Table of Contents

  • The growing openness and democratisation of global rule-based trade governance structures have lessened the acceptability of, and reliance on, the overt deployment of power in the pursuit of national commercial interests. Therefore, as states seek to promote their economic interests and advance the welfare and security of their peoples, they are relying instead on diplomacy, negotiation, advocacy and litigation. This de-emphasising of power as the underlying determinant of the outcomes of competitive engagement and interaction among countries should be good for developing countries, which are often weaker than their negotiating partners. These changes should make it possible for develop ing countries to succeed in advancing their interests, even in the face of opposition from stronger states.

  • For several decades, there has been considerable debate about the position of small states in the international trading system. Small states rely heavily on trade and are particularly vulnerable to changes in international trade rules. They thus have a high level of interest in the outcome of trade negotiations. At the same time, small states face power asymmetries and well-known structural economic and political constraints that heavily circumscribe the space within which they can manoeuvre. These constraints often produce pessimism about their prospects for success in international negotiations. Taken to the extreme, such assessments can lead to a view that ‘no amount of negotiating will make a difference’.

  • For several decades, there has been considerable debate about the position of small states in the international trading system. Recognition of the challenges small states face in international trade negotiations and in reaping benefits from trade has spurred a range of initiatives on the part of national governments and the international community. Central among these have been a suite of capacity building projects for small states, including training, technical assistance, legal advice, institution building and the provision of research. Despite such efforts, there is an enduring concern that small states continue to face a series of constraints in their international trade relations.

  • To set the context for the analysis presented in this study, we begin by presenting a review of the literature on small states in the global trading system, drawing out why trade negotiations are so important to small states and how the well-known economic and political structural constraints that they face in the international system define the framework within which small states must manoeuvre.

  • An effective negotiating team is a prerequisite for success in trade negotiations. Yet several constraints beset small states in this regard. This chapter probes the constraints that arise from the staffing, organisation and processes within government institutions. In so doing, it tests a number of hypotheses which emerge from the literature and several assumptions which underpin donor programmes aimed at reducing capacity constraints.

  • This chapter reports on the evidence we collected regarding whether and how small states harness the inputs of the private sector and civil society in formulating trade negotiating priorities and strategies.

  • This chapter examines the constraints that impede small states from designing and deploying a negotiating strategy and effectively exploiting the margin they have for manoeuvre in international negotiations. It examines the negotiating environment that small states face in greater depth, as well as the extent to which they proactively use negotiating tactics, and identifies the constraints that prevent many small states from being assertive in negotiations. Finally, it reflects on the psychological aspects of negotiations and the implications this has for outcomes.

  • Our findings suggest that the factors that would most enable small states to increase their impact on negotiations vary substantially between countries. However, some patterns emerge. Representatives of small states are very clear on the need to improve the quality of human resources dedicated to trade, to increase the engagement of their political leaders in trade negotiations and to strengthen negotiating strategy. When asked what deeper changes would need to happen for these improvements to occur, emphasis was placed on increasing the priority that governments give to trade, enhancing links between develop ment plans and trade, and strengthening the ability of stakeholder groups, particularly the private sector, to engage in trade policy.