Monitoring Regional Integration – tedious or a tool?
With burgeoning regional integration and free-trade arrangements around the world, a key question is whether or not agreed treaties are being implemented and if so, with what impact. This is all the more relevant since a significant number of South-South Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) suffer from a well known lack of implementation, monitoring, and general follow up. A good starting point is to ask what to monitor, why do it, how to do it and who should do it – we may even find that the exercise of monitoring itself helps improve implementation!
Sharing monitoring experiences
Last week saw an experts workshop on Indicator-Based Monitoring of Regional Economic Integration hosted by the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS). This saw presentations of regional integration monitoring systems from around the world including the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group.
As part of this workshop, ECDPM presented a summary of our work on monitoring the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and CARIFORUM (the Forum of the Caribbean Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States). This work was commissioned by the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and already presented to the CARIFORUM EPA Implementation Units Network (CAFEIN) earlier this year. Signed in 2008, the agreement between the two regions explicitly mentions the need for continuous monitoring and a review in 2013. However, implementation has been slow. Manpower to implement the vast number of legislative and other reforms is limited in many Caribbean countries and, in some, there is fundamental ambivalence about the agreement.
So how to monitor the impacts of something that is being only partially implemented? As well as highlighting a number of common challenges, the UNU-CRIS workshop suggested some potential avenues to advance the agenda in the Caribbean.
From compliance to policy inputs
A good start might be to move from seeing monitoring as a mechanical compliance exercise to more of a policy tool. What would this mean in terms of the what, why, how and who of monitoring?
What is monitored has implications for the level of work involved and its usefulness. Monitoring treaty compliance through the internal market scoreboard seems to have helped EU integration. But what about the actual use of the aspects of the agreement that are being applied? And the impact? The broad experiences presented at the workshop suggested that trying to link impact to treaty implementation would be complex and potentially misleading, so that clear priority should go to monitoring compliance, and providing output indicators of degrees of market integration.
Why monitor is also a key question. Reasons might be academic or relate to improving trade and economic policy through a better understanding of reality, while in the EU-CARIFORUM agreement there is a legal obligation. But monitoring can also be a tool for better implementation. As presentations from the EU, ASEAN and Eurasia regions showed, by using a scorecard approach, country-level implementation gaps can be exposed and help to pressure governments to act. Not least, monitoring with transparency can also inform the private sector who can also mobilise to pressure for implementation given that they are the intended beneficiaries.
How to go about it? The workshop presentations all pointed to the importance of peer-pressure across countries in a regional agreement, and therefore the importance of regular, simple data on compliance. While this can be work-intensive and time-consuming, presenting this data in a user-friendly way may be the best way to improve compliance in a world of feet dragging and reluctance to implement signed treaties and agreements.
And who should do it? Across different regions there are a range of approaches, involving external actors such as the International Finance Corporation (in the East African Community), the ASEAN Secretariat, regional development banks, and UNECA, to name a few. In the Caribbean, capacity is often stretched, meaning that any system would have to be “institution-light” but nonetheless, there are a range of regional bodies that could play a role.
The ultimate lesson from this workshop then was the following – monitoring needs to be simple, actionable and demand-led. And how to get this demand? By being transparent and relying on private sector and the media to demand more. Then perhaps monitoring can be a tool rather than a burden.
This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.