Guest Article #21

Revitalizing Global Governance: The Next Steps in the Process

There are many contending constituencies today for the leading role in contemporary global governance. Traditionally nation-states working bilaterally or through the UN system assert they are in the leadership role in setting global norms. Since the Second World War, multinational corporations working individually or through formal or informal trade associations have considered themselves to be key, dominant actors in the governance of globalization. Working autonomously or in conjunction with nation-states or multinational enterprises, leading civil society groups have created international platforms that have set the terms of reference for international affairs, often bypassing nation-states in setting global norms. And professional bodies, religious groups, and ethnic communities also have effectively asserted a role in global governance in certain fields.

On the nation-state side, however, there has been a functional inability to use the combined strength of governments to drive global policy decision-making. One of the key elements of this dysfunctionality is the fragmentation of the state-based ‘multilateral system.' There are international organizations, regional organizations, sub-regional organizations and sub-sub-regional bodies. There are thematic organizations (e.g. specialized agencies), universal bodies (e.g. the General Assembly), and restricted intergovernmental bodies with leverage over other bodies (e.g. the Bretton Woods Institutions, or BWIs). Each of these institutions, whether based on a geographic area or a thematic topic, is disconnected from other similar organizations by design or by practice. For example, at the regional economic level, the over 40 regional economic cooperation bodies have no organizational base to share their experiences of globalization nor a platform to articulate their regional assessments of issues of global importance.

In June of this year, the General Assembly passed a new UN resolution on global economic governance that may move to resolve some the fractured and disconnected practices between intergovernmental bodies (GA/67/L.73 ) . This resolution was proposed by Chile and co-sponsored by more than 60 countries from all geographic regions. Chile's goal was to position the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a common communication center for the various multilateral bodies on economic, social, and environmental issues. Ambassador Eduardo Galvez of Chile facilitated the negotiation process.

The resolution addresses in a new way: (a) the role of the UN in “inclusive, transparent and effective” multilateral economic governance (see OP 2); (b) the relationship of bilateral and regional trading regimes to the international trading system (OP 7); (c) the role of developing countries in economic norm setting (OP 11); (d) engagement of the UN with ‘international groupings that make policy recommendations or take policy decisions with global implications, including the Group of 20' (OP 13 & 14); and (e) the role of regional and sub-regional economic bodies ‘dealing with global matters of concern to the international community' (OP 17). It also calls for elevating academia to the same level as civil society and the private sector as participants in UN dialogues on global challenges (f) (OP 3 & 21 recognizing – for the first time –a connection between the UN and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the Bank for International Settlements(BIS) in Basel.

Of course, the effectiveness of a soft law resolution is heavily dependent on how it is implemented. In the case of the global governance resolution, there are a number of avenues. Item (a) can used in debates over the expanded use of self-interested and largely corporate dominated multi-stakeholder governance arrangements; item (b) can be cited by developing countries faced with pressure for new bilateral investment treatries (BITs and inter-regional trade agreements; item (c) is relevant for developing countries and civil society in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, BIS, and other Basel-based Institutions; item (d) is an open door for other non-G20 groupings (3Gs, BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), SADC (South African Development Community), etc) to also engage directly with the UN membership on global economic matters; item (e) provides a platform for regional and sub-regional integration and policy bodies to have an opportunity to express their views on global economic matters; item (f) provides an opportunity for university-based policy research to be presented directly to intergovernmental bodies; and item (g) opens a door to break down the isolation of the Basel institutions and to engage with the universal membership at the UN.

Creating a convening space for all intergovernmental bodies through the General Assembly and ECOSOC can be a first step in strengthening multilateralism to address pressing globalization matters and planetary environmental issues. The next step would be re-connecting the parts of governments which currently meet in legally separate organizations, developing relatively autonomous international economic, social, and environmental policies.

The next global governance resolution could well design an intergovernmental forum involving representatives of all the intergovernmental leaders of the UN, the specialized agencies, and the Washington and Basel-based organizations.