
Trade-related technical assistance for developing countries for WTO negotiations is aimed at helping these countries build their capacity to better understand WTO agreements and decisions, assist them to adjust to WTO rules and disciplines, implement their obligations and exercise their rights of membership, participate more effectively both in multilateral trade negotiations and in global trade, and facilitate their integration into the multilateral trading system. Due to human and financial resource constraints many developing countries often find themselves at a disadvantage in their capacity to prepare for, and engage in, the negotiations therefore requiring assistance to bridge the capacity gaps. WTO Members have given to the WTO Secretariat the institutional responsibility for providing trade-related technical assistance, funded from the regular budget and through extra-budgetary support.
In the discharge of its responsibility the WTO Secretariat has leveraged strategic partnerships with other international organisations to deliver targeted technical assistance. Away from the WTO but connected to the participation of developing countries in WTO negotiations, several intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations and institutions have also committed to providing developing countries with trade-related technical assistance. In addition, for-profit consultancy firms are increasingly being engaged as a TRTA service provider. There is therefore currently no shortage of trade-related technical assistance providers to meet the needs of developing and least-developed countries through analytical and legal support, technical seminars and training, as well as logistical support. An evolution away from ‘tied aid’ to a situation where recipients are now given more leeway in the design of and administration of the technical assistance programmes is notable. With these many players in the field, information exchange among them is important in order to achieve coherence, and to ensure that capacity amongst the developing countries is built in a sustainable manner. WTO Members have on several occasions underscored the necessity of the effective coordinated delivery of technical assistance by bilateral donors and relevant international as well as regional intergovernmental institutions, within a coherent policy framework and timetable.
Whether or not technical assistance always achieves the intended purposes has often been debated. Indications in this particular case are that trade-related technical assistance for developing countries in WTO negotiations has indeed capacitated developing and least developed countries to be more proactive. However, the unavailability of comprehensive data hampers a comprehensive assessment. Information currently available is limited to the WTO Secretariat’s annual reports on progress in this area over the years, as well as anecdotal evidence relating to the positive performance of certain groups of developing countries benefiting from the support of other donors, organisations, institutions and think-tanks.
A close look at the type of trade-related technical assistance extended to the developing and least-developed countries shows continued concentration around the categories of analytical and legal support, and training. This raises questions as to why this is so when the logical expectation should be that after many years of this type of support capacity should by now have been built.
The contribution of trade-related technical assistance for developing and least-developed countries should be incremental, cumulative and sustainable. Technical assistance programmes must therefore be flexible and adaptive, have at their center the aim of filling clearly identified gaps, with a clear timetable and end-date by which capacity is expected to have been built, and beyond which no further technical assistance in that area would be provided. It is important that that relevant data on trade-related technical assistance in all areas and by each provider be collected and be publicly available. There should be resort to valuable lessons already learnt, and to beneficial principles that have been developed. Providers of trade-related should respond to the call by WTO Members for the reinforcement of information exchange amongst agencies so that all dimensions of trade-related capacity building are addressed in a coherent manner.