Economic negotiator

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WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE AN INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC NEGOTIATOR? Personal reflections in view of a debate with the students Medellín, August 2007 Manuela Tortora, PhD1 History teaches us that history teaches us nothing. Chesterton

Introduction The international economic negotiator: a new profession? Trade is probably one of the first activities of human kind, one that started as soon as the homosapiens became homo economicus, when value was given to things. Legally speaking, “inter-national” economic relations started when nations were formed and established legal and political frameworks to regulate the coexistence among them in a peaceful manner. But even without resorting to the concept of “nations”, we know that all the ancient organised societies such as Egyptians, Phoenicians,Romans, Chinese, Incas, Mayas, and many more civilisations, entertained organised, structured and regulated economic relations (mainly trade) among them. When studying the features of the international economy of the end of the XIXth century until the First World War, many researchers concluded that, in relative terms, the volumes and intensities of international trade and financial flows among Stateswere larger and deeper than the flows known today because there were fewer barriers to all sort of economic exchanges of goods and services among the economies. Therefore, saying that the international economic negotiator is a new profession is oversimplifying the history of international relations. However, international economic relations and negotiations appeared only a few years ago in thesyllabi of universities, and the job of the international economic negotiator used to be merged by, and subsumed with, the job of diplomat. Today there is still a widespread general (and wrong) assumption that if you are a diplomat, if you ever negotiated something at the international level, you are able to do a good job in an international economic negotiation.

The limitations of theoreticaltools The specialised (and sophisticated) expertise that is required by the area of international economic relations was only recently recognised at the academic level. However, what this expertise entails is still confusing and debatable. Contrary to the area of other international negotiations – particularly military and political negotiations – the realm of international economic negotiations isalmost unexplored by researchers. The literature on this topic is very
Chief, Technical Cooperation Service, UNCTAD. The views expressed in this paper are exclusively those of the author and do not reflect the official secretariat’s views.


limited, usually confined to the analysis of specific examples of negotiations (frequently at the bilateral level), seen in isolation. Militarynegotiators can refer to Thucydides or to Napoleon as sources of military strategies theories; diplomats can refer to Talleyrand or to Kissinger as models of knowledge in international relations; may be, for the next generations of students, Bill Gates or Pascal Lamy will be references in the future discipline of international economic negotiations. The literature on negotiations contains manytheoretical models and instruments (some of them very well known, such as the game theory, and the prisoners’ dilemma). Some of these models have been applied to the analysis of international negotiations. But the academic literature on international economic negotiations is still very limited and young2. Game and systems’ theories, mathematical models, decision-making models, and similar theoreticalanalyses have been applied to international negotiations, usually approaching the latter in terms of bargaining – an approach that has a conflict connotation rather than a cooperative, peaceful mindset. This approach probably explains why there is a predominant tendency in the literature to apply formal bargaining models to military negotiations among States or to business deals among enterprises....
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