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UNCTAD Meeting Overcomes Serious Disagreements

April 27th, 2012

At a contentious meeting of the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ending Thursday in Doha, Qatar, the role of the UN organization in examining trade and development was confirmed, but not after a week of hard debate. The Doha Mandate, adopted by consensus by the member States, requests that UNCTAD continue its work along the three pillars of consensus-building, policy research and technical assistance. “UNCTAD remains the focal point in the United Nations for the integrated treatment of trade and development, and interrelated issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment and sustainable development,” reads part of the agreed text.

Profound discord between industrialized nations and developing countries threatened to ruin the UNCTAD meeting in Doha, and endangered the survival of this United Nations body that defends the interests of the developing nations of the South. Disagreements between the blocs, broadly identified as countries of the North and of the South, have arisen mainly from differing views of UNCTAD’s mandate and different visions of development and how it relates to social, environmental, economic and financial variables. 

One important area under discussion involved giving UNCTAD a mandate to investigate the current global financial crisis and its effects on the real economy, something for which developing countries and NGOs pressed, but which industrialized countries rejected out of hand.

On Saturday April 21 at the conference’s inaugural session, 37 international and 137 national NGOs sent a message to participating governments, titled “Strengthen, don’t weaken, UNCTAD’s role in global governance”, highlighting the important role played by UNCTAD “in identifying the key causes” of the global crisis originating in 2008. 

UNCTAD has assisted developing countries in seeking solutions to the impacts of the crisis, and has advocated the reform of global economic and finance policies in order to prevent similar crises from recurring, the NGOs said. 

”UNCTAD is well known for having predicted the crisis in advance, a fact that is to be commended, particularly given its paucity of resources compared to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which failed to do so,” the message says. 

Signatories of the message to the governments at the UNCTAD meeting include ActionAid International, the African Trade Network, the Arab NGO Network for Development, CIDSE (an international alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies), the European Network on Debt and Development, and Friends of the Earth International. The Missionary Oblates JPIC Office joined the Hemispheric Social Alliance, the International Trade Union Confederation, Oxfam International, Public Services International, the Third World Network, the Transnational Institute and the World Council of Churches in signing the declaration.

In the negotiations of the conference’s outcome document, China and the Group of 77 (G77) defended UNCTAD’s role. The Group of 77 (G77) is the developing world bloc that was formed after the first UNCTAD conference, held in Geneva in 1964. Today, it is made up of 132 member countries. In addition to the EU, the JUSCANZ (JZ) group, consisting of Japan, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Liechtenstein, represented industrialized countries at the Doha conference.

UNCTAD Director Supachai’s views clashed with that of the industrialized country groups, and his report, presented to the conference on Saturday, warned against the dangers of globalization and development processes driven by international finance. 

The disagreements between developing and industrialized countries are even more acute in the debate about the accords reached at the previous UNCTAD session four years ago, held in Accra, Ghana. 

The G77 wanted to reaffirm and strengthen the Accra Accord, so that UNCTAD can continue with its present work, following the direction laid down by its secretariat. 

But the JZ wanted all reference to reaffirming the Accra agreement eliminated from the outcome document, and proposed that the accord be reviewed. 

In the end, the Accra Accord was confirmed. China was considered largely responsible for the success in holding firm against the demands of the EU and the JZ countries.

The industrialized countries also wanted to reject paragraphs about the management and resolution of national debts, the responsibilities of lenders and borrowers, and an orderly solution to the debt crisis. 

Yet, the UNCTAD meeting kick started an endorsement process to adopt voluntary principles on sovereign lending and borrowing. The Jubilee USA Director, Eric LeCompte, attended the meetings as this is an area of particular concern to Jubilee USA, of which the Missionary Oblates is a member.

Read the Jubilee principles on responsible lending and borrowing. 

 

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