Civil society and developing countries come out in defence of the UNCTAD

A meeting of the CSO Forum:
Yao Graham (TWN Africa),
Amel Affouz (UNCTAD),
Hamish Jenkins (UN-NGLS) and
Mohammed Abdulla Al-Maadeed
(NHRC). (Photo: UNCTAD)

The Group of 77 and China, along with civil society organizations (CSOs), come out in defence of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), threatened by several rich nations that are trying to minimize its mandate and its ability to give advice to developing countries.

The CSO Forum of UNCTAD XIII that began this week in Doha, Qatar, raised questions about the “business as usual” approach to policies of trade, investment, finance and cooperation. The participants also noted that a key lesson from the global financial crisis is the need to recognize the important role of the state in economic development.

In their view, the state is central to ensure that trade, investment and finance work for development, and that such strengthened role should not be a temporary post-crisis response. 

During an interactive session with UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi, Kinda Mohamadieh, from the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), disapproved the threats by developed countries to this agency mandate and remarked its importance. 

Supachai stressed that the global crisis showed that “the business as usual” approach focusing solely on deregulated markets cannot develop an equitable and inclusive development. “We have to balance the role of the state and the market. We cannot take out the role of the state”, he said, but he also expressed his dismay about efforts to silence UNCTAD on key issues.

CSOs’ representatives expressed their concern because developed economies (mainly Japan, United States, Switzerland, Canada, Korea, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and the European Union) show such inflexibility that UNCTAD XIII may not have a consensus outcome document, which would be an unprecedented event.

The Group of 77 and China have renewed their opposition to the developed countries’ demands. And in a recent statement more than 50 former UNCTAD officers (including a former Secretary General) noted that those nations countries have decided that “if you cannot kill the message, at least kill the messenger”.

CSOs call for the removal of constraints on developing countries’ policy space embedded in free trade and investment agreements, and in conditionalities imposed by donor and international financial institutions.

In the meantime, the formal negotiations at UNCTAD XIII seems to be at a stalemate because of the threats to this organization’s mandate from developed countries that refuse to discuss key issues of interest to developing countries.

UNCTAD was established to offer analysis and advice to governments on development issues related to trade, finance and technology, among other matters. Its previous conference agreed in Accra to broaden the organization’s mandate.

Over the years, analysis produced by UNCTAD consistently pointed out the dangers of the liberalisation and deregulation of markets and finances which produced the current economic crisis.

The developed countries are refusing to even renew the mandate agreed for the UNCTAD in Accra, as the CSOs demand, especially to go on with its research and analysis on the global financial crisis and other development challenges, including those arising from globalisation. Those works serves as inputs to counter the arguments introduced by developed countries in negotiations on trade, finance and other economic issues.

The CSOs contrasted the interest the major powers have shown in strengthening the IMF and World Bank (and in using bodies of questionable accountability such as the G-20 to block truly multilateral responses to the crisis) with their negative attitude to UNCTAD.  They noted that the IMF and World Bank continue to peddle policies which caused and have been discredited by the crisis.

Source: CSO Forum