Staffing and capacity Trade ministries differ not just in shape but in size.


 Staffing and capacity
Trade ministries differ not just in shape but in size. The
complement of personnel may range from fewer than a
dozen persons in the smallest countries to hundreds of
them in the largest. One might naturally suppose that, all
other things being equal, a government agency’s ability
to achieve its goals will rise with the size of its staff. All
things are not equal, however, and the preparation of
the officials in a ministry is ultimately more important
than their sheer numbers. A small group of well-trained
and motivated officials have a much better chance
of achieving their aims than a large body of people
who lack the necessary skills and direction. It should
also be acknowledged that the number of personnel
assigned to a trade ministry, or indeed to any other
governmental institution, will not be determined solely
by that agency’s needs. All governments, whether
developed or developing, operate under budgetary
restrictions and civil service procedures that cannot be
easily overcome, and will usually need to be treated as
immutable in the short term.
What sort of person should a trade ministry hire? One
great irony of the trading system is that the best policy
professionals are willing and able to violate regularly
the system’s central premise. Adam Smith argued that
specialization determines productivity in an enterprise,
and if we were to apply this same division-of-labour

logic to government we might propose a strict separation between the economists, lawyers, and other
specialists who become public servants. That would
be a distinctly bad idea in the field of trade policy,
however, where the ideal policymaker is a “jack of all
trades” whose perspectives are not limited by the title
displayed on a diploma. A trade ministry should ideally
be staffed by professionals from a variety of fields, but
all of them should be encouraged to acquire a working
knowledge of subjects outside their chief areas of expertise. It is just as important for an economist to understand the basics of trade law as it is for a lawyer to
understand the laws of supply and demand, and people in both of these professions have much to learn
from — and to share with — the political scientists,
area specialists, information-management experts, or
others who draw their pay from the trade ministry.
That ideal is difficult to attain, as many trade ministries
in developing countries must deal with serious
capacity problems. This is especially true in smaller
countries with commensurately small ministries, where
it is not uncommon for the majority of the staff to be
recent college graduates who have as yet spent little
time outside of the classroom. Some among them
may accept government positions because they are
the only jobs in the capital city that require education
but not experience, and they may plan to leave for
better-paying positions in the private sector as soon
as they have accumulated the necessary amount
of training, skills, and contacts. This can create a
cycle of frequent turnover, robbing the ministry of the
knowledge, networks, and institutional memory that
are so important to effective policymaking.
The obvious answers to this problem are to increase
staff salaries and to expand capacity through training
and retention, but those solutions may be beyond the
budgetary limits within which ministries must operate.
They may also run into a well-known dilemma in
capacity-building by which the efforts put into the
upgrading of personnel will increase their potential
value to another employer (public or private, domestic
or international), thus accelerating the brain drain.
Donors often solve this problem by requiring that the
recipient of any training pledge to remain in government
service for some minimal term as a prerequisite for
receiving this support. Another difficulty is that, in the
view of some critics, capacity-building programmes
can sometimes be built more around the interests of
the donors than the recipients.
There are means by which trade ministries can enhance
their human resources at minimal budgetary cost.
Some donors will support the hiring of trade advisors
for ministries, drawing upon consultants who may
themselves be former officials in national governments
or international organizations. Similarly, some countries
and international organizations sponsor programmes
by which officials from one country may be seconded
to others on temporary assignments. Resources are
also available for the outsourcing of specific tasks to
international organizations or the consultants that they
may hire. All of these alternatives are best seen as
stop-gap measures, as it is in the best interests of a
ministry to develop and retain the in-house capacities
and to foster the institutional memory needed over the
long term.
A TPF should provide an assessment of the capacity
deficits that may exist in the trade ministry and other
government agencies that deal with trade, and make
recommendations on how any skills gaps at might be
closed. The trade ministry should take advantage of the
training and other technical assistance programmes
made available by international organizations and
educational institutions (box 6).

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