In 1993, just after the Forum on Environment & Development had been founded, the Federal Ministry of Economy invited German NGOs to a discussion which was about the topics of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Uruguay Group. Moreover, the discussion was going to address OECD debates on trade and development. Prior to this meeting the NGOs decided to found a separate working group which would be a constant contact point for the government in regard to trade issues. They decided to make that group part of the Forum on Environment & Development. Currently there are 15 active and 30 passive members working for the group.
Until the year 1995 the working group focused its work on the negotiations on the Uruguay group and on the debate which addressed Trade and Development within the OECD. The group critically worked along with the GATT negotiations especially taking into account the specific problems of the Least Developed Countries (LLDC) and questions of Sustainability. Amongst others the activities included intense press work and trade union’s work. At that point it was one of the main goals to formulate the preamble of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which was in the process of foundation so that the principle of sustainability was included. This attempt was successful.
So far the activities of the Working Group Trade comprise:
- The political post-processing of a Trade and Environment Study’s results which was ordered by the group Trade: The group has developed fundamental guidelines to enable the realisation of urgent sanctions regarding the protection of Environment and, moreover, to make the prevention of a protectionist policy possible. With these guidelines the working group brought their requests to the German government in regard to the WTO Conference in Singapore (1996) and Geneva (1998).
- The creation of a position paper for UNCTAD IX in South Africa in April 1996: This paper was written with the intention of re-starting a discussion on the role, the function and the importance of the UNCTAD.
- An analysis on the link between the GATT agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and plant genetic resources for the fourth international FAO Conference on plant genetic resources in Leipzig, June 1996.
- A widespread dialogue with the Federal Ministry of Economy dealing specifically with Trade and Environment, Trade and Development as well as Transparency and Democracy within the WTO and the role of the German government.
- Seeing as Trade is highly important in regard to the German Economy, NGO networks and Campaigns on Trade Issues are relatively weak in Germany. Without a single doubt the Working Group Trade has helped create a Forum on the Exchange of Ideas and Information which has been brought to the trade political work of interconnected German NGOs.
- Negotiations of the WTO comprise a great variety of trade-related matters. In autumn 1998 the Working Group Trade organized a strategy meeting which was to help filter the future work priorities from this wide spectrum. It was then when it was decided that in their further work the group should focus on issues such as Agricultural Trade, Transparency, on Democracy within the WTO and on Environmental Issues.
- The Working Group Trade was especially active when it came to the unsuccessful third WTO’s Ministry Conference in Seattle at which thirteen of their members were present. A few members had written an extensive comment which critically evaluated the suggestion for the negotiation by the EU for Seattle.
- Recently, the group has started working on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In regard to this the international conference on Service Trade, organized by the Working Group, was held in Bonn, Germany.