Consumer Unity & Trust Society
Acronym: CUTS International Geneva
Address: 37-39, Rue de Vermont, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations
Since its establishment in 1983–84, CUTS International has been a leading southern voice in the space of trade, economics, and development to ensure consumer sovereignty. As digitalisation accelerated across sectors, CUTS has undertaken many research, advocacy, networking, and capacity building initiatives, within the realm of the digital economy to enable consumers, particularly the poor and marginalised social groups, to achieve their right to basic needs, sustainable development, and good governance through strong consumer movement. Being a global independent non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on public interest issues, CUTS addresses four main thematic areas: Trade, Economic, Regulation, and Governance. Within these focus areas, CUTS has undertaken multiple initiatives promoting competition, investment, regulation, trade, and governance reforms across sectors, through evidence- based research in least developed and developing countries. This is being done through a strongly rooted presence across India and at the global level including Lusaka, Nairobi, Accra, Hanoi, Geneva, and Washington, D.C.
Established in 2008, CUTS International Geneva is a non-profit NGO that catalyses the pro-trade, pro-equity voices of the Global South in international trade and development debates in Geneva. Through its work, it has made a name for linking people and issues in the world of multilateral trade with their counterparts in related policy areas. These include regional integration, agriculture, environment, competition, investment, and consumer protection, among others. Its vision is to pursue social justice and economic equity within and across borders by persuading governments and empowering people. Its mission is to establish and promote a pro-trade pro-equity credible southern NGO voice as well as the means to achieve this in the policymaking circles working on trade and development and other related issues in Geneva. Its objectives are to:
- Improve inclusivity in relevant policymaking processes and decisions through better participation of developing countries’ stakeholders, including at the grassroots level.
- Build capacity of policymakers, negotiators, and other important stakeholders through demand- driven and needs-based research and analysis.
- Contribute to a deeper and broader understanding of relevant issues through targeted and research- based outputs.
- Enhance policy coherence at all levels by analysing and raising the profile of issue linkages.
- Facilitate mutual learning through information and knowledge sharing across networks.
- Stimulate common interests among developed and developing countries through advocacy, dialogues, and networking.
CUTS adopts a bottom-up approach that promotes the engagement of key stakeholders in designing and implementing economic development policies, from the national to the international level. Their successful work methodology relies on research and analysis to inform advocacy and training activities, involving networks of beneficiaries at all stages. With offices in India, Kenya, Zambia, Vietnam, Ghana, Geneva, and Washington DC, CUTS’s family of organisations has made its footprints in the realm of economic governance across the developing world and beyond. As a vibrant advocate of South-South Cooperation, CUTS has been forming and maintaining strategic alliances with like-minded organisations in over 40 countries, particularly in the developing world. At the international level, it has established formal institutional relationships with several international governmental organisations, which their work seeks to influence. These are the World Trade Organization (WTO) – Accredited NGO; the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) – Observer Status; East African Community secretariat (EAC) – Memorandum of Understanding; and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – Observer Status.
CUTS’s work and expertise span five functional areas:
- International trade and development
- Competition, investment, and economic regulation
- Consumer safety
- Human development
- Consumer protection and good governance
CUTS International Geneva and its sister CUTS organisations in India, Kenya, Zambia, Vietnam, and Ghana have made their footprints in the realm of economic governance across the developing world. Their activities stretch from Asia to Africa, South America, and beyond.
Digital policy issues
CUTS works towards sound digital policy, fair rules, and e-commerce readiness, which can enable developing countries to harness the potential of e-commerce for their sustainable development, firms, and vulnerable communities. CUTS supports developing countries in effectively harnessing innovation and intellectual property systems to spur industrialisation in the digital era, while responding to climate change, food security, and other sustainable development challenges.
Support facility on WTO E-Commerce Joint Statement Initiative
As WTO JSI talks on Electronic Commerce gained momentum in 2021, CUTS’s ad-hoc support facility on the subject established under its WTO Umbrella Grant attracted trade negotiators’ interest beyond its initially intended audience. Indeed, beyond delegates from the 11 targeted beneficiary countries, other developing country negotiators sought to benefit from the support. Through over 70 interventions, CUTS provided beneficiary delegates with clarifications on negotiating texts, factual briefings on negotiated topics, and occasional drafting support for submissions and proposals. This informed their participation in e-commerce talks, on topics such as e-signatures, electronic contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, spam, paperless trading, cybersecurity, and others.
E-Commerce and African Regional Integration
From April 2019 to June 2020, CUTS International Geneva undertook a project titled E-Commerce and African Continental Integration, with funding support from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). The objective of the project was to ensure that African stakeholders, policymakers, and trade negotiators knew suitable policy options through which African continental integration could harness the sustainable development potential of e-commerce, specifically in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Through research and dialogue, the project contributed to, inter alia: (1) better-informed participation of African negotiators, with lessons learned discussed with them at various dialogues; and (2) supported structures and processes involved in promoting e-commerce development in Africa, including on regulatory matters and AfCFTA discussions, etc.
CUTS strives for well-functioning markets that support inclusive and progressive structural transformation and helps developing countries enact and implement effective competition regimes that improve the level-playing field for their firms and the welfare of their consumers. CUTS promotes sound investment regimes that foster increased and sustainable foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, and supportive structural transformation for people and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in developing countries. It empowers consumers to uphold their rights to fair, safe, and informed access to basic necessities, and advise governments accordingly. It supports the effective design and implementation of balanced, transparent regulations to foster better access to key services for businesses and consumers towards sustainable development, job creation and structural transformation.
CUTS strives to preserve a strong and functioning multilateral trading system including through support for better participation of smaller developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs), and to promote balanced and fair rules for all to support sustainable development at the national, regional, and international levels. Its work helps WTO members converge on creative solutions to restore WTO’s leadership for setting global trade rules sensitive to small developing countries’ special needs. CUTS also helps developing country groups to identify, defend, and advance their interests in WTO discussions and negotiations on a level-playing field, backed by evidence and private sector feedback. CUTS works to bring together developed and developing country negotiators to share information and perspectives with a view to building trust and convergence among them and in the trading system as a whole.
Between 2019 and 2022 for instance, CUTS’s WTO Umbrella Grant project strengthened the capacity of developing and LDC trade officials as they determined their level of engagement, strategy, and approach to the WTO JSIs: E-Commerce; Investment Facilitation for Development; and MSMEs. Undertaken jointly with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and with funding support from the UK’s Trade and Investment Advocacy Fund (TAF2+), project achievements notably included (1) clarified national positions on the Electronic Commerce JSI in six countries; (2) text proposals submitted by beneficiary countries in JSIs, notably outlining options for capacity building; (3) contributions to the establishment of a ‘Scope and Definitions’ Subgroup in Investment Facilitation Talks; (4) and realising the MSME Informal Working Group’s (MSME IWG’s) vision for a Trade4MSMEs.org online platform.
Plurilateral and regional agreements have become a major driving force of global trade integration, creating new opportunities for people, provided agreed regimes are fair and sound. CUTS’s work seeks to ensure that preferential trade agreements negotiated by and among developing countries leverage trade integration in pursuit of inclusive and sustainable development for people.
Trade Policy at Work may be a powerful force for sustainable development, structural transformation, and poverty reduction. It helps developing countries monitor and wisely use standards and non-tariff measures (NTMs) to support their sustainable development, as well as boost their participation in global trade and value chains. CUTS assists developing countries in effectively implementing agreed trade rules, while also leveraging preferences and special and differential treatment (SDT) granted by trading partners. CUTS helps them promote predictable and efficient administrative procedures that make moving goods across borders cheaper and faster, hence boosting the competitiveness of MSMEs.
Environment and climate change
CUTS helps developing countries participate in climate talks on a level-playing field and to identify, defend, and advance their interests in UNFCCC negotiations, backed by evidence and private sector feedback. Through research and advice, they help developing countries devise adaptation strategies for more resilient economies and support developing country negotiators and policymakers in crafting mitigation solutions in areas of their interest, for example agriculture. CUTS strives for the implementation of the Paris Agreement in a gender-sensitive, inclusive, and sustainable way (i.e. supportive of economic and social development).
CUTS also strives for climate-resilient, sustainable economies, and livelihoods by supporting environmentally sound policies and strategic use of global climate talks. The economies of developing countries typically rely on sectors that are highly dependent on environmental resources, such as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Developing countries have embraced environment-related issues in their policy agendas, although their implementation capacity often remains limited. CUTS sensitises governments about key linkages between the environment and other areas, for example agriculture, the rise of global value chains, and the ongoing digital revolution. It promotes the sustainable management of life on land and life below water, highlighting the potential roles of trade therein.
CUTS promotes sustainable agricultural systems that secure food for all by advising on the adoption of climate-resilient policy solutions, as well as holistic policies for agro-processing. Most developing countries remain net food importers, while their exports are faced with a complex global agricultural trade regime. CUTS’s work promotes properly functioning agricultural trade rules and food commodity markets, which should allow developing countries to leverage trade to improve their food production, value addition, and security. Commercial farming is rare in developing countries, the potential of agriculture is huge, and solutions exist. For instance, technology and digitalisation can help transform agricultural systems, making them more sustainable and attracting youth into new jobs.
Since 2017, CUTS’s just-in-time Course on Digital Commerce, jointly undertaken with DiploFoundation and ITC has been pursuing a very concrete goal: to assist trade professionals to better understand what digitalisation and the internet mean for trade negotiators, and help them ensure their countries reap the benefits of the digital economy. The training has equipped them with up-to- date, neutral, objective knowledge, in a user-friendly and informative format. Over the years, the course has helped trade negotiators and policymakers navigate an ever more complex digital commerce agenda. It has provided them at common space to explore the connection between trade and the digital economy and the development implications of this interplay. In 2021, the course was thoroughly reviewed and updated to answer the pressing needs of digital commerce practitioners by exploring in depth the issues covered by the JSI on Electronic Commerce, such as cross-border data flows and data localisation, network neutrality, online consumer protection and privacy, spam, open government data, customs duties on electronic transmissions, cybersecurity, and access to the source code of computer programs. Throughout the years, the course received over 300 applications from 98 countries and delivered training to 138 individuals from 72 countries. The most represented regions among course participants were Africa, Asia, and Europe. According to the results of a survey, 93% of the course alumni would recommend this course to colleagues working in their organisations. Also, 100% of the alumni were of the opinion that it is important to continue offering the course in years to come on a regular basis.