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IFI governance

News

World Bank intensifies trade work, but cancels conference

18 June 2001

The World Bank has pledged to “intensify its trade-related activities” by increasing its research, training and advocacy at global and country levels. This was stated in a Bank paper which government ministers approved at the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings in late April and in a speech by James Wolfensohn at the Least Developed Countries conference in Brussels.

The difficulties of this work area were swiftly reaffirmed when the Bank was forced to cancel a major meeting of academics and officials on globalisation under pressure from protesters. The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics Europe – the third in a series – was to take place in Barcelona in late June, with speakers including Rodrigo Rato, Spanish economy minister, James Wolfensohn, World Bank President, Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico and many academics from European universities.

A range of groups, under the banner of Campaign Against the World Bank Barcelona 2001, planned a series of activities including a counter-conference, fiesta and demonstration. They declared the cancellation of the conference “clear proof that citizen mobilisation can be decisive to change the current neoliberal model”. In contrast a Bank spokesperson compared the protesters’ actions to attempts to “burn books to try and clamp down on academic freedom”. The Bank will now hold the meeting as an online video conference.

The ABCDE meeting represents part of the Bank’s work as a ‘Knowledge Bank’ on trade issues. It plans a large number of conferences as well as research reports and training exercises (see box). In recent years the Bank has signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Trade Organisation, been appointed to chair the Integrated Framework, a multi-agency trade policy capacity-building initiative and taken other steps to become more central to trade negotiations.

The World Bank has long been involved in trade policy issues through structural adjustment loans. Between 1981 and 1994 it made 238 loans that included liberalisation of trade or foreign exchange policy in 75 different countries. Since 1995, fifty-four additional IBRD and IDA adjustment operations (65 per cent of all adjustment operations) have supported exchange rate and trade policy reform.

But “many WTO campaigners are too engrossed in their work to spend time on Bank issues and vice versa”, according to Raj Patel, working with Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative. He said the Bank’s intensified focus on trade is an opportunity for activists to join forces rather than focusing just on one institution.

NGOs and researchers working on trade and on structural adjustment have begun to discuss how to respond to the Bank’s increased work in this area. They are questioning whose views the Bank represents, what evidence the Bank’s researchers listen to, and who they are empowering in their trade work. Groups plan to do more to alert one another about the research the Bank is doing in this area and link up with academics. The protests planned for the Bank/Fund annual meetings in Washington this September are also likely to feature the Bank’s work on trade.

Selected World Bank Trade Activities

  1. studies:
    • Policy Research Report on Globalisation;
    • Global Economic Prospects annual reports;
    • books on comprehensive WTO issues and agriculture, to include computer software policy analysis tools;
    • studies on services, TRIPS, and standards;
    • joint study with IMF on market access;
    • See full listing of Bank trade research
  2. training and advice
    • capacity building for WTO accession;
    • trade policy training through the World Bank Institute;
    • Foreign Investment Advisory Service;
    • advice and dialogue on the architecture of regional trade agreements;
    • studies for countries undertaking PRSPs examining key constraints to integrating into the world economy;
    • advice and support for trade policy reform through Bank Economic and Sector Work and adjustment lending.
  3. credits and loans
    • finance, transport, telecommunications, trade facilitation and business services;
    • investment policies, regulatory reform and standards and services;
  4. other
    • International Task Force on Commodity Risk Management in Developing Countries.

    Source: Leveraging Trade for Development, World Bank roles, April 2001: Available on the Spring Meetings website