Cover of Shadow Negotiators by Matias E. Margulis
Shadow Negotiators
How UN Organizations Shape the Rules of World Trade for Food Security
Matias E. Margulis


February 2023
292 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503633520
Ebook ISBN: 9781503634503

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Shadow Negotiators is the first book to demonstrate that United Nations (UN) organizations have intervened to influence the discourse, agenda, and outcomes of international trade lawmaking at the World Trade Organization (WTO). While UN organizations lack a seat at the bargaining table at the WTO, Matias E. Margulis argues that these organizations have acted as "shadow negotiators" engaged in political actions intended to alter the trajectory and results of multilateral trade negotiations. He draws on analysis of one of the most contested issues in global trade politics, agricultural trade liberalization, to demonstrate interventions by four different UN organizations—the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (SRRTF).

By identifying several novel intervention strategies used by UN actors to shape the rules of global trade, this book shows that UN organizations chose to intervene in trade lawmaking not out of competition with the WTO or ideological resistance to trade liberalization, but out of concerns that specific trade rules could have negative consequences for world food security—an outcome these organizations viewed as undermining their social purpose to reduce world hunger and protect the human right to food.

About the author

Matias E. Margulis is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia. He is the co-editor for two books: The Global Political Economy of Raúl Prebisch (2017) and Land Grabbing and Global Governance (2014).

"Shadow Negotiators is the most skillful demonstration to date of how international regime complexes emerge and shape global policy-making. A must read for anyone interested in the WTO and international regime complexity."

—Karen J. Alter, Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations, Northwestern University

"Shadow Negotiators is both truly innovative and empirically sound – a combination that is rare. A must for those who are interested in international organizations and global governance."

—Michael Zürn, Dean, Hertie School; Director of the Research Unit Global Governance, Berlin Social Science Center

"Shadow Negotiators brilliantly shows how UN actors in food and agriculture have intervened to defend food security goals. Drawing on extensive research, Margulis makes a powerful case that international organizations employ a range of strategies to influence outcomes in international trade negotiations."

—Jennifer Clapp, Professor, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo

"Margulis traces four cases, each illustrating a different method of intervention, and contributes to understandings of the growing complexity of international governance and the tensions betweencompetingeconomic values: economic liberalization and human security. Most specifically, the work contributes to a growing scholarship on regime complexes as analytic constructs in international relations, and advances an understanding of the independent interests of international organizations capable of autonomous action. Recommended."

—S. P. Duffy, CHOICE

"The versatility of Margulis' Shadow Negotiators is its principal strength, and this book will undoubtedly contribute to informing various substantive and methodological inquiries across disciplines on the WTO, food security and far beyond."

—Anne Saab, European Journal of International Law

"an excellent book that gives the reader insight into the complex and political world of trade negotiations and the role international organizations play in shaping or (sometimes) unwinding trade policy."

—Joseph W. Glauber, World Trade Review

"For the non-specialist, Shadow Negotiators is a both a discovery and a guide book.... The reader discovers the complexity of the institutions that are at play in food security internationally, with the various components of what [Margulis] refers to as a regime complex where the domains of agriculture and food, international finance, international trade, humanitarian assistance, human rights, the environment, and development overlap."

—Serge Savary, Food Security