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UK Ambassador to WHO on the importance of having the private sector engaged with international organizations and processes

This article was written by Julian Braithwaite, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva. 

Read the original here. 

One of the thorniest controversies in the WHO right now goes by the catchy acronym, FENSA. This stands for Framework on Engagement with Non State Actors. Beneath this bland surface lies one of the great dilemmas facing all international agencies. What is the appropriate role of business in policy making?

Just to be clear, in my view the biggest problem in Geneva is not that there is too much interaction between business and the international agencies. It is that there is not enough.

How can the World Trade Organisation promote trade if it is not in constant communication with those who make trade happen? Or the World Intellectual Property Organisation protect intellectual property and promote innovation if it is not talking to the owners, creators and users of IP? How can the WHO do its job without understanding the pharmaceutical or food industries? And if business is not engaged, politicians are less likely to be as well, making it harder for agencies to get political buy-in.

The great multinationals are partners in tackling many of the most pressing issues of our time. We would not have developed a vaccine for Ebola without the pharmaceutical companies. Google and Facebook are helping unlock the potential of the Internet.

The relationship does need a framework of course. Business is often an important constituency in policy making. But it is not the only one, and the others tend to be less well funded and less well organised. Much of the debate rightly focuses on how the agencies in Geneva and the member states who oversee them ensure that these voices are heard, often through civil society or other forms of representation. Hence the need for the WHO’s FENSA.

The most important constituency to take into account though, is the future. It is also the most difficult.

Much of the lobbying we face is about protecting interests or preserving the status quo. This can make it harder for new players to enter the market or compete once they get there. It may even prevent new business models, new innovations, even whole new markets, from coming into being. The risk is that we close down the future even before it arrives.

Sometimes the best thing policymakers can do when things are moving very quickly is nothing. Without the unique arrangements that kept governments and international organisations from regulating the Internet in its early stages, it would never have developed in the ways that it has, opening up undreamed of opportunities on a global scale. We now need to find ways to promote our wider public policy interests in this new online world without harming its future prospects. But having to deal with transformative developments is the right problem to have.

All international agencies need their FENSAs. We need to listen to all relevant constituencies without favouring the ones with the most resources. However the future has no trade association. Which is why we have to lobby for it ourselves.


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