Facilitators of multilateral negotiations – including chairs, presidents and key figures in the secretariat – can increase their trustworthiness in the eyes of the negotiating parties by undertaking certain activities and behaviours. They are also encouraged to build positive working relationships with individual negotiators, ministers and leaders. Trust from the parties is essential for facilitators to be able to perform their role effectively.
When facilitators of multilateral negotiations enjoy parties’ trust and maintain good working relationships, they can more effectively expedite the negotiation process and move the negotiations closer to a successful outcome. Specifically, trust and good working relationships can lead to the following benefits:
- Information sharing: Trust produces a greater willingness to reveal information, and this in turn helps facilitators to identify potential landing zones.
- A smooth process: When parties trust the facilitators, they are less likely to raise objections or slow down the process on procedural grounds because of fears that they will be taken advantage of. They are more willing to permit work behind closed doors in limited settings, which speeds up the process.
- Acceptance of proposals: Parties are more likely to welcome proposals coming from a trusted facilitator.
- High costs of blocking: When a facilitator enjoys the trust and goodwill of a majority of parties, it raises the costs for those parties that might wish to block the final compromise and, in certain circumstances, can provide an opportunity to overrule isolated parties and declare consensus in spite of limited objections.
It is critical that facilitators retain the parties’ trust in order to maintain control over the process. It is almost impossible to perform the role effectively once trust has been lost. A breakdown in trust can result in the following consequences:
- Resistance to procedural proposals: Parties will be suspicious of attempts to move the process forward and are more likely to delay or block on procedural grounds. Parties may insist on full transparency and participation, at the expense of efficiency, to ensure that they are comfortable with the process.
- Withdrawal of responsibility: mistrusted facilitators may be stripped of all substantial responsibilities and limited to a purely ceremonial role of opening and closing sessions and giving the floor. In extreme cases, parties may publicly declare their loss of confidence in a facilitator and even call for their replacement.
- Lowers blocking costs: it becomes easier for parties to object to a facilitator’s compromise proposal when he/she does not enjoy the trust of the majority of parties.
Trust-building is a delicate process. Trust is much easier to lose than to gain. Barriers include:
- Time and resources: building trust and relationships takes time and frequent interaction. In the context of multilateral negotiations, this means a great deal of travelling around the globe. Many host governments may face capacity constraints when it comes to the necessary outreach.
- High stakes: the risk of misplaced trust becomes even greater when matters of major national significance are at stake.
- Historical distrust: colonialism, international disputes or conflicts, culture clashes and the North-South divide are just some of the historical factors that stand in the way of building trust. Facilitators from the global North face particular challenges in this respect.
- Previous experience: the past conduct of a particular facilitator, or the past conduct of another facilitator from the same country or region, may influence negotiators’ perceptions of the current situation.
- • The 2009 Climate Negotiations
- • The 2010 and 2015 Climate Negotiations
- • The Nuclear Suppliers Group Negotiations in 2018
- • The Danish Presidency of the 2009 Climate Negotiations
- • The 2016 Climate Negotiations
- • The 2010 Climate Negotiations
- • The French Presidency of the 2015 Climate Negotiations
- • The 2001 WTO Negotiations
Preparing the ground
Key organisers and facilitators