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Open the door to more of the same? The development of interest group representation at the WTO

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2011

University of Antwerp
University of Antwerp and University of Agder
University of Antwerp


The openness of the World Trade Organization (WTO) towards non-state actors has led to much debate among scholars and practitioners. The objective of this paper is to add empirical knowledge to this ongoing debate. In particular, we examine the effects of allowing interest groups to participate at WTO Ministerial Conferences (MCs) during 1996–2009 by analyzing a novel dataset of 1992 interest organizations that attended seven MCs. The data we present demonstrate that, in contrast to what many expected, the WTO did not attract a more diverse population of interest groups since these organizations were allowed to participate at MCs. Moreover, we observe an increasing overrepresentation of some specific issue-related interests, especially agriculture, and a strong presence of Northern American and European interest organizations attending MCs. Another important observation is that MCs are not particularly dominated by business interests at the expense of NGOs (non-governmental organization), who are also consistently well represented at the WTO meetings. Yet, the high levels of volatility observed at the level of individual organizations suggests that, although it is rather easy to start lobbying at WTO MCs, only a relatively small number of interest organizations keep a long lobbying presence at this level.

Review Article
Copyright © Marcel Hanegraaff, Jan Beyers, and Elesta Braun 2011

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